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Hemi Hemingway

4:30PM Sun 26 Feb, Whairepo Lagoon

Heartsick Crooner
(Pōneke / Wellington)

Shaun Blackwell had been tip-toeing around the idea of a solo project like this one for a while - hinting at this sound through the various prisms of different bands. Only in 2020, though, did he finally put an array of other musical outlets on the back burner in order to work towards what would become The Lonely Hunter. A glittering six-track ode to sixties pop, it takes its cues from both classic and contemporary influences, and embraces the timeless lovesickness of The Ronettes, The Shirelles and The Shangri-Las - subtly subverting it to focus on modern relationships, masculinity, and his own roots as a New Zealander. As Hemi Hemingway, he’s part heartbroken crooner, part emotional explorer. An experiment with a four-track recorder led him down a path he’d often hoped to traverse, reimagining the doo-wop of sixty years ago both technologically - he’d feed his taped work back into Logic - and thematically, broadening his own horizons by taking influence from the work of artists and writers who express themselves and their experiences genuinely. Sheer Mag, Angel Olsen, Aldous Harding and Shannon & the Clams - particularly Shannon Shaw’s solo album Shannon in Nashville - provided inspiration as he penned his own lyrics for The Lonely Hunter. A drive to widen his literary outlook, meanwhile, led him to books like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, the spirit of which closing track ‘My Lover, A Strange Her’ is imbued with, and Carson McCullers’ 1940 classic The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, from which the EP takes its name. “I think making sure I broadened my reading beyond the obvious old white guy stuff was important,” Hemingway explains, “particularly because I found it interesting to be taking all this influence from music that’s sixty years old, while then trying to write from my own perspective in 2020. So, a very simple song about loving two different people might actually be more about how your love for one person is getting in the way of your relationship with yourself. So much has changed in all the time that’s passed since those classic songs were written, so it felt very natural to try to have my lyrics reflect that.” Also a crucial part of The Lonely Hunter is Blackwell’s indigenous heritage (Ngāti Kahungungu, Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa). He began work on the EP shortly after returning to London from a two-and-a-half month stint he and his wife spent in his homeland. Accordingly, New Zealand informs the songs profoundly; it’s there in everything from the musical ideas he explores to the lilt of his vocals - especially when, in keeping with time- honoured lounge-singer tradition, he breaks off into languid spoken-word midway through opener ‘Burnin’ Blue’. His pseudonym, meanwhile, was adopted from the Māori name Hemi, which has the same meaning as his first name. “I was thinking about love and vulnerability when I was writing these songs. Like the rest of the world, there’s a very toxic male culture in certain aspects of New Zealand’s society, and I was trying to explore that and push against it. The EP feels very genuine to me - I let as much of myself go into it as I could.” Hemingway's remarkable feat on The Lonely Hunter is bringing together such a diffuse collection of inspirations to produce a group of tracks that feel entirely in his own image; he nods to Isabel Allende's Daughter of Fortune, John Waters' Role Models and Min Jin Lee's Pachinko as crucial texts, whilst the spirit of Orville Peck is palpable in the EP’s haunting country aesthetic - Hemi Hemingway would be very much at home on the stage of Twin Peaks’ Roadhouse. With the world slowly beginning to whir into post-lockdown life, what began as a simple experiment looks set to become his creative lifeblood. “I’m already working on the next release, and the idea of an album is really appealing - hopefully with some more input from other people,” says Hemingway, who played everything bar the saxophone on The Lonely Hunter. “I’ve put so much of myself into this project, and it’s already exceeded my expectations - I just want to keep pushing and exploring.”

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