Back to Nick Heyward
When you have the comfort of working on your ninth album without the rush to meet a deadline, you really want to take your time, especially if it’s your first solo outing in 18 years. For singer songwriter Nick Heyward, Woodland Echoes, his newest album released on November 3rd on Red River/BFE Entertainment, served as a reminder of things he is grateful for. “I’m glad I’m alive, I’m glad that I’m writing and putting records out.” His appreciation for making music is reflected on all 12 tracks on this breezy, smart pop gem.
Nick has been putting out great pop songs since his band, Haircut One Hundred, blasted on to the scene in the early 80s earning four UK Top Ten and two US Top 40 singles with “Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl),” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2cat4kykzI “Love Plus One,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_msHpEa3_Y “Nobody’s Fool” and “Fantastic Day” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iYhw_5ehZ4 from their debut album, Pelican West. While enjoying the early days of success, differences in style and direction led Heyward to leave his post as front man and lyricist to begin his solo career.
An artist who has always been well received by both critics and fans, Heyward released three solo albums in the 80s, three in the 90s (including a 1998 release on Creation Records at the behest of Alan McGee) and two collaborations in the aughts. A 2013 announcement of new music was met with eager anticipation, but supporters would have to wait until 2015 for a preview of what would become the music on Woodland Echoes.
Recorded at his son Oliver’s studio, on a houseboat in Key West, and Zak Starkey’s Salo Sound studio deep in the UK countryside, Nick deliberated over the music until he felt it was ready. “At first, I wanted it finished straight away.” he says. “But then, ‘that’ll do’ became impossible for me; in fact, it was the opposite – as soon as someone said something would do, I knew it wouldn’t!”
It’s that precise attitude that makes Heyward’s music so special. This album, like all of his work, is made with the same passion, introspection and grace found in all of his music. An avowed lover of nature and the outdoors, you can hear that influence in all the tracks, particularly “Beautiful Morning.” “Love is the Key By the Sea,” which opens the album, is a bold and harmonious love song, and the jazzy snap-your-finger fun of “Who” is most certainly a tip of that hat to Mr. Paul McCartney. “Baby Blue Sky”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0w_vlmNNlA is a rapturous beach song with a dash of Oasis thrown in to the mix, and lead single “Perfect Sunday Sun” is the most perfect 70s era pop song. Heyward, who has always been singled out as a strong and thoughtful lyricist, continues his streak of songwriting success on Woodland Echoes, which feels warm and intimate.
All things being equal though, the Nick Heyward of 2017 isn’t the same person as the Nick Heyward of 1982.“You have to find peace and love; it’s a process – my early songs were always bittersweet – the verse would be going through the struggle, but then it would be ‘it’s a fantastic day’; but there was always that struggle. On this album, that struggle is gone. The songs on Woodland Echoes are reflective of the past 10 years.”
It’s a treat to have Nick Heyward back making premium pop music. In 1985, Nick told Smash Hits magazine that “I want to make the kind of LP you can wrap up and give to someone as a present. No duff tracks at all, just 12 shining wonderful singles, I suppose.” In 2017, with Woodland Echoes, he has finally achieved his goal.
Connect With Nick Heyward Here:
Learn more about Nick Heyward in the following All Access interview:
What was it like putting out your most recent album and first solo collection in 18 years? Were there a lot of emotions that came along with it?
Well, yeah, kind of. I mean it just developed into an album. I was on Myspace 10 years ago or something, and just kind of sharing music directly. So, I was really enjoying that. As an artist, I was kind of fulfilled. I was enjoying sharing my doodles, but I wasn’t really finishing them off. I was just improvising and sharing them immediately. Sometimes, just little sketches of songs and things.
And then, right about 2007, I did a song called Forest of Love, and I thought, “You know, I’ll actually develop this and make it into a song,” so I did. Then, a kind of inner songwriter in me said, “Well, finish it.” Then, as I was doing that with another song, and another song, I thought, “There’s an album coming here.” I was just observing the way that the music world was going, because it was changing so much, and I didn’t really recognize it, but it was interesting what was happening. It was evolving into such a brilliant place for the independent artist. By the time I’d kind of finished 12 song, well, I finished about 20, but I’d mixed 12. By the time that happened, my inner songwriter had said, “Yep. All those songs have reached their full potential.”
I was then giving a call to Dennis Blackham, who has mastered most of my records, and Chris Shields who had mixed it. Suddenly, I had that moment where you’re just you’re really pleased when you stand back, and it’s really framed well. You know how when your picture’s really framed well, and they’ve done a really good job framing it, and it’s got right, nice glass, and nice wooden frame, nice, really nice, and you stand back, and you go, “Ah, it’s done. Wow.”
By the time that happens and the independent world had made things like PledgeMusic, and so we had that out, and then suddenly, I was with my own label. Well, you need to have a label to put it out, so Gladsome Hawk came and you think, “Oh, okay, so this is the new music world.” and it’s out now and then one thing leads to another. I mean that’s what I just kept saying to myself when I was in the spare room making it. I know that Bohemian Rhapsody wasn’t made in a spare room, and I know my 30 records weren’t made in spare rooms, too. They were made in great studios with great producers and engineers and great musicians and great record companies and great people, but this is the way it is now.
Do you think that if you went into the studio tomorrow and created an album, it would sound like this one? It would sound like Woodland Echoes, or would it be different?
Well, that’s an interesting question. Because I did have the time to edit, and it’s a bit like a story, or a piece of writing. You know, you can over-edit sometimes, or you can have too much time, but I think this benefited from editing as I was going. Because I know that they all reached their full potential.
If I went into a studio today with Geoff Emerick and recorded this, I think it would sound better. There’s no doubt. No doubt about that.
You know, you’ve just got to keep going. If had just stopped and said, “Hmm, you know I haven’t got it really good. I’ll wait until I get the budget together to go into the studio.” Or something like that. That’s the thing, there wasn’t any record company there, you know? I don’t think they’ve ever been with me, I’ve always had to prove myself as an artist. And there’s no difference, especially after 18 years. There’s no way I could go waltzing into any record company and say, you know, “I’ve got an album in my head. I’d really like you to sign me.” They just wouldn’t.
It didn’t happen that way, I wasn’t thinking of the music business, or the music world, I was just thinking of…. No, I wasn’t thinking. I was just enjoying being creative in the spare room, which lead to other people’s spare rooms, which lead to being mixed in Chris Sheldon’s garden, quite literally. Which lead to being mastered in Dennis Blackman’s garden. Most people have just got little setups in their home now. So, it’s like homemade. Homemade jam.
Do you think that recording it in all these different locations … I’ve read a houseboat in Key West, in your son’s studio, and then the countryside. Do you think that all these different locations are reflected in the songs, and the album as a whole?
Yeah, because the songs that were done in the spare room had a connection with nature because it wasn’t a proper studio, so the windows, even if you closed the window, you could still hear all of the birds singing. And they’re on some of the tracks, quite literally, I just lifted up the window and just recorded the birds, the morning birds’ song.
That was different to then going over, and recording with Ian Shaw in Key West, who has this houseboat. He has a room in there and we’re recording, and I recorded lots of 90’s stuff with him when I was on Creation Records. He still has the same amplifier, and a poster on the wall of Screamadelica. So when you go to sing, there’s obviously an influence there; because outside comes inside. So I think there’s a different influence there. And when I was traveling over there, I was avoiding flying. I went by boat. And there was a gym, and I had my phone to listen to music, and the internet was quite pricey on the boat.
So I just had what was in my phone. I had loads of AC/DC, so I’m listening to loads of rock. But basic, manly rock. So when I got to Ian, I put my guitar into a Blackstar amplifier and just turned it up full. I think he was just thinking, “I think Nick’s lost it.” Because I thought I was in a 1970’s rock band. And some of that may have found its way onto the album. I was doing loads of different things because I could. Because there’s no record company. There’s no music culture either, there’s no pressure. I can do whatever I like, and that’s what it is, you know? I can do anything. And I did it because I was having fun doing it.
I know this is a hard question to ask musicians, but do you have a song on this record in particular that you love? Or has a special meaning for you?
“Beautiful Morning.” Because I had four goes at that song. And they were all different musically, but the lyrics were always the same. And then the last time I did it, I just thought, “You know, I don’t feel comfortable. It’s not the unfolding of a beautiful morning, this is not the way the morning sun arrives. This just feels like a birth. This is not it.” And then, I sat in my room and just de-tuned my guitar, and it was just a nice sort of A-minor. And I was playing this kind of circular thing, and then started to sing along, and I didn’t know what I was going to sing, but sang “beautiful morning” over it, and it just went. So I pressed record, and recorded it. And that’s why that’s got something. It’s just a performance there. And it was a really good foundation to paint over. It’s like when you just do a sketch, and you go, “Ah. I like that. I’m going to color that in.”Do you feel this when you perform it live as well?
Yeah and it’s funny because I can perform it just as a sketch and it still is good. The songs that work are normally the ones where you can do that. Whereas, the others were pushed. The others needed a bit of help. Like young fledglings, they were kind of helped out of the nest a bit. They needed a bit of a nudge off the window sill. Some of them had nested on the window sill and didn’t want to leave. Some of them were comforted and some of them weren’t, some of them needed help. Some of them got burned.
They’re formless things, aren’t they? I love songs because they come from nowhere-land. They’re not there, then they’re just forms, and they can do stuff. I mean, some do to me. Music, just recordings can just have an effect on you. When I listen to fine classical music now, I don’t really mind who wrote it or anything. It’s not relevant, really. It’s the effect that piece of music has, and I must say, I’m intrigued sometimes. I was looking up somebody, there’s a song called “My Country” that I heard, and I’d heard it for the first time, but it’s an old classical piece of music. And I heard it, and it was thrilling. To me, it just sounded like a decade in one piece of music. A decade of somebody’s life. And then I looked up and found out a bit about who it was, and it was quite fascinating. You know, you Wikipedia people now. This is what you weren’t able to do before. You just heard a bit of music and took it as it was.
I saw that you just posted about your summer 2018 plans. Do you have anymore touring dates coming up sooner then that?
Yeah, they are filling in. As that thing is one thing leads to another. Hopefully it’ll lead to some American dates. Already there was a bit of a rumor of maybe I’ll go out there first acoustically, and then build up to a band, and then build up to bigger gigs, and maybe build up to hotel lobbies!
Do you think you approach touring and playing live differently now, with all of your experience that you’ve had?
We at Gladsome Hawk don’t do stress. It’s really nice. It’s really nice to just make things. That’s why we chose to go by boat at one point, to make it more adventurous. To make it more of an adventure, you don’t have to hurdle around the place like mad thing. There’s no reason to do that. There’s no reason at all to do that.
Otherwise, you’re just traveling, and that’s reducing movement to a really unremarkable, un-magical, unrealistic thing. I know that sounds like a contradiction a bit, but just to travel, and to really enjoy the traveling is part of the whole gig. If you just say, it’s just a gig, it reduces it to just a gig then. People then play roles, and they do their thing, and that’s who they are. But to remain present throughout the whole experience of traveling is something that takes a lot of awareness to do, but it’s worth it when you do it.
Like this interview, there’s quite a few of them all in a row. They come quite bunched up. And that’s quite a music world, music business thing; things come piled up and bunched up. Or untangled like guitar leads. Things come like that. I sometimes wonder how a show happens when everybody’s so relaxed, when they’ve been trying to find a parking space in the UK. How do they actually get to be so relaxed? I mean, English audiences, nobody relaxes after the first set. If there’s two sets, and they have an interlude, the only way they can relax is when they go to the bar. But the American audiences, it’s just relaxed right from the start. And they just seem to be up for the gigs.
It’s different, there’s so much difference, I’ve been going back and forth, becoming almost Anglo-American. The difference between the cultures, it definitely comes from the conditioning, and schooling, and stuff, and confidence. There seems to be less punishment in America. Generally.
You know, there’s no guns in the UK. Give the UK guns for one weekend, and 50% of the population will be wiped out.
With all the heartbreak and loss in the world right now, all over, really, how do you think that the new music being created today will be affected by it, and how do you think that you have been influenced by all of that?
Getting to 56, I’ve observed that in times of cultural stress like this, music seems to be slightly better. Not better, wrong word. Slightly more optimistic. It’s strange. And yet when it’s not, and everything’s calm, and balanced, and peaceful; the music is more edgy. I’d like to probably do a survey on that, and it might be flawed, but it just seems to be that way. People are affected in a strange way, you can’t actually believe it. You can’t believe that it’s happening all over the world. It’s just the country that you’re in.
You know, you can go to another country, like if you went to Chile, down south, everybody would just be … I mean, they haven’t even got the internet yet, really that much. So, people would be completely different down there. It’s a different culture. So, just the cultures that, except for the UK and America at the moment, that have shifted somewhat towards the right. That’s the only way that I can see that it’s … reason that it’s happening. Because there’s got to be a consequence of all that war. There has to be. There just has to be.
Sometimes being in the UK, and you read or just watch the news, and you see what’s happening, and you think, there’s a consequence to your country sending off bombers to another country and just dropping lots of bombs. You’d be mad to think that there’s no kind of effect from that cause. So it’s so obvious that war doesn’twork. I mean, the first and second world war … There’s other ways. It’s just silly, isn’t it? It’s different, those people seem to be genuinely fighting for something that was there. It was like a real, genuine … There was a dictator that would have taken over the whole world, so it’s a different period, and some of these people actually fought for that. And I don’t see it as the same sort of thing. It wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the same kind of threat. It seemed to come more from the leaders this time. There wasn’t seemed to be a general threat. But anyway, we of the general public all seem to suffer from it. You know?
So, anyway, we’re all watching it going on, and going, “Could this stop, please? Stop.” You know. The leaders kicked it off, didn’t they? We all went out … I went out and marched for it to not happen, but it just did. So, you sit back and you watch this chaos unfold and hope that there is overall, at the end of it, a really … Some kind of positive quality of outcome out of all of the carnage. Because it’s the carnage that seems to be out of your control. Because, you know, it is.
I do think that it’s … I’m not sure whether the countries collectively, the UK and America, would go for any more war. You know. Just don’t think it would happen right now. That’s a good thing. I don’t think it either. You know?
At the end of the day, what do you hope listeners take away from your music? This new collection in particular?
You know. It’s funny, but I’m not kind of … I’m not pushy with my fans, you know? They really can quite literally take it, or leave it. I know that I’ve made some nice jams, and I’ve put it out now there in the local farm shops. And I feel like it’s tasty stuff. And so if you did just take a punt on it, and took it home, and put it on your toast, I think you’d be surprised. I think it would work out for you. But if it doesn’t, you know, I’ve had that happen.
But I’ll tell you what, sometimes you get into the taste, like some marmalades I’ve not liked initially, and then I’ve really got into them. So sometimes, stick with it. It might work. I’ve had lots of albums that have had that effect on me; I’ve initially thought, “Oh, that’s a bit bitter.” Or, “Oh, that’s a bit too sweet.” Or something. And then, gradually I just started getting into the taste. So maybe if there are people that’d like something salty, and their taste is more salty, and they think this is too sweet. You know, there’s a time and place for it; it might just work on their breakfast. You know, maybe they just don’t play it past 12 o’clock. Or it might be a late-night snack. Like marmalade on toast, late at night when you’ve got in from a heavy night at the pub. You know, it might just be that. Either way, however they find it; whatever it means to them, or whatever it is; I know I gave my all, really. And I’ve been just kind of … This is encouraging to do more, and get better at it, you know.