Written by Kelly Holm
Great art is often born out of great anguish, an aphorism that is tragically true for former Australian Voice finalist Ben Hazlewood. This is evident when listening to “Too Young” or “Grave Relief,” both inspired by his older brother’s suicide when Hazlewood was just a teen, or “Darkest Hour,” written in memory of the victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. Back then, Hazlewood’s Australia had not yet adopted same-sex marriage and fairly recently, he gained an entirely new perspective on just how many battles for LGBT rights have been won.
Of “Grave Relief,” released earlier this year, Hazlewood said, “I love the raw emotion in that track. I have had so many people come up to me after shows and tell me they really related to the song and it hit a nerve with them. It’s so honest and I am so grateful that people can really relate to the message… I hope my music can evoke real emotion at that moment.”
The electronic-infused ballad alludes to personal struggles with mental health in its first verse. “Am I in paradise or hell again?” wonders Hazlewood after musing that, “The skin I’m in/feels too heavy for me to live in.” In verse two, Hazlewood reckons with his brother’s untimely death: “I wanna fill my head/With a story that doesn’t end up like yours/Oh, my brother if I could hold you/Just one more time to let you know I understand.”
Hazlewood aims to offer optimism amidst tracks motivated by tragedy, however. “I’m trying to really focus on creating music that is exciting and uplifting. Music that tells a story and stirs emotion in me and hopefully the listeners.”
One can’t help but to feel the heavy weight of the story firsthand as Hazlewood sings in the aforementioned song’s chorus, “I saw you leave your body/Did the calm call you in by your name/When I saw you leave your body/What a grave relief to be free.”
Throughout all of life’s highs and lows, the nerves that come along with exposing one’s raw emotions to the world will understandably always be present. “It’s always difficult to put yourself out there in such a vulnerable way,” Hazlewood said, especially when the judgments of others seem omnipresent. Hazlewood recalled the first time he performed original material live at a rock competition, when he was “so nervous, not about the performance, but about what they would think of the song.”
While it’s impossible to please everybody, Hazlewood holds true to the principle of remaining faithful to one’s heart’s desire when it comes to creating music. “So many times I have taken advice and gone against what I wanted. Staying true is so important,” he said. “My good friend told me that you have to love what you’re creating. If you love it then nothing else matters. Don’t try and create something for someone else.”
Another motto he takes to heart comes from his fellow songwriter and poet, Charlotte Erikson: “The beauty is in the act of doing it. Not what it can lead to.”
This quote could describe Hazlewood’s songwriting process, which is based around the evocation of a feeling that drives him to formulate complementary lyrics. Getting in the headspace necessary to write a certain song is crucial to the act of doing so, as evidenced by a homesick funk that left Hazlewood in a slump before penning “Months & Miles,” a tune about the very homesickness that defined his writer’s block.
In the future, Hazlewood dreams of collaborating with Francis and the Lights and vows “not to forget the love I have always felt around creating and writing music.” Without love and passion for the craft, he says, “there is really no point.” Regardless of what tomorrow may bring, Hazlewood is focused on remaining relevant for years to come, an aspiration that seems like destiny, considering the timelessness of the losses and struggles that motivate much of his music.
“Longevity is my main ambition,” he says.
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