Where do you start when writing a pop song? Well, for Hannah Diamond’s ‘Invisible’, it began with ‘Greensleeves’: y’know, the 16th century folk song that some people think King Henry VIII penned for Anne Boleyn.
“My friend Tom had this demo where he’d turned the melody of ‘Greensleeves’ into a super-hype pop song, which was kind of hilarious but also super, super genius,” Diamond tells NME in a cosy Camden pub. “I was like: ‘It’s actually incredible!’ But we can’t just use ‘Greensleeves’, we’re going to have to do something, like change the melody.” The single then went through some drastic changes, and, after some time in the studio, it turned into a “super emotional” sad banger. Now filled with beeping synths, crashing beats and Diamond’s shimmering vocals, it’s a stellar example of the 28-year-old’s stylised electronic pop.
Taken from her upcoming debut album ‘Reflections’, ‘Invisible’ sees Diamond lyrically discussing those moments in life where you feel invisible or irrelevant. “It’s like when you see someone that you used to go out with in the club dancing with someone else,” she offers as an example. “And it kind of breaks your heart. But you’re also trying to convince everyone — yourself, and them — that you’re good, and it’s not bothering you.”
Diamond’s new album is incredibly honest, taking her past heartbreak and using it to fuel her collection of hyper-real, bubblegum-flecked bops. She’s found writing the record to be incredibly cathartic. “If you have a bad day you can agonise over it and keep thinking about it, or you can write it down and get it out, and make something really beautiful out of it,” she says.
But that doesn’t mean music has to start with a shitty day, as for Diamond there’s no set way to write a song. Some days she’ll start with a melody recorded on Voice Notes, sometimes a visual idea is scribbled on printer paper, and, until recently, other times she’ll consult her “Diamond Dictionary”: an Excel spreadsheet filled with words she likes. “It was a really, really long list. Every time I thought of a nice word I’d just write it on there,” Diamond recalls. It was a good way of remembering words and phrases she liked, and if she got stuck on a certain lyric she could consult the Dictionary. It’s an approach that’s since evolved as she’s used most of the words up, and nowadays she consults a big folder full of song concepts and lyrics whenever she gets creatively stuck.
50% of Diamond’s working life is taken up by music-making and songwriting, with her photography career occupying the other half (when asked if she prefers one or the other, she diplomatically responds: “I’d really love to do them both full-time, and I’m kind of doing that. So I think I’m winning”). This wasn’t an inevitable career path for Diamond, though. As a child, she was always encouraged to be creative by her parents, and at first she thought she might become a fashion designer after being inspired by making outfits with her grandmother at the weekends.
Later on, though, it was illustration and drawing that she spent most of her free time doing after school (and, she admits, during school). “I used to do really intricate, photo-realistic graphite pencil and coloured pencil drawings of people,” she recalls. With these pictures she’d then add in more detail in the background, or turn them into glossy fashion magazines — practices that bear similarities to the editing techniques she now uses in photography.
As a teenager, she was big into trance music — especially artists like DJ Cammy (who plays hyper-euphoric trance music that’s “a little bit like nightcore, but also includes donk and super high-pitched versions of really emotional songs”). They recently got booked to play the same event and it blew her mind. “It was super surreal! He was making that music when he was 13, 14 and I was listening to it at that age!” But, despite a love of this club music, it was still art that took up most of her time. After school, Diamond began a Fashion Communication degree in London and took an internship at SUPERSUPER! (“a new rave music/fashion magazine,” she handily explains). It was there she was introduced to the group of mates that would later form the foundations of the experimental label-cum-collective PC Music, including its founder and producter extraordinaire Alex, aka A. G. Cook.
Initially Diamond was involved in the design side of things, working on audio-visual projects and creating the artwork for PC Music’s early releases. But then Cook saw one of Diamond’s uni projects, which involved her photographing her mates and turning the pictures into fashion adverts in order to “make them look like a celebrity, but in their most iconic moments”. Cook saw how it fitted in with one of his music projects (where he getting his pals to sing on pop songs he’d written) and he suggested that Diamond sing on one of them, thus kick-starting her musical career.
The earliest demo they worked on together was the crunchy electro-pop of ‘Attachment’, but it was ‘Pink And Blue’ — the synth-y ode to the awkward stages of a relationship — that they released first in 2013. Working on recordings at Cook’s house was always a super-relaxed atmosphere, and Diamond had no idea what the tunes would turn into. Once the songs made their way online, though, a buzz started to build around both Diamond and PC Music — but with this buzz also came a load of contrasting opinions.
The left-field sonic world of PC Music was divisive, and while it drew praise for being innovative there were also critical thinkpieces (some speculated that the collective were just a bunch of rich kids messing about) and accusations that PC Music was guilty of feminine appropriation.
“For me, the most disappointing things about these thinkpieces were the ones that were focused around feminism and PC Music,” Diamond says. “I think it’s really obvious from the outside and where we’re at now in 2019 that a lot of those pieces were really off the mark on what PC Music actually was. And I think the thing that was disappointing about those [thinkpieces] was that they really discredited some of the women behind PC Music who have so much control over what they do and what they put out; that in a way by trying to call out that kind of behaviour it discredited people like me, who were behind a lot of the visuals and would write all of my own music. People like Sophie, QT and Polly [aka GFOTY], too.”
There were also rumours that Hannah Diamond didn’t actually exist. “It was a small corner of the internet. But there was a random point right at the start where people didn’t think Hannah Diamond was a real person,” she recalls, although she recognises that those rumours have since died down. “I’m here, I’m alive and I’m ready to go!”
Now, though, it feels like PC Music’s experimental pop has permeated the mainstream, with popstars like Rita Ora and Charli XCX recruiting the skills of PC Music (EasyFun’s Finn Keane helped produce Ora’s top five hit ‘Let You Love Me’, while Cook is currently Charli’s creative director) in recent times. “It’s always hard for me to comprehend that it might have been us that was some kind of catalyst into that,” Diamond says humbly, adding: “It’s amazing to see your friends doing really, really well.”
What Diamond doesn’t add is that she’s doing really well too. Over the past six years, Diamond’s gone from sneaking out of shifts at a high-street shop to play Field Day before returning to lock up for the day (they wouldn’t let her have the day off) to shooting people like Charli XCX and Olly Alexander (from Years and Years) for magazine covers and, later this week, finally releasing her debut album. ‘Reflections’ has been a long time coming given Diamond’s first tunes dropped online way back in 2013, but in 2019 she now feels ready to put out a fully body of work. She’s been working on ‘Reflections’ for several years, and it’s been finished for a while. “But because it’s such a personal record, I wanted it to come out at a time that I felt ready to do it,” Diamond says.
The other thing that might’ve held up production was the fact that Diamond creates all her own visual assets, from editing the artwork to working on the music video imagery. The multi-talented artist has curated the whole album — which is a mix of previously released tunes and new songs — and carefully considered where they’d fit in the surrounding visual world that accompanies the sonic one. It’s an innovative way of creating music, and one that sets Diamond aside from other pop artists out there. “I definitely think about my music as an audio-visual project,” she states.
Looking to the future, Diamond hopes to tour the record and then to be able to continue to create at her own pace, releasing music when she feels the time is right. And for ‘Reflections’, that time is now. “I feel like I’m in a comfortable place to put it out,” Diamond says. “I feel really powerful, and I feel really confident in myself.” We’d be inclined to agree.
Hannah Diamond’s debut album ‘Reflections’ is out on Friday (November 22).