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In the Post #120: High Hazels reveal ‘Summer Rain’ from forthcoming ‘In the Half Light’ EP

 
By on Friday, 7th March 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

The meteorological start of spring is only 2 weeks off now, but Sheffield indie band High Hazels are already looking much further ahead. To summer. Last Friday, the group revealed new song ‘Summer Rain’, to feature on an upcoming EP with Heist or Hit Records, whom they signed with last summer.

Like previous single ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ (review here, video here), this new one features what might just become High Hazels’ trademark, guitars sounding echoey – and therefore plaintive in their loneliness – accompanied by frontman James Leesley’s melancholy yet surprising bright vocals. Yet the overall feel is noticeably softer. The lyrics this time were penned by bass guitarist Paul Barlow, and reading the words out as if poetry are as powerful as hearing them in the song. The refrain of “I was sleeping while you were letting our love slide / I was sleeping and I dreamt of you with another” comes across strong with Leesley’s buoyant vocal, yet the actual lyrics suggest the abject helplessness as the only outcome when your imagination runs wild with the thought of the one you love(d) belonging to someone else.

Imagination is a good word to use in describing ‘Summer Rain’, as the imagery Barlow takes you through is quite gorgeous despite the very real pain of the protagonist. The summer rain falls on a window pane, seemingly uncaring about the love that has “waned”, as the voice of the song is in disbelief, “love has waned / I never thought I’d see it change”. He imagines his lover swimming in a stream with another man, then recalls what how their love (or quite possibly also the woman herself) was so beautiful, “jewels are scattered all around / I’ve forgot just how they shined”, but he’s tortured by this faceless man who has taken his place.

The nail in the coffin? “I was sleeping and you walked away turned your back, lover.” So sad. How did our protagonist get here? I’m not entirely sure and I think that’s a question for Barlow in person one day, but getting here is a beautiful, beautiful journey.

8.5/10

The new release from Sheffield’s High Hazels, the ‘In the Half Light’ EP, will be released on the 7th of April on Heist or Hit Records and will be available on limited edition 10″ and also digitally. The group will be supporting The Crookes on their April UK tour and also at their homecoming show on the 31st of May.

 

Live Gig Video: High Hazels’ James Leesley performs acoustic ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ at Sheffield Record Collector

 
By on Monday, 20th January 2014 at 4:00 pm
 

What could be more beautiful than a High Hazels song being performed acoustically? Very little. So we’re very pleased to bring you this video of frontman James Leesley in the middle of iconic Sheffield record shop Record Collector performing their single ‘Hearts Are Breaking’. Sometimes the simplest things are the most gorgeous. Watch the video below.

High Hazels have been announced as support for the upcoming Crookes UK tour in April and May; all the dates are listed here.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FD8NxIMVaIs[/youtube]

 

10 for 2014 Interview: High Hazels

 
By on Thursday, 12th December 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

We caught up with the #4 band on the TGTF 10 for 2014 readers’ poll, Sheffield’s High Hazels, to ask them some questions about how their year went, what they’re up to this holiday season and what they’re looking forward to in 2014.

Looking back, 2013 was quite an eventful year for High Hazels. What were some of the highlights for you?
Scott Howes (guitar): The single launch at The Harley in October was a particular highlight, it felt like a real achievement releasing a single with a label considering it was under a year since we first took to a stage together. The gig itself was sold out which took us all by surprise. Tramlines festival in the summer was great as well, it was a really busy weekend, we played four gigs in two days but they were all great shows. On the Saturday night of the festival we played at the Shakespeare which was probably our favourite of the weekend.

Do you plan to take any time off for the holidays? Will any of you be doing anything special?
James Leesley (vocals / guitar): I think we’ll be spending a few days with friends and family for a couple of days for the traditional festivities, but we’ve got our Christmas show bang in the middle of all the celebrations so it really will be just a couple of days off! Mind you, I get a bit lost after a day or two without the guitar so I suppose it’s worked out alright.

You have a Christmas show planned at home at the Shakespeare on 28 December. It seems such a wonderfully English thing to have a hometown show, surrounded by the people that have stood by you since the beginning. Anything special / Christmassy planned for it (Speaking of the Shakespeare, our editor was wondering if the live bits of ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ were filmed there?)
Anthony Barlow (drums): Shakespeare’s has a very traditional English pub feel about it, which is one of the main reasons why we thought it would be a great venue at this time of the year. It’s a charming pub with loads of real ales to drink! It’s one of our favourite watering holes and we spend most Saturday nights in there. Our favourite DJs King Bee also host their superb club night in there every month, and they’ll be spinning some tunes into the early hours after we play on the 28th. We also played there as part of Tramlines Festival in the summer, and it turned out to be our favourite show so far, the atmosphere was great. We try and space our hometown shows out as much as possible so we really can’t wait to play now.

The ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ video was filmed there, well spotted! We needed a location that blended in with the rest of the video which was made up of home footage, filmed in the ’80s.

What’s your favourite holiday song, and why is it special to you?
James: ‘The Christmas Song’ by Nat King Cole. It’s major seventh heaven and captures the season perfectly.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__kQ1PCP6B0[/youtube]

What can we expect to see/hear from you in 2014? Possibly an album release?
Anthony: There will be a couple of significant releases in 2014, we can’t really say much more than that yet. But we are ridiculously excited about them. This past 12 months have set us up nicely for 2014. It should be a very interesting year and we can’t wait to get stuck into it.

What releases from other artists are you looking forward to in 2014?
Anthony: Hamilton Leithauser from The Walkmen is working on a solo album, that should be interesting. He’s a great singer and writer and he’s drafted in some friends to work on the album with him including members of Fleet Foxes and The Shins. Sounds like it has some pretty good ingredients to me! I’m also looking forward to hearing Broken Bells‘ new album, their first effort was great and I’m sure it’ll be just as good this time around.

Cheers lads for answering our questions!

 

10 for 2014: #4 – High Hazels

 
By on Tuesday, 10th December 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Sheffield’s High Hazels have been a favorite here at TGTF since we first featured them in this Bands to Watch back in July. They played four shows at this summer’s Tramlines Festival as part of a growing number of up-and-coming Sheffield bands whose sound hinges on catchy guitar melodies and heart-wrenchingly romantic lyrics.

Going back to the end of 2012, High Hazels have had a productive year, winning the attention of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker and the BBC’s Steve Lamacq. They were featured in Sheffield’s Exposed magazine in February 2013 as part of that publication’s In Session series. (Check out the band’s YouTube page to see videos from that session.) Then, in July, just around the time of Tramlines, High Hazels signed with indie record label Heist or Hit Records, who coordinated the release of debut single ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ (reviewed by Mary here). In September, ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ won a coveted spot on Lamacq’s BBC 6Music Rebel Playlist, ahead of its official release on the 7th of October.

According to an interview Mary did with High Hazels frontman James Leesley, the band have been working together for a number of years, perfecting their craft before presenting their work to an already growing legion of fans. While the similarities with local contemporaries such as Arctic Monkeys and The Crookes are readily apparent, High Hazels reveal the softer side of Sheffield. Songs ‘Five Weirs’ and ‘Loose Stitches’ in particular call to mind the sound of Simon & Garfunkel, which Leesley cites as a major influence in the band’s songwriting. ‘French Rue’, the track initially heralded on Lamacq’s radio show, is a nostalgic, slow-burning rumination on heartache, which carries over into the poignantly wintery ‘Hearts Are Breaking’. Leesley’s smooth, evenly measured singing voice is perfectly suited for the subtle yet palpable sentimentality of the lyrics, but it’s the shimmering guitar riffs that will echo in your ears to begin 2014.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/WQnMqi_AmQY[/youtube]

 

Quickfire Questions #54: James Leesley of High Hazels

 
By on Monday, 7th October 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Just last Friday, Sheffield band High Hazels hosted a sold out single release launch night for ‘Hearts are Breaking’, released today as a 7″ on Heist or Hit Records. By all accounts, it went swimmingly and we’re very pleased for them. Also last week, we had a chat with singer James Leesley about the band, how they got together and where their 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 quite good timing as the band will be on London this Wednesday to support Leeds band China Rats at the Sebright Arms and will return there on Saturday the 19th of October to play a headline show. In this feature, James gives us some insight on some Manchester-area bands that have meant a lot to him, as well as what album by an American band he’d bring with him to Heaven. Read on…

What song is you earliest musical memory?
Singing ‘Shout’ by Tears For Fears as loud as I could. I still love Tears For Fears now!

What was your favorite song as a child?
‘The Perfect Kiss’ by New Order, the frog noises used to fascinate me.

What song makes you laugh?
I honestly can’t think of a song that makes me laugh.

What song makes you cry?
‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by Joy Division.

What song reminds you of the first time you fell in love?
That’s a tough question, maybe ‘Mathematics’ by Cherry Ghost. Let’s go with that!

What song makes you think of being upset/angry?
I’m not really an angry person but ‘Corpus Christi Carol’ by Jeff Buckley or ‘One Of These Things First’ by Nick Drake are both very calming.

Which song do you wish you’d written yourself?
There’s so many, but I’ll go for ‘New Slang’ by The Shins.

Who is your favorite writer?
Paul Simon.

If you hadn’t become a singer/musician/songwriter, what job do you think you’d be doing right now?
Well, we’re not quite at the privileged stage of doing this full time yet, saying that if we weren’t making music I’m sure we’d be in different jobs to the ones we’re in now, so who knows!

If God said you were allowed to bring only one album to Heaven, which would it be and why? (Sorry, double albums do not count.)
I’ll go for ‘Lisbon’ by The Walkmen. There’s a song for every mood on there and I don’t think I’d ever get bored of it.

Thanks very much James for doing this interview with us and also massive thanks to Penny for sorting this and the previous interview for us here at TGTF.

 

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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