Tim Hassall on finding a voice

The singer-songwriter talks drilling down on a genre, Nashville studio sessions, and playing in ‘pin-drop silence’

“The next phase for me is really about writing and recording a great album,” says Tim Hassall, a stalwart of Dubai’s live music scene. “And it’s not as easy as you think when you’re young. It takes so much time when you’re an independent artist to go from that process of writing to recording to strategising the release and then ensuring that release is effective. Which is one of the reasons why I’m travelling to New Zealand soon to try and finish writing some stuff I’ve been working on.”

Hassall has just returned from Beirut when we speak, his voice initially filled with the kind of excitement that only the Lebanese capital can provide. A performance at Fete de la Musique and a live recorded session at Radio Beirut in Mar Mikhael were amongst his engagements, while his return to Dubai will see him focus on furthering his musical career.

“When you’re a young songwriter – from the time you’re 16 to 24 – you write all this music and you just try and get it out there,” says the singer-songwriter who has two full-length albums and an EP already to his name. “And this first phase of working as an independent musician and as a songwriter has, for me, been about the material that you accumulate but don’t necessarily have much quality control over. You just put it out there because you made it.

“If you listen to my last record [Gallatin] – which was me in a studio in Nashville with no label doing what I wanted for five weeks – it had indie rock, soul, country, reggae, some hip hop influences in there. It had loads of different stuff. I just love music and it’s hard to build a fan base if you love music of every genre and you want to make music of every genre. That’s something I’ve learnt the hard way.

tim hassall singer songwriter dubai
Gallatin was made in a studio in Nashville with no label

“My next record is going to be more focussed. I really want to make a record that for me is like David Gray’s White Ladder or Tracy Chapman’s Crossroads. To make music that Bob Dylan would describe as songs that teach me how to live my life. Those songs where I get some kind of life philosophy from the lyrics. That’s what I want to give people through my music.”

A resident of Dubai since he was a teenager, Hassall is a prolific performer on the UAE music circuit. Most easily recognisable as a resident musician at the Madinat Amphitheatre, he is working on a number of concurrent projects, including an acoustic retrospective of his solo work called Memory of A Moment, and a new band project called The Bridge Incident.

A yet unreleased, Memory of A Moment was recorded during an artist residency in Portugal, while The Bridge Incident are set to release their first singles at the end of the year, promising to provide audiences with a slice of ‘epic arena pop rock’.

“I have my solo work and I have my band work,” says Hassall, whose music has featured in films such as City Of Life. “The stuff I do on my own I would like to play in places where it’s pin-drop silent. Where people love songwriters and love the stories and love musicianship. At Fete de la Musique I just went back to the guitar and the voice and the purity of that experience.

“I like music that somehow expresses a life experience that somebody else has had but that we all share. If you listen to Skinny Love, for example, when you hear the chorus and ‘I told you to be patient, I told you to be kind’, that’s probably very personal for Bon Iver. But those are words that many people who have been in relationships can relate to.

“People always say I’m living the dream, but I’m living my dream, that’s the difference.”