Evie Hill/ Esk (first video released today; album launch 10 Sept.)

Lake District-born vocalist Evie Hill will release her first album ‘People In Their Simplicity’ with pianist, producer and fellow songwriter Ben Lawrence on Friday 8 September. Their first single, ‘Spirit’, was released in late July, and the music video, filmed in the Lake District, is released today. Interview by Sebastian Scotney.

Album cover

LondonJazz News:
This video captures the mountains and lakes of the Lake District. Where was the underwater section filmed, and where was the mountain ledge sequence filmed? The power of this scenery stays with you, I guess… 

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Evie Hill: The underwater section was captured in Lake Windermere, near Waterhead, at a place called Jenkin’s Field. This is somewhere very dear to my heart, as we used to go there after school as children and have picnics and swim. All of the locations in the film are places I grew up in, as they surround the area of Ambleside village. It was a truly incredible and singular place to have grown up in. 

The mountain sequence is on Loughrigg, a fell which I’ve walked up almost every year of my life since I was three years old. I wanted to create the video on this landscape because it’s so important to me as a musician, a writer, and as a person. This song in particular also feels like it lends itself to the quietness of the forest, the muffled confusion of being underwater, and the freeing wider perspective of being on top of a mountain. These are all feelings I’ve grown up with, and which really relate to this song in its exploration of fear, and liberation from it.

LJN: The lyrics of “Spirit” seem to be at least in part about the need to be able to deal with fear. Generalised or specific fear?

EH: The lyrics of Spirit could relate to any situation of overcoming fear, but for me it’s specifically about having creative desires and dreams that feel as though they will never be realised. Personally, the road to realising I wanted to be an artist was a difficult one, filled with doubt and fear. It’s been a long time coming finishing this album, and it’s definitely been a struggle against a lot of doubt – both societal and personal. Spirit is therefore about allowing yourself to overcome those fears by listening to the guiding signs, and letting your deepest desires lead your creative practice and life. 

LJN: Why is the duo called Esk?

EH: Esk has a double meaning for us – Eskdale is an area in the west Lakes which I’ve often gone to with my family for a sense of peace, and Ben and I felt that the name needed to relate to being from the Lakes, as I grew up there and Ben now lives there in a small village called Armathwaite. But the ‘double’ part is that our name also pays homage to the artists that we are very influenced by, such as Moonchild, J Dilla, Bon Iver and D’Angelo. As we aspire to create music as inspirational as theirs, our music is akin to it, or ‘esque’.

LJN: Your music seems inspired by neo-soul. Is that right?

EH: Yes! Our music is definitely a combination of many genres, but it’s most heavily influenced by Black American Music. Artists like D’Angelo, who was a member of the Soulquarians, is a huge influence for us – but I do think our music synthesises a lot of different aspects. For example, it combines acoustic elements from alternative folk, and artists like Bon Iver, with more electronic drum samples from the neo-soul genre. Ben grew up playing in church, and I’ve always loved gospel music, so we are definitely really influenced by that in our harmonic choices, as well as by modern jazz.

LJN: What sparked you to start songwriting and when did it happen?

EH: Ben and I met when playing in the Durham University Big Band, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that we began songwriting together. I had just graduated, and we were both in Cumbria, so it felt right to start creating remotely when a new chapter had begun (and we didn’t have anything else to do!). We got the time and opportunity to explore songwriting in a way that we never had before, and the album really blossomed from there. It’s strange but I feel really grateful to have had that period of time to think, write, and improve my craft, even though I am so saddened by all that was lost at that time too. 

LJN: Ben Lawrence will also be an unfamiliar name – what’s his story?

EH: Ben grew up in Newcastle and was heavily involved with the Sage as a venue – their youth programmes definitely helped him to grow as a musician, alongside his amazing piano teacher Paul Edis. We then met in big band at Durham Uni, and used to gig together in small groups too, just playing and enjoying exploring ideas. I think he’d always written music, but it was in lockdown, when his family moved to Cumbria, that he began to teach himself how to mix and produce music. It’s really incredible, the way in which he learned how to use Logic Pro and mix, purely from his own solo motivations. He actually plays a lot of the instruments on the album – bass, some of the guitar parts, keys, the flugelhorn solis, and even some flute. He’s definitely the definition of a bedroom producer in some ways – he’s super self-sufficient, and has created a sort of mini recording studio in his family’s cottage up in Cumbria. It’s an amazing place to go and create.

LJN: For a duo you gather together a wide palette of sounds. Is that deliberate?

EH: I think many of our musical choices are subconscious when we’re actually creating in the same room, but our influences are definitely widespread – when we come together to create we’re synthesising all of those different aspects of music that we love. Sometimes Ben will send me the first makings of a beat that feels very J Dilla-esque, or other times I’ll sit at the piano and write a piece that feels very RnB and send it to him. I think it’s amazing to be able to experiment and yet still manage to make music which feels cohesive. We also like to take field recordings of birds and insects in order to incorporate that rurality which is an important part of our soundscape, and also use more experimental electronic sounds to see what feels right. But I definitely think our main crossover of ‘palette’ are artists like Robert Glasper, Yebba, and Moonchild – all neo-soul artists who are moving the genre forward at the moment. 

LJN: You did an undergrad in English Literature in Durham… and now you’re going to do a Masters in Jazz at Guildhall. What’s the story/what draws you to jazz?

EH: I’ve always loved reading and thinking critically, but really I have always wanted to be a vocalist and musician from a young age. It wasn’t until university, however, that I started really getting into jazz. I remember the first time I heard Amy Winehouse sing – I must have been 12 or so – and I remember wanting to just listen to that music over and over. She was definitely my gateway into jazz back then. I think if you’re a vocalist, the ways in can be very different – but ‘Frank’ was definitely the start for me. Then I just got obsessed with Ella Fitz, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Julie London, and more contemporary artists such as Jazzmeia Horn. I can’t fully explain what draws me to jazz, but I just emotionally resonate with it so much. I think because it’s so complex and yet simple, structured and yet free, individual and yet collective, it combines a lot of aspects into one art form. Music is just such an integral part of my life – it’s another way in which to communicate, feel and express ideas. I don’t know what I’d do without it.

LJN: Do you and Ben enjoy live performance, or is recording/producing what gives greatest satisfaction?

EH: I think Ben prefers writing/producing more, as he’s more introverted and detail-oriented, whereas I prefer live performance. I think there’s something amazing about both which feed into one another – composing and songwriting, and thinking deeply about lyrics and melodies for a long time, is really fulfilling, but so is creating in the moment and responding to other band members and sharing an experience with an audience. I think we both wouldn’t be able to cope without either, but we definitely tend towards opposite sides of the coin. 

Evie Hill and Ben Lawrence. Photo supplied

LJN: Is there a launch gig?

EH: We’re so happy to announce that we’re playing at Jazz@PizzaExpress Holborn on Sunday 10 September. We’d love to see new faces there – it’s going to be the first time the album is ever played live to an audience, so I think it’s going to be a really special night.

LINKS: Click here to buy tickets!

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