Hachiku discusses making bedroom pop around the world, Milk! Records and writing a lockdown album before it was cool

Photo by Marcelle Bradbeer

In the modern technological age the ability to create music within the comfort of your own bedroom has never been easier. Anika Ostendorf aka Hachiku could be rightly crowned as the ultimate bedroom music maker. Venturing from continent to continent, recording when and wherever she could, her resources may have been limited but the craftsmanship she puts into her music has always been enticing and vibrant. Releasing her self-titled debut EP as the bandleader of Hachiku in 2017, she has gone on to tour with the likes of Kevin Morby, Snail Mail & Courtney Barnett as well as numerous headline shows throughout the world. Now she has blessed us all with debut album I’ll Probably Be Asleep. Packed full of intoxicating melodies, swaying guitar riffs and groove filled beats, it’s not only a testament to Ostendorf’s musical ability but also a showcase for what can be done within the boundaries of a bedroom. We sat down with Anika to learn all about how the album came to be.

Your Bandcamp bio says that you “record in whatever bedroom you are currently occupying”. Where and over what time was this album recorded?

It was the last 3 and a half years. I started recording in mid 2016, then finished recording mid 2019. I’m not usually someone that has the money or resources to book out a studio, so everything’s just home recorded wherever I could set up my laptop and plug in some instruments. So it was made in quite broken up sections, here or there. I was doing some farm work in Queensland for my Australian visa when I started with the first demos and I only had a tiny midi keyboard on me. Then I did some in my bedroom here in Melbourne. Some recordings were done in Germany at my parents house. It was just a lot of broken up sessions, like at friends house recording bass, or my other friends uni studio where she was able to record drums for free, or cheap, it was more out of necessity.

Do you think having those limited resources made you to be more creative with what you had?

Yeah I think so, either it would go one way or the other. You either get frustrated and discouraged, which seems to happen to a lot of people before they start recording because they think you need to have a lot of money to go into a studio or buy expensive equipment. Whereas all the equipment that I used on my album combined was probably worth the same as going into the studio for one day, but obviously computers are a bit expensive though. On my microphone set up that i’ve got here I used the best budget condenser microphone, best budget drum microphones where if a purist audio engineer listened to it then they would probably be able to tell that it’s not top of the range. But you end up improvising a lot, for example I only have two input channels on my computer interface, so because of that I can’t record a drum kit with more than two microphones. So rather than recording a whole drum kit in one go I have to record the snare, then the hi-hat, then the kick drum and afterwards pile it all together. Which I think is what kept me from recording full band set ups for a while, it was just recording everything on top of everything else. I think as well moving around quite a bit, and always being in share houses, where for most of the time that I was making the album I didn’t really have a studio space, it was just my bedroom that I’m sharing with my girlfriend. I wouldn’t have space to really buy fancy big stuff, I didn’t even have a guitar amp so I had to borrow that. I only have some Casio keyboards as it’s not worth buying some expensive synths as I don’t have anywhere to put them. You rely a lot on people just lending you a hand with equipment or space.

Because you have to construct these songs from the ground up, where do you usually start? Will it be a melody first or a beat?

I think it really depends on each song. I’m not one who writes a song first and then records and produces it. The production side and the sounds that I want to go for all that comes first and then I slowly piece together; What do I want the song to be about? How do I want it to be structured? I think the starting point is just something that sticks, whether it’s a beat, or a guitar melody or even just a certain sound that I’ve found on the keyboard and put through some pedals. Something that sticks enough in my mind that I think it’s worth building a song idea around.

Saying that you managed to record with the band, is it just the title track that they appear on?

I think we actually ended up doing two songs, but “I’ll Probably Be Asleep” is the one that you can probably tell as there’s a proper drum kit. It was all recorded in separate locations as well. Georgia came to my house to do her guitar parts, I went to Jessie’s to do her bass parts. For Sam’s drum parts we went to my friends uni studio where we could use microphones to record that. I think it was probably done that way as that song and “You’ll Probably Think This Song Is About You” were the only ones that we had played together as a band before on stage. So I was missing the energy that they brought to the title track in particular. Once we’d played it as a band everything was lifted and it’s really hard to go back to hearing it without. I think in hindsight if we had played all 8 songs on the album as a band together then it would probably have given everything a bit more of a lift. But it is what is.

Yeah definitely, I think just having you play the songs can sometimes keep them true to what they would have been as your song

Yeah probably!

I wanted to ask about some of the themes of the album. One that I picked up in particular was the idea of stability, is that something you feel you have now?

Yeah definitely, I think stability in the sense of going from quite a restless mindset and always being on the hunt for new experiences and wanting to move around a lot too. Settling down maybe a bit, both mentally and physically to sticking in one place for a while and not always needing to change my surroundings and environment so much. I think for me one main theme was the mindset that comes with moving around a lot is always hectic and you’re always on edge. The world needs to be explored compared to the reality of it, which is sticking to one dream. Which might be your music career and just concentrate on that, not getting too distracted with other things.

The song “Bridging Visa B” is about the Australian visa process if i’m correct?

Yeah i’m now on permanent visa, but at the time of writing those songs I had just applied for a partner visa. And as a part of that, whilst you’re waiting for a permanent visa you get put onto a Bridging Visa. The Bridging Visa A is the default one and B is the one you need to apply for every time you leave the country. So if you leave on a Bridging Visa A you won’t be able to come back. So the songs about the whole baeacuracy of what that visa process and how it’s all over the place. In the end I paid about $9000 just to do every single one of those steps. A lot of the frustration that comes with visa authorities asking quite intrusive questions of “What’s your relationship?”, “How valid is it?”, “How will we judge it?”. And in a broader picture just how Australia as a place I feel don’t really want too many foreigners on their shores, and in particular not too many people that don’t fit their boxes of who they think is suitable. Their refugee policies are just outrageous and non-existent, and if i’m already struggling as a white person from Germany that probably ticks many of their boxes, it’s outrageous to think if you’re not part of that demographic how hard it must be to get a visa or even asylum.

Your frustration with that certainly comes across in the song. One of the other things I picked up the album and I saw it in another interview, somebody said you sound quite angry on the album. Is that something you felt when you were writing the songs?

Yeah when I first played my friend some songs she said “Why are you so angry? Why do you hate all your friends?”, I said “What do you mean?”. To me you get a lot of that retrospective analysis very much after you’ve written it all. I’m glad I finished the whole songwriting process a year and a half ago because from then to now, actually talking about these songs and figuring out what they’re about you get a bit more of a clearer perspective. When you write songs you process certain emotions and some of them would have been quite angry and frustrated with others like the Visa people or climate change deniers or friends that you’re asking “Why are you living your life like that?” but you’d never talk to them like that. You’d just be like here’s what I want to say about it, but i’m not a very confrontational person and I think a lot of that fake confrontation can be done via a song so you don’t have to address it in person too much. It’s definitely in it.

With the anger of the lyrics they’re almost contrasted with the dreaminess of the sound. Is that almost dream-pop sound something you strive for, or is that just what your sound goes to?

Yeah I think that’s almost related to me creating the music side first and then coming to the lyrics. I think the sound does come across that way though sometimes as the title track does have quite aggressive guitars and the lyrics are quite aggressive. But musically i’m always drawn to very atmospheric, ethereal ambient sounds. Whereas lyrically sticking in that sort of dreamy world would make everything a bit wishy-washy, but when it comes to songwriting my mind wants to be a bit more direct, saying it how it is. But in music terms I really like things to be quite ambiguous and floaty.

And do you have any inspiration from other artists for that sound?

I really love Beach House and how they’ve been able to create their own world with the drum machines and multiplied sound layers that altogether create this massive world, where it’s really high-quality. But as well the quantity of sounds is just so vast where in one song there might like 40 different instruments come in. I really liked the last few Perfume Genius albums as well. I think anyone that’s just able to create their own sonic world where you could just hear an instrumental version of the songs and you’d straight away be able to tell who that is. Often bands are defined by the singers voice but I quite like the idea of the music speaking for itself.

Yeah I definitely heard the Beach House influence especially with some of the drum sounds you used as well. Were you trying to strive for that sound?

I feel that in my dream world that Beach House is the perfect music but then you never want to end up replicating them and sound exactly like them, because then there’d be nothing novel about it. Even when i’m heavily inspired by something or someone I try not to replicate it too much, as I would just end up getting frustrated trying to replicate it too much as it just wouldn’t be possible for me. But i’m like “Oh this will do” because it’s just my own style, like this drum beat inspired by this or that and I wouldn’t want anyone to be like “oh you’re just ripping off this other band”. Whereas I like to take elements from different inspirations here and there and combine them so that in the end you can’t say that i’m just copying someone. I might be heavily inspired from copying 5 different artists with no association that then mixed together create something different.

Yeah I could hear that definitely, your sound has a lot more grunge elements within it as well. You can hear the influence but it makes your sound stand out.

Yeah and I think i’m not serious or mysterious enough. I like quite a lot of humorous elements in music where there might be fake birds whistling or some trains blowing their horns. I do think “Is this a bit childish to do?” but then I just think “Ah whatever it’s my music I can do what I want” haha.

I think having that aspect to it makes it more pure then sometimes.

Yeah definitely.

Releasing an album normally you’d have shows to back it up, obviously this year hasn’t been able to bring those, have you played any shows yet for the album?

No not at all, not yet! Melbourne compared to the UK and Europe have been quite lucky. We had a very intense 4 month lockdown where you could only leave the house for essentials for most of it and you couldn’t have anyone in your house at all. But after the 4 months we’ve now managed to get 0 cases in Melbourne for around 45 days so life’s gone back to a bit more of a normality, so we’re planning an Australian release tour for March, hoping that it will happen. Sydney in the last few days has gotten a lot more cases again and so I’m not sure yet. Our first show as a band (was) on the 3rd of January, just a regional small show. It’s been weird but also quite relaxing as most of the time after you finish the recordings you stress about how will the rehearsals go, how will we translate it to a live setting, so I haven’t had to stress about that yet. I was hoping to come back to Europe, maybe Germany in May, but I’m not sure how quickly the borders and everything will re-open again.

Yeah I hope you can come back and play some shows! How have you found doing the live-streamed performances rather than actual shows?

It’s kind of a weird scenario, we’ve done a few and I was talking to my drummer about it and he said “I’ve realised I actually hate everything about music apart from playing shows”. It’s a lot of setting up for very little in return, other than there’s someone out there that you can’t see that’s enjoying it. But you don’t get to read the miniscreen of comments floating in as it’s happening, and then it finishes and you’re left wondering “Okay what just happened?” We’re still in the same room, almost like nothing happened. It’s a bit of a love/ hate relationship. It’s great that in this digital age you can still connect your fans and friends and family and whoever wants to see it. My parents in Germany, anytime there’s a stream on YouTube or Instagram they say “Oh it’s so nice that we can be there with you!”. And really distant family friends in the US or anywhere. It’s really nice to be able to have that footage to share to them, it connects them to you. Even sometimes if i play a show somewhere they might not be able to make as they’re a bit older and haven’t been to a show in ages, so having that content is really nice. But I also have to create the content which means setting up in my bedroom and pretend that it’s fun playing to myself like one really long extended rehearsal. But I can’t complain, it’s all part of it.

One thing i’ve seen from lots of artists, given how weird the world is, everyone’s had to have been a bit more creative. The “Bridging Visa B” was made withe greenscreens, do you think this time has allowed you to become more creative with the way you approach that side of things?

It’s kind of funny as that music video we filmed last November, 13 Months ago. I was talking to Mickey who directed it a few days ago and he said “It’s the perfect socially distanced lockdown video” because it looks like we’re all in a different room and he’s just cut it together. But actually that was already the idea pre any covid happening. And how it kind of predicted it, parts of the video are quite apocalyptic in a way and the end of the world is near. All of that was pre-bush fires in Australia, pre-covid and then suddenly everyones doing it! But it helps to have a very technologically based mindset of realising what’s possible in this current day and age, rather than just thinking “I can’t play any shows so I just won’t do anything”. I guess it’s important to just keep busy.

There’s also a couple of songs on the album that have almost taking on a separate meaning from what was originally intended. The title track and “Busy Being Boring” seems to be the feeling for most people. Is it interesting looking back on them now given how things have turned out?

Yeah lots of people were messaging me saying “Oh it’s so good you were so productive in lockdown!” with the themes in it being so relevant. And i’ve wondered, did I write a lockdown album pre-lockdown? Or is that just my life haha. Whereas I think it would have made more sense if it had come out the year it was inspired by. It’s kind of weird haha. Maybe the album just predicted it all. But I think as well it’s just people’s interpretations, what they see in it. I’ve heard someone say “Oh this song is so anti Trump! I just love how you are criticising Trump so openly” and i just thought, okay cool, why not!

Lastly I wanted to ask about with your involvement with Milk! Records. How did you start with them? And do you feel working with the label helped push you to start making music more?

Yeah definitely. It’s kind of hard to tell what came first. I think I started working at Milk! because I wanted to start taking music a bit more seriously and get into their world world of a very DIY indie community spirit. I just really liked and still really like what Milk! are doing with just friends releasing the music of their friends, and in that way that’s what drew me to it. I had already played music here and there as a hobby at that stage, but started slowly realising that it was my passion and what I really wanted to focus on. I started as an intern just helping with mail outs, stamping boxes, packing t-shirts, doing the online shop. Over time they had also realised that I was doing music and it just so happened that they were doing this collaborative project with another label where they were putting out split 7″s of artists that they hadn’t signed but they really liked. One thing lead to another and my first EP got released on the label. I still work there and it’s nice to be able to see how both sides function, I’m running us as a band but i’m also involved a bit with the label so it’s almost running parallel. But I think I much prefer being involved rather than just giving it to someone, and saying “Here. You do whatever you want with it”. I’m probably a bit of a control freak.

There’s a lot of big artist coming from the label i’ve seen, do you feel that Milk! as a label has helped the global indie scene become more prevelant?

Courtney and Jen founded the label and it started from scratch with them. The label obviously grew with Courtney and Jen’s fame and people associate Milk! with it being started in their living room and being a label that was made by artists for other artists. I think just straight from the start that just pushed everyone into more of a global fanbase. And with every band on the label’s success, the label will grow as it feels like a family. It’s not just any other label that distributes your music, everyone is quite attached to it and likes to represent it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: