In a contemporary pop world overrun with sexual braggadocio and tough-guy machismo, listening to Richard Hawley's beautifully lush and sensitive music is like stumbling upon an oasis in a desert of bluster. Drawing inspiration from the sad-eyed and emotionally fraught American stars (Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, the ballad-singing Elvis) he heard growing up in Sheffield, England, the 39-year-old singer and guitarist's most recent album, "Coles Corner," has just been nominated for England's prestigious Mercury Music Prize, where its brand of dreamy and bittersweet melancholia will vie for the honor against albums from both esteemed vets like Thom Yorke (an admitted Hawley fan) and hot newcomers such as the Arctic Monkeys and Editors.
Why do you think the kind of male vulnerability that's expressed on "Coles Corner," and the music that inspired it, have largely disappeared from contemporary pop music?
Men are taught to be hard. We mustn't cry, we mustn't show feelings, we mustn't express ourselves. But I wasn't brought up like that. I was brought up in a real gentle family of musicians who were real hardworking people -- my Dad was a steelworker as well. The passion and the love that he had for his family and his music makes me glad to be brought up where I was. We're living in maybe the most aggressive period the world has seen for quite a long time and it's especially important to hold on to the basic fucking humanity we've got left. I'm more scared of going to the dentist than I am of showing my feelings.
Do you think that emotional openness is part of the reason why your album has been so well received?
Fuck knows. I have no idea. It's got genuine emotion and feeling in it. Maybe people just want something that isn't fake. Part of the reason I made the record was that I was so sick of listening to shitty music on the radio, you know? Radio is such a great medium, but when you turn it on, it's just bullshit. English radio is the sound of being sold something. I just find it wearing -- it's like living in an advertising theme park; it really fucks my brain up. I made the decision a few years ago to completely disengage myself from modern popular culture. I don't watch TV, I never listen to radio unless it's talk radio, I don't read the newspapers. I've got no interest in modern British culture. It's crap.
But wasn't Elvis selling something too?
Yeah, I know, but you got something when you bought it as far as I'm concerned. You got a lot more and it was worth the money you paid. And it does things that stay with you forever. Modern music is made to be irrelevant in two weeks. These are wide statements I'm making, you can pick holes in them. There is great music out there and I'm talking more about British culture -- I don't know what it's like to live in America -- but it's just so fuckin' low-grade and lowbrow to me. And I don't mean that in a snobbish way at all. It's just shit. Not to be too negative or anything.
-- David Marchese