For the last few years, Belfast’s Naomi Hamilton, aka Jealous of the Birds, has been toeing the line between the confusion and confidence of youth, developing a vocabulary as a songwriter rich in empathy and generosity.
Though she took an ardent interest in poetry and playing guitar at an early age, Hamilton didn’t begin writing original music until late 2014. “I’d just started university and it coincided with a lifestyle and emotional shift that was a catalyst for writing music,” she explains.
Recorded while studying English and Creative Writing at Queen’s University, Belfast, her 2015 debut EP Capricorn saw Hamilton developing a style equal parts autobiographical and whimsical. A collection of hushed confessionals, Hamilton’s love of the literary greats shines throughout – as comfortable in a tongue-twisting metaphor as she is in naked honesty.
While Hamilton began playing shows in support of the EP and generating an early buzz in the nurturing Northern Irish music scene – “a safe, insular platform,” as she puts it – word of her music would come to reach Declan Legge: a Northern Irish producer who had previously worked alongside SOAK and Ciaran Lavery. He recalls, “I remembered her music immediately. I recognised something in what Naomi was doing that made me realise I have to do this. It was one of those moments.”
After a short trial period of getting to know one another, the pair set down to writing and recording what would become Jealous of the Birds’ debut album, 2016’s Parma Violets, in Declan’s Big Space studio: it was a labour of love from the pair that was DIY in the truest sense. “My girlfriend at the time did all the artwork for it and my brother-in-law did the photography for the inner sleeve,” says Hamilton. “It was super DIY. It was a case of getting all the creative people involved that we could.”
Parma Violets resonated with fans and critics alike, further building upon the tangible buzz around Hamilton’s music and earning plaudits from the likes of The Irish Times, The Irish News and NPR who raved about its lead single ‘Goji Berry Sunset’ as “an intimate space that’s instantly, indelibly compelling.” It also saw her making two trips to SXSW as well as performing at Radio One’s Big Weekend and sharing stages with Elbow and The Divine Comedy, all while still completing her course at Queen’s University.
It was while making her debut appearances at SXSW in 2016 that another moment of serendipity would lead Hamilton to Canvasback Music/Atlantic Records (Alt-J, Frightened Rabbit, The War on Drugs).
“We were playing a Northern Ireland showcase at the British Music Embassy,” Hamilton recalls. “It was just a solo, acoustic show and I had crazy jet lag and flu. It was a short set but I threw in a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ and it just so happened that Nirvana’s publicist during the In Utero period was in the crowd.” He was so impressed with what he saw that he tipped off Canvasback, who would end up traveling to Belfast twice over the next year to watch Hamilton perform and ultimately sign her.
Her move to Canvasback in America – and hotly-tipped indie imprint Hand in Hive (Swimming Tapes, Saltwater Sun) in the UK – comes alongside a new EP, The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep, whose title is drawn from a line of Hamilton’s poetry and sees release on July 13th.
Hamilton describes the set as “Jealous of the Birds but bite-sized,” an assessment that’s both modest and fitting. It combines four updated cuts from Parma Violets that explore both the more introspective and extroverted ends of her sonic spectrum along with boisterous new single ‘Plastic Skeletons’, a meandering, dynamic gem. It fits perfectly alongside the slightly retooled Parma Violet selections, mixed by Ben Baptie (Young Fathers, Daughter, Lianne La Havas, London Grammar).
“’Plastic Skeletons’ was written once I got back from SXSW in 2016,” offers Hamilton. “That was my first trip to America and I brought a journal and wrote a bunch of stuff in it. When I got home, I went through it and wrote that song in full. It’s a collection of little words and images that I picked up.” Lyrically, from the “palm trees tickling the skyline” to the imagery of a rotting Chicago in the song’s bridge, it marks Hamilton’s most cinematic, imagistic writing to date.