Unsigned artists of an envious disposition should steer clear of Harriette Pilbeam’s success story. Last June, within a day of uploading her debut single ‘Try’ to a music-discovery radio station called Triple J Unearthed – think BBC Introducing, but Australian and better – the 25-year-old Brisbanite was being played on national radio and being called by her now-manager. Within months she’d been signed to Australia’s Ivy League and the UK’s Heavenly Records, and put out second single ‘Sure’ – which was given a cheeky remix by one of her absolute idols, Cocteau Twins‘ Robin Guthrie and which, like its predecessor, went on to rack up more than 1.5m Spotify streams. Today, following recent stints at the world’s premier tastemaking festivals – Austin, Texas’ SXSW and Brighton’s The Great Escape – she releases her knockout debut EP, ‘Sugar & Spice’.
Weaving together dream-pop and shoegaze influences from The Sundays to My Bloody Valentine, Pilbeam paints broad and bittersweet emotional landscapes in an overwhelming wash of guitar, overlaying them with vocal harmonies the Corrs would be proud of, and cutting through the haze with incisive pop lyrics, the consistently witty likes of which we last heard on Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Emotion’. At times she goes a bit Depeche Mode (‘Sleep’); others she channels the rippling sting of The Cranberries (‘Sure’) – but the many nostalgic influences don’t overshadow the clear-cut figure at the centre of it all. NME caught up with Hatchie to discover more about her love of dream-pop, the varied Brisbane scene, and why she wants to work with Charli XCX one day.
The story goes that you were sitting on your ‘Try’ demo for two years before uploading it – to instant success. What the hell, Hatchie?
It was partly being a perfectionist, it was partly that I didn’t want to rush anything and regret rushing it.
Like: ‘I’m not ready for this to go massive’?
I had no idea. I knew that even if it got mildly big, that I couldn’t balance being in two bands and going to uni and working. I was like: ‘I’ll wait until I’ve finished my degree, I’ll wait until I’ve moved from this crappy job to this other, less crappy job.’ I put it off because I was scared – I was worried about people being critical and me not being able to handle it, and I was worried about putting it out and nothing happening: then I’d have had nothing to dream about. I had to be pushed to put it out by [my boyfriend] Joe and my friends, which I’m very grateful for – I’d probably be sitting on the demos right now if they hadn’t made me do it.
How does Hatchie compare to your two previous bands?
When I was just out of high school, at 17, I joined was Babaganouj as a bassist. Then I got asked to join another band Go Violets, which isn’t together any more. Babaganouj is a lot more guitar-based – like Lemonheads, Teenage Fanclub – whereas Go Violets is a bit more like guitar-pop, indie. Neither of them are quite as pop or as polished as Hatchie.
You’re essentially a solo artist now – do you miss being in a band?
Yeah, but I still feel like I have the best parts of being in a band – I have a touring band, these guys are my best friends, so I’m lucky. [Guitarist] Joe’s my boyfriend, Paddy (electric guitar) was in another band called Green Buzzard that we’re really big fans of, and we vaguely knew him from playing a few shows together, so we just reached out and asked if he wanted to be in the band. Richie, who plays drums – he’s played in other bands around Brisbane, but I mainly know him because he’s my best friend’s boyfriend. We’re all very good friends.
Confidence Man are also from Brisbane – is there a thriving scene there?
They’re on Heavenly as well, yeah, so that’s cool. They just moved to Melbourne but we know them from a few years ago. There’s a bunch of bands in Brisbane that are all friends, especially from a couple of years ago when we were all 18, 19 and starting out. Everyone bonded really quickly and we’re all still good friends. Like The Creases – Joe’s in that band and we’ve toured with them. Then there’s Jungle Giants, Cub Sport, Major Leagues, Morning Harvey. And we toured with Ball Park Music a few months ago, they’ve been around for ages.
There have always been and always will be lots of bands coming out of Brisbane. It’s a bit different from other cities – maybe a bit less competitive. All the venues are in a couple of blocks’ radius – exactly like Austin – so it’s really easy to go watch one friend’s band, then another friend’s band, and play your own gig in one night. It’s easy to be supportive.
Let’s talk about your influences. When did you start listening to Cocteau Twins, for example, and why do you like their music so much?
I actually found them through a playlist that Joe made years ago and I discovered the rest of their discography on Spotify. This is going to sound like an ad for Spotify, but I’ve discovered a lot of my favourite bands through that – that’s always why I’m so stoked when a Hatchie song is added to a Spotify playlist, because I know how much of my music taste has been helped by it. They gave me this euphoric feeling that not a lot of artists can do.
It’s a very ’90s vibe you’ve got going – why is that?
I don’t think there’s a reason, it’s just how it happened. I’ve only come across it all in the last five years, so it’s not because I grew up in the ’90s.
You mentioned The Corrs in an interview once, which is slightly unexpected, but brilliant. Are you a big fan?
I definitely was, especially when I was younger. I haven’t revisited them, but me and my siblings – I have the same [set of] siblings, three girls and a boy – so I related to it a lot when we were younger. Maybe I have them to thank for my love of harmonies.
What’s your earliest memory of music?
I have a really musical family. Just being at home with my family doing stuff with my sisters, singing along to The Corrs or Spice Girls. In grade one I went into class – I was about six years old – and sang a song from The Little Mermaid to my class without them asking for it. I just went in and did it. The teacher was like: ‘OK, thanks…’
You’re a fan of Carly Rae Jepsen, too – what do you like about her?
She’s a really intelligent pop artist. Her songs do things that you don’t expect and have heaps of awesome countermelodies and harmonies, which is my favourite thing ever, obviously.
What’s the most important thing for you when you’re writing a melody?
For it to sound interesting. It doesn’t have to be pretty or beautiful. Just that it sounds like something you’re not really expecting. That’s what separates mainstream, not-great pop music from great, intelligent pop music. When it does something you’re not really expecting and catches you off-guard.
When you’re writing, do you ever sit back and think: ‘Wow, that’s a great lyric’?
Never. Lyrics are what I’d like to expand on the most in the future.
There’s a lot of telling stuff that’s left unsaid in some of your lyrics, though, like in ‘Bad Guy’ – “You never really wanted to talk anyway“.
That’s what I like about it, it’s a bit back and forth. I like that you can’t really tell if it’s about giving up or about giving it one more shot. Whether it’s about breaking up or making up. It wasn’t about something really specific that happened to me – maybe that’s why it’s a bit more open-ended.
That’s what I like about ‘Sugar & Spice’ as well. The verse lyrics are very true to my personal experience – I wrote those lyrics when I was falling in love for the first time, and they were all about being infatuated with someone. And then I throw in the “But you don’t call me baby anymore” and it kind of turns the entire thing on its head. That isn’t true, that bit – it wasn’t something that happened to me – but it’s what makes the song, lyrically. It completely flips it and catches you off-guard. It makes the song not just about being in love, but also figuring something out that’s going wrong.
What will come after ‘Sugar & Spice’?
I’d definitely like to record an album this year. I’m getting ready to. We’re doing a bunch more touring, which is really exciting, so it just depends how the timing works out. Lyrically I want my songs to be less about just me and my feelings about specific situations. I want to explore new ground – I don’t want all my songs to be about being in love or being out of love, because that doesn’t take up as much of my life as it seems from the EP.
My sound is definitely going to be a bit less pop – maybe some songs will be more shoegaze, but some will be more industrial and alternative. A bit less hi-fi and a bit less pop, singer-songwriter – more of a band sound.
How was it being remixed by a Cocteau Twin?
It was very surreal – it shocked me, it was scary and weird. Before the first phone conversation I was freaking out, but he was lovely.
Now that you’ve worked with someone you’re such a big fan of, what’s your next dream?
I never would have thought that that could happen, so I never even really dreamed about that. But now it’s on paper, it seems like anything’s possible. I’d love to collaborate with other artists from around the world. A bunch of people – Charli XCX, or Ariel Rechtshaid, or Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly from Chairlift. When their last album ‘The Moth’ came out, it stopped me in my tracks. It’s one of my favourite albums ever.
Have you listened to the Carly Rae Jepsen Song Exploder with Ariel Rechtshaid on it?
That one’s amazing! When they leave in the part where she laughs – it’s so cute. I love him, I love everything he’s done and I’d love to work with him. For the next year or whatever my next release is, presuming it’s an album, I’m happy to keep working as I’m working – I’m really liking writing by myself, I’m still exploring that. But later down the track, maybe a year or two from now, I’d love to open up the door to working with people like that.
What about the Charli XCX collab – what would you envisage for that?
Something much more fun than I could ever write. I’d love to be able to write really fun songs, that’s why I look up to her. Her writing is really smart, like how I’ve said that about Carly Rae and Ariel. She seems like the most fun person in the world, and her new stuff isn’t straight-up pop like her early stuff, which is awesome – I love that she’s grown and evolved and is surprising people. Do you follow her on Instagram? Her stories are so funny. I love her.
‘Sugar & Spice’ is out now.