Welsh singer/songwriter H Hawkline – otherwise known as Huw Evans – has a knack for creating strange, and sometimes bilingual, pop reminiscent of fellow countrymen Gruff Rhys and Euros Childs. Signed to Heavenly Recordings, he’s just released In The Pink Of Condition, an album packed with wonderfully beguiling lyrics and chugging melodies – the first single from the album, Moons in My Mirror, is an infectious gem. Now living in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Cate Le Bon, who also produced his album, H Hawkline is back in the UK touring throughout February. I spoke to him shortly before he set off on tour.
How you doing Huw, are you all set for the tour? I hear you’ve already done a few small gigs?
I did an in-store in Spillers in Cardiff and I did Heavenly’s 25th birthday anniversary bash up in Hebden Bridge, so there’s been those two gigs.
How did the new album go down in Hebden Bridge?
Yeh it was good, the band were great. Obviously because it’s a solo project you have to hire people in … I mean, I say hire people in, it’s basically asking your friends if they will play for you. So there was a lot for everyone to learn, but it was good, there were moments where it felt like it was our first gig and moments where it clicked. It was good fun and a great weekend – any excuse to hang out with Jeff and Danny from Heavenly is always welcome, they’re just fun people to hang out with.
Who is playing in the band?
Steve (Sweet Baboo) is going to be playing guitar, usually he plays bass for me but I’ve got Guto Pryce from Gulp and before that the Super Furry Animals on bass, and then Andy Fung – who is Cate’s old drummer – he’s going to be playing drums for us; he’s a great drummer and a wonderful man. It’s a good crew of friends who also happen to be top musicians.
You’re living in LA at the moment, what’s it like being back in the UK?
It’s lovely being back, it’s nice, at the minute I’m living in the house I used to live in in Cardiff. It’s always nice coming back and seeing friends and hanging out with family. We miss home a lot.
You recorded the album at the Seahorse Sound Studios – it’s quite lo-fi from what I gather, was that important or was it just convenient giving you were living in LA?
I would certainly not describe it as lo-fi, the gear he has there is amazing, he does use a beautiful old mixing desk – it’s a 70’s Neve mixing desk, but it’s hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars worth of kit. The drum sound may be lo-fi, but to me it’s more just a live sound.
Cate produced the album didn’t she?
She did, yeah. The idea of getting someone else in to produce is that I’m quite an indecisive person and, you know, when you’re trying to make a record in two weeks you need to be making decisions and they need to be final decisions. You don’t want to be going back four days later and changing things. I like to spend lots of time just doing things over and over again; I think one of Cate’s strengths is she’s good at making decisions and I trust the decisions she makes. It was nice to have her there to say, “no, we’ll do this sound”. That’s kind of how it worked. When she produces, she’s not actually on the desk turning the controls, she’s suggesting ideas how things should be played and how things should be paced. And obviously she plays on it as well.
You live together in LA don’t you? How was that, living and working on an album together?
It was definitely an intense two weeks. When we got home we tried not to talk about it, but that was quite difficult because you just have these songs running around your head, you’re completely involved for the two weeks you’re doing it. It was nice.
In The Pink of Condition is your first album since 2011 – you released Ghouls and Black Domino as EPs. Why didn’t you release those two as an album?
They were meant to be an album, they were recorded together at the same time, but it came down to financial reasons, I just didn’t have enough money. Adam Killip who runs Trash Aesthetics suggested paying for the studio and, for that, I give him five of the songs to release as an EP. We had 14 songs recorded, so the idea initially was we would do that EP and then I would find a label to release the rest of them. The Black Domino EP came out and then time went by and I just wanted to get something else out, so I sent Turnstile the songs and they were really into them. So much time had gone by I felt it would have been silly to release the album, so I just did the rest of the songs as an EP with Turnstile.
I love the lyrics on In The Pink of Condition and I know you’re a big fan of the American poet Richard Brautigan; have you ever been tempted to release a book of poetry without setting it to music?
Oh God, I would never dream of calling myself … you know, I would never be so bold as to call myself a poet. I don’t really work that way round, I tend to write music first; it’s very rare that I just sit down and write lyrics, I need a rhythm and a measure to write the lyrics to. It’s always the music that comes first. I enjoy writing lyrics, but it’s more about the song. I’m always conscious that I want to write a song that I would want to listen to and come up with interesting ways of saying things. I don’t know if I succeed or not, but I definitely try.
You’re music is often described as melodic pop, it has a similar feel to other Welsh musicians such as Euros Childs and Gruff Rhys – do you think that has something to do with the Welsh language? Does it lend itself to that kind of music or that kind of take on life?
I definitely think there are certain groups of bands from Wales who write music that has an ear for a melody, but I don’t know if it’s the language or not. It’s definitely a sing-song kind of language and, you know, when you speak Welsh it’s quite lilting and very up and down in its melody, so potentially it could be a reason. But then Scotland also produces bands like Teenage Fanclub and Belle and Sebastian, it’s another place that produces lots of bands with a keen ear for a melody.
You know Gruff Rhys quite well, but you must have been aware of him and the Super Furry Animals when you were growing up in Wales, where they a big influence?
They were massive. I was always a huge fan of his since I was a teenager and they were one of my favourite bands. I think they were for most teenagers in Wales in that era, they were one of everybody’s favourite bands, they were able to write stone-cold pop hits. Everything about them and the way they went about things – out of all those britpop bands they seemed to have this air. They always seemed to be making this great music, but they were having a laugh. So Gruff has always been an influence on me, but not only in songwriting and the way his music sounds but him as a person and the way he is in interviews and the ideas and the humour behind everything. He was very important to me as a kid growing up and then I was lucky enough to kind of get to know him through music. He’s just a lovely man, you know. A good role model for people making music. He’s an insanely creative person and he’s always got one eye on the next thing he’s going to be doing. I think that’s a healthy way to be: to always be thinking about the next project.
You’re also friends with Tim Presley – White Fence – and he plays in Cate’s band, are you all neighbours in LA, hanging out playing in each other’s bands?
They live reasonably close to us in Los Angeles. Cate is playing in his band at the minute, she’s playing guitar. Cate played a gig in LA about four years ago and needed a support band, so I suggested White Fence as I was a big fan. They played and we all kept in touch. I think Tim is an incredible musician; I’m a big fan of his records. On the surface they are deceptively simple songs, but then when you listen to them they are really complicated, quite bizarre songs with strange time changes and chords. He’s an incredible lyricist as well; when you see him live he’s shredding on the guitar, but he writes incredible lyrics. He’s a musician I’d say is a poet, he prints lyrics with his records and they are beautiful.
H Hawkline played a live set at Electrowerkz and here are the photos taken by Rachel. Here own website is here Rachel Lipsitz
Interview by Craig Scott February 2015
Portraits by Rachel Lipsitz February 2015