Born and raised in LA, singer-songwriter Asal Hazel translates the sun-soaked landscape of her surroundings into introspective narratives of loves lost and unfulfilled. On her debut EP, ‘Like Water’, she adorns undulating, downbeat R&B productions with her falsetto, absorbing words into her choral textures. It is music for the early hours or for headphone isolation amongst the crowd, an entrancing soundscape underpinned by emotional unease.
“‘Like Water’ was essentially my diary entries during a rough time in my life,” Hazel explains, “so what can be heard in my voice was inevitable. Lyrics mean a lot to me and the way I used my voice wasn’t so logically thought out, it was just authentic.” It is this sense of emotional authenticity that captivates the listener throughout, revealing glimpses of lyrics – ‘You told me to/Leave you alone’ on ‘UTMT’ – while otherwise keeping them at one remove from Hazel’s internal narrative, wrapping them up instead in the minimal, tape-worn production of Mndsgn, Knxwledge and Swarvy.
Hazel’s association with this group of Stones Throw producers results in the characteristic Dilla-like swing that features amongst the airy R&B of her record, the expertly-placed Hiatus Kaiyote sample in ‘Smooth Sinner’, and the rattling snares with the Aaliyah-like harp of ‘Only Reason’. For a record so informed by collaboration, though, the writing process was largely one of solitude. “With ‘Like Water’ it was an emotional process so there weren’t the most structured melodies and a lot of improvisation instead,” Hazel explains, “I like writing in isolation so I can easily be vulnerable.” This vulnerability is felt in the quietude of the EP, inviting the listener to lean in rather than tune out.
There is a special affinity between Hazel and Mndsgn, with four out of the seven tracks on the EP being produced by the Akashik Records co-founder. Their instinctual creative process is showcased in the recent release of their ‘Rehearsal Tape’, a 15-minute sprawl through undulating Rhodes lines and whispering, oneiric vocals. “I love collaborations and if there’s chemistry between the artists, that’s the greatest thing,” Hazel says, and with Mndsgn, “there’s a level of chemistry and trust between us which has a lot to do with how the music comes out for me. If I’m being honest, you don’t meet good people in the music industry every day so he’s a gem.”
Being a female artist of Persian-American descent, Hazel has had her fair share of the downsides of the music industry. “Personally, I’ve had many more experiences with discrimination as a woman than as a brown person,” Hazel says, “this is super literal but it might be because even though I’m olive-toned and have Persian features, I’m pretty fair-skinned compared to other Persians and Middle Easterns. Friends of mine that were any darker than me have had to deal with more prejudice.”
Notwithstanding the prejudices she has endured, the music comes first for Hazel. “Right now, I just want to make people feel with my music. I’d like both women and men to correlate vulnerability with strength,” she says. And the capacity for the most feeling comes from Hazel herself: “everything I write is from personal experience and listening back to it afterwards is even more cathartic than writing it.”
With live shows planned for later in the year and new music being developed, Hazel is turning her vulnerability into her greatest strength, her songs of heartbreak into defiant statements of perseverance.
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Words: Ammar Kalia
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