Having been huge fans of HAVVK since they headlined our first gig at The Finsbury back in 2016, we were massively excited about the release of their stunning new album, Levelling, a few weeks back. With support from the likes of Radio X, BBC 6Music and Wonderland Magazine under their belts, the album showcases the Dublin trio’s knack for creating truly immersive offerings, oozing a swirling, ethereal splendour, intertwined with a grunge-tinged grit. Propelled by the haunting, celestial power of front person Julie’s vocals, each track ripples with a captivating grace, creating a collection of exquisitely cathartic soundscapes.
We caught up with Julie to find out more about the album, Dublin’s live music scene and HAVVK’s plans for the next few months… Have a read!
Hello! Hope you’re all well at the moment… Your new, totally beautiful, album Levelling has recently been released, which is super exciting! How has it all been? Has it had the reaction you were expecting?
Honestly, it’s been so, so nice. It’s been hard to connect with listeners for the last couple of years and it’s made releasing music a bit surreal sometimes. It’s all been a bit Black Mirror. But the reaction to the record was so tangible – we’ve had so many kind messages. And we were really lucky that we got to have an album launch – that one night that we got to scream at each other (from a safe distance) really made up for a lot of that lost connection. People knew the words and were doing their best to break their necks moshing from their seats. It was gorgeous.
And how was it recording and promoting an album during such unpredictable times?
We were super lucky as we’d literally done our last in-person session in Belfast just before the restrictions got serious. There was still a lot of production work to do but we managed it all through zoom calls during lockdown, with lots of pets (our side) and kids (Rocky’s side) running around in the background too. Even though promoting the tracks during lockdown was really strange and a bit lonely at times, I’m so grateful that we had something so important to focus on during those eighteen months. It really kept us grounded.
You recorded the album with Belfast legend Rocky O’Reilly at Start Together Studios, and have worked with him quite a lot previously. What is it that you love about working with him, and marks him out as different from other producers?
Rocky has become such a good friend of ours. He has such an amazing ear for how to bring out different layers of our music and his knowledge of synths and pedals and plug-ins is astounding. The first time we recorded with him, he had set up a wall of amps for Matt and we’d never seen or heard anything like it. They’ve created such a welcoming, inclusive space at Start Together which can be rare to find in studios and honestly, anywhere in the industry.
You’ve described the album as being about growing up and how our perceptions change over time – can you tell us a bit more about this and the themes running throughout the release?
If you include the age gaps between us, we’ve spent almost all of our collective 20s and 30s together as a band. And along the way, we’ve gone through major life moments together – losses, moves, break-ups, and we’ve had some big, big conversations along the way too. We’ve seen how much your priorities can change. We wanted to make a record that started at one end of a life and ended at the other, and broke out some of those moments where you have to make a choice that will probably stick with you for the rest of your life. A lot of the songs are about the important relationships that crystallise us as people (even if we didn’t know it at the time), or the ones we have to let go of and make our peace with. It’s really about trying to get perspective on how much time we have in the world – which is a massive, scary, silly thing to think about, but it can really magnify the moments that matter. And we’ve tried to capture some of those in Levelling.
‘Home’ or ‘Hold On’ may have to be my faves on the album – they just really seem to resonate (though every song is beautifully majestic!). Do you have a favourite song on the album, and if so why?
For me it’s ‘Automatic‘. That song just made me so happy from the minute we started recording it – I felt like I was in the band that fifteen year old me always wanted to be in. I love the humour in the lyrics, the playfulness of the verses before we smash into the choruses, and the absolute wall of sound from Matt’s guitar part and Sam’s drums in the chorus. And I just love that it’s a love song about friendships and some of the most important women in my life. That’s a very satisfying thing to shout about on stage.
I was just alerted to the fact that the first ever gig I hosted, which you headlined at The Finsbury, was five years ago today! That was such a dreamy night. But over the years, has there been a particular show you’ve played that stands out as a highlight?
I’m gonna throw all of my previous answers to this question out of the window now because we’ve just had our album launch in Dublin after eighteen months of zero gigs and it was an absolutely magic night! Finally being back in a room with humans and playing the new songs for the first time was incredibly special to us. I had just forgotten how much it meant – and not just to ourselves. There were so many people in that room who also hadn’t been to a live show yet – so really, I felt like the gig was about way more than just ourselves. It was about everyone remembering how much the live music community meant to them.
And how is the live music scene in Dublin at the moment? Would you say it’s back on its feet after the pandemic?
As I type, we’re waiting for the Irish government to ‘clarify’ a bizarre new easing of restrictions which is allowing clubbing to re-open while live music still can’t go on at full capacity and all audiences still have to be seated. Yes, you did read that correctly and no, that does NOT make sense. I think that illustrates the situation pretty well – I’m delighted to see clubs opening and that there’s some changes happening (and obviously that we got to have any kind of album launch!), but every time there’s an update live music and theatre seems to be at the bottom of the priority list. Promotors and musicians are really confused and frustrated over here – it is such a slap in the face as a country that really prides itself on culture, that this isn’t reflected back by the funding and decisions made at government level.
You’ve been a band for quite some time now (and we’ve been fans all the way!) – would you say the music industry has changed much over the last few years? And, in particular, do you think it’s improved in its treatment of female/non-binary/LGBTQIA+ artists?
It’s hard to measure any kind of change in the industry just now as it’s been such a strange couple of years. Yes, there’s definitely been some progress and I feel like my identity is more reflected back in the industry than it was when we started out – there are more women, NB and queer folks on stage, on the radio, on panels etc. but there’s miles to go. I’m more excited about what’s next. As a community, we’ve had a lot of time to reflect on our needs over the last couple of years and we’re kind of at a point of ‘restart’ right now. I personally feel more empowered now to put up boundaries and to call out discriminative behaviour – speaking to other artists I know in Ireland especially, there’s a mutual feeling that if we’re getting back to business, we are going to have higher standards for ourselves and for each other. I hope this will have an upward effect on the industry.
As we’re a new music focused organisation, are there any upcoming bands or artists you’re a fan of that you’d recommend we check out?
Yes! I am currently swooning over M(h)aol, Runah, Pretty Happy, Fears and Bobbi Arlo.
Finally, what does the rest of 2021 have in store for HAVVK?
You’d think I’d be sick of my house by now but honestly, we’ve been looking forward to a bit of a rest and a refuel before next year. We’ve not just put out our own album this year, but we’ve also worked on a tonne of releases on our label, VETA Music. So apart from a few live sessions, I think the priority is to get back to basics: eat well, rest up and maybe do a little writing – hang out with the cat! My brain still doesn’t quite understand how to switch off at the moment, so that’s my biggest goal for the rest of the year before we get on the road next year (spoiler).
Massive thanks to Julie for answering our questions!
Levelling, the new album from HAVVK, is out now via VETA Music.