Introducing Hauskey, and the stories of his intimate debut EP, Slow
The Perth-raised, Sydney-based musician has been one of 2020’s best break-out artists, and his future is looking even brighter.
Header image by Jess Gleeson.
There’s a special class of musicians with their talent ingrained in them from a young age; those that music - creation, performance, whatever form it takes - comes naturally to them, and has done since as long as they’d remember.
It’s something that you can usually pick up on straight away, and in regards to Hauskey - the musical project of Sydney-based, Perth-raised musician Andy Hopkins - it’s something that sits in you within the first minute of his debut single, Slow. It’s the type of song that just moves an otherworldly feeling; a deeply rich and intimate two-minutes-thirty of graceful indie-pop that encapsulates years - over a decade, even - of musicianship, shown in a way that feels like a grasp of the next generation, and the talent captured within it.
For Hauskey, however, Slow is just the beginning. It’s a song that builds itself from a decade of musical fascination and suggests a further decade - longer, even - to come; the pathway to Slow (and Hauskey’s rise in general) beginning when his parents enrolled him in piano lessons as a three-year-old finding his feet in the Perth Hills. From here, his craft in musical performance only strengthened. He’d busk at the Midland Military Markets (RIP) on the weekends off from school in Mundaring; study instruments at an arts college and then experiment with them through songwriting; attend WAAPA - the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts - albeit only for a moment, before heading to London in the attempts of overcoming Perth’s geographical isolation (isolation that has admittedly come in handy this year, however).
It’s a list of early-on achievements that have similar parallels to that of many artists’ biographies and press releases. However, Hauskey has the capability of distilling this musical history into music of his own, whether it’s through Andy Hopkins as a songwriter and producer behind-the-scenes, or as Hauskey itself, where he writes about snapshots of his life with subtlety and relatability that makes them feel like familiar, relatable moments of your own life. At times, his dissections of mental health and the world around him feel so comfortably similar to your own that the catharticism he feels through making them is therapeutic in your own life too, like a warm hug from someone you love that assures you that you feel seen and valid.
It’s something that he’s brought to releases by Yorke, COTERIE and Sloan Peterson over the last two years, but something that steals the show on the debut EP of his own, with November’s potent Slow EP being six tracks that showcase Hauskey’s intimate songwriting at a newfound peak, rich with the personality you’d expect from someone long indebted to the therapy of songwriting. Musically, it’s an EP that sits within the alt-pop rise of acts like Clairo and Rex Orange County, taking influence from a history of made projects - dating back to Chance The Rapper and Mac DeMarco earlier on, right through to tomorrow’s stars in Remi Wolf and Dirty Hit newcomers BLACKSTARKIDS - and carving instrumentation-backed bursts of hook-friendly pop out of it; a Venn diagram of sounds creating a wash of soothing indie-pop that’s become something to lean onto in a time of need.
In saying that, it’s above these breezy melodies where Hauskey shines best. The songs captured on the Slow EP are moments plucked from Hopkins’ life dissected through the power of songwriting, with the nuance and richness of someone who obviously uses music as a tool to process the greater world and how it impacts him directly.
Take his debut single Slow, for example, which tells the story of a relationship’s fight but in a tone that actually makes it feel genuine. “I get pissed off by things I'll never see / Then ignore what's in my face,” he sings. Somewhere, meanwhile, speaks on the feeling of wanting to get away - “Sometimes I wanna lose it / Give away all my stuff for free and go somewhere in the distance,” Hauskey dreams - while Plan B reckons with feelings familiar to every artist, specifically the lack of back-up plan if everything goes to shit: “I'll probably never own a home or perfect white teeth / Tryna climb without a rope and got no plan.”
There’s something you can take away from every lyric that Hauskey brings on Slow, and the aching moments that detail his life at the present (and how, even though it was sung by someone maybe thousands of kilometres away that you’ve never even met, they can feel like moments taken from your own life too).
Take a dive into the EP below, and learn everything there is to know about the record - as well as an introduction to Hauskey too - as we belatedly dissect the EP one song at a time.
Slow was the first song you released as Hauskey, the first song of your EP, and the song you named the entire debut EP after. Was there anything in particular that drew you to this song being the first one?
It just felt and still feels like everything that I want the project to be in one song, like I know that all my songs have elements of me in them, but this one had everything that I wanted the project to be: a great bassline, R&B/jazz-inspired chords, a good hook, about something that was real to me and important to me, and something that I genuinely wanted to write about. All those things came together so perfectly, and it just made sense that this was the first offering for Hauskey.
I know this isn’t the first thing you’ve ever put out, because I know you’ve had bands and hip-hop groups –
– and a five-track Christian music EP when I was 14, but let’s not talk about that.
Was this the first song that you recorded that made you think “this is something that I really want for myself” and not work on it for someone else?
I mean, I've always written for myself, and when I write with others, that's more of a chance to scratch other itches. When it comes down to it, I'm just a music fan. I like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ariana Grande and John Coltrane and Jeff Buckley; I am just a music fan from the get-go, so when it comes to trying to take what's going to make my own artistry, I have to be very distinct and be like, “Okay, this is what I want the sound to be like.” Otherwise, I'm going to start throwing in heavy metal riffs and things like that. It's nice to have the ability to scratch those other musical itches and work on a trap song with a Sony artist, or a country song or whatever it might be, and it's nice to just be able to use that part of my brain creatively and artistically to help someone find their vision.
I've only done maybe one or two writing sessions with other people for Hauskey and it's always a strange experience for me. [Music] is quite a private experience, and I don't generally like the vibe of having other people in the room. For these songs, for example, it’s really just me alone in my room.
It sounds like you’re someone that definitely prefers to keep the two sides of songwriting separate.
Very apart, yeah. It's been an interesting experience, like the two sessions that I have done writing with other people for Hauskey have helped me see how strange it can be for the artists that I write with, and how difficult sometimes it is for them to open up to me. It's giving me insight into how I can frame a session better to make it more comfortable for them, so that they can actually get their artistry out and not feel like they're being painted into a corner as so many sessions result in. I feel like the more people you have in the room, the more diluted the lyrics get, and the less personal they get. All of a sudden, you're writing the most boring LA cliches there are.
This song has some major “I’m a dickhead and I messed up” lyrics in it. Can you tell me a bit about this song?
It's funny because my self-deprecation definitely might come across as me admitting how evil I am, but I don't think I'm evil. I just have a real idealistic perspective of how a human should be perfect all the time, and when I don't live up to that or I don't maintain that level of perfectionism as a person, then I get down on myself.
Me and my partner very rarely argue, but there was this one night where I was tired and she was tired, and we're going to a comedy night in Newtown and yeah, we just got in each other's hair a bit - I was being a bit of a twit. We went to bed for the first time in a long time where we rolled over and didn't sleep cuddling which sounds very corny, but y’know. The next morning, I woke up and heard the bin truck beeping away and realised that I'd forgotten to take the bins out, and that was sort of the last straw for me. I just felt like shit and wanted to write a song about it. It all came out quite naturally. I wish they were all that easy.
It’s interesting when talking to artists that have these very intimate, hyper-personal songs, and how many of them came out in like ten minutes, and which ones took months and months to get perfect.
You've got to capture the lightning in the bottle initially, but you’ve certainly got to work hard to shine the diamond if you will. I think it's just a matter of taste and knowing when it's time to let a lyric go, or when it's time to work on it continually. I feel like the majority of sessions I'm in, most of the artists could work things harder, including myself - I feel like you could always work things harder to make it better and improve on the lyrics and improve on the structure. I think it's just a matter of knowing when to keep going and when to let go.
This song was written right at the start of the Sydney lockdown, and so, it’s a bit of a snapshot of how you were feeling then. How did you feel when you started to become accustomed to what was happening and how you felt about it?
I still feel the same way. I'm seeing what's going on in the States and Europe and it makes me incredibly grateful to be in Australia. When talking to people in Europe and America who are just totally disheartened and have no end in sight, you really feel for them. My mum is in Europe, and she's in lockdown, and it's hectic over there. I still feel the same way just from looking at what's going on everywhere, and just because it’s away from me doesn't mean that it doesn't affect me emotionally.
Has there been anything that you've turned to for escapism during this time?
Yeah, I never thought I'd be getting into gaming. I bought the cheapest PS4 I could find on Marketplace and it's nice to have something to really take over your brain for a little while. Even watching Netflix I find myself dawdling as my brain just gets distracted, and I start thinking about all the doom stuff that I've been looking at on Twitter all day and all the horrible news, but playing a game is like so enthralling that you get completely immersed in this world of Spiderman or whatever it might be. That's been an awesome escape. It's not something that I ever thought I'd get into, but it's been nice. We also got a rescue dog like the second weekend, which has been a great escape. She's just an old kelpy and we've been looking after her, so that was a nice distraction. It's funny how when stuff goes wrong and is out of your control, you are hyper-focused on the things you can control, and while I couldn't help my family overseas or anything to help with what was going on with COVID, I could get a rescue dog who's been treated like shit, and I can help with that - that's something I can do.
A lot of your work teeters on this indie/R&B/pop boundary that - like you said before - comes from generations and genres of music all over the place. Is there ever a conscious effort to balance everything you take inspiration from in your work?
I definitely know when something feels like it's going too far into a certain genre or too far into a certain vibe, it's weird that sometimes a certain guitar tone or a certain snare or hi-hat might send it into slightly too jazzy territory or slightly too rock territory and yeah, I'm always trying to find where that balance is. It's a constant to’ing and from’ing, especially when I'm working on the production myself. It's just trying to balance things out to make sure they fit in a hopefully semi-fresh way.
You work quite a bit behind-the-scenes with artists, but as Hauskey, you’re largely the sole songwriter and producer. Do you prefer having that full control over every facet of your musicality?
I don't think what I do is smart, so I don't think it's the best way to do it or the most time-friendly way to do it. It would be so much easier to send my stuff off to another producer and get it done with someone else, because if I get a producer in to help me with this, it's one less thing I have to concentrate on. At the moment, I’m working on lyric videos and stuff - it'd be so much easier to just send that someone else and get them to do it, but I love the process it. The idea of an artist giving the process of creating to someone else is something that never made sense to me, it always made sense that if you were going to put your name on it, then it was your art. I don't think I'm the best producer, the best writer and the best musician, but putting all those things together and trying to make songs that I love is unique to me because I made all the decisions. As soon as you throw someone else's opinion in there, I feel like it’s what I said before: the more people you throw into the kitchen, the more the whole process becomes not you.
I think that's why people are drawn to stuff like Clairo. It’s just GarageBand loop beats but there's an authenticity to it, and there's a feeling and a heart to it. That is so unique to her because she did it all herself. This EP is my artistic vision, and I love that. I don't think there's the perfect mix, or the perfect production or the perfect songwriting, it's just that the more things get generalized in music, the more things start to sound the same.
Your music has a very reflective quality to it. What role does music and songwriting have in processing your life?
I mean, as an Australian male, I don't think our strong point is expression, especially not in communicating one on one with another person. So being able to think and stew in emotion for a little while, figure out how I feel, how I might have made someone else feel, and then get it all out and summarize it in a song is... I’d probably be a way more fucked human being if I didn't have it. It's cathartic, it's therapeutic and it's probably the one thing that keeps me going, because it is this bandaid on my emotions, as corny as that sounds.
The way you write about things is very real and genuine. Is there anyone you’re drawn to in that relatable songwriting?
Angie McMahon nails that. There's poetry in the mundane in her lyricism. Like she could sing about weetbix or something and it would be so profound. I don't think there's any right way to write a song, but for me, I prefer songs that have a little bit of that touch, taste and smell element to it - here's the colour of the scene; here's where I was; here's what was happening; but also there’s an overriding theme to it that is emotional and quantifies what you're trying to say.
My girlfriend's mad at me, we're watching a movie and I'm frustrated about it - sure, you could end there, but I took it one step further. Like, the line “Why do you say you’re good when you're not good?” It started off as it being about that particular instance, but it turned into being more about mental health in general and how we do struggle to actually tell people and dive into how we are doing, because it takes time and it takes resources and it takes emotions and a lot out of you to really describe to someone how you're really truthfully doing. We kind of suck at that. This was me trying to reflect on that as best as I could, using the story that actually happened to me.
Can you tell me a bit about this song?
The only other job I've ever had apart from playing covers in crappy bars was one day at Dick Smith, which didn't pan out so well. I'm not skilled to do anything else aside from music, and a lot of my friends back in Perth are lawyers; they're getting married, buying homes, having kids and I'm just here trying to write songs and thinking if it doesn't work out, I'm fucked. This song is just me pouring that out, talking about my friends becoming lawyers and how I'm here wasting my money on takeout and hoping that someone likes my songs, knowing how competitive music is.
I don't know how many people are writing music, but there’s something like 40,000 songs added to Spotify every day. It's a crazy amount of competition and I know the odds, but I'm throwing it all in one egg basket and hoping that it works out.
Do you feel like you’ve done everything you can to ensure that this whole music career works for you?
I mean, I wasn't born into a wealthy family in LA, which is a nice start to have. I was born into a weird family in the Helena Valley, which is not an ideal start, but I think I was aware of that. I found a journal from when I was like 16 or 17, and I wrote that I'd rather live a short life doing what I love than a long life doing what I hate, and from that age, that guided all my decisions. I just like music and I'll keep doing it as long as it works out, and even if it doesn't work out, I'll probably still sell CDs down at Newtown station.
I'm trying not to be delusional about the likelihood of things working out, because there are so many talented people and so much music being released just in Australia alone. I think you have to be humble about the odds, and you have to be humble about what you have to offer.
You & Me
This EP is very much an introductory point to your music, and from that, the person behind it too - being you. Is there anything you want people to have taken away by the time they get to this point in the EP?
I hope it helps some people take their mental health more seriously. If I had to boil it down to one thing, it’s that. I feel like it's the common thread between at least a lot of the EP.
How do you see the EP informing what you do in the future?
I definitely didn't want an EP that had six Slows on it, put it that way. I wanted an EP that had some depth and some variety, so that you weren't sure what I was going to come back with next year. There’s like 30 songs ready to be released and I've got another couple months of writing over December and January before anyone starts releasing music again, so there's already a lot there ready to go. But in terms of where I take things songwriting-wise, it's hard to say. I've been writing a lot this year, and I feel like I almost need to live a bit to get some stuff to write about again - there's only so many lockdown songs you can write, and only so much inspiration you can get from that. I think the best music comes from being human and writing about human things, writing about life and real shit - not just being in the studio hustling and hustling, writing the same song over and over and over and over again. I'm going to try do some living and find some inspiration to write about some different vibes to that bag of 30/40 songs that I've got, which I'm really excited about.
Also, just fleshing out different sonic vibes and push myself musically. That's the exciting thing about doing it all myself, it’s that I'm always trying to one up myself and improve and push the boundaries. I get sick of things pretty easily. So I want to keep trying to do new stuff that still feels somewhat in the vein of what people expect from the Hauskey project - I'm not gonna come out with a disco album or a Christmas album, but there's definitely scope for me to explore.
That's one thing I really love about the team that I've got at the moment. They're all very respectful of me and my creativity and where I want to take things, letting me take control of the music, sure, but also the videos and the production and the writing - all of it. There's no pressure to push me in any one direction which is really nice.
Hauskey's debut EP Slow is out now via Neon Records, Slowplay + Republic/Polydor Records.
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