Interview: Black Hay

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Echotic chats to front man of London-based Black Hay, Gideon K.

Who is/are Black Hay?
A bunch of guys discontent with what our generation seems to be about. Black Hay is a band based in London, UK who play lots of songs that wouldn’t go down too well at a wedding. The line up (currently) is myself, Rotem (bass) and Jack (guitar). I sing and play a bunch of instruments, and write songs. The other guys channel brilliance and maintain secrets.

If you could describe the sound of Black Hay in 3 words what would it be?
Don’t look down.

What/who are your influences?
It varies. I’m assuming you don’t want a 10-page list here. I like storytellers, and entertaining characters who know there’s more to the truth than mere facts. Old men with good suits and hard shoes are always a winner. Johnny Cash, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, REM, Stooges, Afghan Whigs, of course Nick Cave and Tom Waits. People who create their own worlds like the Smashing Pumpkins or Miles Davis.

Nowadays it’s mostly anyone who seems to own the moment they’re performing in. I like people with really aggressive and inaccessible voices. Anything with gusto, balls, and humour. But it’s fair to say I’m equally influenced by all the music I dislike or disapprove of as it’s a constant reminder of what not to do.

What kinds of things inspire you during the songwriting process?
I’ll take what I can get in the inspiration stakes, but usually it’s the mystery of the whole thing. Mark Eitzel, a songwriter I love and admire greatly, said something about never really knowing what a song is about while you’re writing it. There’s a thrill to following the thread and that’s usually what gets me started one way or another – the inevitable itch. Trying to break away from yourself, and what you’ve already done.

One of my favourite feelings that I get from writing, and performing, is feeling like I’m getting away with something that would otherwise get me in trouble. It takes a good amount of chutzpah, but I feel like I get away with a lot of cheekiness in songwriting, trying to make people feel things they would rather not feel, and then having them thank you for it at the end.

That and lots of chai.

Do you like to write in seclusion or in a more collaborative fashion with the band?
Solitude is the key. So far I’ve written everything in a very secluded manner. I get more done alone generally. I’ve only met a few people I’ve been able to create spontaneously with, but that is something I’m increasingly drawn to. One needs the right chemistry. Writing with people can be like trying to mix cocktails whilst driving uphill in traffic – dangerous and not always rewarding. I’m definitely keen to get working on some newer material with the band and seeing what kind of black gold they have in their heads.

What is your live set-up like?
It varies. At the moment it’s just vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and bass. No drums. Elvis and Johnny Cash did some great stuff like that. We’re looking at probably bringing in some percussion or a drum machine soon, although I’d love to do some stuff with just a string quartet sometime though.

If you could work/collaborate with anybody (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
I love this question. There are loads of people I’d like to work with.

Dead: Nina Simone. I would kneel at the alter of the high priestess just to catch a glimpse of her humanity in person. Louis Armstrong too. Just the sheer beauty of the personality that comes through. Old country gals like Skeeter Davis and Billie Jo Spears also appeal.

Alive: I’d love to write some songs for Beyoncé. She hasn’t put out even a half-decent song since Crazy in Love, and that was over ten years ago. Such a waste of a fine talent. Check out her album credits – there’s about 5 people credited on some of those tracks, and they’re all crap. I’ve written a song for Bob Dylan too, but I’ve no idea how to get it out to him or his people. Other than that, there are a lot of female singers I would love to duet with – Inger Lorre, Sandy Dillon, Lykke Li… I could die happy if Baby Gramps did a weird version of one of my songs. I’d love to work with Prince too. And Keith Richards. At the same time. That would be interesting.

Are there any other acts/artists you recommend people check out?
As a matter of fact there are. JB Newman and the Black Letter Band – great live band, righteous fun, excellent tailoring. Also, Georges Kaplan Presents… a unique band comprised of saxophone, electric keys, and stomping feet. They need environmental supervision – exploding heads are a regular occurrence at their gigs. We’ve done a bunch of shows with both bands and it’s always a pleasure.

What is Black Hay’s upcoming plans?
Musically, we plan to get a lot weirder from now on I think. We’ve our first full-length album. It’s called Romantic Music For Perverts. We’ll also be putting out at least one other EP this year, maybe some videos. There is a general plan to be ready to record another album this summer, and play as much between now and the end of the year. We’re trying to find a way to eviscerate the traditional model of musical stage show. The usual stuff. It would be nice to have our own line of action figures. Any other plans are pretty much secret until they happen.

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