With his new album ‘Angel Numbers’ set for release on February 3rd, Hamish Hawk sat down with RESOUND to discuss creativity, collaboration and his hopes for the new year.

There’s a glow surrounding Hamish Hawk as he sits by a window inside Edinburgh’s Summerhall cafe, enjoying a chocolate brownie and a black coffee. It’s a freezing, clear January morning and Hawk is basking in some very welcome sunshine. Having succumbed to winter illnesses over the festive period he is just about back on form, kicking off 2023 with successful live performances at Princes Street Gardens on New Year’s Day and a Quay Sessions broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland.

Hamish Hawk performing at Connect Festival | Pic: Calum Mackintosh

It’s been an exciting but demanding couple of years for the Edinburgh artist, following overwhelming universal acclaim for his album ‘Heavy Elevator’, but he seems to be humbly relishing this phase of his career and the serious work it entails. “I’ve always been in it for the long game – don’t like calling it a game.” He says, ” I’ve never been under any illusions that any of the things that I wanted were going to come overnight. Yes, I’ve had those moments a few times in my teens and probably a few too many times in my twenties where I dug me heels in and thought ‘Why isn’t it happening?’ and I’ve had moments of doubt, as anyone does, but I’ve never been sufficiently doubtful to be really ever that close to throwing in the towel. It has been a long time coming but it’s an only appropriate length of time and it’s the same for anyone’s career.”

Hawk and his bandmates are soon to embark on their biggest run of UK shows to date, following the much-anticipated release of a new LP ‘Angel Numbers’ which Hamish reflects on somewhat fondly as his ‘lockdown record’, the result of an intensely focused period of inspiration and collaboration:

“All of the songs were written in that period and it was by far and away the most creative patch that me and Andrew Pearson, principally, have ever had. It was the best part of two or three weeks where we were writing a song a day.” For any layperson, and many musicians, that’s an astonishing turnaround of ideas. And yet, as someone creating music at such a pace, Hawk doesn’t really go easy on himself or his writing. He’s always conscious of his objectives and how he’s progressing within this art form.

“What I get most frustrated with is when I can’t find a song’s emotional centre. I get very irritated with myself when I’m busying myself with throwing ideas at the wall but there’s no real heart to the song. It’s all very clever but it doesn’t speak to me at all. I think that’s the main barrier between a writer and an audience is that you can be as clever as you like but if it doesn’t speak to how people feel I don’t think it’s gonna fly that far.”

The songs on ‘Angel Numbers’ are evidence of this conscious drive for a visceral connection; the record is a unique blend of deeply personal, evocative reflections, galloping over undulating widescreen musical landscapes. It is at times urgent and uplifting, balanced, rugged, sparse and intimate.

Rather than trying to collate or contort a collection of songs around a particular feeling or subject, as the unprecedented times induced an unprecedented creative outpouring, a theme emerged and evolved quite naturally through Hawk’s lyrical flow.

It was actually quite serendipitous in a way that what I think of as the organising principle behind the whole album, in terms of theme, ended up being quite an effortless thread that was already present in those songs.”

That theme is something of a continuation and maturation of ‘Heavy Elevator’ which Hawk describes as “an exploration of that sinking feeling”. ‘Angel Numbers’ by contrast, is about looking up and around, from a more steady position, to see what future might lie ahead, what guides us, and how we go about moving in the direction of good things. There are moments of lightness and grace, for sure. Hawk adds: “‘Angel Numbers’ is an exploration into that idea of guardian angels; people who walk into your life if only for a few seconds, a few minutes, weeks, years…whatever, and give you something whether it’s a kind word, a helping hand or just any degree of understanding, support or reciprocal feeling. The songs explore that and a lot of the songs, lyrically, deal with real life moments for me that involve that feeling of these people landing in your life and gifting you something invaluable.”

To that end, Hawk says he wanted to involve some actual angels in the album’s recording: the “angelic voices” of Oklahoma singer-songwriter Samantha Crain (on ‘Rest and Veneers’) and London artist Anna B Savage (on ‘Frontman’). Their contributions came about in almost identical ways, from playing shows together and sensing a personal and creative spark. Hawk met Crain when they played a co-headline show together at Summerhall in 2019. “We got on really well. I love Sam’s voice. I love her songwriting as well; I’ve admired her from a distance probably more than she knows. With ‘Rest and Veneers’ I knew I wanted a call and response. I think it’s one of the prettier songs on the record in that it’s a more easy listening kind of song; lighter, softer, Laurel Canyon, new country – the first of its kind in my repertoire. I didn’t want it to sound like a pastiche.” Crain recorded her vocals remotely and when Hawk heard them he says, “It was just instant. I have a real soft spot for those lyrics, I really like them, and she does it a great service.”

His connection with Anna B Savage also began at Summerhall, where they both performed at The Great Eastern festival in 2021. They met up again at SXSW in 2022 where an ambling walk-and-talk affirmed their desire to produce something together. “There’s nothing more rewarding to me; to talk to a fellow songwriter in fairly serious terms about songwriting. I love those conversations and the conversation we had walking along the river in Austin, it was one of those that just elates you, and charged our batteries in a way. I think she’s properly visionary in her work.”

Though he is the designated front person of the band – it is his name on the project after all – Hamish is also bursting with praise for the contributions of his bandmates: “I’m so grateful to be involved. I’m so proud (of the music we make) and I couldn’t do it without them.” In previous incarnations Hamish Hawk was a solo artist, a folky singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar, which had its benefits, especially where ease of touring was concerned. But he asserts that this current iteration is his favourite project by far, not least because of the support and talent of the other musicians he’s working with which enables him to pursue his craft with a deeper passion and more focus than ever:

I love being given space to work solely on lyrics. I’m finally involved in the writing of songs that I couldn’t possibly have come up with myself. I’m revelling in the fruits of our collaboration.

It gives me a chance just to focus on the thing that is clearly what I’ve always wanted which is the words and the song.”

“The music is a vehicle for these words. The most important thing is we’re having fun writing songs. The greatest thing about everything that’s happened in the past year and a half – two years – is that our focus is still almost exclusively on writing songs and for them to be good.”

Hawk’s consideration for the quality of language shines every time he opens his mouth or puts pen to paper. ‘Angel Numbers’ is another densely literate collection, albeit quite a musically-conscious text. He says he was surprised and a little confused that ‘Heavy Elevator’ was often commended for its “abstract lyricism”, saying: “I feel that I write the kind of songs that (I hope) stand up to multiple listens. I’ve long tried to write songs that reveal more and more of themselves the more you listen to them, and can be consumed or engaged with on various levels. Admittedly not many of my songs can you engage with on an extremely superficial level – they’re a bit wordy for that. I don’t think my lyrics are particularly abstract, I think odd, off-kilter or offbeat maybe.” He goes on, “One of the most exciting things in lyrics is when you hear a well put idea; every so often I’ll hear something and think ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone express that thought in a song, and I’m here for it’.”

When I’m writing I have different kinds of songs that I see rearing their heads, I see them coming over the horizon and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, this is a weird one’, ‘this is a wordy one’ or this is a really simple and quite pretty one’.

For Hawk, his lyrical style is a constant and unifying element which is key to maintaining some cohesion within and between his albums:

“The benefit of being principally a lyricist, is that if you have an identifiable style, which I’ve been told I do, you can rely on that to a greater extent. If you’re writing from a general perspective you can’t rely on the lyrics to define the songs because you can find a lot of songs that are completely different sounding with quite similar lyrics. With my lyrics the world from which they come and the world they create, the world that they constitute and are constituted by, you can rely on them to make the songs come from the same place in a way. I think Angel Numbers does that successfully.”

Hamish Hawk performing at Connect Festival | Pic: Calum Mackintosh

Sonically, this album has a richness and warmth throughout. Hawk says, “As much as I think ‘Angel Numbers’ is a sister record to ‘Heavy Elevator’ I think it’s different in that the musical palette is much more varied and what I like about it is, it does this vault fast between songs. It can change quite immediately. I hope it does feel cohesive despite the sound of it changing quite a lot but it does feel to me to be an album of many faces.”

That idea of many faces and many identities in part inspired the album’s cover which offers an ethereal portrait of Hawk by Edinburgh-based photographer Emanuele Centi, in which his face is featureless, ghostly and undefined. The image’s deliberate ambiguity allows for ample audience interpretation and projection. It is also, quite simply, a beautiful photo.

Angel Numbers is released 3rd February 2023.

Considering the circumstances under which ‘Angel Numbers’ was written, at a moment when life was held on indefinite hiatus, it’s a wonder that Hawk could find so much optimism, if that’s the right word, to infuse his songs with. So much intention or, perhaps, clarity. While he doesn’t deny that it was a stressful period, especially in the beginning, he explains:

“It was an odd time. I felt this moment when I was writing Angel Numbers, where you look back over what you’ve been doing up to then in your life and you use this period of pause to reassess and re-evaluate and reconfigure your life and put it into a mould that you want. I think in a way it was an invaluable time for processing things and gaining a new understanding. ‘Angel Numbers’ is the fruits of that process and I think the lyrics tell you that.”

“The ‘two weeks of peace, haar and money’ in ‘Grey Seals’ – although it was more than two weeks, and it wasn’t exactly peace, and I was skint – I often think of that as my lockdown metaphor.”

With some distance between that reality and the present, Hamish Hawk – the person and the band -are properly looking forward, to unleashing ‘Angel Numbers’ and even moreso, playing these new songs live. It’s not really surprising for Hamish to say that the highlights of the previous album cycle were all live shows. He points to various festival appearances, radio sessions and several iconic venues in particular:

“We sold out our gig at King Tut’s and the crowd singalongs and general fizz in the air was just unbelievable. My dad was in the audience, for him to watch me on stage and watch all of us play and have this packed room with people just chanting the words – losing themselves completely in this sort of sweaty atmosphere – that was a real moment for him.”

He says touring ‘Heavy Elevator’ was a hugely rewarding experience, more than any of his previous live performances, in part because the risks are greater with full band shows so the pay-off of success is higher, but mainly because the connection with audiences has been so powerful.

“It can be a struggle to enjoy yourself in the moment – you go into a trance, you lose yourself so completely in it that you get carried away. Hopefully we’re training ourselves now to have a little voice that comes up three-quarters of the way through the set that says ‘Remember to enjoy yourself right now'”.

Being present in the moment is important and has its own rewards but Hawk is allowing himself to be excited about the year ahead as well, beaming “The thrilling thing is that I feel like we’re still on the up and up.” He worries that this sounds boastful.

“These days I’m not short of moments that make me truly thankful to be doing this at this time.

In the past year and a half I have more successfully than ever been going along with it, in it for the ride, not anticipating anything, not expecting anything in an unhealthy way. I am honestly just enjoying it, I’m just a passenger.”

I’m 31. You think when you’re 20 that’s it’s gonna happen now. And anyone’ll tell you when they reach 30-31, where they are is where they thought they deserved to be when they were 20. It’s a tough lesson to learn and we all feel like we’re running out of time.”

“There were definitely times where I thought ‘I don’t know how far I can go with this’. All I knew is that I wake up in the morning and I want to write songs and I go to bed wanting to write songs and I wake up in the middle of the night writing songs. I write songs and it’s just a thing that happens to me, that’s the thing I’ve always had.”

Angel Numbers will be released on 3rd February 2023.

Interview by Kendall Wilson @softcrowdclassic