TURN THE VOLUME UP /
ROLL THE WINDOWS DOWN
Lou Hayter is hitting the road solo with her eagerly anticipated debut album "Private Sunshine" and taking us all on a sun-soaked trip beyond the current realm.
Words: Tracy Kawalik
Hopscotching genres has always been Lou Hayter's forte, but on her eagerly-anticipated debut album Private Sunshine, she's on the ultimate flex.
Lysergic pop melts over double handclaps, warped electro, splashing 808's and slick RnB worthy of an 80's Jam & Lewis joint.
From the outset to the outro, Hayter's album is a masterpiece in future nostalgia and top tier sonic aesthetics, sure to propel audiophiles from all walks of life to turn the volume up and roll the windows down.
Off the back of one of the most dismal winters in history and ahead of a scorching return to the dance floor, the prolific multi-instrumentalist, DJ, and songwriter comes right when we need her most. Using her blend of acid licks and cinematic yacht rock to give us the kick up the ass we all need to get up, get out and get into the groove.
"In the past, I've had so many people telling me I need to sound like X, Y and Z - and I wish I hadn't listened to them. Now, I know what I want. I know how I want things to sound. The more music I create, the more I become stronger and stronger in my identity. Private Sunshine is me on a record."
The London born and bred artist's infectious passion for her new album beam across the telephone line. Its 3:30pm, beginning of February, fucking freezing and already pitch black outside when we speak, but her energy combined with the sun-soaked offerings of her new album are enough to send me on a high.
Private Sunshine might be Hayter's debut solo pursuit, but it's in no way her first trip around the block.
"I became fascinated by music around 5 years old, and that just grew and grew. I started playing classical piano around the same time and was obsessed with French composer Eric Satie," Hayter blushes.
It didn't take long for her musical influences to snake beyond classical genres. Alongside honing her skills as a pianist, Hayter was raised on a diet of Bowie, Prince, Human League and Jellybean-era Madonna.
"I played my first piano performance in my early teens in Blackheath, and by that time, I was into everything. Acid house sounds, some electro, yacht rock, you name it," (she giggles).
Trips to Soho record shops with her brother (Soul Jazz being her favourite shop) might have added fuel to Hayter's varied musical palette. But, it was while she was studying in Cambridge that the fire was ignited! Like any good DJ in the works, Hayter used her student grant to buy a set of Technics and started putting on club nights. Not long after, she moved back to home turf in London to work at Trevor Jackson's seminal Output Recordings and Nuphonic Records.
If Lou Hayter gained traction from the London underground as a DJ, she'd kick down the doors to the mainstream and find global fame as keyboardist for electro-pop, Mercury-nominated outfit New Young Pony Club.
Over the course of her subsequent musical output with New Young Pony Club, Hayter stepped into her idiosyncratic tastes more and more. As well as put the wheels in motion to jump behind the mic herself.
"I didn't think I could sing. I knew that I could write music, and I'd always thought, ‘I think that if I could sing, I'd be able to make a good record’. So at 24 or 25 years old, I started doing it. I wasn't a very strong singer at first at all. But I learnt how to sound good with a microphone, and I worked on my vocal a lot and vocal production until it sounded good," Hayter reveals.
As the mega-voltage of New Young Pony Club started to dim at the top of the 2000s, Lou made inroads towards new projects and took her talents elsewhere.
New Young Pony Club's trajectory and relentless tour schedule might have slowed down, but out on her own, Lou Hayter's musical endeavours kicked into high gear.
As a DJ, she played prime slots at XOYO, Fabric, Turnmills, Dalston Superstore and The End and Faith parties too. She locked down an all-vinyl residency at London's clubhouse for the uber-hip Chiltern Firehouse and became a firm fixture and featured guest for Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Louis Vuitton and Paul Smith, among many others.
Off the back of the above, she held down a three-year stint as Musical Director for the British Fashion Awards and continued to rack up a staggering client list in the fashion world and illustrious gigs everywhere from the Baftas to Glastonbury, Cannes Film Festival, The Olympics, private parties for Pedro Almodovar and Kylie and Noel Gallagher's 50th's.
But that's not all. Outside becoming one of the most in-demand DJ's on the planet for the style world, Lou Hayter formed a new wave duo with Nick Phillips called 'New Sins.' She then joined forces with JB Dunckel of French band Air (hyped for composing Sofia Coppola's film Virgin Suicides) to become frontwoman of swooning gallic synth-wave act 'Tomorrow's World.'
'New Sins' clocked plenty of praise, but Hayter's work with JB Dunckel and 'Tomorrow's World' sent critics on a tailspin. Their soundscape of evocative electro-soul and luscious disco torch ballads saw 'Tomorrows World' attract a cult following of fans demanding more music. As well as a slew of music journo's grappling at straws to define the duos sonic aesthetic, science fiction synth, Nico-style vocals, and off-kilter Doo-Wop as everything from "60's New York girl group with a 70's electronic punk sensibility-conjuring an atmosphere of exotic dread. "Collaborating is an amazing thing to do, and likewise, working with JB and Air is such an honour,” she explains. “We've actually finished a new album. It's really exciting, but because of everything going on, it's kinda just on hold until the right time for it to come out. I love what we do together so much."
Before Covid hit and her world spun to a halt, Hayter's packed out schedule as a DJ, as well as fulfilling gigs and studio sessions with two rising bands, left little room for the artist to sink her teeth into her own solo project.
When pressed to say why the timing felt right now, Hayter explains, "I've been writing it for a while. I wrote some of the songs years and years ago, but I haven't been able to get it all together because I was working so much. I went round and round the world on tour, and I was so lucky for that. But it held me back from having the time to get a whole album together and pursue the music I've wanted to make for so long. "
With the world on pause, Lou signed a deal with Skint (BMG records) last year in anticipation of her debut solo LP in 2021. However, she's been dripping singles like honey across the past few years, earning radio play on 6 Music and Radio 1 and 2 alike. Her third single and title track off the LP, 'Private Sunshine', emerged mid-winter, following the sass, stilettos and Mai-Tais at sundown singles 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' and 'Cherry On Top.' "My biggest influence comes from listening to music. I listen to music 24 hours a day; I try and cherry-pick sounds within what I listen to. If I hear something really unusual to me, I try and channel that into my music," she says.
When it comes to her abilities to swerve musical lanes, Hayter has been known to push the peddle to the medal across all her musical pursuits and leave the current realm in the rearview.
On 'Private Sunshine,' Hayter's two decade long graft as a selector combined with being a multi-instrumentalist and her eclectic musical make-up saw the artist not only digging deep into her own crates but also firing her skillset at maximum over the production.
The sax interlude on 'Telephone' the second single into 'Private Sunshine' was inspired by a clarinet solo from Soft Cell's 'Seedy Films.' There are hip hop samples equipped with the boom-bap swagger of early Snoop. On the 'Private Sunshine' (her most personally emotional track on the album), Hayter wrote, produced, played and performed everything on that track "It has a special place in my heart," she confesses.
Then there's the handclaps and guitar riffs on the sample-laden 'Cherry on Top.' It seems like nothing too deep on a first listen, but Hayter reveals there are complexities in 'Cherry on Top,' that link the whole album. "Jay Grayden, who did the original guitar solo on Steely Dan's 'Time Out Of Mind' also produced the track that I sampled in Cherry on Top. So there is a hidden thread going through. I also found out that it's the first and only time that sample has been used."
Drifting onto the topic of Steely Dan with Hayter is a trip in itself. The musical polymath performs a deft, ethereal cover of 'Time Out of Mind' on her debut album and not only injects scintillating energy into Steely Dan's deep cut, but thanks to a colossal guitar solo from friend Jeff Wooton of Gorillaz does so with the outmost respect.
"Steely Dan are my favourite band, and I listened a lot to different artists from that era and that sound. I didn't set out to try to cover Steely Dan or sound the same,” she says. “If anything, I wanted to go as far as I could the other direction because they're so well-loved. I felt personally like it was quite sacrilegious to cover them. So with that particular tune, 'Time Out Of Mind,' I really wanted to get it right and rework all the harmonies so that I could properly pay homage to it."
Hayter does a superb job on vocals, but Jeff Wooton's 1:20 minute solo will knock you for six. "Steely Dan's records they have so many solos, so I asked Jeff to come in and take that solo on. He did it in one take, and it was just so brilliant that I decided to leave the whole thing in and let that be the second half of the song. I've never done that before, but I feel like it really worked," she explains.
By having such a complex understanding of what goes into a track from being a pianist, DJ, playing percussion, now vocalist, songwriter, and master of virtually anything with keys, she lays her hand on. Surely when it comes to mixing, Lou Hayter is a pro.
“I don't have a formula for putting a track together, but something will grab me as a starting point. It could be some chords. It could be a lyric. It could be the production style. I've always been fascinated by big American productions and how they get everything so crisp and sounding good. So for Private Sunshine, I took a lot of influence in Jam and Lewis's production. They're incredible. When I needed to take a track over the line, I'd listen to them and study their records to work out how they did it."
Hayter continues, "The biggest challenge for me is always the mix, getting that bit out of the door. I really strive for achieving this perfect mix. So mastering those final bits is always the hardest."
It's clear where all Hayter's musical influences filter in, but things get much more personal for her lyrical inspiration. "A lot of my lyrics come from my love life because it's always a constant source of drama, and there's always something to say!" she laughs. "But with this album, I was trying to push away from love and talk about something else that people could relate and feel something from."
Outside the music, instruments, lyrics, samples, etc. Lou Hayter's visual aesthetic contributes to the mood across all her projects, whether that's her Instagram filled with Guy Bourdain and Helmut Newton or her highly sought after, contemporary album artwork.
Everything in mind, it makes you wonder what that first live gig back is going to look like and how lush and ambient Private Sunshine will sound at the peak of the summer. "It'll be interesting to see my band set-up,” Hayter comments. “I have no idea what it's going to look like in real life, but I want it to sound heavy in a club. I am excited to get back on stage."
While she misses being out of the game, hitting the dance floor herself and holding court as DJ at the cities most iconic clubs and the rich, fashionable and famous, Hayter says that working on Private Sunshine sent her buzzing down a different route. "I've played so much, and done so much, that I think I definitely got a lot of that out of my system. I toured for 8 years solid. So at the moment, I feel like more of a studio head. I'm in creative mode and desperate to get loads of albums under my belt now."
As we close up the conversation, I ask her what her advice would be for the new-gen of female songwriters, DJs, keyboardist's and beyond coming up behind her. "Trust yourself and your own sound. Don't let people tell you how or who you should be. If you need advice or a second viewpoint on a song, then ask someone you trust, but don't let people dilute your music with their opinions."
High off the fast-approaching hype of the album dropping Hayter riff's about obscure dream collaborations with hip hop heavyweights like Q-Tip while admitting she'd try her hand at writing for other artists in the future if the right opportunity presented itself.
"I love collaborating with other musicians as well on their projects, but for 'Private Sunshine', this is the first time it's very much me on a record. And when I work on my own projects, I don't have to compromise with anyone else. Everything that happens sonically comes out of me. I love music; it's my obsession. And now, I just want to make more and more of it."