Hattie Briggs is a 21 year old singer/songwriter from Gloucestershire. She was nominated for the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2014, after performing at Radio 2’s Albert Hall Folk Concert. She’s received great support from BBC Radio 6 Music and Radio 2, as well as achieving independent single success through iTunes and Spotify. She’s a hot favourite to win the BBC Young Folk Artist of the Year award this year.
Hattie’s debut album, “Red and Gold”, comes out April 6, and features guest appearances by Dan Cassidy (brother of Eva) and Alec Dankworth, son of Johnny Dankworth. Hattie is currently on tour across the UK.
I met up with Hattie Briggs in The Lucky Pig, an underground (literally) bar and performance space in Fitzrovia, London, where she was due to perform with Henry Fraser, an Australian singer now living in London. For the unintiated, Fitzrovia is basically the area behind BBC Radio 1, a short walk from Regent’s Park in one direction, and Oxford Circus in the other. You’d expect, given it’s smack bang in the middle of Westminster, that it’d be noisy, but no. Go downstairs to the Lucky Pig and you enter another world – dimly lit, yet very cosy, paint and paper aesthetically (and quite possibly deliberately) peeling from the walls, while overstuffed chairs and chaise longes fill the room. The acoustics are brilliant, which makes it a very suitable place for singers to perform. There’s some lovely little alcoves all around the venue, and it’s in one of these I chatted to Hattie.
I really like “Pull Me Down”
No, that was beautiful. At EP we deal with a lot of people who…well, we believe there’s music that deserves to be heard that’s never heard on the radio, and a lot of singers you know, you have to fit into a particular mould, and if you don’t fit that particular mould, you know, the production line, if you’ve got a bit sticking out they’re like, oh no no you don’t fit exactly in our box, chuck you out the other end.
So – is that the sort of thing you’re singing about, you want to stay true to yourself?
Yeah completely! I wrote that when I first started to think I wanted to do music as a career, so I guess it’s about my fears of the music industry, and being changed into an artist that I don’t want to be.
Cos you’ve got to keep your originality
Exactly! And your integrity!
You don’t want to be moulded into someone else’s idea of you. What’s your advice to others to stay true to themselves?
I guess you just have to have confidence in your own abilities and know what you’re about. I think especially if you’re writing your own stuff, it’s a lot easier to be true to yourself than if you’re signed to a record label and they say, right, you’re singing this song. I think as long as you’re savvy about it, that you know you can be ripped off and just used by companies within the record business – but if you know about it, if you’ve got a team around you that can protect you, and is helping you out, then there’s no reason for that to happen.
So you’re totally independent?
I don’t have a record label.
I think that’s the way of the future! I think more and more artists are saying, “hang on, why am I giving 10-15% to someone who’s doing bugger all”
Sometimes much more than that!
Yeah that’s right! And it’s like, what am I getting for my money? Am I making any money out of iTunes or…
…it’s so much easier now, you can put your own stuff on iTunes, you can distribute it digitally online, various websites…
…and you use SoundCloud as well…
…you find it all useful…
Yeah all those things – YouTube – I mean, you can do so much for yourself – you can get CDs printed for yourself, sell them at gigs…
Have you found it’s a very big, and confusing, and far more complicated business than you ever thought it was going to be?
Some of it’s a bit complicated, some of it, like the admin side of things, is a lot to do, I wouldn’t say it’s complicated, I mean, once you know how to do it, it’s not that difficult. It’s just that there’s a lot to do, online with registering for this, and making sure that these people know you’re doing this, and all of that. I do send a lot of emails and apply to a lot of festivals that way. But I wouldn’t say it’s over-complicated – you can buy great books and things – I’ve got this great book called “The Music Industry” and I’ve read that and it helps with everything – it’s not that big, it’s like a normal length book – there’s a lot of resources out there.
Just like university!
Yeah! Pretty much!
Now – you were reading Russian at Oxford – why were you reading Russian? Is that a great passion? Dostoyevsky?
Well, I’ve read Dostoyevsky!
My school was very into languages, and it was an option at school, and I studied Russian for GCSEs and then I did the International Baccalaureate and I just had this amazing teacher, and so it ended being my best subject. I didn’t know I wanted to do music then, so I just did my best subjects at university. You don’t know what you want to do in life at that age, so I just did what seemed like a good idea at the time. And then I realised when I was at uni that music was what I wanted to do, but I kind of had to get there to realise it.
You’ve obviously fallen very well on your feet!
You cite your musical influences as being Joni Mitchell, Eva Cassidy, James Taylor – what is it about their songs that inspires you so much? I mean, they’re all very similar – they go beyond being just folky…
I think it’s just the words really mean something. And I’ve just related to their songs, it doesn’t matter how many times I listen to them, I’ll still feel an emotional pull towards them, and they’re not following any trend, they’re just being themselves, while being catchy tunes and beautiful melodies, great fingerpicking on the guitar and all that. I think that’s what makes it special, they’re not trying to be anything.
Their songs tell a story – it’s not just like, “baby baby love you love you”
Exactly! It’s not your classic pop song that’s generic…a lot of Joni Mitchell’s songs are like she’s just talking to you – it just happens to be in a song, which is an amazing thing to be able to do. it’s just storytelling, it’s great storytelling.
That leads me to my next question, which is about “A Beautiful Mind”. Again, I found this very moving. You quote Peggy Seeger, that “Pete didn’t write the songs, he only wrote them down”. Now do you feel that with your songs?
Well, sometimes, I do, not always, I wish I felt it more often, the ironic thing with “A Beautiful Mind” is I really did feel that, it just came so easily.
So where did that come from?
Well I saw Peggy at the Folk Awards, and normally when I start writing a song I don’t go alright it’s going to be about this, it’s sort of quite vague, and then it grows into something, but this one I’d sat down and I thought, “I’d really like to write a song about Pete Seeger”, and it just happened that way, and I had the riff and I think I wrote it in a day or two – it quite often takes weeks. It was really easy.
I’ve tried writing songs – how do you DO that – how do you actually make that say what it says – I was listening to “Share Your Heart” and it says, “It’s hard to write a love song when you’ve never been in love” – that’s really cool – that’s like letting people look inside your head – how do you do that? First of all, how do you feel comfortable doing that?
I know, a lot of my music is very personal…
…it’s so good because it encourages that relationship between the listener and the artist…
…I think it’s important, because so many songs today are very impersonal, you know, your generic pop song about love, you know, it’s just any old thing, they’re all the same. I think it’s really important to put some of yourself into your songs.
We’ve talked about deciding to leave uni – how did your parents cope with that?
They were super supportive actually. They didn’t necessarily think I was going to drop out, but I’d sort of hinted to my Mum that I might, and it took me a while to sort of realise that dropping out was an option, in my own mind, and when I decided that, it was quite an easy decision, and so I said to my Mum, I’ve got to talk to you about something, and drove home to my Dad’s, and so I got there and I was like, “So Mum I want to drop out of university” and she just looked at me and said, “well I’m not very surprised” and she asked me what I was going to do with my time and I’d sort of written a bit of a list and knew what I was going to do, and she said, okay then, that’s fine!
Are your parents part of “Hattie Inc”?
My Mum is! My Dad’s not at all, he’s very supportive, but he’s got no clue about any of it, but my Mum’s always worked in marketing and sales, and computery things, and so she’s really helpful, she helps me a lot on the admin side, does my website, also helps me with gig bookings, that sort of thing.
All the sort of stuff that stops you from being “Hattie Briggs – Performer”
Yeah (having her there) means I can basically do a lot more of what I want to do – I still have to do a lot of the admin stuff as well. I’ve got a bit of a management team, I’ve got my Mum, I’ve got my manager, and I’ve got my producer, and they all sort of chip in and do stuff.
It’s handy having a family member being your PA, because they know you, they’ve got your best interests at heart, and they might even say stuff like, “come on, it’s time for bed now”…
…well it’s normally the other way around! “Mum turn off the computer! It’s 11.30!”
Bit of a fun one now! Who would your ultimate collaboration be, living or dead?
Difficult! On the modern side of things, probably Adele, or Sarah McLachlan, I love her stuff. I’d love to do a duet with James Taylor, though, that’d just be so cool. I mean, there’s tons of people – Katie Melua…
And she’s another one of these ones who writes insanely complicated songs that look inside her head, and you think, where did this come from?! That is just amazing!
What would we find in your music collection that would totally surprise us?
I do occasionally like a bit of Eminem!
He also has some very very good lyrics!
I mean, I won’t sit down and listen to a whole album of Eminem, but I do have him on my phone, and on my gym playlist, and I find his music, what’s the word, not inspirational…he kinda gets you going…driving. Who else? Guilty pleasures like Chris de Burgh, and Celine Dion, you know, the old balladeers!
What is your favourite thing about performing live?
I think it’s instant feedback, really. When you get a vibe from an audience you can really sort of use that to enhance your own performance. If it’s a good crowd response, if people are really up for it, then it’s just the best feeling in the world. And sometimes I find myself getting a bit emotional singing a song, and if it’s a certain type of gig, it can really get to you, and you can feel like you’re playing a song for the first time.
And finally! How much are your songs influenced by your surroundings? Do you think you’d be a different sort of songwriter if you were living in say, Tower Hamlets, or something like that, whereas you’re living in Gloucestershire…
Maybe…I mean I’ve grown up in the country, I’ve always lived in the country, so I’m sure that must have influenced the way that I write. It’s not massively urban…but I quite like to sit and write in different places, if you always write in the same place then you feel like you’re in a bit of a rut, like I’ll go down to my Dad’s and write stuff, and in my Mum’s living room, and in the shepherd’s hut, and if I go do some practice with Henry over at his place in London, just wherever I am, it’s quite nice to be in different places.
You’ve got a style though, haven’t you, you will sort of, gravitate to that particular style…
…listening to your whole album, even your cover of “Fields of Gold”, so beautiful – it still had your touch on it, you’re still you. I mean, you could hear that you were basing it on the Eva Cassidy cover, it didn’t sound anything like Sting – but it was YOU. It still belonged in the whole album.
Thank you so much for your time Hattie! It was so lovely talking to you!
Check out the official video for Hattie’s song, “Old Eyes”: