How to escape with the dream pop of Hazel English

"The dream pop style of music is good for taking you out of an ordinary life and putting you into another world. It’s what inspires me to create these daydreamy, nostalgic types of worlds."

When Hazel English wants to escape, she lets her mind wander.

“When I daydream, I dream about exploring and traveling,” says English. “Like the things I want to do, places I would like to see, and stuff that is on my bucket list.”

That extends to her music, a mix of dream pop and surf rock, which can feel like a daydream, at times. She’s not only aware of the element of escapism that is in her music; she’s intentional about including it.

“I like songs that I can daydream to,” explains English. “Songs that will put me in a mood, and help me escape from real life. The dream pop style of music is good for taking you out of an ordinary life and putting you into another world. It’s what inspires me to create these daydreamy, nostalgic types of worlds.

“When I write music, I like to figure out the melody before the lyrics,” English continues. “I’m kind of a melody-driven person. Lyrics are really important too, but songs have to be catchy. For me, a song that gets stuck in my head is one where I like the melody and has catchy hooks. That’s what I try to do, and I try to create something that will get stuck in your head in a good way.”

While her music can put listeners into another world in their minds, down here on Earth, the road to making dream pop songs kicked off in the Bay Area for the California via Sydney, Australia,  singer. English began playing and writing music in Australia, and performed at open mic nights when she was 18. During her time in college, she was involved in a study abroad program in San Francisco, and fell in love with the city. 

“It felt like the right place for me to be, and I loved the feeling of openness,” says English. “It felt like an exciting place to be at the time.

English would eventually settle in the Bay Area, and worked at a bookstore in Oakland, which turned out to be a formative experience. English was surrounded by rare vintage books, and she got to meet some pretty cool people. One of those people happened to be her eventual producer and collaborator Jackson Phillips (Day Wave); though when she met the fellow dream pop artist, she didn’t expect to be working with him years later. 

“I had no idea when Jackson came in that it would be this long-term collaboration,” says English. “We got chatting about music, and he invited me to make music with him. Both of us were pretty open about the music we wanted to make.

“It felt like a real easy collaboration, and Jackson is good at collaborating. It felt easy with him, and made sense. We have good musical chemistry together.”

Years later, the collaboration is still there, and Phillips produced English’s newest EP Summer Nights, which was released on June 17. The EP came about when English was daydreaming about a song called “All Dressed Up” that didn’t make her previous LP Wake UP!. Ultimately, she didn’t want the song to go to waste.

“Jackson and I had written this song a couple years back, and I thought I would need an extra song for Wake UP!,” says English. “I didn’t end up needing that song and that song was in the back of my mind, and I always wanted to do something with it. In the pandemic I thought about that song.”

Summer Nights also marked a return to English’s dream pop roots that were shown in previous EPs like Just Give In/Never Going Home, and a return to a more streamlined recording process. 

“I just wanted to kind of return a little to the original sound,” says English. “The process of the previous EPs were desirable to me. The process of my album Wake UP! was pretty exhausting for me. I’m glad I saw it through, but I can’t do another project in this way. I worked with so many different people and did so many different sessions, and while I loved the experience, it took a bit longer to finish. With Jackson, we write and record at the same time. I was more off-the-cuff and not over-analyzing everything.

“Some of the songs on Wake UP! went through 10 different versions and seven different mixes. I can get incredibly anal about things when I want to be. With Summer Nights I didn’t want it to be like that, and didn’t want to be so obsessed with the details. I let go a little more on this EP, and went with my first instincts a little more.”

One of those songs that returns to English’s dream pop roots is “Nine Stories,” a song made during quarantine. 

“We made ‘Nine Stories’ before vaccines when we were still quarantining,” says English. “We did it all remotely. Jackson made the track on a Twitch Stream, and I came up with the topline, and recorded the vocals at my house and sent it to him. We were like, ‘This is cool, let’s keep it going.’ In terms of the lyrics, I wanted ‘Nine Stories ‘to feel like a scene from a movie about high school.”

English will be playing “Nine Stories” and more at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC on August 9. During quarantine, she played a livestream concert, but is looking forward to playing live again. 

“Honestly, I don’t really like doing livestreams,” says English. “It’s awkward because you play for your computer screen and there’s no applause at the end. There’s no interaction, and you can’t feel the energy with the crowd. It felt a little strange. Ultimately, I didn’t mind the livestream, but it’s not the same as performing live. It served a function of that time, but takes away the things that make playing live so exciting. Having a chat bubble isn’t the same as having a bunch of people screaming in a crowd for you and dancing to the music. That is a huge part of what makes performing live so much fun.”

English will play a lot of songs at the NYC show live for the first time, and that includes songs from Summer Nights and Wake UP!. She’s looking forward to seeing how people react to the songs, especially from Wake UP! which was released during the height of the pandemic in April of 2020. 

“I’m glad I didn’t push the album release back like others were doing,” says English. “People were asking me if I wanted to postpone it, and I said no because I believed that the pandemic was here to stay. I’m glad I was able to release it because the album helped me escape the anxiety I was feeling during the lockdown.”

English will also be playing songs from her EP Just Give In/Never Go Home, which was an EP that raised English’s profile nationally, and which serves as a timestamp for her. 

“I’m still proud of the songs,” says English. ‘It’s like a snapshot of who I was at the time and that is what is cool about making art. It’s a reflection of who I was in that time period. The EP still means a lot to me and I play those songs a lot of times now. But some songs I never get tired of playing, and I will still play songs from that record. Those songs still mean something to me, but in a different way.”

Hazel English will be playing at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC on August 9. Ticket information can be found here.