Belfast singer-songwriter Naomi Hamilton – known as Jealous of the Birds – defies definition with her personal and poetic music. Whether encompassing the sounds of rebellion with blistering rockers or exploring human nature with soft, subtle serenades, her unflinching honesty connects to listeners with ease.
Following the 2019 release of her latest EP “Wisdom Teeth,” Hamilton returned to SXSW – where she first made a splash in 2016 – with a full band ready to unleash Jealous of the Birds’ sincere and cinematic sounds with a series of performances. Rebellious Magazine got a chance to catch up with Hamilton to learn more about her sonic illustrations, the inspirations behind the music and her engaging podcast Jealous of the Bops.
Laurie Fanelli: What’s in a name? How did you come to record and perform under the moniker Jealous of the Birds?
Naomi Hamilton: It honestly happened in the most unassuming way. Since I was 13 I’ve written poetry and played guitar, but it wasn’t until halfway through the first year of my undergrad in 2015 that I was gifted some recording equipment from my parents and started writing songs. After a few months I released a lo-fi bedroom EP on Bandcamp and it received some attention in the Belfast music scene. From there it was just a gradual progression of playing shows, meeting other artists and my manager, and writing more.
I understand that “Plastic Skeletons” was written following SXSW in 2016 – did you feel a similar sense of inspiration in 2019?
For sure, but for different reasons. That trip was my first time visiting America, and I’d never experienced a festival quite like SXSW before. Looking back on it, it was really significant for me to be exposed to that delicious kind of mayhem. I learned a lot. It also led to my eventual signing to Canvasback/Atlantic a couple years later. This year is my second time here with the full band, and so I feel like we’re much more aware of what to expect and we can just relax and sink into it.
How much does your location influence your writing – do you find yourself becoming inspired by certain cities?
Yeah, I think traveling and the richness of experience that it tends to give always inspires me. I carry a notebook around with me everywhere and have tried to get into the habit of writing down scraps of images and thoughts that I can create a mosaic from in songs later.
With the February release of “Wisdom Teeth” and the 2018 release of “The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep,” you seem to be inspired to create EPs of late. What do you like about the format?
There’s something about the bite-sized nature of EPs that I really dig – especially for up-and-coming artists and in a climate of fast and furious music consumption.
Your lyrics are so cinematic, each song is a painting into itself. Do you visualize scenes as you write?
A lot of the time when I write songs it’s almost like I’m watching a movie reel in the back of my head. I’m very much a visual thinker and am attracted to color, texture and form and try to synthesize that through language in the best way I can. Pretty much any art that pertains to the senses interests me, and I definitely think there’s a crossover between the various different mediums I’m into. Weaving certain techniques or mindsets involved in painting, photography, poetry or prose into my music just feels natural to me.
“Blue Eyes” is a total rocker. With each listen new layers of instrumentation emerge. How did you approach recording the tune?
As with all the songs from “Wisdom Teeth” it started with me demo-ing the song at home before bringing it into Take Six Studios back home in Northern Ireland to record with Declan Legge. I had a really strong sense of how I wanted it to sound, and that combined with Declan’s lush production just made it take shape. I thought a lot about tension and release – when to set up expectations and when to subvert them. The idea of contrasting very angular guitar riffs with lusher instrumentation really appealed to me, all with the hope of just making the listener want to dance.
You move so effortlessly between tones and genres on “Wisdom Teeth.” How would you describe this collection of songs?
Every time I’m in a cab and a taxi driver asks what kind of music I play, I just say “indie rock” but even that doesn’t seem to cut it. Honestly I find it pretty difficult to tack a label onto. That’s one of my favorite things about this project and something I was pretty conscious of even as far back as before we recorded “Parma Violets.” It becomes less about being tethered to a genre and more about experimenting with sound and just striving to write a good song.
You’ve discussed everyone from Patti Smith to Syd Barrett to Sylvan Esso on your podcast, Jealous of the Bops. How do you decide which two artists to pair up for each episode?
I usually just trawl through my record collection or Spotify account and pick one classic and one contemporary album just to mix up the flavors. Recording the podcast has definitely enriched my listening experience of those records due to the research I ended up doing to prepare for each episode. It’s also made me incredibly grateful that these artists existed to push this music out into the universe.
Who are some future artists you plan to explore via the podcast?
I’m not sure just yet, but there’s definitely got to be something with Bowie. And one with Elliott Smith.
Like Patti Smith, your music is vivid and poetic – When songwriting, do you start with the lyrics and add the musical composition later or vice-versa?
It depends on the song. For the longest time I wrote both the lyrics and music simultaneously, but recently it tends to fluctuate. That keeps the process interesting and refreshing though.
What’s next for Jealous of the Birds?
More writing and recording for the next album.
Do you plan on touring following SXSW?
I’d say we’ll have more shows towards the end of the year.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with Rebellious Magazine readers?