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What other artists would you compare your sound to?
Great question- I’ve thought about that a lot. To be honest, I really struggle to put a finger on who I echo sonically, and while I know that sounds like an obnoxious “i’M NoT lIkE oThEr MuSiCiAnS” statement, I really do feel that way! Usually, though, I tend to skip the long conversation and resort to “indie pop-rock”.
The first thing people tend to say when they find out I make music is “Oh Cool! What genre/kind?”. The thing is, I’ve been so inconsistent with my answers that I’ve probably painted different versions of myself in different minds. I would have “indie” on the tip of my tongue, but I don’t really identify with indie music- I guess I viewed the term as an umbrella for “an artist who makes music but is not famous”. I could say “rock”, but, apart from the fact that I don’t listen to much rock, that only covers a small handful i.e. Danger Lovin’ and Dirt (Dirty Old Boots), which aren’t even that heavy! The term “pop” is closest to what I listen to and take inspiration from, but it feels kind of like wearing a coat that’s the wrong size- not really a snug fit.
After listening to a track or two, people tend to tell me “you sound like _______”, and I’ll be like “thanks! …who?”. I can say my most and probably sole prominent influence is Taylor Swift, who paved the way for me as a songwriter both lyrically and sonically (in terms of melodies, hooks etc.) I especially take inspiration from her deeper cuts like Last Kiss, Clean, and Treacherous where she showcases her immense versatility as a musician. If you had to ask me, it would probably be her. However, while I can draw some connections in that regard, I definitely still think the differences are massive.
What is the inspiration behind the sound of your album?
The album’s sound was heavily influenced by Jonty, the producer, who is one of the most talented musicians I have ever met. In terms of the songs themselves, as mentioned above, I don’t really have a solid sound, genre, or time period I took inspiration from besides probably Taylor Swift. What would usually happen is I would have slight ideas of what sounds I wanted the songs to have and we would find songs that gave similar vibes to serve as a kind of foundation. Some examples were Jade Bird, Sigur Rós, and Oasis. I’ll invite Jonty to comment here:
I don’t think there is really a singular sound of the album, but the direction that I took with each song was really just based on the emotions in the demos that Sean recorded. Songs like Dirt (Dirty Old Boots), Danger Lovin’, and Loop sounded angrier in the demos so I used driven electric guitars and aggressive drums whereas songs like Erase Me and Face Down felt sadder and more vulnerable, so I went for more atmospheric instrumentation and choir-style background vocals.
Loved the visuals. What is the inspiration behind the look and aesthetic of your album?
I would say it’s mostly an original concept (unless I was subconsciously influenced). I wanted the album to reflect the theme of darkness and having headlights to guide the way (who were, in this case, my friends and lover), which is why I maintain my version of a “night” aesthetic with the album and its promotional photos that contain lots of orange, black, grey and brown. The Polaroids helped facilitate that because of how the flash shines a light on the subjects through the darkness, fitting my theme like a glove. The album cover itself is very intertwined with the theme- you can see me looking lost and almost inebriated in a pitch-black background, with my two friends on my left and right. If you think about it, the way they’re positioned and how they’re overexposed are like the headlights on a car- guiding the driver the way they guided me.
This recurs in the other Polaroids, where I wanted to include all the people who helped guide me through those times so I went around taking pictures with people. While they don’t have a tie-in with the meanings of each song, I wanted to remind myself that I am who I am today because of not only myself but these people who have been my headlights over the years.
What was production of the album like? Who did the instruments, and what was recording with people like? What was mixing your music like?
I was more of a director with this album- I helped shape what the songs sounded like, but the production and finer details were handled by Jonty, who also did all the instruments. I have invited him to comment here:
‘The whole album was recorded in my bedroom with a laptop, an audio interface for the electric guitars/bass, and a Rode NT1-A microphone for vocals and percussion. There were some constraints with recording in this environment, mainly being considerate with the amount of noise we were creating as well as trying to reduce external noise in the recordings. I recorded the electric guitars/bass directly into my computer with an audio interface and used amp simulations so there was no noise created and no way for external noise to get into the recordings. Everyone in my flat (apart from me) left during the first lockdown so this did make things a bit easier.
The general workflow of each song was that Flint would record a demo of the song with just acoustic guitar and vocals, then I would layout the structure of the song in Ableton Live using midi clips, program drums for the whole song, then work through section-by-section recording bass, guitars, synths, etc. until a full iteration of the song had been developed, Sean would then record vocals which were mixed before adding the finishing touches to the instrumental now that I had the vocals for context, and finally I and Flint would record background vocals. I generally mix as I go along (using Yamaha HS5 monitors and Audio-Technica M50Xs to reference with) as I always want to be able to show someone the song in its current state and let them have an accurate representation of how the final song will “sound”, even if it’s currently missing acoustic guitars for example.’
What was it like filming ‘This Name’? How come you chose this song for your first music video?
Most of This Name was filmed with just my Samsung S8 phone camera with me directing my friend Ivy, which I honestly find hilarious because of how amateurish it is. I had a storyboard and a bunch of shots I wanted in my head, and we would just walk over to the Nature Reserve or the University of Cumbria and have fun shooting things. I think the editing worked magic in making the video come to life.
I chose This Name because it represents Headlights in the best way possible, reflecting its many themes clearly, especially those about self-discovery and identity (explained below). I had many ideas for shots and scenes for this song and it just felt so right to go through with it. I wanted the video to feel like a breath of fresh air. If I had the budget and resources, I would’ve done a video for either one of the singles Danger Lovin’ or Dirt (Dirty Old Boots) when they were released- but I don’t want to put stuff out unless it’s good quality. I felt like I was able to achieve that with This Name and am very pleased with the result.
Interesting range of themes on love, lost love, mental health, growing as a person. There is a song for any occasion. What is your favourite song/lyric?
I love all the songs to death, but I think my favourite would have to be Bookmark, with Dirt and …and Breathe being close seconds. It’s honestly such a simple song but I love the chorus and just the atmosphere it creates- I think Jonty elevated the track so, so much.
I can’t decide on my number one lyric, but I really like “but even storms wash a failure white again, so my Monday eyes will shine grey” from …and Breathe. I think it’s a good reminder that even the toughest moments are important in shaping who you are and will eventually pass over, even if you come out a little bit battered.
How did you decide the order of your tracks?
The tracklisting is crucial to me; As I view an album as a connected body of art rather than just a compilation of tracks, I always value some sort of flow or cohesion thematically and sonically. The record centres around disorientation, self-discovery, and growth, exploring those concepts through the motif of having headlights that guide through the darkness, which I wanted the tracklist to reflect. In the first half of the album, we hear lots of electric guitars and drums and raspy vocals. I wanted it to explore the many facets of losing oneself in the metaphorical “dark”, be it through a bittersweet burning of bridges (Hazelnut), a cycle of unattainable satisfaction (Dirt (Dirty Old Boots)) or one-sided jealousy (Loop). When all that passion burns away, we’re kind of left in a moment of stasis where underneath all those intense emotions lie feelings of emptiness and kind of… wanting to breathe again (…and Breathe). The best word I can use to describe these songs would probably be “grey”.
The last three songs on the record are meant to be a trilogy. “Home” is a false positive- while it falls into the themes of self-realization, it does so with negative undertones and comes from a place of having survived the storm and drifting, battered at sea. You could even interpret it as a lie to make oneself feel better. The next song, “Erase Me” is the shortest song on the album, but probably one of the most visual for me. It’s what plays when you come home late and close the door behind you with everything being shrouded in darkness except for the streetlights through the window- and you just crumble to your absolute lowest point even though you were okay 5 minutes ago.
I chose “This Name” as the closer to the album because it represents everything I want to be taken away from the record. I imagined it as the morning after the lowest point in Erase Me- where slivers of hope creep in and things starting to fall back into place. However, the most important thing about this song is the acknowledgment that going through so many different circumstances means you are a different person than you were before- something that took me a while to understand.
Danger Lovin’ is a great song to open with. How come you chose that one?
Thank you! I chose to open with Danger Lovin’ for a few reasons: one being it was the first song I consider to have written as a songwriter. I remember being so angry when I wrote it, grabbed my guitar and that kind of sparked my whole musical process. I also wanted to start on a passionate note, in the middle of the whole “confused and angry teen darkness” thing, and putting this song at the start allows me to mellow out a bit better. Plus, I think it has a great progression sonically, starting with acoustic guitar, bringing in drums and finally going on into full rock mode (which was all Jonty’s magic), which also serves as a metaphor for my musical progression.
What are your plans for the future?
I used to have big dreams of becoming a pop star, but after growing a bit musically I think I’ve found making music true to myself becoming much more important. Ironically, despite the whole first record being all about self-discovery, I’ve still got a looooong way to go, and I hope I can grow and make a second record that serves as a good progression from the first one. I do hope to do more content for Headlights like music videos and interviews, however, so please do look forward!
What is your dream venue? Who would you love to tour with?
Oddly enough- these questions have never really crossed my mind. I think my dream venue would be somewhere where everyone can have loads of fun listening to me play, singing along and just having a good time. And God I think I would actually implode if I got to tour with Maggie Rogers (and of course, Jonty). Her connection with music is something I hope to achieve someday.
Check out Headlights on Spotify (linked below). You can also support Flint through his Bandcamp or following him on Instagram @flintaxton. All of his songs have their lyrics up on Genius if you want to sing along