Jealous of the Birds Interview: “They embody what it’s like to be a real person”

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jealous of the birds

Debut album Parma Violets is out now.

There is a lot of absolutely terrible names for really great bands. Jealous of the Birds is not among their ranks. It encapsulates two things that make it the perfect moniker for this project spearheaded by Belfast’s Naomi Hamilton: it is as evocative and meaningful as Hamilton’s expressive lyrics; and it alludes to the desire for freedom that is created by Hamilton’s haunting music.

Jealous of the Birds’ debut album Parma Violets is a rare record that is rich in lyrical imagery, delicate melodies, and song writing control that is both economical and touching. On repeated listens, I find myself drawn to words and lines here and there. For instance, a line in album opener ‘Goji Berry Sunset’ goes, “Your name / It fizzes on my tongue”. The word ‘fizz’ just so perfectly depicts how even speaking the name of someone you care about can evoke a near physical reaction. It’s perfect.

We spoke to Naomi Hamilton recently about the more expansive sound on Parma Violets, her love of literature and poetry, and how her wonderful album artwork was created.

Overblown: Your debut EP Capricorn was a very low key affair, but your debut album Parma Violets is a lot more expansive. Was it important to you to expand on your sound for the album?

Naomi Hamilton​: Definitely. The EP had a stronger lo-fi vibe, mostly because of the limitations of my setup at home and knowledge of recording at the time — but also because a lot of the music I was listening to back then had a real sense of intimacy. Things like close vocal harmonies, acoustic guitars and lush overdubs. Elliott Smith’s records in particular were my favourites. The more expansive sound of Parma Violets owes so much to my manager and producer, Declan Legge. He’s rather fabulous. We recorded the album at Big Space Studios in Newry and were mindful of retaining the organic feel of the songs while also stepping up the production value.

O: Does the album title have anything to do with the English rock band Palma Violets?

NM​: Nah, there’s no intentional connection. It’s just a reference to one of my lyrics from the song ‘Parma Violets’, “Oh please, don’t you swallow pills like parma violets again.”

O: I really love your track ‘Miss Misanthrope’. It is so simple and earnest. Could you tell us a bit about the writing and meaning of that song?

NM​: That’s cool of you to say. I remember it being one of those songs that kind of emerged fully realised. It was just me sitting with a guitar and notebook. We just had to add little touches like the mellotron flute and harmonies in studio later. With lyrics I mostly tend to find my way through free association. It’s like watching a cinema reel on the back of your skull and attempting to actualise it. As for what it means, it’s all subjective, but for me I think it’s about no matter how frustrating or disappointing people in general can be, there’ll always be that one specific person you make time for and trust in completely.

O: The artwork for the album is very interesting. Are those images embroidered? That’s what they look like to me. Who created the artwork? What’s the concept behind it?

NM​: Yeah, the cameos are embroidered. All the delicious artwork for the album was made by my rather astounding girlfriend, Shelley Anne. Just recently she wrote a blog post about the process of creating the cover, which is far more articulate and interesting than me yakking on about it.

O: It seems to me that much of your lyrics are very image/metaphor heavy (‘Russian Doll’) and make literary references (‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’). What writers have influenced your lyrical style? How?

NM​: Poetry’s my favourite. I mostly read stuff by the Beat Generation and impressionist writers from the early 20th Century. People like Allen Ginsberg, Whitman, Jack Kerouac, Bukowski, Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Neruda. But in terms of songwriting I always make new discoveries when I’m wrapped up in the words of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Kurt Cobain, Sibylle Baier and Simon & Garfunkel. The link between all those artists, however tenuous, is that they embody what it’s like to be a real person. That’s what I look for in any kind of art.

O: Did you know there is now a clothes brand called Kafka? They are an “independent retailer selling carefully selected and artisanal clothing, footwear and accoutrements”. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I just thought it was a weird thing.

NM​: Did you know Kafka is also an author? I don’t know why I’m telling you this either.

O: It seems 2016 was quite a year for you. Could you name a highlight? Or a couple?

NM​: It’s a good time to be alive. By some kind of miraculous synergy I was fortunate enough to travel to America with my music twice in one year. The first time was for SXSW in Austin, Texas and the second was to play in Los Angeles. It’s also been especially cool to be able to play shows with my full band. They’re very talented musicians and a joy to spend time with. We’ll be going on more adventures together this year.

O: What did you do for New Years? Hope you had a good time!

NM​: For New Year’s my girlfriend and I went out and joined the hundreds of party people getting tipsy in Belfast. There was wine and romance and drunken strangers cheerfully yelling “Happy New Year!” from across the street. I hope yours was beautiful, too.

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