QSC Aspiring Interview: Beetlebug on new single ‘embers’ and embracing the imperfect

Beetlebug – real name Auri Hanford – writes quirky songs full of personality, her escapist songcraft and tales of youthful, coming-of-age experiences first luring people into her distinct world with enchanting songs such as overgrown garden and cat serenade (a romance viewed from a four-legged, big-whiskered perspective). Her following emerged just as naturally as her songs do, so far leading to 16 million streams to date at Spotify, 100,000+ followers at YouTube, and shows with Lovejoy, Henry Moodie and The Vamps.

Her charming new single, embers complements Beetlebug’s dreamily serene songwriting with a luscious but still, natural production. Full of soothing, swooning vocal harmonies, gently strummed acoustics and twinkling percussion, the music provides a perfectly tranquil backdrop to her touching lyrics, which explore the feelings that arise when someone returns to one’s life just as unexpectedly as they had drifted away.

Here, Beetlebug reveals her musical influences, why she’s learned it’s okay to write imperfect songs, and delves into the meaning behind her latest single.

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

My name is Auri, better known to some as Beetlebug. I write songs and people listen to them, thankfully! I would describe my sound as slightly folky, a little bit poppy, soft and a bit twee.

What were your musical influences when you were growing up?

When you're a kid, you tend to listen to what your parents listen to. When I was younger, my parents got us a very cheap mp3 player and they just shoved all their music onto it. I remember listening to The Police a lot, which is funny because I don't listen to them at all now. One artist who I really listened to a lot when I was a kid who I think does impact my writing now is Jack Johnson. 

We listened to Jack Johnson all the time. I find his stuff so comforting and there's such a warmth about his writing style. That has definitely impacted the way that I write. I also listened to a lot of Queen and Lady Gaga. I still love a bit of Lady Gaga, but at the moment I've been way more into my folk stuff.

When did your interest in music, songwriting and putting together tracks begin?

I've been informally writing stuff for a while. I used to write and not really think about the fact that I was writing when I was a kid, but as a teenager I was learning instruments for the first time. I probably started writing when I took music as a GCSE, and after that, I explored it in my own time. I used to use GarageBand on my iPad to compose stuff. I still use GarageBand! 

One of the things I enjoy most about music is writing; bringing something into the wild is something that I really find satisfying. I went to see Gorillaz live and that was probably one of my first big gigs I'd ever been to. I was like, ‘Wow, this is exactly what I would like to do’. It’s funny because I never thought I would be someone who would enjoy performing, but I fell in love with that when I started doing support gigs.

I was putting too much pressure on myself to write. Not everything has to be perfect.

How do you approach your songwriting?

I've been writing a lot recently, which has been fun. I've been coming out of a bit of a writing slump, so that's been very creatively satiating. I was putting too much pressure on myself to write. I think the more pressure you put on yourself to create something good, the more likely that you're not going to make anything at all. It was just getting used to the fact that not everything I make has to be great or even good at all. I can hate it, but as long as I'm actually sitting down and doing it, is the most important thing. Not everything has to be perfect. That was something I had to drill into myself.

What tends to inspire your songwriting?

It's different every time. I find inspiration in a lot of different places. In terms of my creative process, it's different each time. A lot of my stuff is quite lyric-centred. I find myself veering towards writing the lyrics first, or at least having some kind of idea of where I'm going lyric-wise before I start writing. Sometimes I'll have an idea and it won't be concrete, but when I have that idea, it makes it easier to connect that with a melody or a guitar riff. Something I have been doing specifically recently is I fiddle around on the guitar for a bit to try to define what I'm feeling through melody.

What is your go-to instrument to write a song on?

I've been getting way more into the guitar lately. I felt a little bit intimidated by it. I've played guitar since I was younger and it was the first instrument I ever picked up, because my dad plays guitar. But I don't think I ever dedicated the right amount of time into learning it. At the moment, I'm really enjoying composing on guitar because it feels like there's more you can do with it. I've also been experimenting with different tunings and stuff, so I've been having a lot of fun with that.

embers is it's not really about a specific relationship. It's more about a re-ignition of love in general.

New single, embers was solely written and produced by you. How did it take shape, and what inspired it?

When I first started writing embers, the first thing that I came up with was the riff. I wanted to achieve that warm, comforting, fuzzy feeling. I think I wrote it all in a day, which is pretty unheard of for me. It was one of those songs that kind of fell out. It's one of my favourites; it was such a sweet song for me. 

I wrote it about the rekindling of friendships in general – about someone that you may not have seen for a while that you might have fallen apart from and it's basically about retreading old ground and reigniting the flame you initially had for this other person. What I like about embers is it's not really about a specific relationship. It's more about a re-ignition of love in general. There's something that's quite special about it because I love reconnecting with people..

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?

That is a tough one. I love Haley Heynderickx. I'm absolutely in love with her stuff. I think I would actually die to collaborate with her! One of my favourite songs of all time is by her. It's called The Park. I literally tell all of my friends about this song. I never stop talking about the song because I love it so much.

Do you have any new music plans you’d like to share with us?

I'm announcing an EP soon. I have been working on it for the past year and recording it. I'm very excited about that because it's my first proper body of work that I've ever released. It's also the first time that I've ever worked with a team of people to release something. It's been a very enjoyable experience.

How does your experience of being an independent artist compare with being with a label?

It takes a lot off of your shoulders when you’re working with a label, because you have so much to think about and so many parts of the process that you have to keep in your brain [as an independent artist]. I actually do enjoy releasing things as a completely solo artist, but that is probably because I'm a little bit of a control freak in that sense [laughs]. There's an enjoyable part of that process, but it also becomes a lot and you don't have as much time as you could to do other things, like writing and more creatively fulfilling stuff. I don't think promo is any artist’s favourite thing; I think most people don't enjoy having to do it but that is the sacrifice you make.

It's a lot easier doing it with a team of people who know what they're doing better than you do. It's something I've had to get used to, because I'm not used to working with people, especially when it's something so personal. It can feel like you don't want to give up your baby, you know? It can be difficult in that sense, but I find it much more enjoyable than being on my own because it does get lonely.

As an aspiring artist, what does the statement ‘play out loud’ mean to you?

What I enjoy about playing out loud or live in front of people is that it is such a different way of connecting with your audience. It's much more intimate. You can't feel that connection in the same way over the internet. It's a different feeling connecting with people right in front of you. There's a vulnerability about playing live, knowing that not everything will go right, but there's a beauty within that. 

It's the imperfection of it that makes it special. I also like playing with other people as well; I get a little bit religious about it in a way. I'm not religious, but when you go to church and everyone in that communal space is experiencing the same thing together, it almost feels like a concert in a way. It feels like that sense of community. That is so important through music, and I think it's really important that that continues. There's a real feeling of community and connection that you can't achieve through any other medium apart from performance.

It’s funny because I never thought I would be someone who would enjoy performing.