Hatchie is the final dance montage at the end of an 80's feel–good flick. Hatchie is neon lighting and strong fog machines. Hatchie is so simultaneously classic and revolutionary, she's already making waves in her native Australia and in North America, having only put out her EP Sugar and Spice in the summer of last year.
Hatchie is also Harriette Pilbeam, a Brisbane native who started writing music as a child, picking up guitar and bass in later years, and joining the bands Go Violets and Babagonouj before embarking on her solo career under the nickname she was given as a child. Sugar and Spice is largely about love and the many forms its takes, drawing sounds from artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, My Bloody Valentine, and Cocteau Twins, the latter Pilbeam cites as an influence. Her single, "Sure," was even remixed by Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins.
"That was crazy, it kind of just happened really quickly over email," Pilbeam says of the remix over the phone, "I think my manager found a way to get in touch with him through 4AD. I think they just sent him the song, just to see if he was into it, not to make any plans. I had only recorded 'Sure' that week, so it was very scary to send him those dems, 'cuz it was early days of really bad demos. I don't know, honestly the number one feeling was scary, more than anything."
The song is a jangly but shiny tune about the tentative end to a relationship, with the relaxed strum of an acoustic guitar complemented perfectly by the floating echo of an electric. Over a softly chiming piano line, Pilbeam sings:
You say you want it to be over
But is it really ever over?
I've been trying but I can't give it up
Yeah I'm not sure about it
But I'm sure you can change my mind
Do you wanna go without me?
Despite the uncertainty, the song injects the listener with life and optimism, and Guthrie's remix captures that idea precisely, glossing the whole song in a wash of shoegaze bliss.
On stage, Hatchie plays bass and sings lead, but tends to write songs on guitar and synth. "That's kind of the easier thing to jump on," Pilbeam says, "I'm not super trained on theory or anything like that. I had music lessons growing up, but I still owe a lot to my ears." The only song she recalls having written on bass was the "Without A Blush," the single from her upcoming album, Keepsake: "I had an idea quickly, and I tend to lose control of it, or forget what exactly I was going for, so I find it best to start recording straight away."
The consistency of Hatchie's sound, from song to song, is one of her defining traits. A Hatchie song tends to feature retro distorted synths, a rhythmic acoustic guitar, and Pilbeam's vocals double tracked to create a chorus–like effect.
"I did that with early demos," Pilbeam says of moving away from that sound, "Now it's just focusing on what's best for the song and what's best for my voice. 'Cuz when I do the demo, I don't put much thought into it, I'm just trying to make it sound least like I'm sitting in my bedroom." It works, though. Sugar and Spice is laced with that sound, immersing the listener in fuzzy guitars and glowing synths, all creating an atmosphere that can be intoxicating.
Looking back at the romance of Sugar and Spice, Pilbeam hopes to move away from that on Keepsake, both thematically and sonically. "Something that I definitely explored with this [record] was the idea of friendship, and friendship being a romance. I think that people often presume that a lot of my songs are about love, because they're very emotional and very dramatic, but they're often just about friendships, or about someone that I'm close to, or wish that I was closer to as a friend. That's definitely the other main thing I explored with this one."
Despite her recent breakout in the global scene, Hatchie feels established as an icon of dreampop and shoegaze. She is already getting comparisons to artists like Slowdive and Mazzy Star. "Sometimes I feel weird about it," she says, "because those artists worked hard to hone their sound and discovered a lot of new sounds, and it's easy for somebody now to replicate. Sometimes I feel a bit sad when I'm compared to older artists like that, but I will always be flattered and honored."
With a rapid rise like this in the last couple of years, one can imagine how overwhelming it can be to stop and appreciate the moment. That idea is what ended up inspiring Pilbeam when choosing the name for her album. "Even though I'm not too much of a nostalgic person," she says, "I like having this physical memory of experiences. I was getting a little bit sentimental about this record being such a big deal, and I hadn't really thought about it, how having it physically will be such a keepsake and such a memento for me of this time of my life, and this experience of recording it and becoming this artist that I am."
Hatchie opens for Girlpool at Underground Arts on Friday, April 26, along with Shannen Moser. More info and tickets available at Underground Arts' website. Keepsake is out June 21 via Double Double Whammy.