Hachiku: Dreamy alternative pop project of newly settled wanderer Anika Ostendorf

The songwriter-at-a-standstill tells NME about the musical upbringing and roaming life that led to debut album ‘I’ll Probably Be Asleep’

Loss, long-distance romance, arguments with climate change deniers and bureaucratic immigration processes: On ‘I’ll Probably Be Asleep’, the debut album from dream pop artist Hachiku, even the topics usually relegated to inflammatory newspaper op-eds take on new depth and heart.

The project of 26-year-old Anika Ostendorf, Hachiku emerged onto the local Melbourne scene in 2017 with a suite of minimal electronic songs inspired by the folk artists she aspired to emulate as a teenager.

On her 2017 EP and successive singles – all released by Milk! Records, the label whose massive merch operation Ostendorf runs with her partner, photographer Marcelle Bradbeer – the now-signature Hachiku sound began to take form: Hopeful keys, occasionally anxious production and Ostendorf’s cynical lyricism, so clear-eyed you felt it had the capacity to permanently change its subject.

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But even Ostendorf admits that sometimes the ideas occupying her mind aren’t clear at first. Like sediment in a glass of water, the true meanings need time to settle. Two years after subconsciously processing her grandmother’s death in a song on her EP, she noticed a “lyrically obvious” reference to it that has previously passed her by. The same is true of the territory she covers on ‘I’ll Probably Be Asleep’.

“Thematically, what each song [on the album] would be about is so all over the place,” Ostendorf tells NME from her home in Melbourne. Over Zoom, I can see she’s tucked in the corner of what looks like an all-purpose room – there’s a couch next to her and on the other side, instruments she used to record a sizeable chunk of the new album.

The album charts a timeline of around four years, but is punctuated less by dates than the places Ostendorf found herself: “Some songs would be [written] while doing long-distance. Some were when I was back in Germany and while my dog was passing away.”

While the sense of place isn’t always noticeable for listeners, it informs Ostendorf’s understanding of not just where she was in her life when writing each song, but where in the world, too. Ostendorf was born in Michigan, grew up in Germany and studied in London before a university exchange gave her the choice to spend a year in either Singapore, Auckland or Melbourne. On the advice of her worldly grandmother, she chose the city with the fewest major cultural differences and most promising music scene.

While ostensibly in Melbourne to continue studying biology, she could already feel herself being pulled in a different direction. “I had already told my parents, ‘I actually don’t really want to do biology. I kind of want to do music instead.’” She recalls, “I think I told my father first, because he’s always good at giving life advice. And, I think growing up, he would have always wanted to become a musician if he hadn’t grown up in Germany in the ’60s and ’70s.”

“My parents always wanted me to start learning an instrument early on and join the choir. Never discouraging, but never pushy”

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Ostendorf describes hers as “a Ford family”; grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles alike all went to work for the company. It’s the reason she moved around so much as a kid, and she thinks that the stability of life with the auto manufacturer left her father with a lingering sense of ‘what if?’, exacerbated by the knowledge that childhood friends found success as professional musicians. “I think there’s always a little bit of like, ‘Ooh, that could have been me, but if I had done that I wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have my children, I wouldn’t be financially stable’,” she muses.

Ostendorf’s father was both her greatest encouragement and “probably one of the best guitarists I know, actually”, but her mother wasn’t far behind. She plays the accordion and takes opera singing lessons, and as a teen Ostendorf played in her band, a troupe of IT staff at the Ford factory that performed pop songs they hijacked and rewrote about the inner-workings of the office.

“They play in a duo at friends’ birthdays and sing songs together,” Ostendorf says of her parents. “They always wanted me to start learning an instrument early on and join the choir. Never discouraging, but never pushy.”

The perfect balance, it sounds like. Ostendorf describes her father taking her to a studio when she was 17 so she could record a CD. Influenced by Regina Spektor and Fleet Foxes mostly, but also featuring a cover of a song by hardcore band Fucked Up, the formative record set her on a course as an artist – even if the medium didn’t stick around. “My dad would be happy if you mentioned this, because we still have around 800 of those CDs left that we made,” she tells me. “I don’t know why we made a thousand CDs; for our upcoming album, we only made 500.”

Recorded over years spent flitting between focusses and countries, ‘I’ll Probably Be Asleep’ feels nonetheless resolved and settled. The song ‘Busy Being Boring’ is testament to that. Ostendorf wrote it in 2018 while applying for a partner visa to stay in Australia for a further two years. “At the start of being here I’d never really seen myself as being in one place longer than two years. For some reason when I’m not stimulated with a new thing, I get distracted really easily.”

She imagines the life of a professional dabbler: “Ooh, I can do two months of farm work! Ooh, afterwards, maybe I could move to Iceland and just work on a wind farm, or like maybe I could go to the Maldives and become a professional diving instructor!”

‘Busy Being Boring’, Ostendorf says, is her coming to terms with staying still after a lifetime of moving. “Like maybe it’s OK to just be… determined to make something work and stick with something because you think that it is worthwhile and not be so cynical and negative about it.”

Hachiku Anika Ostendorf new album Ill Probably Be Asleep
Credit: Marcelle Bradbeer

She saves the cynicism and negativity for the record’s title track, which is also its opener. In a press release, Ostendorf explained the song: “In essence, it is like an escapist’s testament about the wish to gain sovereignty over your thoughts. Freud’s id vs superego. The thought of wanting to be part of something but the idea of it being way more enticing than the reality.”

The record’s only song recorded with the full Hachiku band – guitarist Georgia Smith, bassist Jessie L. Warren and drummer Simon Reynolds – ‘I’ll Probably Be Asleep’ is murky and cheeky, channelling a beautiful inner brattiness. Like much of the record, its driving motivation is want.

But where tracks like ‘You’ll Probably Think This Song Is About You’ and ‘Dreams Of Galapagos’ project that wanting outwards, here the song wrestles with itself internally. There is a delicious kind of petulance at play, as if having lived a life full of options has left Ostendorf with just one thing left to do: stay in, stay still and sort through her stockpile of confrontational conversations and tough experiences until, in time, she’s ready to have the last word.

Hachiku’s ‘I’ll Probably Be Asleep’ is out November 13

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