Interview: Jealous of the Birds releases new single 'Marrow'
Image: Vivian Wang
Northern Irish singer-songwriter Jealous of the Birds - aka Naomi Hamilton - released her first single back in 2016 while she was still studying at university, followed by her debut album Parma Violets the same year. A mesmerising mix of folk, indie, pop and rock Hamilton’s music is both warm and intimate, and raw and thought-provoking. She recently released the single ‘Marrow’ - a song she says “captures that sense of striving for authenticity in all its colours and forms” - from her upcoming EP Wisdom Teeth and Women In Pop recently caught up with Hamilton to find out more about her career and music.
When did music first begin to make a conscious impression on your life?
Most of my truly early memories tied to music involve whatever my two older sisters were listening to when I was four or five. I remember lots of dancing round the living room to Britney Spears on TV and passionately singing Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ in the backseat of our car. It wasn’t until later that I grew up around a lot of gospel music and singer-songwriters from the 60s & 70s like Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel and Nina Simone that my mum loved listening to.
It wasn’t until I started learning guitar at thirteen that I discovered the breadth of what was out there to listen to. Bob Dylan’s ‘Buckets of Rain’ led me into the folk singer-songwriter movement for a few years and it wasn’t until my mid-teens that I discovered artists like Elliott Smith, Nirvana, The Pixies, Fleet Foxes, Syd Barrett and a heap of American jazz singers and musicians.
When did you decide you wanted to make music a career?
About halfway through my second year of university. I’d been playing shows and writing music since Spring of my first year at uni in 2015, and it came to the point where my interest in what was happening with Jealous of the Birds superseded whatever kind of career prospects I could expect after graduating with a degree in English with Creative Writing. Finishing my degree became an exercise in persistence, whereas music was an act of joy.
Jealous of the Birds is such a fantastic name for a musical project - where did it come from?
It came to me the way you remember a phrase from a dream you once had while I was trying to come up with an online username years ago. Around the time I put out my first DIY lo-fi EP, it seemed fitting that the songs should be released under an alias.
Your new single ‘Marrow’ is fantastic - it has such a warm, chilled out feeling to it with incredible hooks and melodies. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the song?
After graduating uni and signing with Canvasback/Atlantic, a shift happened where I became more resolute in pursuing music as Jealous of the Birds and taking the project in a direction which feels authentic and meaningful to me. I’ve only been doing this for the past four years, but have been fortunate enough to have met such heartwaking people and experienced what I have. ‘Marrow’ is me trying to assimilate the wildness of all of that big heart existential lifelust in one song.
How did the song come together?
It started how it always does, with me writing and recording a demo in my small home studio. To get the backbone of the song down, I wrote most of it just sitting with an acoustic guitar and notepad — focusing pretty intently on the lyrics and structure, then overdubbing additional vocals, harmonies and instrumentation. Once I had the rough demo version down, I shared it with my manager and producer Declan Legge and we then took it to two different studios — Big Space Studios and Take Six Studios in Newry, Northern Ireland. Most of the vocals and final tracking were completed at Take Six and engineered by Patrick McCaul and Ashling Grufferty who were such world rockers to work with. It was a blissed out few days.
You are a Belfast local - what is the music scene there like at the moment?
It’s thriving and more determined than ever. Many of our musician friends are finally having their taste of success and since the community up north is so small and supportive, everyone spurs each other on.
What Belfast bands should we be listening to?
There are so many sweet local bands here, but some of my favourites would have to be Hot Cops, Joshua Burnside, and Kitt Phillipa.
There has been so much talk over the past year about gender equality in the entertainment industry - do you think we have a problem with sexism in music?
Of course we do. Like many women who happen to be musicians, I don't demand extra consideration in the industry purely on the grounds of being a woman, however I do demand to earn the same opportunities and respect as men who pursue the samecareer. For me, my attention is drawn to the lack of representation of women - particularly on festival line-ups and in the production and engineering side of the industry. But sexism pervades not only the interactions between people in the industry (whether that’s at soundchecks, shows, business meetings, afterparties etc), but in the sensibility and messages implicit in the music itself. I also think there’s this feedback loop where because there are fewer women represented to take inspiration from, fewer women feel it’s possible for them to dive into a very male-dominated industry, which only further perpetuates the lack of representation.
Whatever show we play we try to create a space where everyone involved feels empowered and that they have the right to be there — not based solely on their gender, but on their talent and passion for what they’re doing. What’s most significant in all of this is the music and craft itself. In the end, no matter what your gender is, it's the music that does the talking.
Have you ever been in situations where you felt you have been treated differently, or disrespected, because of your gender?
Yes — both within and outside the music industry. But I would say that most instances of disrespect that I’ve experienced in the street, in bars or on public transport are usually homophobic though, which is sadly a common occurrence for most queer women. Often my experience of being a “female indie musician” is only ever brought to my attention in the context of interviews — not so much in my daily experience as an artist. When I'm writing, recording in studio, or playing a show, I am not overly conscious of my gender and how it may or may not be affecting those processes. Sometimes it’s the opposite of what you’d expect where I’ve been shielded from insane mosh pits, or men have offered to carry my instruments and gear. There’s a danger though that the tone of these discussions can condescend to women and their appeals to the point where people tiptoe round the issue for fear of political incorrectness, or focus much too heavily on gender or sexuality instead of the actual music. That can only lead to mildly demeaning trends, like reams of “women musicians” playlists and shows.
What musicians are you listening to at the moment?
Fleet Foxes, Courtney Barnett, Esperanza Spalding, Marvin Gaye, Mitski and Vulfpeck.
What’s up next for Jealous of the Birds?
Just finished filming a new music video, and then I’m touring the UK with my band this November. My new EP Wisdom Teeth comes out on 1 February, so we’ll start touring the record early next year.