Deep Dive: Hachiku - A Portrait Of The Artist as a Young Woman
It’s a mild spring Tuesday as I catch up with Narrm/Birraranga/Melbourne-based artist Anika Ostendorf, known by her moniker Hachiku. She took the name from the notably heartbreaking Japanese story of the dog, Hachikō. “It's a Japanese story that I just always really liked. Just the morals of this dog that keeps going to the train station to pick up his owner from work, and then one day the owner passes away at work. But the dog, in a dog's loyal nature, keeps going to the train station every day for the rest of his life to wait for the owner that just never shows up because he passed away. And I mean, it's a really heartbreaking story because it's so sad, but something about it just always really spoke to me… But then I had to change one of the vowels to the ‘u’, otherwise you will not be able to find the band name on the internet, which I guess is something you need to consider.”
Born in Michigan and having lived much of her life in Germany, Anika’s life has taken her to a number of places, both geographically and mentally, “...when I was younger, because I grew up in Germany, and when you're in your early teenage years - I don't know if everyone is like that, but for me, I was always just waiting until I could sort of get out of my small town to explore the world, like a really romanticised version of, you need to go places to explore, and see the corners of the world… I feel like now I'd have quite a different mindset on it, that that's not necessary to personal growth… But, just by coincidence, the year I finished high school, my father had to work in the U.S. so I went with him and stayed there for a year. And then after that, because I had sort of travelled around a bit, I just wasn't quite ready to just go back to Germany yet. Like, I haven't done everything I want to do yet, like I need to keep just doing stuff. So then I went to do uni in the UK and then during my degree, got the chance to do an exchange here in Melbourne. And, I think at that point, sort of decided how much I liked Melbourne and found friends and a relationship here. And the music scene, obviously, that I just wanted to come back to. And now I've been here for four years on and off, obviously just touring a bit or travelling, but mainly I'm sticking in one place to explore what Melbourne has to offer, which is a lot.
“I've got so many things that I'm interested in. Especially when I was younger, just so many things that I wanted to do, like I studied biology for four years, so at that stage, I still wanted to be a marine biologist, but then I also wanted to be like a musical performer and then in the back of my mind, I always kind of knew that I wanted to do music, but I think i was always thinking that, music is really hard to do as a career and make a sustainable, like... be able to just feed yourself with, which I guess it really is. But when I was younger, I think it just seemed a lot less achievable. So it's not like I moved around a lot, but I think the moving came with a lot of distraction of, I want to do biology, I want to be a marine biologist, I want to explore this area, to investigate mangroves (mangos?) of Spain, which I think was mainly really distracting because I actually didn't end up doing a lot of music. And I think the only way you really become better at being a musician and producing and writing songs is if you just constantly do it, and obviously, you probably need some sort of external stimulation to have inspiration for what you want to do. But I think from recently actually being at home a lot, the most routine and disciplined I've been in just practising my trade, in a way, or expanding my skill set has been during the last six months. So, I think going to America and then the UK and always trying to fill every free part of my life with travelling, I feel has probably just distracted me from being better at what I really wanted to do when I was younger. But I think now I see it a bit more like, if I want to become better at recording, I better spend the whole day practising to record. I think just the mindset changing that, to be good at it, you need to focus on it.”
Her outlook on travelling has changed overtime, however, “I mean, COVID has put a bit of a stop on it and also, I think growing up a bit and thinking - is travelling and polluting the environment like that, actually what we should be doing? And is going to different areas of the world as a tourist with a Western background, really what I want to be doing with my life, because I think morally I've probably changed a bit, that sort of investigative nature, like I need to just look at the world and figure it out. I think now I'm a bit more like, some parts maybe aren't really mine to be like putting my investigative eye on; just let it be and focus on how I can contribute to the world in a different way, maybe? That is kind of like quite an exploitative mindset, isn't it? Like, I need to go to every continent on this earth to just see what their life is like there, where I can probably also just read a lot of books and try and do that sort of thing in a different form.” However, she still doesn’t rule out moving around in future - “I still, definitely get quite restless in one spot. So I definitely still see myself moving somewhere else or just taking my music to different places. But, maybe just in the form of recording in a different country. I'm definitely not locked into one place, but I think I would approach it with a different mindset than what I would have had in the past of like, yeah, I need to explore the world.”
For the past several months, the city has gone through two different lockdowns due to the ongoing pandemic - for Anika, it has been a lot of gardening and just waiting. “...Having been sort of just in your house for the past, I guess, half a year with a little break in between. I think personally the development was like at the start, it was like a new thing. And anything that's a bit new in a way you're a little bit like, ooh, this is a change in my life. And usually, I respond to change in a way where it almost drives me to be really creative and productive. Like at the start, I was like, I'm gonna learn a new like recording program. And, I ended up doing this mini EP of just cover songs and every day, I would get up and be like, oh, another day that I don't have to go to work. Or forced to just stay in one spot. So, another day to be really productive and creative. I think with the second lockdown, that kind of ceased quite quickly where you're like, oh god, another day of being at home, pretending that I'm busy, where I think that, and probably for everyone, got lost a little bit. Now I'm just trying to be in my garden a lot more. Get a good vegetable garden going.
“And I guess the main thing, which I guess is quite a privileged concern, other people would have way more serious concerns, but, the whole international travel, uh, for me personally, because my family is in Germany. Usually, I try and see them quite frequently, which I always combined with international touring. So, I think for me, that not being able to predict when borders might open or when I can maybe go to Germany or maybe even I meet them halfway somewhere, I think that's what mentally right now is giving me the biggest sort of stress. So I guess it's a struggle for everyone, but yeah, just waiting to see when that might change.”
Her debut full-length album I’ll Probably Be Asleep having just recently come out on November 13th, though with its first single “Murray’s Lullaby” having already been out for almost three years. As Anika explains her process, “I think I'm quite a slow songwriter because I write all my songs as I record them. So every single song that I worked on for the past three or four years, I was like, this will be on the album. This will be on the album. If there was an idea that I wasn't quite happy with, I didn't try to finish it.
“I work really linear in a way, like, I think maybe other people, they finish songs and then they go to a studio for 10 days and record a whole album in one go, whereas, I start working on song ideas and then I finish songs one by one by one by one. And then it just so happens that some... even on this album, some songs I would have finished a week before the mixing deadline, like the very last one and the others have been done, like “Murray's Lullaby” three years in advance, but I think it was always in my mind, like, everything that I'm writing from now, onwards will be on the next album. At the moment, I'm trying to work a bit more multidimensional in, like, I'm gonna try and create 10 demos for 10 songs and then simultaneously try and finish them as I go along. Because I do quite like with certain albums how every song is connected by some sort of sonic elements, like similar drum sounds or similar. Just the way that vocals sometimes kind of fit really nicely together between songs. Because I ended up recording my vocals, if it's for the album, it would have been over a three year span that I recorded different songs, different vocals. And in particular with, I think on the album it's kind of okay, but compared to the EP for example, my English accent changed a fair bit, so you can hear like if I recorded a song five years ago, it would sound really different, in terms of my English accent, to a song that I recorded recently. And I think your tone of voice as well, when you have a cold, it changes, maybe I'll be tired too, when you just talked all day and your voice is exhausted. So maybe I can only hear that. I don't know if it's super obvious, but I feel like for example, on the album, the vocals, I can tell that I've recorded them over three years, rather than within a one week time span at a studio or something. I think, for the next album, I want it all to be a bit more cohesive in certain parts.”
The record itself is a colourful but hazy and melancholy dream-pop experience, with an air of pent-up frustration and world-weariness, underscored by pulsating drum machine beats, bursts of distorted guitar and simmering feedback. Its lyrical themes concern a certain modern-world disillusionment, of being “unsure of yourself and your place in the world”, of grief and loss, and on one particular song, “having the value your romantic relationship put in the hands of bureaucratic authorities…” “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman” was inspired by a frustrating exchange with a climate change denier, reminding us to ‘hold on to the truth that you know’. “I think that's the frustrating experience of life. I was talking the other day with my girlfriend about it actually because she's reading a book where someone gets framed for something they didn't do. I'm about to get to that point of where she's being accused of kidnapping this child and everyone knows she didn't do it, but it's like, you just can't do anything about it and how frustrating that is. And it’s similar with those sorts of conversations, like with that guy that I had the conversation with about climate change, where clearly any sort of rational human being shouldn't really be a climate change denier, right? I feel like there should just be some truth that universally humanity agrees on, but then certain things do become a topic of debate, which - obviously everything should be debated and all sides of an argument should be seen, but what then gets frustrating is, with that guy in particular, and I think lots of current political debate, everything's really polarised and either you're right wing or left wing, conservative or liberal, or you're either one or the other. And both parties, not literally parties in a political sense, but always both sides of the argument, manage to make each other think they are the foolish one. And in that conversation in particular, that guy was trying to explain to me that climate change was left wing propaganda and science, in general, was funded in a way that it would only support left-wing liberal ideas. And as someone who has studied science, I'm quite aware that science isn't it as objective as it pretends or would like itself to be, depending on who funds the research paper, you obviously get a very different outcome. Like if the sugar lobby funds research on how dangerous sugar is, they put pressure on those scientists to make sure that the outcome of the finding is that sugar is really good for you (laughs). And in that way I'm like, sure, fair enough, science isn't the end to everything and doesn't have the answer to everything, but to be made to feel... like, Trump or someone is really good at twisting your words in your mouth until you don't even maybe believe what you said anymore, because everything gets twisted and twisted and twisted. That is just frustrating. And it seems to be more and more these days that a respectful conversation where you actually agree that maybe both sides have a valid argument, that everything's just so politically polarised. Yeah, I dunno. It was just a frustrating observation that I guess that song is based on.”
The record does feature an eclectic and colourful sound palette - Anika describes herself as more of a producer than a songwriter, and this does appear evident in the way that some of these songs are constructed, the layered details and some parts appearing once and never again. “For me, writing songs, it always goes hand in hand with exploring new sounds and trying to find a sonic world that the song sits in, and that stuff happens before I write any lyrics and melodies. I just record lo-fi melody segments that have nothing but a melody to them. And at that stage, I just go through, like I've got a quite a large keyboard collection of just old eighties Casio keyboards, and maybe I put them through some effects, so maybe I actually start with putting my guitar parts in, um, where for that song, with all that bird song (“Bridging Visa B”), for example, I had just gotten a new keyboard and I think it had the, I can't remember if the drumbeat is on that keyboard as well, but I kind of just go through every single sound on that keyboard and think about what is useful to incorporate. And there's birds in it, I think there's a gorilla, I think there's a lion, and I think there's some sort of drum, like a bongo drumming pattern that is just a sample thing on the keyboard. When I recorded the demo version of that song, I mean, my demos become the final song anyway, but when I was just recording some ideas, I was like, I just record all of these animals as well.”
“And then it just so happened that the, I think it was a gorilla sort of punching his chest, which fit pretty well with that idea of obnoxious mankind being like, look at me being strong and just powerful and knowing everything and destroying everything. Which, I don't know, it randomly fit. Oh yeah, and then “Shark Attack’ I think has all those birds and the train whistle I think is in it really quietly. I think sometimes you just need to find a sample of some sound and then drown it in reverb and put some effect on it, where in the end it just becomes part of the atmosphere now, and we won’t be able to tell that it was a toy keyboard train whistle in the back. But yeah, I like to just play around with random things and see what happens.”
Her influences and inspirations tend to be more eclectic and disparate - “I remember one song, what came to my mind was an Adele song and The Lion King, I wanted the song to sound like a mixture between Adele and The Lion King, and they can be really random. It can be like, ah this drum arrangement. I want it to build like this, or that song.“ She also speaks admirably of contemporary art and dream pop artists, namely Perfume Genius and Beach House - “sometimes it's a really loose inspiration, in general, I really admire certain bands like Perfume Genius or Beach House, the way that, especially the last two Perfume Genius albums, how just the sound design, both those artists and how they manage to create their own world, where it just is kind of surreal. I'm really inspired by those things where people can use sound too, it's really like visual, I think compared to things that are maybe more straightforward, I like things that give me a challenge where I listen to it and I'm like, how did they make this sound. In particular, when the sound is just organically made with analog instruments that are somehow manipulated in ways that, you create a really unique, one of a kind type of sounds rather than just maybe digital plug-ins in your computer that might be present in every other song. And I think I draw a lot of inspiration from that, like with my Casio keyboard collection, trying to use those sounds but put them through effects or find some random way to record them. I think I really always try to create my own sonic world, but obviously heavily inspired by others.”
On the way she listens to music, “to be honest, I never just sit down to just listen to music for the purpose of, for example, relaxing or cooking, or just being in the garden. It's usually with the purpose of education of some sort, trying to further my knowledge, or expand my musical palette.
“I recently discovered this app, it's called Radiooooo with lots of o's, where you can tune into and you can select different countries and decades. And kind of jump around the world history of music. And I really enjoyed that one because I always find getting stuck in your own sort of musical bubble.
“Also frustrates me where, like with Spotify algorithms, for example, how it kind of delivers you the things that it thinks you want to hear, whereas I very often like to try and explore the things that I don't know yet, that I want to hear them. And I mean, probably the algorithm would have figured that out at some point, that, it just suggests you random things like inception type. It knows everything about you. But, yeah, I like Bandcamp daily for example, their editorial section, where they always introduce, something that you might not have heard of, or some part of music history across time that you might've missed. So I just really like to explore different areas. I read a whole article on 1970s music in Nigeria, or like currently I'm listening to like, black music in Europe and the history of it from 1910 to the 1980s and just, I think I'm quite interested in just how music has developed over time.
“Because most of the things always get stereotyped through a particular lens of, for example, there's that whole world music’ idea, like the Western world going into a country to discover it and investigate ethnomusicology or things like that, where even just the word of it, like something being ethnic, is kind of, in a way I find that, it's a tricky situation where it's, obviously you want to learn about other cultures and their music, but you want to try and do it in a way that isn't super intrusive and obnoxious and ignorant. It's a bit tricky, I find.
“Especially if the people that end up making money from it, aren't actually the like people performing it. And there's this one record label, Sahel Sounds I think they're called, it's a record label that releases music from West Africa, like the desert region, I think they are American-based. So, I mean, it's maybe that thing of, should they really be releasing that music? But then, if it makes it commercially available for a market that otherwise would have no idea of it, and they, I think it's like 50/50 - sort of how most record indie record labels work, where that money then goes to the artists? Which I quite like looking at, they're like artists to just, I don't know, learn about it. Listen to it. Like musically, It's definitely very interesting.”
On the potential for collaboration: “There's so many people that I would love to work with. I think to be honest, collaboration sounds really daunting to me because if I work with someone that I admire a lot, I would be so pressured to be able to contribute in a way that it's equally on the same level. But I think my alternative option to this question would be - if I could just sit inside someone's computer for a week to figure out how they work so that I can really learn their, just thought process and everything, I think, would be Grimes. She basically, I think, produces everything herself, I think she still records everything, or the majority herself and I just love everything she does.
And I don't know, would I want to collaborate with... No, I think because she's just a hundred steps ahead of me. I would just be so depressed, about how I'm not that good (laughs). I'd have to take the competitive element out of it, of comparing myself. I think I'm too controlling, like either a collaboration would go either the way of, I want to end up doing everything or I would be sad about not being as cool as them. That's really bad, isn't it?”
Finally, regarding the uncertain future of the city’s currently-asleep music scene, Anika remains optimistic. “I feel like having lots of family in Europe, I always have a little bit of a comparison to over there and how things are progressing, where like gigs are going back, but it's all mainly outdoor seated around tables, not the traditional thing of being in a sweaty, small space, dancing around, which is probably quite different. But I feel like you can't really stop people from making music and wanting to play it. So no matter how long it would take, I think people will go back to playing it and people will want to go back to seeing it. So just depends on how long that will be. And, yeah, with the virus, it's so weird that something like that can just come and stop you from close contact like that. You're just not allowed to stand close to people anymore, but I feel like the need for it will always be there. And then just need to hope that at some point we can do it again. I'm hopeful, even if it takes three years. We're trying to, as soon as we can and it's safe to do so, start planning, maybe for next March to do a little tour around Australia. Like out east Victoria. I mean, everything from last March got postponed to October. Everything from October got postponed to next March. You just hope it doesn't keep going like that because at some point, the people administering those things. will just be doing a lot of work for nothing, but hopefully, I mean, next March, that's still a while away.”