Awesome Irish alt-rockers HAVVK released their second album Levelling last month and it's a stunningly beautiful piece of work – available on streaming platforms of course, but the physical record (available via VETA) is a must-buy.
Julie Hough is the mastermind behind HAVVK (and the VETA collective of multi-disciplinary artists and creative spanning Dublin, London and Berlin). We asked her to take us on a track-by-track walk through the album ...
Levelling is all about growing up and how the weight of our life choices change along the way. The record is really born out of our friendships and conversations as a band. We’ve known each other for about 10 years now, and in that time, we’ve gone through so much together. Line-up changes, moving countries, break-ups, brexits, ‘coming-outs’, mental health challenges – so much. Between us, we’ve gone through most of our twenties and thirties together (if you fold in the age gaps). And it’s led to lots of big existential chats along the way about the journey we’ve taken together and what we want to leave behind.
We wrote Levelling as a way to unpack this and explore the love, loss and learnings we’ve had along the way. The record is written in three parts and it follows a chronology of life moments, whether that’s forming friendships, navigating societal expectations, managing your mental health, realising your identity and values, accepting loss, or letting go of regret. They’re all things that can hit you so differently at different ages – memories that become cemented and skewed in our minds or decisions that can seem so daunting but that we might laugh about years later.
Tides is literally about being born. Well, it’s about the idea that we come into this world with absolutely no pre-conceptions of what the world expects of us and not yet shaped by prejudice. I wrote the lyrics to this, particularly thinking about female power and the boundless potential we are born with but that inevitably gets challenged over and over by patriarchal structures. I wanted to capture the essence and the wonderful arrogance of not being aware of these limitations. The song is about bottling that feeling, tapping into it, drinking it up like Lucozade before you face whatever the world has in store for you that day.
We don’t always tend to appreciate the people who shape and encourage us when we are kids. Home is about the freedom of youth and being oblivious to the protections you have around you. Our perception of time and our sense of adventure is so different when we’re kids – our world is so small, but it feels enormous. It’s amazing to think of an age where you can fall down again and again and not be deterred to keep going. Home is about appreciating the person – a friend, a guardian – who was always there even when you were at your worst – even when you had no idea – who helped you get back up again every time.
No Patience is about dealing with an inner battle of confidence and self-doubt, and it’s underpinned by the feeling that time is running out (which is kind of how I always felt in my early twenties). The lyrics are kind of an inner-pep talk as you square up to yourself in a playground brawl. We always have temporary nicknames for our songs as they’re coming together in the studio and for ages, this one was called ‘Fight’.
Automatic is about childhood friendships and the way that they evolve and shape you. For me it’s particularly about the incredible female friendships I had growing up and seeing what different women we’ve grown up to be. It’s definitely about being afraid to lose those connections but it’s also about being open to growing together even as your paths change. Coming back together as grown up adults with grown up challenges, but still being able to crack up laughing like big kids.
We wrote Easy both from the perspective of going through our own battles with mental health, but also from the perspective of being a friend and a support system to someone going through a dark time. It’s about how bleak things can seem when you’re in the depths of it, how easy it is to feel like you don’t deserve people’s love. The chorus is all about being on the other side of that and simply helping that person to be seen and validated.
Under Your Breath
I’ve been getting sleep anxiety on and off over the past few years and I think it’s incredible the things that your brain can store up and throw at you when you’re at your most vulnerable. Under Your Breath is about being haunted by things that you’ve said or didn’t say in the past. It’s about those moments when you wake up in the middle of the night wishing you had stood up for yourself or that you could take back something you regret. But it’s also about pledging to use your voice to make an impact, not just in your own conflicts but in standing up for others too and using your privilege when you can.
We wrote Halfway Out as a response to the pressure that comparison culture can put particularly on young people and how it can be such a blocker for finding joy and purpose. The lyrics are about disengaging from life and going through the motions. It’s also so easy to curate your life online these days, as if everything is going fine. So the song is also about connecting with someone and telling them you can see that they’re struggling and offering support, even if they have a timeline full of shiny sunsets and coffee art.
Hold On is a song about holding on to the idea of hope when it doesn’t feel tangible. It follows the story of a person who’s holding on to a balloon as it floats above a city. A lot of the songs on the album talk about mental health and how we can find ourselves taking on these very different roles depending on how we’re managing with our sense of self or dealing with big life changes. For me, that imagery of floating above a city reminds me of how – if you’re going through a period of depression or anxiety or going through a hard time – you can feel so removed and isolated from real life and how it can almost feel like the world is moving on without you.
This song is a little bit sci-fi and definitely a nod to our folky moments when we first started playing together as a band. It’s about imagining if you had a machine that could tell you the future before you commit to decisions or show you an alternative version of your life – what might have happened if you had taken a different path. What would you ask it? Would it be too painful to find out? It’s also about being in awe of people who can take risks and reminding yourself that they are only human.
By Night is about somebody coming to the end of their life, putting regrets and loose ends to rest, coming to terms with ‘where the time went’ and embracing the path they’ve taken. You can hear footsteps in snow at the beginning of the track, which is meant to signify the peace and acceptance of what they’ve left behind. It’s not necessarily about ‘death’, but more about the legacy we create in life.