“There’s a whole load of odd sounds on the album that won’t have been heard before on anything remotely approaching a rock music record”
Since stepping away from band work (Longpigs, Pulp) and anonymous session work with his first solo album eight years ago, the Sheffield native (now 42) has been consistently producing work of uncommon beauty – most notably the sublime Coles Corner album which lost out on the 2006 Mercury Prize to Arctic Monkeys.
He’s the first to admit that a major label wouldn’t have allowed him to release Truelove’s Gutter. “It has weird sounds on it, there’s no singles to be taken off it and I can’t see radio playing it,” he says.
His boss at the indie label, Mute, Daniel Miller (“the only record company person I’ll have within 10 miles of my house”) actively encouraged him to make the record he wanted to make, even if it were to be his least commercial release to date.
“With the Mercury Prize and all of that, there’s a danger of thinking about profile and radio play; that whole thing of “if they liked that, then they should like this” and moulding your sound accordingly,” he says. “I just wanted to get back to being a songwriter and do something low-key. There’s a reason I was always a backroom musician – I’m never really wholly comfortable out front.”
He began the album when he finished a long tour of the Lady’s Bridge album. “Being away on tour I found all my communication with people was by e-mail and by phone,” he says. “When we finished up last December, I made a conscious decision to switch my phone off and stay away from all computers. This might sound a bit melodramatic but it had a profound effect on me and how I communicated with people – I even began writing letters – the pen-and-paper ones. I found that I was living at a different tempo. I was experiencing things in front of my face by not constantly relying on electronic devices. I remember, during this period, someone explaining to me what Twitter was all about – I was genuinely shocked by it. I couldn’t believe that, as the human race, we had come to that.”
The album’s lyrically downbeat feel is a result of meeting up with family and friends in Sheffield and discovering that people were, for whatever reason, having a difficult time. “A lot of the songs are inspired by some of their situations and it does get very dark in places, but that sort of fitted the music in a weird way,” he says.
This is the fifth Hawley album which references Sheffield in its title. “It’s a tradition now” he says. “The River Don courses through my veins. Some people use New York or Berlin for inspiration, but Sheffield works for me. It’s the old thing isn’t it: my street is your street. The title of this one comes from a friend calling around – for some reason I can’t quite remember, he had this big 18th-century parchment which was a list of old Sheffield street names. I was looking down it and I saw a street that was called Truelove’s Gutter. I just thought: ‘That’s my album’.”.