Interview: Hiatus

Lisa Jenkins chats to Hiatus

Posted on Jun 23rd, 2012 in Features and Interviews, Hiatus / By Lisa Jenkins
Hiatus When not writing, Cyrus produces electronic music under the name Hiatus. His debut LP Ghost Notes was created largely from samples accumulated during his time working as a journalist in Iran: lead single 'Save Yourself' was championed by XFM, while follow-up 'Insurrection' – a meditation on the 1981 Brixton riots featuring dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson – was voted Steve Lamacq’s 'Single of the Week' on BBC 6Music. Cyrus subsequently released the Fortune’s Fool EP with singer Shura, which garnered support from Radio 1 and became a minor YouTube sensation thanks to a video by Dan Susman. Cyrus fills his spare time DJing, scoring films and remixing artists as wide-ranging as Spokes, Sweet Tooth and David Lynch. He is currently working on his second album.

Bearded: First question - why the name?

Hiatus: Basically, I always liked the word ‘Hiatus’. I first saw it on a skateboard video. I did a lot of skateboarding when I was young. And there was a company - I think it was Foundation Skateboards - who brought out a video called 'Hiatus', and I just found myself thinking about the video loads. I didn’t even see the video; I saw an ad for it. But then years later - after uni - I wanted to start a magazine and I initially thought of calling the magazine Hiatus. I sort of liked the idea of it being like a pregnant pause, a calm in the storm - which, at the time, was what writing was for me and then later it was very much what music was to me. So it seemed like a natural choice.

B: I heard that your father’s record collection is a banned record collection. Was it banned to you? In what way was it banned? 

H: Well a lot of the artists are illegal to own. It’s one of those things where it’s ‘illegal’ so far as women aren’t allowed to sing in Iran and dancing is technically illegal in Iran. Funnily enough, I just got back from Iran about two weeks ago and brought back with me loads of vinyl. I actually went to Isfahan, which is this incredible city south of Tehran famous for its antique markets. I found an old antiques market selling old Iranian vinyls and I picked up absolutely loads of records. It was those records that my dad loved. They were the records I listened to a lot when I was growing up and found myself fixated on.

B: You were a journalist for 10 years, why did you make the transition?

H: It’s an interesting question and one I’ve been really thinking about lately. Writing’s kind of in my blood and I really can’t not write. Whatever I do, I fill diaries every couple of days. When I look at the amount of people that have heard my music and obviously really like it and compare that to the number of people that have read what I’ve written, I can’t help that somewhere along the line, music has touched people more. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, not for the sake of fame and fortune, so people hear what I’m doing or read what I’m doing. Also, on a very basic level, making music is much more immediately pleasurable than writing, for me. The rewards of writing are very slow. I find writing, certainly for magazines, quite tortuous. I have white noise in my headphones and earplugs and I can’t check any emails, whereas music, the reward is so instant. You put something down and straight away you’re like: ‘That’s what I was after.’  

B: I often find that some music journalists are frustrated musicians, whereas I can’t play any instruments or sing… 

H: I do some restaurant reviews too and some of the restaurant reviews, the ferocity that they attack restaurants with, but these guys can’t cook. They aren’t expert chefs, it’s a bit weird. But I’ve always disagreed that writing about music is like singing about architecture or whatever the thing is. It’s basically implying that writing about music is pointless. I disagree with that completely; some of the best writing I’ve ever seen is about music. And there’s always stories behind music, like GCSE Literature, where you’re reading a poem and saying ‘What is the author trying to express? or at university, where you’re finding out who the poet was - where did he live? What was going on in the time he created it? I think that’s what makes good music writing.  

B: I was reading your Twitter feed and I saw that you’ve got tinnitus. How does it affect you and how you create music?

H: It’s a very recent thing for me - it’s only been the last three or four months I’ve been dealing with it. Funnily enough, today I’ve just been writing a thing about tinnitus for the website of the company who make my earplugs. It kind of came out of nowhere; I was running around Peckham Rye Common, as I occasionally do, and just froze: ‘What is that noise?’ and I know Eddy Temple-Morris quite well and I know he’s got it, so I spent that night contemplating the blackest black thoughts. Listening to this sounded like a string section tuning up in my head and I never experienced anything like it. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. 8 o’clock in the morning, I went to the surgery to see my GP and he laid it out for me: ‘There’s bad stuff that you need to know and there’s good stuff that you need to know. The bad stuff is that usually you can’t get rid of it, the good stuff is that there are a lot of famous musicians with tinnitus. He also told me about producers who have it but don’t tell anyone, because they’ll get ostracized. But the first couple of weeks were really bad. The first week I was very depressed about it, because I was genuinely envisioning a future without music. But as Eddy said, your brain will tune it down a bit and it becomes less apparent.

Generally, I can kind of cope with it knowing that I can still make music is very reassuring. Music kind of makes people feel invincible and when you’re young, you just don’t wanna think about it. I think it’s really important that there’s a campaign, like the one going on right now, to make people realise. It’s not that you might damage your hearing, it’s when; it will happen. Clubs are getting louder, soundsystems are getting louder. Everyone goes on about how they love music, if you love music, you love your hearing. If you love your hearing, you need to show that. It took until my 30s to try and sort it out myself - a little bit too late, or hopefully not. 

B: As you’ve been on both sides of the fence in the music industry, what advice would you give to people trying to get into the industry now?

H: To be honest, I’ve kept pretty far out of it. I mean, I’ve released a few things for a few labels, I’ve done remixes for bigger labels, but when it’s comes to my own stuff, I’ve released everything myself, because my experiences have been fairly negative. Small labels can’t do that much and promotion - everyone can promote their music to the extent that a small label can and usually better. Whereas a small label is juggling artists, trying to figure out which one to hedge their bets on, you as the artist are a direct link to the people listening to your music.

I still think there’s a very different thing between making music and getting into the music business. I think the difference between me is I had absolutely no intention of trying to sell my records. When it got to the point where friends of mine in the music business were saying: ‘I think you should try to release this,’ that was the point where it changed into something else. The advice that I’ve always given everyone is: don’t ever make music that you don’t believe in/that you don’t like/that isn’t the type of music that you would naturally make. Actually, that may not be that great advice to someone who’s just trying to get into a band. If you are trying to appeal to the mainstream audiences, you’re going to end up doing something to cater to them. On that subject, I’m probably not much of an authority, I do think that for all the saturation of the market, it is still the ultimate. I think if something is good enough then people will find it.

Also, because things are getting so nebulous now, all the boundaries are breaking down. There’s this group called Night Shift - who are all friends on SoundCloud and Shura’s on it and I’m on it - but these guys are all from various different countries and all make very different music. Some of them are technically making Drum & Bass, some are technically making Garage, some are making ambient Dubstep, but because they’re all very cinematic and very influenced by Burial - urban night music - they’ve just found this common ground. I think that because of groups like that and because there are so many people championing people they know without going: ‘Well he’s technically 2-Step, so we don’t want him,’ it’s a bit more of a level playing field now. There is still a lot that people are championing that I think is shit, but I do believe there are artists out there that are really good and are eventually going to get heard. The problem now is have they got the stamina and emotional determination to carry out with it, because after two, three or four years of basically playing music that 20 or 30 people are listening to, you’re gonna start wondering if it’s worth it. 

If it was someone standing by me and they liked my music and wanted advice, I’d just say: stick at it, don’t sell out, don’t change your stuff., just do what comes naturally

B: What was the thinking behind the 'Change Up' video?

H: In the brainstorming session, it was the only one that wasn’t absolutely abysmal. The director’s a really good friend of mine called Ed and a friend of his, Rosemary, were like: ‘Look, we really wanna do something for your next video,’ which was an absolute honour. The video with Shura, where we had to do everything, hire everything, broke our back, post-production, editing, but they [for the 'Change Up' video] took care of everything, ticked all the boxes. In terms of the idea, the song is very much about changing your life and finding a point where you have to change for the better. The video is the idea of me and Matt being criminals and Matt is supposed to have this moment of clarity - that butterfly. He’s in the middle of this crime and he just sees a blue butterfly - a symbol of the universe or the wider world - and gets arrested and then he’s kind of obsessing over it in the prison cell. Simultaneously I’m supposed to be having a similar kind of [experience]. The picture of the man in the video of the black and white photograph is of my dad, so there’s a feeling of massive regret.

B: What are the blue beads?

H: Those are my dad’s prayer beads from Iran, so - not that I’m religious - it’s a sense of a connection with Iran. So I guess that’s the premise of it.