British singer-songwriter and former Haircut 100 frontman Nick Heyward is sitting in his car on the side of the road in East Sussex, England, in pitch blackness, on his way to a two-week solidary songwriting retreat in Rye. “I’m just looking out the window at this sign, and it says ‘Woodlands for Sale,’” he chuckles over the phone. It’s the perfect setup for an interview about his decade-in-the-making seventh studio album, Woodland Echoes, and its single “Perfect Sunday Sun,” the lyric video for which is premiering on Yahoo Entertainment today.
While the short-lived but influential Haircut 100 rode the Second British Invasion of the MTV-dominated early ’80s with sleek pop-funk bangers like “Favourite Shirts” and “Love Plus One” when Heyward was only 19, the now 56-year-old troubadour’s current music reflects his quieter, calmer lifestyle. Much like fellow Britpop icons Pulp’s nature-themed We Love Life or the latter-period work of Heyward’s former Creation Records labelmates and tourmates Teenage Fanclub, Woodland Echoes is a love letter to pastoral Britain, with idyllic song titles like “Perfect Sunday Sun,” “Love Is the Key by the Sea,” “Mountaintop,” “Baby Blue Sky,” “Forest of Love,” and “Beautiful Morning.” Heyward jokes, “I doubt that 19-year-old Nicholas would have written about a beautiful morning — and being connected to that morning through the flowers.”
Not all of the album was inspired by the flora and fauna on Heyward’s side of the pond, however. Much of Woodland Echoes was recorded in Key West, Fla., where Heyward’s fiancée’s parents reside — with “Perfect Sunday Sun’s” recording actually taking place on a Florida houseboat, and its lyrics “written in little shade tracks around the island. … Then I found this other tree, this beautiful tree with this hanging swing, in a bed and breakfast. I used to hang there and read and write, then go walking, because walking is when the lyrics happen. I might sit there for an hour trying to write a lyric.”
With such a leisurely schedule, it’s no wonder that Heyward took his sweet time creating Woodland Echoes: He started working on it in 2007, a year after the release of his last studio album, The Mermaid and the Lighthouse Keeper. “I think the album sounds the way it does because it wasn’t done in two weeks,” says Heyward. “I thought it was going to be done quickly. But there was nobody commissioning it. It was self-made, so I was the record company. So I had loads of perspective and time. For six months, therefore, nothing was done, and I would not even listen to it. Then I would come back and listen to it, and I had a total perspective on it. … I’d been in the music industry beforehand and not seen any money, really, from any sales, so this [lack of pressure] was nice. I was just doodling.”
Compared with some of his reckless and troubled ’80s peers, Heyward has obviously led a more peaceful existence. (“George Michael’s death was a shock,” he says, as an example. “It just shows you that you can die of just not being able to live. It’s hard for some people just to spend a whole day on this planet, just to do the basics and not feel too much.”) Heyward explains that even though he was “bold as brass at age 19,” he “just couldn’t handle drugs. My thing was not so much to be able to feel stuff deeply, so much as just my imagination was sometimes scary. It was like one, two, three, four, five senses working overtime, on all the time. I couldn’t switch the bloomin’ thing off! Any kind of drug would set that imagination off either way, so drugs were scary to me. Thankfully, that’s why I’ve steered clear of drugs. I mean, somebody wrote on our website the other day that I was a drug addict, and I laughed because I couldn’t be one if I tried.”
These days, Heyward’s imagination is still running wild, like with this month’s Rye writing sessions — which hopefully mean it won’t be another 11 years before he releases his next album. “I’ve been going [to Rye] to write. It’s like an easy puzzle. Everything just falls into place there. I can’t stop tapping away. I’m like a budgie with a mirror. It’s just brilliant there,” says Heyward. “I’m giving myself a break there to put down my writings, whatever they may be. I might set out to do one thing, and something else might happen. You never know what can happen, really, when you sit down to write. You’ve just got to step out of the way and just do it. So I’m going to do it.”