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Dundee SAY Award nominee Andrew Wasylyk on music, parenthood and working with Michael Marra

With the Scottish Album of the Year Award ceremony taking place next week, Andrew Wasylyk talks about his career and thoughts on the competition.

Andrew Wasylyk is on the SAY Award shortlist. Image: Fraser Simpson
Andrew Wasylyk is on the SAY Award shortlist. Image: Fraser Simpson

This Thursday’s Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award ceremony in Stirling will once again pick just one winner from the wealth of Scottish musical talent to have released a new body of work in the last year.

Just like the UK-wide Mercury Prize, though, while the winner is a talking point, the shortlist of 10 artists and the longlist of 20 is still an extraordinary repository of the very finest talent the country has to offer, and a great place to discover a range of exceptional new music.

More broadly, looking through all 240 albums to have made it on to the longlists to date gives a clear picture of who the nation’s most productive and acclaimed artists of the last decade have been.

There are two clear stand-outs here: undefinable Edinburgh group Young Fathers, the only act to have won it twice, with three more shortlisted records (including this year’s in-contention Heavy Heavy), and Glasgow post-rockers Mogwai, whose win in 2021 followed four shortlistings and a sixth record on the longlist.

Then there are singer-songwriter C Duncan (three shortlists and a longlist) and Chvrches, arguably Scotland’s greatest pop success of the last decade (two shortlists and a longlist). Alongside these big names, however, is a less well-known Dundonian musician whose standing in the SAY Award’s history speaks not just to an output of great quality, but to an outstandingly productive recent career.

SAY Award nominee Andrew Wasylyk. Image: Andy Martin

SAY Award shortlist

In the last five years, Andrew Wasylyk (his name is Andrew Mitchell; the solo pseudonym is an old family surname) has been longlisted twice and shortlisted twice. The latter includes this year’s album Hearing the Water Before Seeing the Falls, a record which draws on jazz, classical and the archest of classic pop influences to reflect upon the work of landscape photographer Thomas Joshua Cooper.

“I have quite an obsessive, compulsive mind,” says Mitchell, reflecting on his productivity levels while WhatsApping from a family holiday in Portugal. “Once there’s a seed there, it consumes me. I try to work often, and do as much as I can when I can, because ultimately it’s a slow process.

“I’ve been really fortunate to hit a bit of momentum in the past four or five years, because when the door’s ajar, you have to try and exploit that momentum.”

Edinburgh group Young Fathers have won the SAY Award twice. Supplied by Image: Stephen Roe

Does being included on the list again feel like a surprise these days? “It did come as a surprise, and I was very humbled by the inclusion,” he says. “To be alongside so many other beautiful records that I really like and Scottish artists that I admire is an honour, and quite a thrill – but I never expected [this album] to really go anywhere, so to be shortlisted is a shock.

“Being on these lists gives you a warm overview of the Scottish music community,” he continues. “You can sometimes miss greatness on your doorstep, and SAY do a good job of highlighting records you might otherwise have missed. That’s always a big benefit for me, diving into other people’s work through it and getting to know their stuff.”

Just supposing he wasn’t to win on Thursday, who would be his pick instead? “That’s a terrible question!” says Mitchell, and very hard to answer. Yet he mentions that Glaswegian singer Becky Sikasa’s gorgeous, soulful extended EP Twelve Wooden Boxes has caught his attention.

Andrew is a fan of Becky Sikasa’s EP. Image: Susan Mcfadzean

“I wasn’t familiar with her work, but I listened to it and I thought it was brilliant,” he says. “I’m terrible at just selecting one, so if you’ll indulge me, I love the Cloth record too, it’s brilliant. Hamish Hawk is a wonderful songwriter, Young Fathers are operating on another level just now, they’re exceptional, and Brooke Holmes’ record sounds brilliant, as well. I say split the prize money between us all, divvy up the trophy into segments and send everybody home.”

Taking inspiration from his surroundings

Mitchell’s own latest nomination began as a commission from the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, to respond to the exhibition The World’s Edge by the Glasgow-based American photographer Thomas Joshua Cooper, who set up the world’s first fine art photography course at Glasgow School of Art in the 1980s.

Cooper’s work was an exploration of the edges of land surrounding the Atlantic Ocean, which ties in with the place-related theme of Mitchell’s other albums. Between 2017 and 2020, his trilogy of records Themes for Buildings and Spaces, The Paralian and Fugitive Light & Themes of Consolation were respectively inspired by the architecture of Dundee, the North Sea coast of Angus and the landscape of the River Tay’s inner estuary.

Mitchell, 41, went to secondary school at Harris Academy in Dundee with Matthew Marra, son of revered Dundee musician Michael Marra, and together with Liam Brennan and Matthew’s sister Alice, they formed the Hazey Janes as they left school in 2000. “Dundee was overlooked at the time, although it’s always been great for music,” he says. “When the View arrived there was an explosion of attention, then that dwindled.

“These things ebb and flow, but we were really lucky. We managed to tour with Wilco around Europe, we toured with Deacon Blue and Snow Patrol, acts that were playing to big crowds, really amazing experiences. We were privileged in that sense, but I guess we were more interested in honing our songwriting than we were about being on the covers of magazines.

Andrew Wasylyk loved his time with the Hazey Janes.

“A lot of those experiences are the ones I hold dearest to my heart, like making a record with Michael Marra and touring with him, that was the absolute best. I’m not sure I’ll ever better that, being with my best pals and their dad. Getting to work with a songwriter who was a hero and a pal, a really important artist and thinker, and a fellow Dundonian.”

When did the Hazey Janes come to an end? “We’ve not really finished, to be honest,” says Mitchell. “We’ve never sat down, shook hands and walked away. Most of us have young children and everyone’s busy with their own things, but I speak to them regularly and love them dearly, they still feel like siblings to me.

“We’re still a band as far as I’m concerned; hopefully we can do something again. Life is strange, it serves up odd bends in the road you’ve got to wait to negotiate.”

Negotiating parenthood

Mitchell lives near Balgay Park (his 2021 album Balgay Hill: Morning in Magnolia was about the area) with his partner and two-year-old daughter. “She didn’t sleep for a long time, but it’s getting better,” he says of new parenthood. “I can see the light at the end of the woods. It’s a privilege being a parent, but it’s really hard to articulate just what it is. I’ve never felt a love like it. I’ve never known anxiety like it, either.”

He’s still able to work through it all, just differently. “I’m extremely lucky to have a supportive partner who believes in what I do,” says Mitchell. “I’m so grateful to her for that. It’s not been without its challenges, but if you love it enough, you negotiate the new framework.

“I do bedtime and go back to the studio at one, two o’clock in the morning and get back into it, just a bit of a switch in the hours I can work. Nothing too horrendous.”

Andrew Wasylyk with his album Hearing the Water Before Seeing the Falls. 

The ‘ramshackle’ studio, he says, is a few minutes’ drive from home, although at the moment no new solo work is imminent. Instead, he’s produced a solo album for a Scottish singer-songwriter and is recording something collaborative with a Scottish producer.

There’s also nothing on the horizon from Scots indie-rock group Idlewild, of which he’s been a member since 2014, as the other members are working on their own projects, but he is planning a special show as Andrew Wasylyk early next year.

“I was quite apprehensive about the SAY Award the last time I went,” he says. “I don’t really subscribe to the idea of music as a competition, but the SAY goes about it in a gentle and dignified way. No competitive negativity, just a healthy community, a little excited gang rooting for each other, or that’s how I interpreted it.

“It was a nice experience, and very humbling being in that mix. I’ve always felt like I’ve operated on the periphery of these things.”

Will he be at the award ceremony this year? “Maybe, if we can get a babysitter!”

The Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award ceremony takes place at the Albert Halls, Stirling, on Thursday October 26. See for more details. Andrew Wasylyk’s album Hearing the Water Before Seeing the Falls is out now on Clay Pipe Music. See

Paolo Nutini will receive a special Scottish Album of the Year award. Image: Credit Hans-Peter van Velthoven

Quick questions

What book are you reading?
‘Ocean Of Sound’ by David Toop.

Who’s your hero/heroine?
I don’t really have a hero or heroine, as such, but there’s a portrait of Nina Simone in my studio.

Do you speak any foreign languages?
Aside from about eight words in Spanish, I’m ashamed to say no.

What’s your favourite band/music?
That’s difficult to answer, but yesterday my favourite song was ‘We Must Be In Love’ by The Impressions.

What’s your most treasured possession?
It’d be remiss of me not to say my daughter, not that I’d ever consider her to be a ‘possession’.