- 23 Sep 20
Naomi Hamilton hopped on a call with Hot Press to talk about her new record, what she's been up to during lockdown and how she balances art with activism.
It’s been four years since the last Jealous of the Birds record. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively short time. But the world’s changed a lot since then, and so has Naomi Hamilton.
“A lot of these songs were the culmination of stuff that I’d learned on tour, travelling on tour, or just kind of being present in this world as a human being,” she says of new record Peninsula.
2016’s Parma Violets was Hamilton’s first adventure in serious songwriting, an almost cozy collection of indie-folk tunes with a touch of more intense alt-rock marked by the naivety of someone trying to find their place in the world.
“The early songs were a bit adolescent, and maybe a bit more derivative in other senses, which is fine. It’s one of those things where if it’s your first breakup song, it’s always going to be like that,” she reminisces with a chuckle.
Hamilton had only been writing original music for about six months by the time her debut record came out.
“It wasn’t something that I had always done, I was new to recording my songs and putting them out. I didn’t know I was going to do this for a living. A lot of what happened back then and my approach to writing songs came from a very naive, unassuming place.”
The record was an unexpected success, thrusting her into the new mentality that she could pursue music as a living. It was a lifestyle change that matured not only herself internally, but her sound as well, which is incredibly evident on her new album.
“I’ve had a bit more experience writing songs, touring, and playing shows. I think that kind of impacts the things you write about. It funneled into how the songs that make up Peninsula came about. Especially with traveling and just getting exposed to experiences that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t doing this for a living.”
Her experiences and ponderings transformed into the songs that eventually turned into Peninsula during a trip to Portugal, when the fast pace and pressure of life presented itself as a sort of writer’s block.
“The majority of these songs were written in the last year, so they’re still pretty fresh. The tipping point of writing for this record happened when I took a trip to Lisbon. I went there specifically to write,” she says.
“You know when you need a different scenery, just something to refresh you a little bit? It had been like, ‘go, go, go’ up until that point, and everything I was writing at the time was just like, ‘This is a bitch.’ I wasn’t liking it. It helped refresh me a little bit and allowed those songs to happen.”
Peninsula opens with the powerhouse track ‘Young Neanderthal’, an ode to growing up and letting go of her passive, past self. Marked by loud, fuzzy guitars, the sound is bigger than anything she’s released before, complimenting this new direction her life has taken. The transition to high-energy rock is seamless, but it’s something Hamilton didn’t originally know she had the potential to craft.
“Being able to have the language and more tools are your disposal to communicate to other musicians, or a producer, or whoever you happen you be working with, you’re better equipped to do that than at the beginning, where I was kind of like, ‘Oh, can you make that sound a bit crunchier?’” she laughs.
“I love playing with space and dynamics in songs now, whereas before when I was just starting out, I didn’t know that you could do that in songs.”
Penultimate track ‘Always Going’ evolves into a chill-inducing, powerful explosion of instrumentation, perhaps the best example of her newfound love for layered and dynamic songwriting. Hamilton is especially proud of the effect she’s finally achieved here.
“‘Always Going,’ the end of that song is one of my favourite things I’ve ever written. That song starts really like, ‘Oh, this is a nice, little folky song.’ And then the end just crashes in. I love that.”
By the time Peninsula was finally finished and Hamilton had the chance to go home to Belfast and relax, the UK went into lockdown.
“It was fine for the first two weeks. Then cabin fever set in, and everything was going to shit.”
Exhausted by writing and recording by this point, she exchanged a guitar pick for a paintbrush. Hamilton funneled her admiration for art exhibitions into a new passion of her own with the added benefit of free time. The new creative outlet allowed her to explore the visuals that inspire her prose in a different way.
“They inform each other. I'm a very visual thinker, so a lot of my songs have a lot of imagery in them. When I'm writing them, I try to think of them as little movies in my head or that they're scraps of images taken from different places. Like if I was traveling, different memories or things like that, so that kind of lends itself to when you're painting,” she says.
“Sometimes I'll see something and I'll think, 'Oh, that would work better as a song' or 'that would work better as a painting' or a poem, or whatever. I think they go hand-in-hand for sure.”
Art remains at Hamilton’s core, but she strives to keep a balance between her passion for activism and creativity. As activism grows in importance during such a complex time in the world, there’s a lingering question of how artists can continue releasing their work in a socially-conscious manner.
“There’s just been a lot of talk among musicians that this is a weird time to put out music. Is that something that we should be doing? How should we be doing it?,” she questions.
“As a gay, young person, and as a person who’s liberal and wants to pay attention to the world around them, I want to be politically active, especially on social media and with people who listen to my music. But on the other hand -- this is what I do. The music will always be something that’s paramount to me.”
Hamilton emphasizes that it all comes down to accepting that people are multifaceted, especially online. Social media activism isn't the end-all, be-all.
“It’s about acknowledging that everyone’s nuanced. You’re not just one thing, and there are so many different elements to people’s lives and what’s important to them.”
Peninsula is out now via Atlantic Records.