Arts

Jealous of the Birds singer-songwriter Naomi Hamilton takes flight with debut album

Jealous of the Birds – aka Co Armagh's Naomi Hamilton – mixes solo shows with full-band gigs and her style spans indie-folk, grunge and post-punk. With her excellent debut album released today, she talks to Brian Campbell

Co Armagh’s Naomi Hamilton – aka Jealous of the Birds - has been the artist-in-residence at this year’s Cathederal Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast. Picture by Matt Bohill

IT’S not acceptable to be jealous of a 19-year-old singer-songwriter whose debut album is a thing of ridiculous talent and a mix of all manner of genres.

So I’m not jealous of Jealous of the Birds (aka Portadown native Naomi Hamilton), but full of admiration for an artist whose record Parma Violets – released today - is required listening.

Naomi isn’t overly influenced by one artist or one style, but people continually mention Cat Power and Laura Marling when reaching for comparisons - which is no bad thing.

To take just the first four songs of her remarkable album, I could suggest that Iron & Wine (Goji Berry Sunset), Elliott Smith (Parma Violets), Nirvana (Russian Doll) and Kings of Convenience (Miss Misanthrope) are all in the mix somewhere too. The dreamy acoustic track Marcus and the aptly titled Mountain Lullaby are just two more highlights.

Naomi – as Jealous of the Birds – is currently artist-in-residence at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast. Judging by the reaction her shows have received to date, it won’t be too long until she is a big draw at festivals across Ireland, Britain and beyond (having already played South By Southwest in Texas this year).

Have you enjoyed being the CQAF artist-in-residence?

I have. It’s an insanely humbling thing to be asked to do, because I’m still starting out. It felt like they put a lot of faith in me. It’s such a great festival and it’s the kind of thing that Belfast needs.

Congratulations on the album. When was it all written and recorded?

I actually only started writing songs last year. So my EP came out last March and I wrote all the album songs after that. Declan Legge produced it at his studio in Newry. We recorded from last May to November and it was a really lovely time.

What was your original plan for it in terms of the wealth of different styles on there?

Before the EP came out I had just been singing Bob Dylan songs and Elliott Smith songs and stuff like that. Then I was given recording equipment as a gift and I started recording in my bedroom and when I had enough songs I just thought, `I’ll release an EP’. I put it up on Facebook and I couldn’t believe the attention that it garnered. But people were kind of pigeon-holing me as this folky singer-songwriter, but part of that was just because I was limited in what I could record myself at home – so that sound kind of just presented itself. I’m into punk and grunge a lot of other stuff, so I’m happy that I was able to create the sounds that I wanted to on this album.

A lot of the songs have a real grunge (Nirvana/Sonic Youth/Smashing Pumpkins) vibe to them – have you always been into that kind of music?

I was really into folk in my early teens and only really discovered grunge and punk in the last five years, so it’s still new to me. And then there’s Elliott Smith, who always had a punk aesthetic, even though he did have a rockier edge with [his 2000 album] Figure 8 and stuff.

You have a real knack for writing rich and vivid lyrics, so would your love of writing and reading poetry be a big influence on your songwriting?

Well when I was a kid, English was always my best subject and I’ve been writing poetry since I was about 13 so yeah, I suppose that’s where my focus on lyrics comes from. If I listen to music and the lyrics aren’t authentic or original or interesting, then the songs aren’t as captivating to me. And I’m still at Queen’s doing English and Creative Writing, so I’m pretty determined to finish my degree. I was always into music but I’d never have thought I’d do it as a career. I’m just going with the flow.

How did you come up with the `Jealous of the Birds’ name?

I had used it as a user-name for something before, so there wasn’t too much thought put into it. I like that idea of having a moniker. It gives you artistic freedom, so even if this project somehow dies out or something then I’ll still be able to change it up.

Do you have a particular songwriting routine?

Typically I just sit down with a guitar and some pages and figure it out and write music and lyrics simultaneously. Last summer I wrote about 60 songs, so it was hard to pick ones for the album. But obviously a lot of those 60 songs were complete rubbish! (laughs) Overall I think there’s a good dynamic between the folkier acoustic ones and the heavier and more electric ones.

You’ve said before that you hope your songs `sound like a real friend talking’.

Yeah, I love the idea of songs having that same kind of intimacy. I don’t want them to be posturing or pretentious; just down-to-earth songs that you could share with a friend.

Was it a pleasant surprise to hear that your music has been played quite a bit on BBC Radio 1?

Yeah, it’s been surreal. Any radio play from Radio 1 or Radio 2 is surprising, so I’m very thankful. I sometimes get random messages from people who have heard my stuff on the radio. It’s always weird but really cool.

Somebody recently tweeted in praise of your album opener Goji Berry Sunset, saying, `I do like a bit of whistling in songs’. Are you a fan of whistling?

Well all the milkmen have gone now, so we have lost out on all the whistlers! (laughs)

The album Parma Violets is released today (jealousofthebirdsmusic.com). Jealous of the Birds will support Daniel Champagne at the Sunflower Bar in Belfast on Sunday (at 2pm), as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival (www.cqaf.com).

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