HLN Meets the Musician: HATi
We chat imposter syndrome, learning to breakdance, crafting trip-hop tracks out of endangered animal noises and writing music for Love Island
Now, we don’t tend to think of Newcastle as having a ‘bright lights, big city’ kinda vibe very often. But for Hattie Murdoch growing up in rural Lincolnshire, Tyneside was about as ‘big time’ as it got.
Leaving her hometown behind at the first opportunity, HATi – as she’s now known across the music industry – came up to Newcastle with her classical music training in tow, hoping to further her craft by studying Music at Newcastle University. But what she discovered was a musical kaleidoscope of a city that led her astray from her classical roots and into the open arms of popular song writing, toplining and producing. Because, as it turns out, the North East is actually a pretty dope place to craft a well-rounded music career.
Don’t believe us? Ask HATi. After all, she’s the one who’s been signed to a record label, performs all over the UK, writes music for Love Island and Zooms with Grammy-nominated producers on the reg.
And it’s little wonder. Armed with a wealth of musical knowledge she’s honed since childhood – thanks to early piano lessons and a musician Mum – a voracious musical appetite and a laidback, never-say-no-to-an-opportunity attitude, HATi slays in every sense of the word. Her music effortlessly blends gentle acoustic vibes with edgier synths and beats, hip-hop swagger and just the ghost of grunge, while her vocals (which we’re pretty sure she’s stolen Ursula-style from an actual angel) and her love of a good loop pedal makes for live performances that can’t help but stick in your memory.
We caught up with HATi for our latest Meet the Musician instalment and were lucky enough to shoot a HLN-exclusive performance of her latest single, ‘Wildlife’, in the Great North Museum: Hancock’s Living Planet gallery – which turned out to be decidedly apt. Here’s what happened…
(Big thanks to the filmmaking dexterity of Edge, as always).
How would you describe your musical style?
I think ‘majestic alt-pop’ is what we’re going with at the minute!
Who would you say are some of your biggest musical influences?
I’m a complete magpie with music, in the sense that I’m always wanting to listen to what’s new. So, it’s hard pinning down one artist or influence. Growing up, I listened to a lot of pop. I’m originally from rural Lincolnshire and I’m the youngest of four, so it really came down to what my sisters and brother were playing. I didn’t have a huge choice of music other than that, except for what was in Woolworths on cassette! So it was a lot of ‘90s indie bands and Spice Girls.
But I was always into my singer-songwriters, artists like Shelby Lynne, Martina Sorbar and Nerina Pallot. When I came up to Newcastle, I was listening to a lot of DJs too – The Chemical Brothers, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist – and I was also getting into my indie and rock bands. Then I got really into hip-hop… I guess that’s why I write in so many different genres now, because I have all these different influences.
You lived in America for a while. What was that experience like?
I lived in America for a year as part of my degree. I was based at the University of Illinois, just south of Chicago. Halfway through the year, I found out that my marks didn’t count towards my degree – so I pretty much sacked off studying and went on tour with a hip-hop band. As you do…
I was already into my hip-hop, but being from a blonde lass from rural Lincolnshire, it was a bit of a challenge fitting into the Chicago hip-hop scene… so I learned to breakdance! I was rubbish, but I was one of only a few female break-dancers at the time, so I competed when I was back in the UK.
What made you decide to settle in the North East?
I came up to Newcastle for university because it was as far away from home as I could get! As I’m the youngest in my family, when I left home my Mum and Dad moved abroad, so I stayed in the North East after I graduated.
I studied Music at uni, but I came in as a classical player – I played flute – but living and studying here, I ended up doing lots of different things musically and turned my back on the classical route. I found it just wasn’t for me.
From classical music to Love Island! One of your songs has just been featured on the show, right?
It has! I wrote a song for a Sony BMG sync album that was played on Love Island USA a month or so ago. I don’t watch the show, but the guy who put the album together let me know – I was buzzing watching the clip! Getting your music placed on a TV show of any size is a real ‘pinch me’ moment. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of it.
What’s your earliest memory of music?
Probably Recorder Club, because my Mum ran it! And we all know how well blasting out Three Blind Mice on recorder has stood us in good stead through our professional careers…
How did you get into the production side of things?
When I first started working on my own material with another producer, I could hear what I wanted and – amazingly – he could make sense of me saying: ‘I want it to sound a bit like this’, and turn it into a track I was happy with. I wanted to be able to do that too, so I watched and absorbed everything like a sponge.
From then I just started playing about. I remember doing a project with ‘Found Sounds’, but the sounds I found were all from a CD of rare animal noises. I ended up making a trip-hop track with the wings of this endangered animal in here, and the squeak of another in there. It was crap! But I was playing about and became used to hearing things in different ways.
According to a recent study on equality in the music industry, only 2% of producers are female. Does that come into play at all when you’re producing a track?
There’s definitely a huge feeling of imposter syndrome with female producers. Even when I had my first record out, I was still like: oh, I’ve only produced one song, maybe I shouldn’t call myself a ‘producer’ just yet. Whereas there are some (mainly male) ‘bedroom producers’ out there who make a beat, stick it on YouTube and call themselves a producer. And because it’s easier to record at home now, there’s a lot of people who can see themselves as a producer. I didn’t see it for myself until about three or four records in.
So the writing was on the wall early on that wildlife would inspire your work! Tell us about the song you’ve performed exclusively for High Life North.
Yes! So the song I’ve just played for High Life North is called ‘Wildlife’ and it’s my latest release. I co-wrote it with a friend who is also a great writer, called Lauren Ray. She was staying with me when she was up here on tour with Rebecca Ferguson, so we opened up a bottle of wine and started working on this track in my living room.
I was chatting to her about how I wanted this play on words with ‘wildlife’ and living a ‘wild life’. It’s all about trusting that primitive instinct and not self-editing, effectively. We all self-edit a lot when we should just be living a little more freely. If we don’t, we’ll always regret it.
‘Wildlife’ is your third single this year, since you’ve signed with a new label, right?
Yeah, I’m signed to Saint In The City Records, who are based in Leeds. I’m over the moon that they love it and are supporting me in releasing these tracks.
Is there an album or EP on the horizon?
The plan is just to release as many singles as possible. That’s the way the industry has changed over the last five years or so, there’s a huge shift in releasing singles instead of EPs. So that’s the route I’m going down with the label so far.
That being said, there are a few songs I’ve written that don’t work as singles, so I think there is going to be an EP at some point. But for now, there’s another two or three releases coming later this year.
What do you love most about collaborating with other artists?
From a purely song-writing point of view, it’s weird because it’s like: ok, I’ve never met you before, but let’s have a therapy session together! You talk about the most personal things. But you have to put everything out on the table, because if you’re guarded then you can’t get that honesty and flow in your writing session. So, I love that collaborating means you suddenly become best mates over the course of about two hours.
And I love writing for other artists because it satisfies a musical need in me. As an artist, you’re held back a little by the genre that you decide to go into, but that doesn’t mean that’s necessarily the only thing you can do. When I write for other artists, I can write in different genres – which satisfies a musical itch, I guess.
How would you describe the North East’s music scene?
Very eclectic. When you think of the scenes down in Sheffield or Manchester, they have a real ‘sound’. But the thing about the North East is that we cover a huge area. Darlington, Teesside, Durham, Sunderland, Newcastle, right the way up to the borders – we all get grouped together. They don’t call it the ‘Yorkshire scene’, they specify certain cities, but it’s never just the ‘Newcastle scene’. And because of that, there’s a lot of variety in the North East. I love it – I think it pushes artists to be their best. You really have to fight for your spot in whatever you’re doing up here, but it’s brilliant because everyone really supports each other and pushes each other up.
It’s also nice feeling like a big fish in a small pond when you go down to London. I have a lot of musician friends down south who haven’t had half the opportunities that I’ve had up here. So, it’s nice to go down there with a few accolades behind you.
Have you ever felt pressure to move down to London for your work?
A lot of people have said to me in my career that I should be down in London, but I’m now at the point where people are coming up to work with me. I think the world got a lot smaller during the pandemic and lockdown has helped people realise that we can work remotely. I did a session where I was working with a Grammy-nominated producer who was in Canada, an artist in Denmark, my co-writer who was in Mexico, and I was in Gateshead! But when people find out I’m based in the North East, they’re often like: oh, cool – I’ll come up and visit you. Which is great.
What would be your advice to other women in the North East who may want to pursue a career in music?
Go for it. But also, really look into it. Sometimes you have an idea of what a music career is, but in reality you might branch off into another direction, so it’s about allowing yourself the freedom to try different things. It’s important to have an open mind and let your career path find its way. The daft thing is, you think the first song you write will get cut by an artist and become number one and that’s it – you’re a global phenomenon and the cash is coming in. It doesn’t happen! The best metaphor is this: you’ve got to put a lot of compost and poo into the soil to let the flowers grow!
So, my advice would be: absolutely look into it. Talk to a lot of people – once you start talking about a career in music, then you discover it’s not such an untouchable thing and you can find out a little more about what path you might take. And be patient. It doesn’t come overnight.
Where’s your dream gig?
My dream gig is at the Hancock Museum, next to a leatherback turtle!
Who was your first gig?
Blink 182 at Rock City in Nottingham. I went after school, we had a bit of a road trip, and it was my first mosh pit.
What was the first album you bought?
I’m not entirely sure exactly, because I had sisters and a brother so I knicked theirs… But I can remember listening to an Eagle-Eye Cherry album on repeat when we were on holiday once. The writing on it’s actually very good! Also, Shanks & Bigfoot, Sweet Like Chocolate – I remember buying that for a boyfriend.
What songs or artists got you through the pandemic?
The artists that I was working with massively got me through the pandemic, so artists like Nadedja. Writing my own music as well, that was a bit of a saviour.
Listening-wise, I did go back to a few older albums and artists – KT Tunstall was one of them. And I had a few dancing sessions with the dog and a glass of wine in the flat! So, yeah, that got me through!
If you could go back in time to one musical decade, which would it be and why?
Early 2000s. Because you had some great songs, like Eiffel 65’s ‘Blue (Da Ba Dee)’!
What is there not enough of in the music industry?
Well, there’s too much ego – so what’s the opposite of ego? Humility. There’s not enough humility.
Who would you most like to duet with?
KT Tunstall. I think we’d have a right good laugh.
What album could you listen to on repeat forever?
Bonobo, The North Borders.
What song do you really wish you’d written yourself?
‘Rousseau’ by Nerina Pallot. I’ve just bought a Henri Rousseau painting as well, so it’s all meant to be!
What song would you like to record a cover of?
‘C’est La Vie’ by B*Witched.
Which other local artist(s) should we look out for?
Nadedja. I know you’ve just featured her in High Life North, but I worked with her on her EP and she’s just incredibly talented. Jodie Nicholson as well. And Hector Gannet – I saw them at Lindisfarne this year and I thought they were incredible.
A big thank you to the Great North Museum: Hancock, for allowing us to film in their Living Planet Gallery. For more information, visit their website