Interview: James Leesley of High Hazels

By on Thursday, 3rd October 2013 at 11:00 am

Sheffield’s High Hazels will be having a special single launch party in their hometown tomorrow night (Friday the 4th of October) at the Harley, to celebrate the release of the most excellent ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ (reviewed here; Video of the Moment here) on their new label Heist or Hit Records. In honour of the momentous occasion, we wanted to have a chat with the lads ahead of their big night. Can’t make it to Sheffield on Friday? No worries, they’re also doing a show in London Sebright Arms on Saturday the 19th of October. But hold that thought for now. Take it away, frontman James Leesley of High Hazels…

Hello High Hazels! Where do we find you today? And what are you up to?
Having a brew before practice tonight.

So I’ve read on an early press release “with a togetherness that only blooms from brotherhood and childhood friendship” that you are made up of brothers and schoolmates. Tell us how the band got together and how long you’ve been playing together as a group. Did you all meet in Sheffield?
Yeah! James, Anthony and Scott met at primary school aged around 7 or 8, so we knew each other all through school and growing up really. Musically, it wasn’t until late secondary school where we bonded through the mutual love for music.

We bobbed along in various other pre-High Hazels bands (only really the name changing – not the members), but it was only when Paul (brother of Anthony) joined that we really decided to take it a bit more serious and see what we could do.

…And here we are, approximately 10 months on, with High Hazels.

Did it gel from a share love of a band / bands, a style of music? Or was it something not even music related that brought you together? (Footy? I’m shooting in the dark here!)
Again, we’ve always known one another and been in one another pockets, so it was quite inevitable that if a band was going to be formed then we’d be the ones in it! It did at the start, and still does, have a gang and brotherly feel musically and socially. I think it bonds us even more when we can relax and do other things without the guitars in our hands – keeps a nice balance!

You’ve named yourself (or so I guessed) after a park east of Sheffield city centre. Why did you choose this location for your name? Is it prominent in High Hazels’ history? (When I visited the city in the spring, I was rather taken by the beauty of the botanical gardens.)
Yeah, I’m 94% sure Sheffield has the best tree to person ratio in the UK. As for our name, High Hazels Park is really close to where we grew up in Sheffield and, put with our music, we felt it suited us quite well!

We still like it now, so I think that’s a good sign.

Your sound recalls, at least for me, the ’50s and ’60s, when music was made more simply and there was more emphasis on songwriting and the musicianship. Do you think the High Hazels sound comes from your various musical inspirations? If yes, tell us about them and if they come from this era. If not, tell us how you arrived at what we’re hearing as the High Hazels sound today.
In terms of sound, we really love the simplicity and beauty of some of the ‘50s and ‘60s music, yeah, especially the guitar sounds. We have a real focus on making sure the melodies in our songs are as strong as we can make them; this, along with some nice chords, is usually our starting point and then the sound develops from there. There are a lot of current bands that we are really into and I think naturally you look at what inspired them and then what inspired them and so on…so we get quite a wide range of inspiration from all eras.

I suppose our sound has a certain dreaminess to it which we all like, and I think that comes from the way we write in terms of chords but we do have different individual inspirations that sort of melt together and forge our sound.

You’re a pretty new band, so this might not have happened yet…have you been compared to other bands and if yes, which ones? Did you agree with the comparisons? And if you had to choose them yourself, which bands would you use as comparisons to explain to someone who’s not heard of you yet?

I think it’s always something we take quite light-heartedly. There’s been one or two early ‘80s guitar bands that we’ve been compared to, Smiths, Treebound Story, etc. which I think is nice, but on a whole we let people decide for themselves instead of giving them any boundaries.

A couple weeks ago now, you signed with London indie label Heist or Hit Records. Tell us about that process and the emotions you went through surrounding that.
Obviously it was a great achievement for us and real step forward!

We had hoped to do a 7” limited edition single as our first official release and when Heist came along it seemed a perfect start for us. They’ve been excellent so far in terms of their press and work ethic, so we are really pleased.

What song(s) of those that you have written and the public have heard are you the proudest of, and why?
Hard question.

I suppose each song has its own place for us and we’re equally proud of them – sometimes songs don’t always stay with us, usually if ,as a band, we aren’t quite feeling that initial spark from a song then we try to let it go, so that’s our cut-off point so to speak. But if in the right context, we’re very proud of each one.

‘French Rue’ in particular sounds like a wistful remembrance of both a former relationship and of the beauty of France reflected in that relationship. (Or maybe I have it all wrong?) Tell us about this song. Also, is the lyric writing in High Hazels done as a group effort or just by one of you?
The lyrics are either done by James or Paul and are often a mixture of the two. You’re pretty close on ‘French Rue’! [I just mentally high-fived myself. – Ed.] This is an example of the mixture of writing; James wrote the chorus which had a metaphor that seemed to fit perfectly with the verse lyrics Paul had been working on. This was about a lost love and being left behind while the other experienced a new life in France, with exciting surroundings and meeting new people. [And] the word “rue” being used as a double meaning in English as regret and in French street.

But everybody has very big hand in the writing of each song, whether that be melodies, music or arrangements – all are as important as one another.

You recorded some session tracks with Sheffield’s Exposed magazine. That must have been a very cool thing to do, especially since at the time you hadn’t been signed yet. I’ve seen several bands from the city take part in similar features with the magazine.
Yeah, it’s a really good idea and good thing to do! Gives bands a good chance to get some live footage at an early stage. We enjoyed ours.

It seems like Sheffield is a very nurturing, supportive place to be if you’re in a band. Agree/disagree? Tell us. Would you say that being from Sheffield has affected the way you sound and/or approach music?
Being from Sheffield, it’s hard to imagine growing up anywhere else and it definitely has that ‘home’ feel to it for us. Musically, I think it is and always will be a great place for bands and music. I think when we write songs, subconsciously the surroundings seem to seep into the music that you don’t really control if you know what I mean? It’s hard to explain but there’s an optimism around Sheffield even when it’s pretty bleak! I think that comes through in our sound – quite melancholic but also joyous.

What is the most amazing thing you’ve done so far as a band?
We’ve had plenty of really great moments so far, with the label and live shows, but personally our first Steve Lamacq [BBC] 6music play of our ‘French Rue’ demo really took me by surprise and got the ball rolling for us as a band, so probably that.

If you could look into a crystal ball, where would you like to see yourselves in 5 years’ time?
Polishing a Mercury Prize Award would be quite nice…

Many thanks to James for doing this interview with us and also a big thanks to Penny for sorting this for us here at TGTF.

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6 Responses

11:02 am
3rd October 2013

Interview: High Hazels @highhazels, ahead of their single launch party at Sheffield Harley @theHarleyLive on 4/10:

11:16 am
3rd October 2013

RT @tgtf: Interview: High Hazels @highhazels, ahead of their single launch party at Sheffield Harley @theHarleyLive on 4/10:…

11:31 am
3rd October 2013

RT @tgtf: Interview: High Hazels @highhazels, ahead of their single launch party at Sheffield Harley @theHarleyLive on 4/10:…

11:34 am
3rd October 2013

RT @tgtf: Interview: High Hazels @highhazels, ahead of their single launch party at Sheffield Harley @theHarleyLive on 4/10:…

3:52 pm
4th October 2013

Great interview, great band – treat yourself, go see them tonight.

[…] name came from, amongst other sundry things; in case you missed that, you can read all of that here. We also bent James’ ear about what else, the TGTF Quickfire Questions, which turned out to be […]

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