PHOTO CREDIT: Diego Indraccolo
IT has been a couple of years since I last...
spoke to HEZEN and, whilst one or two of my questions are the same, the latest single from her is definitely not. I ask about Bring Your Alibi and ask HEZEN about current controversies involving Ryan Adams and R. Kelly and whether she feels there is a lack of protection in the music industry at the moment.
She selects some special albums and a few rising artists to watch; how important it is being on stage and how she unwinds away from the strain and stress of music – she selects a great track to end the interview with.
Hi, HEZEN. How are you? How has your week been?
I'm good, thank you! I just arrived at my parents’ back in France, outside Paris. I'm playing my first Parisian date ever on Monday, 11th March, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to come a little earlier and help my parents pack – they're moving to Martinique, where my mum is from, in a few months. I'm also going to save the old notebooks where I used to write songs and poems when I was a kid - because people say that it's the kind of thing that one day I'll open with fondness. I've got my doubts about that but, whatever.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Sarah. I'm a French producer/singer; living in North London for the past eight years and going under the name HEZEN. I make Dark-Pop with a neon-noir, futuristic edge (think The Little Mermaid-meets-Blade Runner).
Bring Your Alibi is your new single. Is there a story behind the song?
It started in May 2018. I had invited my friend, Laurane Marchive, over for a lyric-writing session. I had never written with someone else before but Laurane is an amazing writer so when she suggested we tried something - I was really into the idea. The week before, Harvey Weinstein had turned himself in to the N.Y. police on sexual assault charges. Being that most our conversations are about feminist issues, we naturally started to come up with an idea related to it. We wanted to write something empowering, something badass; using the trope of the weak and defenceless woman who turns out to be dangerous A.F. and takes her abuser down, like a feminist version of David vs. Goliath.
We visualised Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as our protagonist. It's the song she sings as she's getting ready in the morning, putting a nice dress on; too much makeup. To me, she represents all the people from the #MeToo movement (and beyond) who had the courage to come forward and the person the song is addressed to is all their abusers. This is a song about justice but it's also a warning: you think you're gonna get away with this? Think again.
Do you think the recent news stories involving Ryan Adams and R. Kelly show a lack of awareness and protection from the music industry in general? Do you foresee changes coming regarding the way women are treated?
The misconducts and crimes that have been exposed in the art industries are the ones that ended up making the most noise, for obvious reasons. But, I don't think they're necessarily representative of a problem that's specific to these industries: that's just the exposed tip of the iceberg. I think what the #MeToo movement has shown, in such a shockingly democratic way, is how prevalent sexual assault and harassment are, in every industry, and how the lack of awareness and protection is just our reality as a whole: it's a system structured in a way that it protects abusers and discourages victims to speak.
We're not going to wake up tomorrow with no more sexual predators, nor in a world where victims can expect to be protected by the judicial system; the one that still today finds relevant information in the kind of clothes they were wearing or how much they had drunk when they were harassed or attacked. It's going to take time to program the kind of society we want but, if you look at history, going towards a more just and equal society seems like an ineluctable force (there's still loads to do but I'm a hopeless optimist).
I do think there's a before and after #MeToo, though. I think we've reached a critical mass, one where the problem-gangrening society cannot be brushed under the carpet anymore and people will be less and less afraid of speaking up. That's true for women - but hopefully for men and everybody else too.
As long as we keep the conversation going...
PHOTO CREDIT: Diego Indraccolo
Might we see an E.P. or album later this year?
Bring Your Alibi is the first out of three songs I wrote last year and will be releasing before the summer. To me, they're part of the same chapter: it's called Safe & Bound. I've also started this year's chapter and I'm incredibly excited about the direction it's taking. I'm hoping to release it soon after Safe & Bound.
When did music come into your life? Did your parents play a big role?
At home, my parents played a lot of music, from Chanson Française to Classical music and a lot of U.K. and U.S. classics – Elton John, Neil Young; Pink Floyd, The Beatles; Queen...my dad is very musical and, in my memory, he'd play the guitar or the keys most evenings. I started writing songs when I was thirteen and he's been supportive ever since; buying me my first guitar and being the first to hear my demos recorded on Audacity with a computer microphone. He was hard to please. He still is.
Which artists were important to you growing up? Who do you rank as idols?
It's a hard question: I feel like so many had their own impact on me...I guess music started becoming a very personal and intense experience when I was young teenager (like most people). At the time, I discovered Nirvana, Pink Floyd; Sia, Led Zeppelin; Muse (pre-Black Holes and Revelations, obviously), Radiohead, Björk and all of them were very important to me. Muse is the band that made me want to write songs and Unintended was the first song I taught myself on the guitar (I was and still am such an Emo kid).
I heard Sia's Breathe Me on the radio and I think I stopped breathing during the whole song. The same thing happened when I heard Karma Police by Radiohead, Chop Suey by System of a Down and Is There Anybody Out There? by Pink Floyd. Later, I discovered Trip-Hop and that changed my life: Massive Attack, Tricky; UNKLE, Portishead...basically, anything that was dark and/or very sad I was an absolute sucker for.
PHOTO CREDIT: Diego Indraccolo
Looking back at your earliest work, what are the main changes/developments you have seen inside yourself?
I think I take it all less seriously. I've always used songwriting as a catharsis; as my only way of expressing and processing my emotions. But, my creative process was often painful and I lacked the confidence to express myself in an approachable way, often hiding behind words and production. I still write based on my experiences but I've now allowed fun in my work, as well as accepted being more vulnerable by being more honest and direct. It helps that I also feel more confident in my production skills and, over time, I've enjoyed simplifying, having more space and less elements.
I've definitely felt a shift in what and how I create and that really happened last year when, after working hard on myself, I came out of depression and had some sort of creative epiphany. The tree songs of the E.P. I'll be releasing are the result of it.
Do you have a standout memory from your time in music so far?
One of my biggest handicaps in life is that I have no memory, so it's very hard to answer this question. So, I'll stick to something recent – writing Terrible Animals last year - the song I'm releasing next month - is standing out for me because it marks the beginning of getting my head out of the water and relearning the joys of music-making, which I had forgotten.
PHOTO CREDIT: Isaac Murai
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
You asked me this question two years ago, but I guess I should come up with three different ones (smiles).
Overgrown – James Blake
It's a masterpiece. It's had a huge influence on me and it's been teaching me about simplicity.
Rossz Csillag Alatt Született – Venetian Snares
Another masterpiece. It's one of the saddest and darkest albums I've ever heard, but it's also incredibly beautiful. His blending of strings and electronic beats has shaped my music so much.
Homogenic – Björk
I think it's the album that made me drop my acoustic guitar and teach myself production. And it probably all started with All Is Full of Love.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
Young Fathers. On my rider, I'd want lots of olives of different kinds; whiskey sours on demand and a dressing gown.
PHOTO CREDIT: @sarahezen
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
That's a good question...
To be honest, I don't do much that isn't music-related, aside from a healthy amount of procrastination and occasional Netflix evening sesh. I do love cooking, so I guess that's my twice-daily dose of unwinding. I'm also lucky to live very close to Hampstead Heath, so a walk up to Parliament Hill to look at the London skyline often helps when I feel a little overwhelmed.
How important is performing? Do you prefer it to life in the studio?
Performing is vital to me. I'd go mental otherwise; writing songs behind my computer without ever living them in the flesh. There's an energy I find only on stage and it's such a magical moment for me when I can perform a song that's only lived in my computer until then and feel how people react to it. I've set myself this challenge this year: of having one new song per gig. The two worlds have been fostering each other - having a deadline has boosted my creativity in the studio and it's made gigging even more exciting because I get to share something new and get almost immediate feedback from people who come to my show.
But, I'm also a massive geek and I can spend days on end working on a track and not speak to another human with no major problem.
IN THIS PHOTO: Tamino
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Recently, I discovered a few gems I'm super-excited about. There's Farai and her liberatingly W.T.F. prose and sick production; Tamino, who I fell in love with (even more after seeing him live last year at Omeara); the dreamy Imperial Daze (to catch live absolutely) but also Alxndr London, Joji and Erland Cooper...
IN THIS PHOTO: Imperial Daze/PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Heaton
Might we see you on tour in 2019?
That would be really nice. I'll let you know if that happens!
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Yseult – Rien à prouver