One of the most promising young artists at this year’s SXSW was Naomi Hamilton. But why is she Jealous of the Birds?
BY ROBIN E. COOK
Wisdom Teeth is the new EP from Jealous of the Birds, a.k.a. Naomi Hamilton. The brainy singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland launched her music career while she was a university student in Belfast (she now has a master’s degree). Hamilton’s love of words is on full display, complementing her cool, brisk vocals. In addition to writing and singing, she’s launched “Jealous of the Bops,” a YouTube series about her favorite albums, with two albums reviewed per episode (e.g., Carole King and Cat Power). And as this interview shows, her interests extend far beyond music as well.
I understand you have a degree in English and creative writing. Which came first–that or the music? Definitely the writing. I’ve been writing since I was like 13 years old, poetry. I’ve been doing that for much longer than music. And I started writing songs maybe when I was like eighteen. I just started kind of in my first year of my degree playing gigs and releasing music and stuff. So, it’s definitely literature first.
Your lyrics definitely are very erudite. Are there any lyricists who really influenced you? I think I started with maybe Bob Dylan. When I was thirteen or fourteen, I got into the folk movement and stuff. That’s what I really saw that lyrics should be a big part of music. And then when I got into my later teens, I got into, like, grunge: Nirvana, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliott Smith and some like that. And Paul Simon stuff like that. So, it’s really important to me as a writer as well.
Aside from the lyrics, how else do you apply your English and writing background to the music? I think it’s more the analytical side of me to kind of parse different experiences. And also kind of the discipline of writing. ‘Cause I wrote a big dissertation and stuff. I’d gotten into the habit of journaling and carrying a notebook with me. So that helps, just kind of collect material for songs.
Tell me a bit about you know, your first venture into making music. Were you a little bit nervous about that at the beginning? With my first gig, I couldn’t even stand up. I stayed seated and played solo. I played solo for about a year before we got about a band together. So, it’s definitely something that, I’ve gradually gotten better at. And it’s improved to me and I really enjoy it more.
One thing I noticed, you’ve been doing a YouTube series, “Jealous of the Bops.” Can you tell me a little bit about went for the inspiration for that came from? I’ve always really been into podcasts and video as a very intimate medium. A lot of artists kind of collate their own playlists on Spotify. So, I wanted to make it a bit more personal by making a video series of it. All the songs that I pick on Spotify are kind of parts of those together. And I pick two albums that I really like and talk about them and the process behind them. I like to pick a classic album with a contemporary of one just for more contrast, ‘cause my listening tastes are pretty diverse.
It sounds like you’ve also read some music reviews and criticism as well. Is that the case? Really, I think it comes more from my English background. Writing essays and stuff comes kind of naturally to me, to be able to analyze the music I’m hearing. And also as a musician I’m always looking out for different techniques for recording and putting songs together. So that kind of becomes a factor.
What about today’s music scene in Belfast in Northern Ireland? I know people think of artists like the Undertones for instance and similar artists. Today is actually very strong. There’s a big, strong sense of community back in Belfast. It definitely has its pockets of punk and rock and stuff like that, but it’s very much indie. And songwriting is kind of a big thrust back home. And a lot of support for each other, following each other’s gigs between Belfast and Derry.
Do you feel sometimes you have to be in a certain frame of mind to write songs? Oh, for sure, yeah. And I also kind of dabble in other arts, mediums and stuff, between like photography and painting. So usually if one of them is kind of, I’m in a bit of a block with it, I’ll move over to a different art form. They kind of help each other in that way. So yeah, for songwriting, I try to keep it pretty consistent so that there’s not gaps in between activity. And that’s going well so far.