Brooding, bold. Precise and brimming with an emotional clout most bands shy away from. Utterly unafraid of their own power and vulnerability, HAVVK are one of the most well-realised acts in Berlin. Here, Julie Hough who is also responsible for the amazing female-fronted Drawn Together, chats to us about aspirations, struggles and plans for the rest of the year.
BangOn Team: Tell us a little about your band. What’s your sound?
HAVVK: We’re HAVVK. We are four non-Berliners who formed a band in London a few years ago. Myself and Sam (drums) are from Ireland, and Chris (bass) and Matt (guitar) are from other mysterious parts of the UK which aren’t London. We make loud, grungy, dreamscapey indie about important shit we care about. We also have our own label, Veta Records. Last year we all reached peek-London and decided to move the project to Berlin. I think I’m here one year, to the day, as I write this. We live together in a flat in Kreuzberg, which currently has two other musicians and a dog crashing in it too. There’s lots of tea and musical pottering, and it’s surprisingly grown-up.
BOT: How do you go about songwriting?
H: It’s changed over the years, but myself and Matt have always been the initial songwriters. Matt is also our producer and has an amazing brain for piecing together song structures and instrumental parts. Often, he’ll introduce an idea at the studio and it will form the basis of something that gets jammed and reshuffled and picked apart until it’s got a bit of everyone in it. We are really getting better at developing ideas as a group. I think that Berlin has given us the head-space and free time we need to do that. I write the top-line which will either be something that comes together in ten minutes at the studio or painstakingly over two weeks. It’s about 50/50.
BOT: Who are your biggest influences?
H: Personally, I think my biggest influences are Sleater-Kinney and St. Vincent. They are a massive life-source for me in terms of their inventiveness, their passion, their live energy, and the things they talk about. In terms of the band, we have a huge respect for acts who have just stuck to their guns and kept making albums until the world couldn’t ignore them. We always talk about The National and Kendrick Lamar as proof that an indie act can gain traction, and can make challenging music that grabs people’s attention and has a trajectory in terms of how their sound develops.
BOT: What’s been your lowest and highest point as a band?
H: Can I be poetic and say they were probably the same moment? It was basically about four years ago, when this was more of a solo-project (singer-songwriter plus band) that bridged folk and indie in a way that nobody understood. We were making decent music, but trying too many things at once and confusing people in the process; apparently not in a constructive way. We’d just played a fairly big show in Dublin, and a ‘seasoned music industry man’ came up to me afterwards and basically started asking some pretty invasive questions about who was ‘really’ writing the songs, and making assumptions about our relationships. He had all sorts of advice, and I was basically standing there trying to justify why we sounded or looked the way we did. The worst feeling was that I felt we had given him license to do that. That night was awful. We all went home feeling completely flattened and I think I only slept about half an hour. Two things happened the next day. Matt and I went to see Prisoners. Then we went for a long walk around Dublin and had a two-hour conversation that was basically the making of HAVVK. We didn’t listen to that man’s advice. But we did decide that we never wanted to give anyone a reason to make us feel like that again. After that, we changed from a ‘solo’ project to a band, started writing much stronger material, embracing a much darker sound and putting way more time and effort into our live set. We basically decided to plug every hole where someone might come in and try to demean what we were doing, and it was easily one of the best things that’s happened to us as a band.
BOT: What’s your ultimate aim?
H: We talked about this last just week actually, during a pretty familiar chat about the general fuckery of the music industry. We were talking about how the idea of ‘success’ as a band is probably really different from what it was a few decades ago. Of course, I would love if this could be my job. That is probably my most honest answer. But beyond that, the bottom line for us as HAVVK is to make music that will invite people to listen again and again. If we could make the kind of album that gives you a new reason to enjoy it, every listen, five years on, ten years on, then that would be the dream.
BOT: You have the chance to play one song for a legend of your choice. What do you play?
H: Oh shit. Okay. We’d play Ghosts for Annie Clarke. And then we elope.
BOT: What does Berlin do for you musically?
H: There’s a level of personal investment in the music scene here that I never saw in London, and that really makes me feel like I’m part of a community. Music fans feel personally responsible for supporting bands and for keeping venues open. And musicians seem to be genuinely open to supporting and collaborating with each other.
BOT: What do we have to look forward to in the coming months from you?
H: After impending-tour-doom we have a couple of singles coming out and a new video that gave us all whiplash for three days. We’re also supporting The Drums on the 28th which is crazy exciting for us! We’re getting our label night up and running in Berlin too. We ran Veta Records night for a few years in London and now we’re in Berlin-takeover-mode. I’m super excited to get to know more local bands and inviting bands to come play in our new city.
BOT: Donald Trump has invited you to play a private party for him. He’ll pay you $1,000,000. Nobody ever has to know. Do you play?
H: We would know...