Former frontman of the New Wave group Haircut 100, Nick Heyward, will return to Birmingham as part of his brand new UK tour. Following the release of his critically acclaimed new album Woodland Echoes, the musician announced his return to the stage. I spoke to Nick about his musical history, writing process and the connection between his music and nature in an interview featuring Yorkshire accents and a lot of laughs. 

Words by Evie Kissack

Can you tell me about the inspiration behind Woodland Echoes?

It began around 2007, that’s when my son Oliver set up a microphone in my spare bedroom. I’ve been recording up until then, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. You know, I’ve been watching people make albums – I’ve been brought up alongside some brilliant engineers and some brilliant producers and Ollie set me up. My son was getting into Music Technology at the time – now he has actually become a sound engineer. That started when he was about five. I digress...he set me up with that and I recorded Forest of Love first and I had an idea and developed it. It went down very quickly and I was very pleased and I thought, “Oh this is great. The album will be finished in at least a couple of weeks, or so I would imagine.” [Laughter] 

But, then from 2007 I continued. Because it’s a labour of love and it was created from home, I was the record label so I could just continue, and I thought, “It’s finished when it’s finished." And it did. 

Where did you come up with the title for the album?

Well, the title didn’t come right up until the end. It was like the icing on the cake. I came up with the title once the album was made. 

I know the album has been released under your own label, and I wanted to ask about your song writing process. Did you return to the album as and when it felt right to do so? 

I actually would travel and do things, and song writing was just as and when it happened. Sometimes I would have a guitar there, sometimes I wouldn’t. I had the original studio and then I moved. I then put the equipment into storage and so I didn’t have any recording equipment for a while until I rented somewhere else. I rented a place where I had a great spare room and it was all-wooden inside. I had a lovely sound, and that’s where I recorded Beautiful Morning and the phone was placed on the windowsill in the early morning and I captured the dawn chorus. That’s the actual birds from that cottage on the song called The Rise. The cottage was in the countryside and there was the most beautiful birdsong every morning and I couldn’t get the song right. I got the lyrics and it felt like the unfolding of a beautiful morning, but the music took about four or five goes to get right. I went back to the original version where I had sat and improvised Beautiful Morning looking down at my guitar whilst I was playing it. I had re-tuned it down so it felt comfortable and I was just trying to find the right unfolding. I wanted to capture a beautiful morning, but more specifically a particular beautiful morning in 1998 when I had just woken up and felt a deep connection. I thought that would come by not trying, and I recorded it, pressed record, and it fitted. It was very easy. And I really love the songs that have an easy birth and they have a foundation of ‘easiness’. 

Beautiful Morning is actually my favourite track from the new album. I was listening to it this morning before work and it’s such a lovely track to wake up to – it has a calm and sincere quality to it. I think this is also reflected in the whole album. Do you think the natural setting that surrounded you had an impact on the songs?

Yes definitely. It was recorded in nature. I was surrounded by it, it was seeping through the windows, and I was connected to nature. I was 37, and just felt connected. Once the connection happened I couldn’t not live around it, or record around it, or walk around it and be in it. It really is inspiring – so alive and bursting with life. So, the same process that makes trees and flowers and everything organic went into my music.  

You’ve spoken about the importance of your family to you – you took some time away from the music world to spend time watching your children grow up. Would you say you’ve found a good balance between home life and working life?

I think I would say there’s a good balance, yeah. I’m working with Oliver now, and it’s an organic relationship too. He just went off travelling around the world. At the moment I’m living in Tampa. Oliver is soon going off to Jamaica to build a studio. 

Incredible, I’m very jealous!

I know it sounds great, doesn’t it? I mean, he still can’t afford to buy a property in the UK - like everyone else his age. [Laughs]

So, why not Jamaica? 

Exactly. 


Your songs, for me, seem to be completely optimistic – it’s contagious and leaves me smiling once I’ve listened to them. Is this positivity in your music self-conscious?

Yeah I suppose the process – the same process that makes everything – is absolutely jubilant. The forest I live near, in Tampa, is completely different to the forest I was walking near during the creation of the album. This forest has alligators, snakes - so many different types of snakes - bears, and panthers even. There are things that would return you to the wild very quickly if you don’t have your wits about you. When you’re used to walking around forests that are really pleasant – you know, you might see a squirrel – there’s no danger apart from that it might drop a nut on you. [Laughs]

So, I suppose the 'harmlessness' effect was seeping through. But, the next album I’m making might be a bit more different. The outside definitely influences the inside. 


Your new single, Perfect Sunday Sun, is released in November. Do you think this song follows the same pattern of optimism as your other songs?

Well actually not so much. Most of the nature-based songs like Beautiful Morning and Forest of Love were created in my old space. Perfect Sunday Sun was actually recorded when I went to see my friend, in Key West. He had built a houseboat and put a little studio in it. The first thing we recorded was Mountain Top, then we did Perfect Sunday Sun and Baby Blue Sky. They had an influence of some of the 90s stuff I think. Key West is 90 miles from Cuba – it’s so hot and vibrant. Really, I was a bit 'rocky'. There’s a lot of rock and blues in the town, and I worked with local musicians. Joey Marciano (the drummer) is a driving instructor and plays in bars all over the town at night. They are all musicians and doing it for the love, (and a little extra money as Key West is so expensive to live in), so it’s alive with blues. There was a Primal Scream poser I saw that reminded me of working with Ian [Shaw] and before I knew it I was sounding like the last album. It was completely different to sitting in your spare room, pressing record and thinking, “Here you go Nick.” So I recorded there, and had to make it all fit together at the end, but it kind of did. So that’s why I think there are musical differences all over the album, because it’s recorded over a long period of time.  

I think that’s what’s so unique about the album - the musical variation within it that stems from changes to recording location. You’ve mentioned working with Ian [Shaw] – has collaboration been important to your career?

Oh god yeah. It’s where music comes alive. That’s the whole process, I came from a band – guys getting together in a room and just being creative. You meet other creative people and learn from them as well. When I was 19 going into the studio with my friends, and we were making records, the guys that put our records together were 10 years ahead of us. Our engineer had worked on A Night at the Opera by Queen – so he was there for the recording of Bohemian Rhapsody! So, we would be chatting and ask him, “So how did you get into music John?”

And he would say, “Oh you know, from working on Bohemian Rhapsody”. Little tricks he had seen people doing during a recording of Queen. Now, collaboration is getting less and less because studios aren’t around. The good thing is I worked with John, and whoever I work with I can pass on the knowledge and might help musicians writing songs and show them certain ways of doing things, and they can show me new things, like, “Hey, check this loop pedal out!”

Do you keep in touch with the guys from Haircut 100?

Some of us are still friends – it’s quite a tricky thing to do. There were six of us, so VH1 a programme called Bands Reunited had bands like The Beat and either got them together or they didn’t, and it would be perfect for us because we woiuld love to do it. But the logistics of it means it’s difficult. We aren’t all living nearby each other, and we weren’t massively successful. A programme like this got all six of us back together, paid for our hotels and everything and it worked and we were really up for it! I’ve tried to get it together to play at the O2 and only managed four, but it was still great as four original members were back together. It might happen – who knows. We’d love to. As long as we are alive, I suppose, it could happen. 

So, your tour comes to Birmingham next year! What’s your favourite thing about performing live?

I think it’s communication, like this phone call. I’d like to have a chat. I’d like it to be like chatting to my grandma downstairs – we’d have lovely long chats over a cup of tea on a summer’s day. In a gig, you start chatting and it gets lost – people start looking at you like, “What is he talking about?” The kind of gigs I’m doing will be intimate venues so I’ll be able to communicate with people as a whole. I like that. I like chatting. It’s the enquiry together that I like. I think communication and enquiry are my two favourite things. 


You’ll have a live band alongside you during the tour I believe?

I like to pay everyone so I use regular guys and we’ve all got to know each other, they know all my songs and it’s a joy to do. Some venues you have to adjust to, because of size and space, so it’s sometimes solo acoustic, which is alright. But, I really come alive with other people – I’m a 'band guy'. So I started writing with the audience in mind. I write lots of songs with audiences actually – I write with anyone. [Laughter]

I write anywhere. Car parks…you know – everywhere. I wrote with an antelope once, it didn’t have a chorus – antelopes don’t like choruses…I don’t know why. It was flat, like the Serengeti. [Laughter]


When did you decide to become a full-time musician? Was it a dream of yours from childhood?

No - I was the ‘commercial artist bloke’. My dad loved Jazz, but he wasn’t into being a musician. I bought him a saxophone once and he put it on the wall and wore the strap down ‘the pub. Everyone in the pub thought he was a saxophonist. My mum loved The Carpenters and The Beatles, so I grew up with music. But it was Pete really, my brother, that was going to do music. Then Punk happened and I got a job as a Commercial Artist, and they started to do sleeve designs at this arts place, and Punk was happening, and I thought, "Maybe I could do both?"

And I designed sleeves and thought, “I need the music for it” and I grabbed a guitar once – we used to live in a pub – and my brother had his music equipment set up all the time in this room above the pub. It was the room where our Alsatians lived, so you’d have to clean out all the Alsatian poo before you got started. I grabbed the microphone and I don’t know what I was singing but probably sounded like Johnny Rotten or someone like that, just screaming into the microphone I remember thinking, “Oh this is good” and taking the cord D into my bedroom and I bought a VOX Practice Amp sound system and my mate bought a snare drum and we made music, and that just evolved. 

Are there any musicians that have majorly influenced your career?

Oh yeah, all along the line. The first musical influences I think were from my father. So they weren’t literal they were just influences. Ray Charles, Oscar Peterson, and then I was going to see Sparks, Elton John, Caravan, Montrose - all these kind of bands... and then Punk happened and I was seeing all of these Punk bands. The first band that blew my head off was XTC. I saw them really early and I couldn’t believe it, it sounded so bonkers. And then Talking Heads who were doing equally twisted bonkers music and I remember seeing them and the first line was, "Damn that television it's not a great picture, don’t get upset its not a major disaster" and I remember thinking, "Wow, why?"

And that why lead to wanting to be in music and coming up with the name haircut 100 and your mates saying to you, “Why? Why do you call it that?” [Laughter] 

I just thought, “I like that, that’s it.” [Laughter]

Is that how the band name came about then? A random idea that engaged people – for intrigue?

Yes, exactly that. I said Haircut 100 when we were coming up with the name and they all went, “What?” and we all laughed and took it to the pub (because we took a different name every week). ‘Captain Pennyworth’ didn’t get any kind of reaction…it was more like a sigh of, “Mate you’re wasting your time, get a proper job.” So, yeah.


I love that. So you’re coming to Birmingham on the...let me check my notes to get this right - 

[Yorkshire accent] “Nooootes”- I love that accent, is that Barnsley? My daughter lives in Sheffield. 

 
I’m actually from Wakefield, but my Granny is from Barnsley - so I do have that ‘ooo’ sound. [Laughter]

It’s brilliant - I love it.

 
Is your daughter enjoing Sheffield?

She absolutely loves it.

It’s a great city. So, you’re coming to Birmingham next year on Friday 1st June. I can’t wait to see the show!  

Yeah come along! And if I’m not talking enough, shout! [Laughter]

 

Join me in seeing the incredibly talented and all-round lovely guy Nick Heyward perform at the O2 Birmingham, Friday 1st June 2018. The gig promises to be an intimate, memorable experience featuring the wonderful tracks from Nick's new album, Woodland Echoes.

Purchase your tickets here. To buy Nick's new album and singles 'Perfect Sunday Morning' and 'Baby Blue Sky' visit his official website. Read more information on Nick's new album here. 


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