- Words Miriam Balanescu
The inimitable singer-songwriter and dance music star Becky Hill discusses her debut album, ‘Only Honest On The Weekend’, personal lyrics and working towards equality in music.
Becky Hill needs little introduction. The dance powerhouse is second only to Dua Lipa as the most-streamed female artist of both 2019 and 2020. 13 of her singles have charted in the UK Top 40.
The Bewdley-born artist first grabbed the public’s attention when she appeared on The Voice in 2012. Now, she has over 180 registered songs, writing for the likes of Little Mix and Tiesto, and collaborating with Rudimental, Lil Simz, MNEK, and Sigala. 2019’s ‘Get to Know’ was one of the three biggest selling albums by a British female artist that year.
As a female electronic music pioneer when women dance artists are still scarcely heard in the charts, Hill has been made the face of Spotify’s EQUAL programme, aiming to tackle gender inequality in music.
Now, Hill has unveiled her first studio album, ‘Only Honest On The Weekend’, which features 220 Kid, Banx & Ranx, David Guetta, Shift K3Y, S1mba, Sigala, and Topic, along with work from producers Lost Boy, Billen Ted, MK, MJ Cole, and MNEK across its 15 tracks. The song-list includes “Remember”, Hill’s highest-charting lead solo record to date (which, with the streaming stats of an artist like Hill, makes it unmissable), platinum-selling “Better Off Without You” ft. Shift K3Y, “Heaven On My Mind”, and more. Hill will also be hitting up Camp Bestival, Reading & Leeds Festival, TRNSMT, and Isle of Wight Festival before her UK and Ireland tour in autumn.
In honour of her momentous release, Becky Hill filled us in on singing about her personal life, fighting for equality and what it feels like to be the second-most listened-to female artist of 2020.
Can you talk to us about your highly anticipated debut album ‘Only Honest on the Weekend’? How does it feel to finally release it? How long has it been in the works?
I cannot wait to release my debut album, it has been a long time coming. It’s been in the making for about 9 years, and in that time I’ve gone through a record deal, set up my own record label and grafted until I got to the point where I’m now with Polydor and I’m in a very happy label artist relationship with those guys, and I’m so pleased that we are at the point now where we can release an album together and hopefully it will be one of many. But I really…you know I’ve got all the best work I’ve ever written over the last 9 years, and I really hope people just see this as a bit more than just an album, this is like my first body of work after I’ve worked so hard, you know, featuring on other people’s records, and giving other people hits… It now feels like my turn to see the fruits of my labour with my own music that I’ve written for myself, and it definitely shows in this album so I can’t wait to put it out.
You have voiced and co-written so many iconic dance music tracks in the UK and beyond. Is ‘Only Honest on the Weekend’ a dance music record, or do you experiment with other genres on the album?
I definitely wanted to incorporate dance music on my album. It was really important that I paid homage to my love of dance music, but I really wanted to show people the other side of me, and that is my love of pop music, and more kind of synth-pop and slower tempo songs. So there is a really good balance of dance music and music you can listen to in your bedroom or music you can listen to when you come back from a night out, or a hangover, or pre-drinks. I really wanted it to be an album for all occasions, and I definitely feel like I’ve expressed different emotions – from being angry to sad to happy to in love to out of love, to missing somebody to having enough of somebody – I think it is all on the album and I’m really glad that it comes in form of dance music and pop music and ballads.
You often delve into your personal life for lyrical inspiration – on which track do you feel you are your most vulnerable?
The song on the album where I feel like I’ve been most vulnerable is probably “Is Anybody There?”. I remember having the title written down and I remember going into the studio with MNEK and Ryan Ashley, who are my two best friends, and have been since I joined the music industry, and I really feel like when I’m in the studio with those two I can be completely honest and myself, and kind of selfish in the way that I write. I told them about the idea of “Is Anybody There?” – being that you’re with somebody, but you never really feel like you have them, or that they give themselves to you. You kind of feel like you’re with a shell of a person. And I think that was a really big thing for me to even admit to myself, let alone put it in a song, and it was almost like I was putting a title and a song on a feeling that I’d had for a while but was never really at the forefront of my mind, was never really able to talk about. And I really feel like “Is Anybody There?” does an amazing job of encapsulating how I felt, and how I occasionally feel. I had to fight for that one to be on the album, but I’m really glad I did because it means an awful lot to me.
How has the pandemic affected your creative process?
Funnily enough, the pandemic made me re-evaluate everything in terms of my songwriting and the creative process. From the age of 18, I was put into sessions and writing with loads of other people, and that was a whole new experience for me because I’d only ever written music on my own in my bedroom, and all of a sudden I was back in the same bedroom at my mum’s house writing music again. And it really made me have a lot more confidence with writing music. I wrote four songs in lockdown, two of them ended up going on my album and two of them ended up getting cut. One of them being “Hold On” with Netsky which was a song all about missing my partner in lockdown, and the other one which is going to go onto Wilkinson’s next coming album called “Here for You”, which is all about being there for somebody no matter what. The other two songs that went on my album were “Through the Night” which I wrote over facetime with MNEK, and “Distance”, funnily enough that I wrote with Adam Argyle over facetime while he had his two kids with him. It really proved to me that actually anything is possible. You can write music wherever. The other two songs I’d written completely on my own which I hadn’t done since I was 16 or 17, and I really found that the pandemic was creeping into my music. “Distance” – I mean, I almost called it “Socially Distance” – but “Distance” was a thing where I couldn’t see my partner and I couldn’t be with him, and that gave me so much inspiration. I think actually when you’re left alone with your own thoughts, London is so busy that I get easily distracted and don’t get to think about stuff, and I really felt like it gave me a whole other lease of life.
With things finally opening back up you are headlining a string of festivals this summer. Have you missed the stage? What is the performance highlight of your career?
Live shows make up like 50% of my job and are really important. I’ve always known, even when I was in a band when I was like 15, that if we didn’t gig for a while I’d get what I call live performance withdrawal symptoms. And it is addictive – like I love being on stage, it’s the one place where my mind is completely clear, and I’m just focussed. That doesn’t happen anywhere else in my life apart from on stage, and I missed it terribly. And also to think of all of my team that wasn’t getting an income and weren’t able to support their families and were having to look at other jobs because we were told we weren’t necessary and that we should retrain when really this is what we’ve worked our whole lives for, and this is our passion. Before I headlined Camp Bestival, I would always answer the question: my favourite performance would be Reading and Leeds 2019. But I have to say that last weekend topped any live experience I’ve ever had. It was the shit dreams are made of, and I’m still in awe of what happened, and I cannot wait to be back in festivals, and be back with people unrestricted, without masks, without distancing, just everybody loving the music and loving the atmosphere. There really is no place like it.
You’ve become a household name with high-profile fans across the industry. How did it feel to be the second most-streamed female UK artist of 2019 and 2020?
It is always an honour to be second-highest anything, but in particular, the second-highest streamed UK female artist… for me though I think it’s been difficult because I feel like the awareness of who I am and what I do is still very low. It’s only now that I feel people are putting two and two together and going: oh she did “Afterglow” and she did “Overdrive” and “Piece of Me” and “False Alarm”, and now she’s got “Better Off Without You” and “Remember”. Now I feel like I’m really in people’s minds and people can really put a face to a name, whereas before that second-highest streaming UK female was still based off tunes people would like, rather than me being a fully-fledged supported artist. I think this is what is so exciting about releasing my debut album, is that now I feel certified, now I feel like I’m a proper artist, I’ve got an album coming out and I’m doing my own shows and I’m selling out a tour, and hopefully now people will really invest in me as an artist instead of just: ‘oh I like that song’ and ‘oh I like that song as well’ – that actually it will feel more like I’ve got a core fanbase that really supports me and not just the occasional song.
Your 2019 compilation project ‘Get to Know’ curated some of the most well-known songs that you have either released yourself or co-wrote and sung vocals for. Was it important for you to collate your music into one body of work and remind people of your involvement in some of these iconic tracks?
With ‘Get To Know’, I suppose I didn’t really understand the weight of it, for quite a long time. It was a four-track EP that turned into a marketing tool where, you know, the head of marketing at the label was like: let’s curate a playlist, effectively an album, a mini-album playlist where all of Becky’s hits, quote on quote, are put into a body of work where people can see the type of stuff that she’s writing for herself with the EP tracks as well as the dance songs and all the songs that everybody knows, into one space. And again, this kind of comes back to this idea that people never really put two and two together, that I had a load of successful music that I had written for other people, and in my eyes was my music just as much as theirs. But the credit was unbalanced, the credit was going more towards the producers rather than me who had written and sang these, actually, at times, quite personal songs. It wasn’t until “Wish You Well” that I was actually allowed to be in the video! The first time out of the then about 10 features that I’d done that I was present in the music video. I think it was at that point that things started to change – that once people could see me in the music video and then started to see, to know when listening to that and streaming that and seeing all the other songs I’d done and actually see the amount of hard work and graft that I’ve put in to being in the music industry, that it started to all come together and people started to really take note. So I’m very thankful for the marketing idea because I think it really gave people something to go ‘oh yeah of course she’s done all of that and she’s got this and there’s this!’ So big up Polydor on that one!
As a hugely successful singer-songwriter and an advocate for women’s equality in the music industry which is notoriously male-dominated, how important is it to you to use your platform to drive change? Are there any specific scenarios you encountered that kickstarted your passion for reform?
It is massively important for me to make sure my touring team is balanced, my management team is balanced, that I have a great amount of incredible women around me at all times. It was when I was 19 and I went on tour with Rudimental that I realised the only two women on the tour were the singers. I remember when I met their sound engineer, Anna, who is now my sound engineer, and I loved her – it was me, Sinéad Harnett and Anna who were the only three women in a team of about 20 that were female. And I remember being on my first tour, I’d never been on a plane before, I’d never left the country, I’d never been away from my parents apart from The Voice and all of a sudden I was on a tour bus with a load of men who have no idea what it was like to be any of those things and be female. It was at that point that I remember looking round and going: this isn’t a nice environment, and If I’m going to do this on my own I’ve got to make sure that I have women in my band playing instruments, not just singing, where you kind of would expect a woman to be. But I want a woman on drums, I want a woman on bass, I want a female tour manager, a female front of house, a female sound engineer. I’m going to need that environment because it makes it nicer for everybody involved. Nobody really enjoys being the odd one out, you know, I try to make my team as diverse as possible in terms of race, in terms of sexuality and gender, and I think it’s really important that other artists follow suit, not just the female ones. It’s now time to give those opportunities to women who are trying out. It’s about getting the best person for the job but it’s also about making sure the women are accounted for and able to prove themselves in those jobs just as equally as men.
Can you tell us a bit more about Spotify’s EQUAL programme, and what it means to you to front it?
Spotify’s EQUAL Programme was actually quite interesting, because we were told about it three days before the month – they have an EQUAL artist every month. We were told about it three days before July and when we finally got sent through all the assets for it, it was the 10th and, you know, I was in the middle of a single campaign and we weren’t really given much guidance apart from it being a ‘cool look’: it’s really cool that I’m the face of July’s EQUAL Programme on Spotify, and there’s a billboard up in New York. But really there was nothing else around it and I really wanted to make more fuss about it which was why I then made sure that we’d set up a ‘roundtable’ full of other women in the music industry that I feel are very knowledgeable about equal opportunities and equality within the music industry. That happened to be Ella Eyre, Hamzaa and Kelly Lee. Kelly Lee – I’ve been a fan of hers for a very long time and I’ve seen her work so fiercely to get her rights and her voice heard. And I know Hamzaa’s quite early in her journey but it was also very interesting to hear how today’s record labels would approach her. I and Ella have talked over the years about our experience with Rudimental and our experience with other male DJs and it was really interesting to make content for the purpose. So, I’m very grateful that I was chosen as Spotify’s EQUAL Artist of the Month. I am also very grateful that I got given quite a lot of control with that and I was able to get a platform to shout about equality from.
If you could perform anywhere in the world, whether it be a club, a festival, or country, where would it be?
It has been an absolute dream of mine to play Glastonbury. It’s a very good job that last year was cancelled because I don’t know whether I would have made it on to the bill and I always said last year if I didn’t make it on to the bill at Glastonbury that I would quit my job. So, I’m hoping that next year, when Glastonbury’s finally back on, that I will be able to have a slot on a stage and perform my music at the most iconic and legendary festival of all time. That is definitely a tick that I want to put on my bucket list.