When Australian singer-songwriter Ben Hazlewood was beginning to write new music several months ago, he was not in a happy head space. Writing in Los Angeles, away from his friends, family and then-fiancé, the singer was constantly feeling homesick, missing everyone and everything about Australia.
Hazlewood tells Billboard that he had come to a point when he didn’t even want to go into writing sessions. “I remember feeling like absolute shit,” the singer says. “I remember calling Jono [Scarlett, Hazlewood’s manager] and just saying ‘I really don’t think I can make this songwriting session today.’”
But Hazlewood went to the writing session, and produced his new song, “Months and Miles,” a soulful, bluesy track about missing the ones that you love. The video for the track, premiering below, features Hazlewood wandering around a tour bus in a desert outside of Los Angeles, yearning to see his loved ones back home.
Hazlewood spoke to Billboard about his new music video, getting his start on The Voice Australia, the history of LGBTQ rights and more.
How did the song itself come about? What was the feeling you were aiming to portray?
I was in L.A., I’d been in L.A. for a while, and I’d just been writing and producing a whole bunch of new stuff, working really hard on the new kind of sound and vibe that I was going for. And I remember feeling like absolute shit, and I remember calling Jono [Scarlett, Hazlewood’s manager] and just saying “I really don’t think I can make this songwriting session today.” I had been writing with Gin [Wigmore, Hazlewood’s co-writer] a lot before that, but I was just feeling really out of it. Jono was just like, “No, I really think you should go.” I came up there, and Gin obviously could see that I was not in a good space or whatever, and she was like, “What’s wrong?” And I was like “I just miss everything back home, and I’ve just been away for so long.” We ended up just having a conversation for about an hour and a half about all that, and her experience — she’s from New Zealand and lives in L.A. now.
We just talked about how long she’d been away for and how she was missing everyone in her family and friends. Obviously, I was talking about my fiancé at the time, and my friends, and that overwhelming sense of being homesick. We both knew what that felt like. We were talking about all of that, and we started playing a few reference tracks, and then we just wrote the track. It all came out pretty naturally, and I was beyond excited with the vibe and with the song. I called Jono straight away and was just like, “Thank you so much for pushing me to go, because it was the best.” It was a very cathartic moment.
You mentioned your fiancé, who’s now your husband. You two got to work together on this video, what was that experience like?
[laughs] I’m just laughing, because he was… we worked together, and he was the most painful person I’ve ever worked with. He didn’t really want to be involved, he didn’t really want to show his face, he was very demanding, he’s the biggest diva I’ve ever worked with. [laughs] We were talking about what the song meant to me and the story behind it — the idea for the video was actually based on a story about a tour that I went on, not last year but the year before. So we kind of based the idea for the video around that. And then we were talking about having the flashbacks of missing someone, and then someone said, “Well, we can do it with [your fiancé] or we can do it with an actor or something like that.” And I was like, “No, I feel like that would be really awkward, because then I feel like it wouldn’t be genuine or real. And I’m not that good of an actor.” So I was like, “I’m just gonna get him to do it!” And yeah, we kind of… we got some friends, got them to film us on the iPhone, and so it was pretty organic… I should tell you that he is beyond excited that his music video debut will be featured on Billboard, by the way.
The song has this very bluesy, very soulful vibe, which is a little different than your other music. Who were you listening to in order to get inspired?
I can’t remember the exact references we had, but we were listening to, like, the Four Tops, and that backing vocal style. We really wanted to do something that had that really classic kind of feeling to it. There were a few others… I think we listened to a Fleetwood Mac track called “Need Your Love So Bad,” and that was one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs, because it sounded completely different than any of their other stuff. It was a lot of old, really classic kind of vibes. We definitely wanted this to be really unique and still have… that classic element to it to bring out the soul and the emotion for the track.
Taking it back, you got your start on The Voice Australia. What was the experience like getting that kind of platform at the early stages of your solo career?
I would say that all around, I had a pretty great experience. I think a lot of people that have been on reality TV shows, or singing shows kind of all walk away with a pretty… negative view of it. Not all of them, but definitely a majority of them. But I think on the show, they were all super respectful of everything I wanted to do, and they really helped me kind of navigate through some of the harder storylines that I wanted to talk about. Like, I didn’t feel like I was pushed into a corner or anything. I really tried to have a mindset that, like, I’m singing in front of this amazing audience, it was a huge audience on a live taping day, and an amazing band. I just kind of tried to take it for that, I was just gaining more experience performing live, and on live TV as well. I just tried to keep a positive mindset throughout the whole thing, because it really worked in reality.
I didn’t take it too seriously, at the same time. I remember Joel Madden [Hazlewood’s coach on the show] actually once said to me, “This is not the be all and end all of your career.” So that was really helpful, because he was just saying that this was another of many stepping stones in the right direction. So having that mindset and that view of the whole thing made it a lot easier to take it for what it was — it was a TV show, it was an opportunity, and it doesn’t mean that anything has to stop after all. And I think that it’s served me well. Having that brand of The Voice attached to my name is pretty good. [laughs]
There’s another video you made for your song, “The Darkest Hour,” and a lot of that video is about highlighting the history of LGBTQ rights, especially in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Why do you think it’s important to educate young people about that history?
For me, when the Pulse nightclub shooting happened, I was obviously, like everyone, pretty shook to the core about someone actually doing that. I remember listening to the song with my friend, who I actually wrote the song about, and… we were talking about how much the song has helped her. She said, “Are you gonna do a video for it?” and I said, “Well I haven’t really thought about it.” And then we were at an event, and I remember an older guy talking about how far the community has come in Australia from the past, where him and his partner were together, and at any point in time, police could have busted down the door, come in and arrested them both for being together. And that was, you know, in the 1950s and ’60s.
So I really woke up to the fact that it really wasn’t that long ago that this was happening. And it is because of all of the people fighting for their rights that I now have the kind of life that I can live. The fact that I can get married and be in an open relationship with a man, I mean, it really kind of made me wake up to the fact that there’s been so much hardship that people have fought extremely hard for, and I need to pay my respect and homage to what was done and what they’d been through. So I kind of wanted to do that in way that looks back on history and then incorporated people today as well, and to show how they can live freely and openly and honestly. That’s kind of what I wanted to do with the video for this inspirational song, to show how far we’ve come. And also, as a community, for coming such a long way, I feel like there is still a lot further that we need to go as well.
Like many other LGBTQ artists, you are independent. Do you prefer being independent from a label?
I’ve been signed before, back with a band I was in in London. And they controlled everything — the sound, what we were doing, how we were dressing, the image, and all of that. And it was a cool experience, but it definitely wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. I think the freedom that I have now, to make videos like “The Darkest Hour,” you know… my management are obviously incredibly supportive of anything like that. So it’s really amazing that I can go ahead an work with them as a very close team. It’s amazing that I can have that support to do these ideas that I can see in my mind and actually bring them to life. So, the freedom I have with my image and the way that I look and the way that I sound and the songs that I’m writing about and the subject matter. You know, I think that that’s kind of the most important thing for me as an artist. I don’t think that I would be able to do this if that was taken away. That’s the reason why I’m doing it, so that I can express myself and my feeling and my view on things.
What have you got planned for the coming months?
I have been writing a lot with Gin, who I’m just really loving the creative vibes with her. We’ve written a few songs, so the rest of this year is just focused on releasing a couple more singles, and then creating a lot of great visual content, and then playing shows as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the rest of this year looks like. It’s gonna be exciting, and I’m really pumped about the new sound, and what has been written at the moment. It’s really great, and I’m excited to release it and get it out there for people to hear it.