Name: Lou Hayter
Occupation: Musician, DJ, musical director
Current release: Lou Hayter's Loaded is out digitally - with vinyl to follow later in the year.
If you enjoyed this interview with Lou Hayter, her website is the best point of departure into her work. She is also on Souncloud, Facebook and Instagram.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I've always had it. I think it just comes out of you naturally, or for me at least. Other forms of art are inspiring for sure. I'm very much someone who absorbs culture and thrives off it; art, music, architecture, film, design ...
I think that every single thing you watch or consume or listen to gets absorbed and can subconsciously or consciously become an inspiration, whether it's something you decide to embrace or push against creatively.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Yeah I can start with quite embryonic ideas like one lyric or a bassline or a sample and then build it up. Other times I hear the whole thing in my head and then it's a case of trying to get what I can hear into my head made into a real tune.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I make loads of demos, then I just keep refining them until they're finished. Sometimes there are like 30 versions of a tune, haha. But I'm getting better at working quicker now.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
No not really because it's always impulsive. I don't sit down and wait for stuff to come into my head, it's the other way around; I wait for the idea to pop into my head then start work on it.
But if I'm going into the studio to work on existing ideas I have loads of coffee and snacks. I find I really have to use my brain so I need energy. Lighting is good too. When I work with JB Dunckel, his studio is painted black. It's gorgeous in there but I fall asleep a lot because it's so dark! So now I try to have bright lights in there cause it's long days and I need light to stay awake.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I actually love coming up with ideas, for me finishing the tune is the hardest part. Things just literally pop into my head or I hear a snippet of conversation that I think is catchy and write it in my phone or a sample that I like and take it from there. Other times I just hear melodies or basslines and sing them into my phone.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
I get lyrics from all over the place. Sometimes conversation or books or films. Or things that I'm thinking and feeling. Then I write down good snappy lines in my phone and when I get a piece of music that needs lyrics I pull out the lines that are in my phone to make a song out of them. Or sometimes the whole song just pops into my head out of no-where, that happened with "Cherry on Top". Especially once I'd got on to the theme of sugar and honey, then it was easy to get more ideas.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I'm not really someone who studies lyrics. The ones that I really listen to are usually Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Prince and The Smiths. I love them cause they're always telling stories and they're funny and engaging and clever. But apart from that I'm usually into the overall vibe of a song.
But with my own lyrics I try to find lines that are snappy and rhythmic and honest. The rhythm of the words along with the music is quite important to me. I like to find little snippets or lines that interest me and also things that move me.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
I just keep working away at it. If it's in it's early stages where I just have certain elements I think of it a bit like a jigsaw puzzle: I know the answer is there but I just have to keep chipping away until it fits into place.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
No I just let things flow into my brain, I think overthinking doesn't help so I just try to be free when I make stuff. No rules. Sometimes people in the studio tell you you can't do certain things and I never understand why - cause there aren't any rules, if there are, they're just made up.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Yeah I really encourage accidents and see where they take me because sometimes they’re meant to be and they open up something new and amazing. That's one of Brian Eno's concepts that he encourages too.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Finishing is often the hardest part but I think I’m getting better at knowing when something is ready to go out there. Sometimes I play it to a friend that I trust or Damian Harris. He's my A&R man at Skint, my label. Otherwise I might never stop chipping away at it.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I usually just listen to something over and over to work out what it needs. Sometimes it involves taking a break from it and coming back to it. Also listening on headphones usually gives me more clarity than the loud speakers in the studio. So sometimes it isn't until I get home after working on something and listen in the cab home that I realise what's missing because sometimes you're too caught up in things in the studio and you need a bit of distance.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
It’s extremely important and I’m involved in the production every step of the way.
I'm starting to produce by myself more with an engineer and it's a big learning curve. Mixing is something that fascinates me a lot more than it used to. I’m always listening to big pop and R&B or club records and wondering how I can achieve a sound like that. I was lucky to have Dave Bascombe mix the whole record who mixed Tears for Fears and Peter Gabriel - some of the best mixed records I can think of.
I'm obsessed with producers like Rodney Jerkins and Timbaland and also Trevor Horn, Arif Mardin, Quincy Jones ... the greats. I'll always be studying them and trying to sound better. But I love the fact that you can always strive to be better in music - it keeps it exciting.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Yeah totally, I felt quite weird when the album came out and I didn’t understand why. I straight away started to think about the next one, which I’m already working on. I guess it’s nice to have something to work towards and then once it’s out you just start all over again.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Yeah there's something so fulfilling about making music. It's probably the most satisfying thing in my life. DJing is great but you don't have a finished product to take away from it that you've created yourself. I express my feelings and I progress through it and push my brain and focus on it, so it's escapism from everything else that's going on. Then when you make something you love it makes you feel so happy and rewarded.