Analogue Music | Jealous of the Birds

Jealous of the Birds

By Matt Conner

For years, Naomi Hamilton has defied categories and dazzled critics.

Known musically as Jealous of the Birds, Hamilton has applied the same thoughtful creativity to her songcraft as she has other artistic pursuits—from poetry to photography. On albums like 2016's Parma Violets and 2020's Peninsula, Hamilton has proven that an artist who follows her own interests and goes where the road takes her is far more interesting and inspiring than someone interested in a conventional response to the muse.

With a third album on the way, Hinterland, we recently sat down with Hamilton to hear more about what she's learned about songwriting through a pandemic and about the liminal spaces that allow her art to exist in the first place.

Analogue: You’ve described these last few years as a liminal space and I very much felt that, too. I wonder if we can start there and how that eventually gave way to the songs on Hinterland.

Naomi Hamilton: As bizarre as it was to make a record under these conditions, I think creativity, in general, is very liminal. I think the best songs for me, the best photographs, the best poems and photographs and paintings that I make, I feel like being in that zone is very liminal anyway. So it kind of weirdly lent itself to the creative process.

The majority of these songs were written in lockdown, and I didn’t exactly know when I’d be playing music again. So in one sense, it was daunting to enter the writing process with that in mind. At the same time, it was strangely freeing. There was nothing to lose. There was no pressure, so I might as well sit there and write songs.

During lockdown, I don’t know about you but I ping-ponged back and forth between feeling super-zen and calm and very in control creatively and then flipping completely to, ‘What is happening?!’ I think that contributed a lot to the contrast in emotion on this record, bouncing between pessimism and despair over how things were but also counteracting that with a sense of optimism and trying to push through and overcome those emotions, if you get me.

"It was a really good distraction for me to be able to focus all of that energy on making stuff during the pandemic. I don’t know how people who don’t write songs got through it."

Analogue: Did it pull you from that despair in those moments?

Naomi: Yeah, I think that’s the wonderful nature of making stuff that you forget about. You forget about yourself, your ego, your situation. You’re in the zone and it all melts away and you’re just channeling the song that you happened to be writing at the time. So it was a really good distraction for me to be able to focus all of that energy on making stuff during the pandemic. I don’t know how people who don’t write songs got through it. [Laughs] My coping strategy was, ‘Well, I can’t go play shows or see family but at least I can sit down and write a song.’

Analogue: Those sacred moments of writing with that innocence feels like an artist starts making music in the first place, when there’s no defined audience or catalog. How good are you at tuning those things out?

Naomi: I guess it comes and goes. The process hasn't really changed for me in the sense that all I’m trying to do is to write a good song. That’s all I was trying to do back then. I think ultimately when it comes down to it, when I deliberately sit down to work on songs, in order for it to go anywhere, you really do have to let go of those thoughts or else they constrict the thing you’re working on before it has a chance to breathe a little bit.

If I was constantly thinking about listeners or people’s expectations… I remember when I was first writing songs, I was really conscious of not writing in any one particular genre consistently. I guess that contributed to the varied nature of a lot of my songs, since I kind of flip between things. But I don’t really think about those things now; I just think about writing a good song.

Analogue: Is that a purposeful move to avoid easy categorization?

Naomi: It’s me just trying to flex that muscle a little bit. It’s trying things out. I want to keep it fun and I think I’d get a bit bored just playing one type of music. It’s too much fun as a songwriter to dip your toe into different styles and genres when approaching things. So I think that just kind of happened naturally out of my own curiosity and desire to keep it fun and spontaneous.


Analogue: Is that true for you in general, by the way? To get easily bored?

Naomi: [Laughs] Actually, I think it’s kind of the opposite. I’m a collector of hobbies, so I don’t get bored easily because I collect things to do. Like there’s always something to noodle around with, if you get me. Even as a kid, I was always occupying myself and having fun.

Analogue: That’s interesting because some artists don’t seem to have that same desire to experiment or the fun is not there for them. Maybe there’s a fear there.

Naomi: I can see how that would also be kind of a negative thing. I can see the appeal of staying in one lane and really exploring that, a really in-depth exploration of a certain genre or approach to things or something like that. I flit between things and kind of try them out, but I’m having a good time, so something must be working.

Analogue: I want to go back to what you said about writing the best song you can. If that impulse is the same to serve the art in that way, then what has changed about songwriting for you between your first songs and writing for Hinterland?

Naomi: That’s a good question. On the first Jealous of the Birds project, I was just 18- or 19—something like that. You might think you do, but you don’t know who you are at that point. So much of my journey with Jealous of the Birds over the last 7-8 years has really allowed me to grow my confidence—not only as a songwriter but also as a human being. I’ve been able to do things and write and express things that I just never would have been able to otherwise.

So I try to keep my antenna up a bit and be receptive to all of those experiences and changes that I’ve had over the past few years. I’m going to turn 27 toward the end of this month and I guess I’ve been reflecting on how much time has changed. I feel like I’m in a better place how I want to move forward and I’m in a more assertive, confident place with what I’m doing.

When you’re first writing songs, you’re writing your first love song, and it’s all new territory. It’s been a really lovely experience to feel like you’re growing into that and honing your craft over time. So I think the difference between a record like Parma Violets and Hinterland, it’s still me and it’s all from my brain but I think you can feel that maturing.

VISIT: Jealous of the Birds

Photo: Steve Carson