Image Credit: Ben Dornan Wilson
October brought us a lot in the way of new music, one of those releases being the solo debut of Try Me’s Hector Boogieman, whose new stage name as a solo artist is, ‘Hector Who Lived.’ Though it sounds like it could have been a suitably spooky rebranding for the Halloween season, his new single ‘Monkey’ makes it clear that there’s more to it than meets the eye. Behind the classic, electro-funk sound of the song and the pulsing, shifting analogue visuals of the music video, ‘Monkey’ is an intensely personal meditation on mental health, and making and breaking bad habits. It’s a song that doesn’t shy away from the fact that the national lockdown was a real fright for many people. I was lucky enough to interview him about it; as we spoke, he showed as much candor and honesty as is present on his debut single.
What’s the story behind your stage name, Hector Who Lived? Is there a particular reason you chose it?
My parents were going to call me Hector, but they didn’t, sadly. I feel like everyone as a kid is like, ‘Oh my God, I hate my name,’ and then you kind of grow up and you’re like, ‘Well, this is my chance! I’m gonna make you call me that.’
How did you first get into producing your own music?
I grew up in a tiny village, and when I was 15 I worked in the local Co-op. It was the only store that was really close by, so I saved up and bought a laptop. Once I had a laptop, it was just, ‘What can I do with a laptop?’
So now let’s fast-forward to ‘Monkey,’ which is a song you wrote during the first lockdown. It’s about mental health—and lockdown was really bad for a lot of people's mental health. What was your personal experience of lockdown like? What led you to actually come up with and create ‘Monkey’?
That was my last year of uni. Lockdown started in March, and I was handing in my final dissertation in May. That was one of the only things I had to give me a purpose. Apart from that, there was no purpose to do anything. There was no socialising. Not a lot of reason to get out of bed. Then I got into some bad habits: smoking too much, not doing anything all day, just kind of smoking the day away. At the start it was like, ‘Woo, this is a holiday!’ I was getting smashed all the time, but then that slipped into, ‘Why am I getting smashed all the time? I think I might be really unhappy.’ So I wrote the song just to give myself some purpose, I suppose.
Do you approach a song with the melody and/or production in mind first, or do you start with the lyrics?
The lyrics. I think that’s why I studied music production because I already know what I want to write about and I already know how I want to write them. Putting the music to them was something I didn’t know how to do.
Which part of the music-making process do you enjoy the most?
Probably the very start, before you’ve mapped out the song and you’re not mixing it. You’re not bringing in fine details. If you showed anyone, they’d say, ‘Wow, that doesn’t sound very professional at all,’ but you already know at that point whether it’s going to be good or not. If you know it’s going to be good, that’s when it gets exciting.
What do you think about making your own music as Hector Who Lived compared to your work as part of a duo in Try Me?
I think it’s just kind of an excuse to be a bit more in control. With Try Me it’s really collaborative—if we don’t make it together, it doesn’t end up being a Try Me song. When you make your own solo music, it’s an excuse to completely self-express. That can be both a good and a bad thing, I think.
In what way do you think it could be a bad thing?
I think you can get in your own head a bit too much when you’re working by yourself. You can get a bit too perfectionistic, and your anxieties are heightened. When we work together with Try Me, we kind of have to tell each other, ‘This is done now, we need to stop.’ By yourself, it’s very easy to go around and around in circles.
Since you’ve got a song called ‘Monkey,’ and Try Me’s ‘Frankenstein’ also mentions ‘cheeky monkey[s],’ I have to ask: are monkeys your favourite animal?
Haha! They’re not my favourite animal, but it’s a fun word to sing! My favourite animal is probably a fox.
Since ‘Monkey’ is your official solo debut, you must have thought a lot about what kind of sound you wanted to go for. How did you make that decision, about what the song should actually sound like?
Before ‘Monkey,’ I wrote a lot of other solo songs that have sounded completely different—going from really electronic-based to a lot more funk- or ballad-sounding. But [‘Monkey’] started off because back then my partner and I would sometimes play very old Game Boy games in the evenings. I think it was The Incredibles game, where I recorded the output of that Game Boy with a little audio recorder. I then put that into Ableton and cut it up and sampled it. So a lot of the electronic/mechanical noise that you hear in the background of ‘Monkey’ is that. That was actually the base of the song. Then it was just about thinking, ‘Where does it feel natural for it to go?’ It was kind of an interesting way to start a song. I think I should try to start a song like that again.
Are there any other artists that you think have really inspired and influenced how your music sounds right now? Or do you think of your music as more of its own unique thing?
I don’t really sit down with reference tracks, like ‘I’m gonna make a song in this vein.’ I prefer to just take inspiration [from other things] and see where it leads me. But it’s impossible not to be influenced by what you’re listening to, and at the minute I’m listening to a lot of jazz. I’m desperately trying to become a better instrumentalist, so I can make something that infuses what I’ve done before with more of a jazz focus.
Your music videos have received praise for their creativity. How do you decide on the overall concept and execution of your music videos?
For ‘Heavy Lunch,’ we were actually writing it with the visuals in mind since it’s a really story-based song. We had the visuals in our head while we were writing it, so that was really easy once we finished the song. We already knew what it was going to look like. For ‘Frankenstein,’ we didn’t do the animation, we just provided the song and [Atlanta Russell and her team] storyboarded the idea. It was a very easy process, which was nice because the ‘Heavy Lunch’ video took a really long time. It was very long but really rewarding to have done. And then the ‘Monkey’ video was just in the flat that we were stuck in during lockdown, like ‘What can I create with what I have?’ I had an old camcorder that I got from a charity shop, and I figured out how to make the visual effects by plugging it into the TV and having the TV display what the camcorder sees. Then you point the camcorder at the TV and it creates a visual feedback loop. So all of the visuals you see in there are analogue effects created by the camcorder.
What do you think is next for you as a solo artist? What would you ideally want to do next?
I played my first gig as a full band the other week. I’d love to play more gigs with the band, and I think we all had a great time. But it’s just working that in around gigs with Try Me. As a solo artist, I’m working on the next single now, so getting that out with Sugar Shack Records. I’ll get that single finished and then play more gigs. The standard approach.
Edited by Josh Aberman, Music Editor