The differences between poetry and lyricism, developing a deep love of Nirvana, and starting up her very own podcast.
It’s all touched on in this introduction to critically-lauded Jealous of the Birds, the songwriting vehicle for Northern Ireland’s Naomi Hamilton. Also, stick around for why artistic sincerity is what first draws Hamilton to her favorite songs.
Listen to Jealous of the Birds now.
Intro: Hello and welcome to What’d I Say, where we talk with artists about songs they made, songs they like and songs they’d like to have made. It’s an inside look into the craft of songs from the artists themselves.
Naomi Hamilton, the songwriting force behind critically-lauded Jealous of the Birds, simply put, prefers sincerity. It’s the sentiment she first connects with when listening to the work of others as you’ll hear about in a few minutes. But you can also sense its importance when digging into her own already dynamic catalog of music. It’s there in the quiet confessionals. It’s there in the more outwardly bouncy moments like 2018’s “Plastic Skeletons.” And that trademark honesty remains alive and well on 2019’s five-track effort “Wisdom Teeth.”
Hear all about her journey and those aims on this episode as she notably talks the difference between poetry and lyricism, details her love of Fleet Foxes and Nirvana plus explains why she started her own podcast called Jealous of the Bops. But first, let’s listen to “Marrow” off the “Wisdom Teeth” EP.
Jealous of the Birds — “Marrow”
Tom Mullen: Do you remember your first favorite song?
Naomi Hamilton: I think it was probably like “Teenage Dirtbag” or something.
Tom Mullen: Really? That’s a good one.
Naomi Hamilton: That was a banger back in the day. Like me and my sisters were just belting that out, I think.
Tom Mullen: How did you first hear it? Probably the radio.
Naomi Hamilton: I think it was music channels on TV. My sisters would just listen to MTV or whatever and just be playing it. And I didn’t know anything about music at the time, so I was probably just screaming along.
Tom Mullen: Yeah, and you were super into it, sounded angsty-
Naomi Hamilton: Yep. Actually great.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember the first song you memorized?
Naomi Hamilton: Oh my God. Define memorized like, just, I remember the lyrics or I deliberately like for me-
Tom Mullen: I don’t remember lyrics, I remember the guitar. So, I can play probably, “Smells
Like Teen Spirit” or something was probably the first one I could play through or knew it back-to-front kind of thing.
Naomi Hamilton: I think maybe “Bohemian Rhapsody” but all the vocal parts. You know that thing where you try to do all the parts and the air guitar and the drum fills.
Tom Mullen: Yes, “Wayne’s World.”
Naomi Hamilton: Yup. All in one go. That’s what we did. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: That was the first VHS tape I bought on my own.
Naomi Hamilton: Really?
Tom Mullen: Yeah, I know I sound old. You’re like, “Hey Grandpa, tell me more stories.”
Naomi Hamilton: Blockbuster was still here. Like, yeah.
Tom Mullen: Yeah, I didn’t even have Blockbuster where I grew up. We weren’t that cool. But I think it’s interesting you talk about that “Bohemian Rhapsody” because that song has had like three lives. It came out and then it had the second life with “Wayne’s World” and then the third life with the movie.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, for sure. It’s never going to die. It’s just going to keep repeating.
Tom Mullen: It’s probably on the radio somewhere right now.
Naomi Hamilton: Yup. I hope so.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember the first song or album that you remember buying?
Naomi Hamilton: I probably bought a really awful compilation CD from a really cheap thrift store when I was a kid. But I remember maybe the first record that I actively bought and I had no idea who the artist was but I bought it purely because I thought it was going to be great and it was great was Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues.”
Tom Mullen: Nice.
Naomi Hamilton: I picked it up because the cover was so like, “I’ve never seen anything like that.” And it just looked really interesting and then it ended up being this explosively awesome, wonderful thing. I listened to it nonstop that whole summer. Then that’s how I got into vocal harmonies.
Tom Mullen: So that record started that.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: And you didn’t know anything about that before?
Naomi Hamilton: I didn’t know the bond. I didn’t know the album. I just bought it purely off-hand, yeah.
Tom Mullen: Was it the cover that caught your attention?
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, because it was so hand-drawn and intricate and just weird. I’d never seen anything like it. And the song titles as well drew me in. It’s weird because I don’t think that’s a common thing where you just buy a record that you don’t know. But I don’t know, I was just drawn that.
Tom Mullen: Back in the day for sure.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: Or you’d look at the label. You’d be like, “Oh, I love this label. I’ll take a chance.” But you’re totally right about a look of scrolling through the records. There’s something about that.
Naomi Hamilton: Like that tactile, I’m holding this record, it looks cool, I’m going to take a chance on it.
Tom Mullen: But then I feel like I know the 12th track of those records is just as much as the first one because you were sitting there and that’s all you had and you’re staring at the booklet.
Naomi Hamilton: Oh like, I’m religiously looking at the lyrics. I’m looking at the picture. I’m like, yeah, properly.
Tom Mullen: So visual about it, right?
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, for sure.
Tom Mullen: Like you could say “Nevermind.” Like I know every panel of that CD because you’re just, what else are you going to do? You can’t look at your phone while you’re listening to it back then.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: Now we’re all preoccupied.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: Do you think about that at all?
Naomi Hamilton: I think about that a lot because I think maybe back in the day there was more of an emphasis on crafting albums and listening to albums as a whole thing instead of just singles here and there. I guess I try to do that especially with the kind of resurgence of vinyl and you can’t… When you put the needle down, it’s like pretty much got to listen to it, back to back and it kind of demands you to slow down and there’s something about that that I really like. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: Yeah, it does make you slow down a little bit. When you listen to other people’s songs, you talked a little bit about Fleet Foxes with the harmonies, what first connects you with a song?
Naomi Hamilton: I think it’s probably the sincerity of it. Even if it’s just like a tongue in cheek thing. So long as that’s sincere and it’s coming from a place that’s very real, I think it’s always going to be good that way. And then everything else is just kind of aesthetically your tastes about it.
Tom Mullen: So, something sort of in the ether connects with you versus the vocals, the guitar line, or the drums?
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, that you kind of know where it’s coming from, the place that it’s coming from. Because, like most people I know, you’re into so many different genres, so many different styles of songwriting. But that’s kind of the baseline for me. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: I like that. For me, it’s the guitar, like I can start playing along with it. Then I’m into it more. Like the lyrics are last.
Naomi Hamilton: Really?
Tom Mullen: Oh yeah. There was a band. Basically, they covered a song for me at a huge show way back and they handed me the mic. And I laughed because I’m like, “I don’t know the lyrics. I can play it. You want me to play it?” And so, I ended up messing up and they were making fun of me and stuff. I know the words but it’s not like I can go and sing. I could play the song but I have that connection to a song more.
Naomi Hamilton: I don’t know. I feel like I’m very lyrically driven. Yeah, although I guess it depends where you’re coming from because I kind of got into poetry before music so I was always kind of looking at and paying attention to language and stuff. But I’d say it’s an equal marriage for me but it’s definitely the sentiment behind it.
Tom Mullen: So, I guess you do that, the reading and writing. How is the writing brain different than the music brain and how do they interact? Because if you said you got into poetry or writing first, I feel like it’s not left-brain, right-brain. I feel like they kind of play with each other but they’re separate.
Naomi Hamilton: I think so too. I’ve always thought that even lyrics are very different to me than poems because lyrics are kind of informed and complemented by the music too. And usually, if you print lyrics on a page, they kind of don’t really hold up as well. Whereas a poem has to be much more muscular because that’s all there is kind of thing.
I definitely think when you’re writing music and then when you’re writing lyrics, you’re still using the same kind of process of elimination. Like, “Is that a little too on-the-nose? Is that some cliché? Have I heard that before?” You’re still kind of approaching it in the same way. It’s just the content of lyrics or the themes that you’re bringing up are just very different, yeah.
Tom Mullen: I mean you say on the nose. Sometimes I feel like artists, they’re using a word that rhymes and fits well time-wise but then people read into it. And it’s like, “No, I just needed to finish it out and make sure that it rhymed with the other thing.”
Naomi Hamilton: It’s more like a technical thing than like a meaning thing. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: But it’s in the same song. You could have both.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah. I don’t know. I guess that part of me finds that frustrating. It’s like, “If you didn’t mean it, then why did you say it?” Because we didn’t know that. We don’t have the context.
Tom Mullen: Right. There’s not context for you to know that.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, it’s like you know it, we don’t. All we have to go on is what you said. And I guess with lyrics I always tend to want to be really concrete with them. Just very imagistic.
Tom Mullen: Like visualizing something?
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah or just pertaining to your senses in general. Because I feel like that’s what you’re pushing for. You’re like, you want the listener to really experience or empathize with what you’re talking about. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: I think about it like a movie. You know when it’s a good movie and you forget it’s a good movie?
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: I want that for that song.
Naomi Hamilton: You forget you’re listening to the song. You’re just kind of like in it. Like I’m, yeah, for sure.
Tom Mullen: Yeah. But that’s hard.
Naomi Hamilton: It is hard.
Tom Mullen: I think that’s what makes the great songwriters. You forget that, “Oh my God, that was four minutes. I’ve just been in my own world.”
Naomi Hamilton: You’re just along for the ride. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: I think you’re doing it.
Naomi Hamilton: I hope so. Thank you.
Tom Mullen: You know what’s one record of “Wisdom Teeth” I want to mention is “Clementina.”
Naomi Hamilton: Oh, right.
Tom Mullen: And what’s cool about that one is there’s a point where it kind of hits like a… I don’t know if you listen to Mogwai at all.
Naomi Hamilton: Oh, yeah. Like plateaus.
Tom Mullen: Like yes. So that’s like, if you do that with me, I’m good to go. You can do whatever but that, it had a moment in the song where you heard it, heard it, and then it just went here.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, at the end.
Jealous of the Birds — “Clementina”
Tom Mullen: And I just thought like that’s again, a cool technique that I feel like Mogwai does that really well. But that’s kind of, again, it takes you on a journey, but it goes like different.
Naomi Hamilton: I’m so glad you mentioned them. I saw them live at Latitude Festival back home, and it was just to see it when they plateau like that, you just, I don’t know, you freak out.
Tom Mullen: What’s your favorite Mogwai song?
Naomi Hamilton: Oh my God, I have a live album of theirs from when they played in Glasgow. The cover’s that smoky black, I can’t remember the name of it, but they have crazy live, the “Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” song and all that craziness on it and I’m just blown away.
Tom Mullen: “Friend Of The Night” is my jam.
Naomi Hamilton: “Friend Of The Night.” Yeah, I feel you.
Tom Mullen: That’s such a jam. It’s such a jam. But again, I thought of that when I was listening to that song.
Naomi Hamilton: I mean, I think with me, I’m always trying to kind of mark out a gradual incline with the songs kind of going somewhere or building or just like a shift in dynamics but definitely a little crescendo or a little burst at the end, so it’s good.
Tom Mullen: Yeah. But that’s like a little, not a trick, but it’s something that you think about.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs in public?
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, I think it was probably somewhere back home, just in a bar. Like you’re out drinking and I think they had like a Spotify playlist that was like Acoustic Indie. And it was “Goji Berry Sunset.” It was just like, all I heard was the little whistle thing and people was like, “Oh, miss, that’s your song.” And I’m like, “Oh, my God. Yeah, it is.” It’s really weird.
Tom Mullen: Was it weird? Did you kind of wait till it was over and then you could stop tensing up?
Naomi Hamilton: No, it was just kind of like, “That’s cool.” And then move on.
Tom Mullen: Yeah. It sounds different, right? When you’re hearing it, not on purpose.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah. Or like the context you’re hearing it in, you’re just bopping around and doing your own thing.
Tom Mullen: Is there a song that you’ve heard, no matter how many times you’ve heard it, you’ll listen to it again? Like no matter, you could listen to it a million times and it comes on again, you’ll still listen to it?
Naomi Hamilton: I think anything by Nirvana, probably. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: That was the first CD I ever bought. My mom, in the front, I’ll never forget. I was holding the-
Naomi Hamilton: “Nevermind”?
Tom Mullen: Remember the long boxes? You’re probably too young. They used to make them in these giant cardboard boxes. They called them long boxes and then the CD was in half of it.
Naomi Hamilton: That’s weird.
Tom Mullen: Naomi’s giving me the weirdest look back. Just wanted everyone to know.
Naomi Hamilton: That doesn’t seem environmentally friendly.
Tom Mullen: It’s not. They thought it was like theft. They could help with like… Because CDs were small, so dumb. So, I’m opening it, I’m looking at it. And my mom’s in the front seat, my dad and my sister next to me. My mom just deadpans, “Did you buy that because of the penis?”
Naomi Hamilton: I love how she just tried to get that out of the way at first.
Tom Mullen: I was like, “No mom. It’s very cool.” I’m reading the Danny Goldberg book of his right now.
Naomi Hamilton: Oh, wow, I haven’t read it.
Tom Mullen: It’s about “Serve The Servants.” It’s really cool. It’s kind of like the music biz story from Nirvana, kind of what happened and it was cool. So that’s cool. Any Nirvana song, right?
Naomi Hamilton: For sure. I think “In Utero” is really underrated and I’d go “Incesticide.”
Tom Mullen: Dude, “Aneurysm,” I was listening to that this morning. I was saying, “I should cover ‘Aneurysm’ the next time I play.” I think that would be a fun one.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, for sure. “Incesticide,” I think it’s definitely-
Tom Mullen: Any other jams you like? What’s the Mexican, what’s the seafood?
Naomi Hamilton: “Mexican Seafood.” There’s “Hairspray Queen.” Really cool. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: Definitely the jams. A lot of the B-sides. BBC Sessions are cool.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah. Really like John Peel Session.
Tom Mullen: Yeah, yeah, the John Peel stuff. I love that. How did you find them? Was it the same kind of thing? Someone played it for you?
Naomi Hamilton: When I started learning guitar and singing, I was maybe like 12 or 13 and I just kept playing like Bob Dylan songs and folk songs. And then around like 15, 16, I just had this weird angsty grunge phase where I just discovered all of that. I’d obviously heard a lot of their big singles and stuff.
Tom Mullen: But to be able to listen to the-
Naomi Hamilton: But to listen and then just realize that, “Wow, there’s actually a heap of music here that’s just amazing.” All that kind of gritty, passionate playing and stuff. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: Because it’s so poppy yet-
Naomi Hamilton: It’s like you can definitely hear the Beatles influence.
Tom Mullen: He’s like a punker, like a hardcore kid. Like the dynamic of that. I was like, “You did it, man.” I saw one of your posts too. You had gone around New York City, looked at where Dylan or Hendrix stuff or going to see where Elliot Smith, which is cool because I did the same thing when I got here. Just to go to all those places. What about that is important? What about doing that or what about making those pilgrimages, what is that for you?
Naomi Hamilton: I think it’s partly just like because a lot of my favorite artists aren’t alive anymore and I never got to see them play live. But I’ve just heard through interviews or documentaries about places they played and kind of their legacy and stuff. I think going to places like that humanizes it to me.
Because a lot of it, you’re kind of, there’s so much mythology surrounding a lot of musicians and artists and just going to the physical places that they hung out or recorded or something kind of brings it more down-to-earth to me that they lived and walked and did stuff and were fallible human beings. So yeah, it’s very cool to go see that.
Tom Mullen: Yeah. Elliot Smith sat next to me at a bar, Mercury Lounge when I was here. It was crazy. He’s just drinking. No one was bothering him. It was pretty rad.
Naomi Hamilton: Love him.
Tom Mullen: You’re right. But like when I go back to Merc, I look at the chair. So, I think you doing that probably was a nice feeling or at least brought some thoughts about it and also probably inspiration, right? You said the song came out of that, right?
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah. Well, just kind of exploring New York in general. I don’t think you could come here as an artist in any medium and not be completely inspired by what you’re seeing. I tend to be that way anywhere where I just kind of filter things and write down in journals things that I see or do.
Tom Mullen: Do you save that stuff?
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, for sure. Because you never know. Even if I thought it was kind of… Like I write something and it’s kind of trite at the time. When you look back on it, sometimes it’s usable or you can mess around with it. So yeah, for sure.
Tom Mullen: That’s great. That’s rare. Artists usually don’t think about that. Good, save everything, Naomi.
Naomi Hamilton: I try to prepare. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: And I want to talk about the podcast.
Naomi Hamilton: Oh yeah, cool.
Tom Mullen: Jealous of the Bops. What inspired you to start it and what is the medium of podcasting excite you? Or how does the medium excite you?
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, we started putting together a Jealous Of The Bops Spotify playlist.
Tom Mullen: Oh, bops, not Bobs. I said Bob.
Naomi Hamilton: Jealous of the Bobs.
Tom Mullen: Office Space.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah. Yeah. Oh-
Tom Mullen: Sorry, sorry.
Naomi Hamilton: Jealous of the Bops.
Tom Mullen: Jealous of the Bops, my bad.
Naomi Hamilton: Jealous of the burritos. Yeah. No, I just kind of started it from that Spotify playlist where I was just putting together songs that either inspired the music I was writing or just songs that I really dig. So, yeah. And then it just became, why not go into more depth about the records? So, in each episode I kind of talk about two different albums. Pick a couple of songs from each and then just kind of talk about how they were made, kind of the context around that. What I think you would like about some of the songs.
I kind of like podcasts because they’re very… Even radio but podcasts especially are very intimate. And I know there’s a whole resurgence in radio and podcasting where somebody can just go on their morning jog and listen to a podcast or they’re just doing everyday things. And I really like that, that you’re just becoming part of their day. Yeah, for sure.
Tom Mullen: That’s perfect. That’s exactly it. People feel really close to you because they’re in your ears.
Naomi Hamilton: Or they’re using it to relax or just learn about stuff. It’s a good medium for that whole self-care thing. Slowing down, paying attention to something.
Tom Mullen: What goes into the process of picking the songs?
Naomi Hamilton: Oh, it’s so difficult. I always have this thing where, do you know when somebody asks like, “What’s your favorite musicians?” And you try to-
Tom Mullen: Did that earlier which-
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah. You try to roll through all the musicians that you love and why. And it’s kind of every episode I’m trying to pick something that kind of clashes, like the contrast. Stuff that’s maybe from the ’60s or ’70s versus more contemporary albums.
Tom Mullen: I like that. And then, what about songs are not discussed enough?
Naomi Hamilton: I don’t know. People talk a lot. It’s kind of miraculous to me that a song that maybe lasts for only three or four minutes can make you feel so much things in such a short space of time. And that they’re almost like little time capsules as well for everybody at any age. You’re always going to have a couple of songs that when you hear them back, it transports you to that one specific moment in time.
Tom Mullen: Your first crappy band.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, exactly. So yeah, there’s something magic about that.
Tom Mullen: And then, what do you want to know from an artist that they maybe don’t talk about? Not necessarily the song, but what things about an artist do you look for that they don’t really mention?
Naomi Hamilton: I always appreciate it when sometimes when mistakes happen, like things that are very humanizing or it’s self-deprecating, like you messed up or like-
Tom Mullen: You wouldn’t think that happened. No way that Dylan messed up or whatever the thing was.
Naomi Hamilton: They said something dopey or just did something completely human. They fell down some steps or pushed a pull door or something. I love that just whenever it’s somebody just being a person. Yeah.
Tom Mullen: I like that. So, what’s next for you, music… I know you got some Snow Patrol shows coming up.
Naomi Hamilton: Yeah, when we get back up. We’re playing Ward park back home in Northern Ireland with them. There’s a heap of local artists from back home playing there. Yeah, it’s mostly just kind of writing and recording for the next album, which I’m super excited for. So, just more of that. And then more dates. We’ve got some festival shows kind of UK and Ireland back home.
Tom Mullen: Cool.
Jealous of the Birds — “Marrow”
Our theme music is by Max Frost.