Adam Hattaway

I’m from Christchurch. My parents didn’t play music themselves apart from a little classical piano from Dad, which he taught me some of when I was 5-9. They introduced me to a big portion of the music that remains an influence today –  Van Morrison, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan. My best friend growing up, Tommy and I started playing together all the time when we were 10 years old playing rolling stones almost exclusively – we’d force our parents and friends to sit and watch the horrendous little shows we’d put on in the lounge.

I entered Smokefreerockquest every year from year 10! And I think every year it was the same thing – entering in the Canterbury region with our band ‘5th Day Of May’. It was a Bob Dylan influenced band that was also into some NZ music, such as Toy Love, and as we got older, more 90’s indie rock stuff – Pixies, Pavement, Mazzy Star. In the last year my girlfriend and I did an acoustic duo.

I’m still based in Christchurch. I went to Jazz school, but it didn’t do me any good. I’ve basically been a full time musician ever since – playing guitar with lots of groups of varying styles, and always keeping my own thing going as songwriter and frontman. Even at times when I haven’t been pushing my own music, it’s still been simmering away. I’ve toured and recorded, both of which I love most of the time. I also play bars in “covers” duos, trios etc which, contrary to what a lot of my friends think, can be the most fun thing ever.

Over the past few years, I’ve played Nostalgia festival, Electric Avenue, and a couple other festivals. Played guitar in someone else’s band at the Tuning Fork, but I guess that’s not much bigger than Blue Smoke where I’ve played a lot. I’ve done interviews, live to airs, and had my music played on RNZ (just released a music video for ‘Nothing Lasts’ through them), 13th floor, NZ musician, Hauraki and some other places.

Recording the album we’ve almost finished at the moment stands out as particularly special. Also doing the Van Morrison tribute in Christchurch last month at Blue Smoke. And holding hands with Nick Cave.

What is your songwriting process?

To be honest, the songs could be about anything or nothing. I try to make them relatable to the listener without being too obvious or corny OR going the other way and being too cryptic. When I’m putting a song together, I usually just start the lyrics by grabbing random lines I’d previously jotted down – that’ll determine what the song is about. Could be totally fictional – sparked by a cool sounding line and then I realise what it could be about and then I make up a story. Or it might be about something real like a deeply sad family secret, or about making some toast in the morning.

Oddly, I seem to come up with about a third of my best songs in my sleep. I wake up with a tune in my head, often a whole chorus or verse with lyrics. Then I just write another part or two to go with it. Otherwise, I generally come up with lines out of the blue and write them down in my phone. I’ve got books and stuff where I expand on those lines or start from scratch, turn them into songs, and brainstorm about song topics and other ideas.

Then I’ll be sitting down with a guitar, bass or piano and I just start strumming or plodding away, trying to mix up the feels, keys and chord progressions at random. I’ll start humming a melody while glancing at lyrics and when something sticks and it’s good enough, I’ll start writing more lyrics – try to make it all make sense and then if one part is good, it’ll often spark the next section of the song. If I get stuck, I’ll often look through recent song fragments and splice two songs together which often works well, you just need to alter a few things, or I’ll go back over other half written stuff and see if there’s anything good.

How do you pick the songs you take into the studio?

Basically after writing like that for a while, I’ll end up with around two dozen completed songs; maybe 18 of mine, a couple Elmore in my band wrote, and a couple together (this seems to work out about once a year now). Then we’ll decide what kind of record we want it to be.

Say we want to make a disco/funk and soul album, we might have 17 songs out of those two dozen that either already fit that style or can be melted into it. The songs would either be close to fully done, or at least fully done structurally, with lyrics still yet to be written and some sections we’re not sure about. This is good as you want the songs to change somewhat through the recording process. Once it’s all tracked, we’ll then boil it down to somewhere between 9 and 13 songs typically based on what came out best and what really fits best together for the album.

What are two things you have learnt along the journey, that you would tell your younger self if you could?

1. Don’t be hard on yourself.

2. Stop being so shit.

What are you waiting for?

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