• Hoti Blogs

NEXT UP: The Birthday Letters

London singer-songwriter The Birthday Letters (aka Joseph Hughes) has grabbed the ear of HAPPY on the INSIDE with the ace melodic alt-folk of recent single 'Epoch (for H.J.D)'.

With a full LP titled 'Human Beauty' also out in June, we caught up with them to find out more:

Please tell us all about The Birthday Letters

Joseph: I've been recording and gigging under the name The Birthday Letters for years now. The music is pretty much me but I do collaborate from time to time. My stage name is named after the poetry collection by Ted Hughes, but am no relation. I just found it a very beautiful title and it felt like an appropriate umbrella.

What I do I guess is best described as alternative folk. There's quite a lo-fi aesthetic to what I do, but I wouldn't say this is intentional, its just I use the instruments and means of production that are available to me; so drum machines, guitars, cheap keyboards. I'm always really amazed and baffled when artists have a 'plan' about how they're gonna sound. I often feel despite my best efforts my music just comes out a certain way and I don't have so much control over that - I guess that's the machinations of the soul at work!

I suspect what I do is heavily indebted to pop, possibly more so than what I realise. I really love interesting words in music.

As a single, is Epoch (for H.J.D) particularly close to your heart? 

Joseph: I must be honest, its not really Darger's work which interests me per-se, more the story of his life. I was watching a documentary about outsider artists and his story just really struck me as fascinating and I was really drawn to the specifics of it. 

He's been written about by a few other artists as well, or at least referenced; Sufjan Stevens for example has referenced him in a song title and the name of the band The Vivian Girls has its obvious debt.

I just found his story very emblematic and beautiful and there's something very human about it in how it shows our compulsion to create. As a small scale artist, who often questions if anyone is listening to what I'm doing at all, I really identified with the idea of being driven to create without even necessarily having an audience.

As a single, is Epoch (for H.J.D) particularly close to your heart? 

Joseph: I think the song represents the album well in that its not explicitly written about me. The album is in some ways anthropological, in the sense it sometimes feels like a human study. Almost like an alien looking down and saying, 'Gosh these humans are pretty flawed and f***** up but also quite amazing creatures!'. Some songs are full on autobiographical and others the exact opposite in the sense they are written about the specifics of others' lives. I was really drawn to the idea that this distinction isn't that important.

I truly believe that when we think our experiences and challenges are unique to us, this creates suffering. When we share our suffering, it illuminates the reality that we're not really separated at all - despite the illusion we live under. I mean, Henry Darger was a one off and ostensibly different from most, but I think almost anyone can relate to the way he created a fantasy world for himself to retreat from, and process his reality. 

What else is there in store for us with the LP?

Joseph: Musically, it's a real mix. I'm really turned on my electronic sounds mixed with electric guitars, and I love alternative tuning and the pop rush of electronic beats. I think I'm more interested in lyrics than anything else. I've always been drawn to music which is 'about' things and I at least try to convey that in my songs.

My friend Chris Blair is a fantastic bass player who plays for Martha and the Vandellas and he plays on a few tracks. I think if you like groups like The Radio Dept or Bright Eyes (two of my favourite groups ever) you may be into what I do. Trying to describe your own music is like trying to pour boiling tea with boxing gloves on, it doesn't go where you want it to and you often get badly burned. 

What are you looking forward to doing once (hopefully) lock-down is eased in London?

Joseph: Playing it live! I'd love for this music to reach a wider audience and to find listeners. I really really believe in it. I mean honestly, I'm pretty monastic so lock-down isn't a struggle for me as far as my day to day life goes.

But in my musically I'd want nothing more than to gig these songs. I'll always be writing and recording as long as I live, but I'd be lying if I said I don't care if my audience grows or not. I'd love for my album to reach as many souls as possible.


Follow @thebdaylettersmusic on Instagram for all the latest news.