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Interview: Fancy Hagood opens up about his journey to ‘Southern Curiosity’ and finding his voice

We chat to the breakout star about his excellent debut album.

Fancy Hagood
Credit: Mick Music

Singer-songwriter Jake Hagood is better-known as Fancy Hagood, the Country artist on the rise who has a lot of buzz around him since the release of his debut album ‘Southern Curiosity’.

His first foray into music was as Who Is Fancy and he released two pop singles before deciding to take control of his own destiny and going it alone. The end result is ‘Southern Curiosity’ one of the boldest and exciting records to be released in Country music in a long time.

I spoke to Fancy recently to talk about his lengthy journey to his debut album, discuss fighting back against an industry that wanted him to tone himself down, and find out about the artists that inspired him…

It’s been a long journey to getting to the point of releasing ‘Southern Curiosity’. How does it feel to have the album out there now?

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Oh my gosh, it feels so cathartic. I’ve been holding on to it so tightly. This album is not new to me. We started creating this three years ago. We pretty much wrapped it up, mastered and mixing early 2020, so I’ve lived with these songs for a very long time. It’s my debut album, that shocks a lot of people because I’ve been doing music for a very long time, but up until 2020 I’d only released two or three songs. It’s a dream come true, honestly, and also a breath of relief. Now that it’s out in the world and I’m seeing people be able to live with it and react to it, I feel like I’m like breathing a lot better. I don’t feel as tense as I did before it was out.

I wish I’d had this record growing up. When I was coming to terms with my sexuality and finding myself, I had nothing like this. ‘Southern Curiosity’ is such a gift for young people who are struggling with their sexuality and feel different. How important was it for you to be share your experiences in such an honest way?

That was the whole problem with my first run through in the music industry. My artistry is rooted in my songwriting and my storytelling so when I feel like I’m being taken out of the story, or I’m not able to share what I’ve experienced, I feel creatively stifled. Coming back to Nashville and being able to start this project and start from a clean slate, the only thing that was important to me, was that a queer narrative ran throughout the whole entire album. That I was given space to do that, because how many writing rooms have I sat in where I’m told that, ‘no, you can’t say that pronoun, oh my gosh that would freak people out or what if you were a little bit more ambiguous?’ What I just grew so tired of was people wanting to pull me out of my stories because as a gay man, I don’t find my life polarizing. I don’t find the way I love polarizing. I don’t find anything about what I’m singing about or writing about polarizing.

It was important to me to write an album without A&R, without management and without a label, because I didn’t want anyone speaking into my creative process or my storytelling. I surrounded myself with people that I’ve known for the better part of a decade to help me craft this and to navigate my debut album. I don’t think I really knew this as I was in the midst of writing for ‘Southern Curiosity’ but I definitely have figured out in the last year or so that this album, as much as it’s for a queer community and as much as it’s for me wanting to show people who aren’t a part of the queer community that we’re all just alike, we all want the same things, we all want to be seen, we all want to be heard and we all want to be loved, moreso it was for my younger self. Like you said, I needed an album like this when I was younger and I needed to hear myself in mediums where I never saw myself. I had to reach to women all the time to feel seen or heard. It just meant a lot to me to be able to put every part of my journey, my story and my heart into this album, for my younger self. To say that little baby Jake has ‘Southern Curiosity’ now to hold on to, to listen to and feel seen and heard and accepted and validated. It means a lot to me for music like that to exist.

It’s really honestly just been a pleasure to be able to read people’s messages and even hearing what you just said, people need this album and it’s important. I just feel so thankful that whatever ideas were swirling in the world around me, that I was able to be a vessel to put this together. Sometimes in songwriting, I’m just kind of like, ‘where did that come from?’ It’s hard to imagine that just came from my head. I feel like it’s probably part of a bigger picture thing and maybe I tapped into the right idea at the right time. I just am very thankful that I was the vessel to make this album for my younger self and I’m really glad that it connects outside of that.

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Fancy Hagood - Southern Curiosity
Credit: Mick Music

I find the music industry’s attitude to openly gay artists to be very strange. Surely if they never allow a queer artist to share their truth, then how is it ever going to feel normal and accepted for those music lovers that never see themselves represented. You mentioned a little bit about your experience with the industry trying to take you out of your own creativity, how difficult was that?

Yeah, it’s a very strange thing. I think the music industry is filled with a ton of well-intentioned people. When you mix art with commerce, you’re always going to be butting heads because most managers and most label people are thinking about money, and what’s going to make them the most in the shortest amount of time. Sometimes art suffers because of that. That’s why I’m not on a major label now, I can’t get lost in that thought process of the monetary and the commerce, it really makes me feel stifled creatively. I feel like me telling my story is the most important thing to me because like I said, my artistry is rooted in my songwriting and storytelling. I think with well intentions, a lot of artists get overlooked, and a lot of things get passed over out of fear. When I was first doing my thing (the conversation) was what would Middle America think about this? What I have to say about that is I am Middle America. I grew up in Bentonville, Arkansas, it almost does not get any more middle of America than that. I don’t understand why we give so much to fear. We give so much to people that might not like us.

I think being gay is a new polarizing thing because I would like to think about when Elvis Presley was doing his pelvis thrust on stage, that Middle America probably wasn’t thrilled about that. There was probably some angry house moms that didn’t want him doing that. Or when Madonna literally was this liberated sexual woman, I’m sure Middle America wasn’t all about that, and Lady Gaga wearing a meat dress. I think when artists are empowered to be their most wild self, that’s when you see things connect, and people are entertained by that. With the gay thing and being queer in that medium, it’s still so polarizing across so many cultures, and especially here in America it’s still such a conversation. I thought when I moved to LA to do music, that that would no longer be a conversation, and it almost became more of a conversation. People just are scared of what they don’t know and I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of openly gay artists not being ambiguous or not playing the game. I’m just not willing to do that. I don’t want to lose myself at the cost of success and I have felt what that feels like, and I don’t want to do that ever again.

I just want to tell my stories the way I want to tell them. Whoever it finds, that’s what’s meant to happen. I’m not playing that game of hiding myself any longer. I did not come out of the closet at 20 years old, and start calling myself Fancy, just to get down the line to make myself toned down for other people’s comfort. I don’t find myself to be that polarizing. ‘Southern Curiosity’ is not super sexual, it’s not like in your face, lyrically it’s very honest, it’s very real and I think it’s heartfelt, and there’s nothing polarizing about it. If the only polarizing thing about it is that a gay man is singing it about another man, then I think we have more things to worry about than that. I just want to make my art and put it out in the world and whoever receives it, receives it.

The stories at the heart of this record are universal. Everyone can relate to them whether they’re gay, straight or trans. There’s so many different influences across these tracks but everything centres around your voice, which I just find incredible. When did you discover that you had that voice?

I grew up singing. My mom jokes that I was singing before I was talking because I was quite quiet as a kid. I always sang the big belty voices, that’s what’s always spoke to me; the Whitney Houstons, the Mariahs, the Spice Girls – Sporty Spice having her big vocal moments were always my favourite, Christina Aguilera…. I’ve always grown up singing and I grew up singing in church and stuff like that. I was always drawn to the big voices. I think that’s been ingrained in me since I was little. What’s that Spice Girls song…. ‘Too Much’ where Sporty Spice sings, ‘I need a man, not a boy who thinks he can’ and she hits this big note. That was my everything. I wanted to hit that note. I remember driving in my mom’s car and if there was anyone else in the car, I would sing that song for them. I’ve always had that in me. I’ve always wanted to go for it. I’ve always wanted to sing big. I think maybe that was because of my life as a kid, I was quiet and music liberated me. It just made me feel alive. I was able to be this big voice when I didn’t feel like I had that personally. That’s always where that has come from. This album has taken a life of its own as we started putting production on it and it became this big theatrical gospelly moment. I felt like it really represented the music I grew up listening to and the things that have inspired me along the way in my life.

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Once the pandemic is over, can we expect to see you performing live here in the UK again?

Absolutely. London was such an important part of the creative process for this album. Some of my favourite artists are from London. One of my best friends, Lucie Silvas, is from there. I’m just inspired by that place. Every time I’m there, I feel like I leave with more inspiration. I’ve done two shows in London in my life and I cannot wait to go back, but none of them were my show. They were Writer’s Rounds. I’m excited to go do a full blown Fancy show in London.

Fancy Hagood’s album ‘Southern Curiosity’ is available to download and stream now. Watch the video for the title track below:

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