Hideous Bastard

Hideous Bastard

“I've made an album about fear and shame, it’s definitely been uncomfortable,” Oliver Sim tells Apple Music. As one third of British indie electronic group The xx, Sim—alongside bandmates Romy Madley Croft and producer Jamie xx—became adept at writing sparse and haunting love songs. For his solo debut, however, he turned his gaze inward to confront the internalised shame that has coloured his life. “Initially, it was like, why would I want to share the things that I think make me feel hideous in some way?” he says. “But concealing that hasn’t really worked for me in the past. If anything, the whole idea of concealing things just feeds into shame.” Here, Sim gets straight into it: The album’s first track, “Hideous”—which features guest vocals from queer pop music royalty Jimmy Somerville—sees Sim share for the first time that he’s been living with HIV since he was 17 years old. “My whole way of navigating my status was just control,” Sim says. “I know exactly who knew and if they told anybody else. But writing that down was a real ‘fuck it’ moment.” For the record, Sim worked almost exclusively with bandmate Jamie xx. “It would have been a very different album if I'd made it with somebody else,” he says. “Jamie's been my friend since I was 11 years old. I don't think I would have been as vulnerable with someone else. Also, he's a straight man and he got involved in some real queer conversations. He just had no ego. He was making my world come to life.” Part of that involved indulging Sim’s love of horror films—he has created an entire short horror film to accompany the album with director Yann Gonzalez—but also helping Sim to unpack his experiences with homophobia, loneliness and self-sabotage. “I got worried that this record was going to be perceived as perpetuating the idea of self-loathing gay men, which would just be this downer,” Sim says. “But this whole process, and how I see the record, is not a downer. It’s the opposite of shame. It’s not hiding.” Read on for Oliver Sim’s track-by-track guide to Hideous Bastard. “Hideous” “Jimmy Somerville became my pen pal quite a few months before I asked him to appear on the song. I've known that voice all my life, but as an adult I’ve come to understand what he represented and everything he’s done. He’s been so visible and vocal about queer issues for such a long time. I think I wanted some of that fearlessness. When I finally asked him to be a part of the song, I expected him to be quite militant and for the cause, but he was very gentle with me. He was like, ‘I hope you're doing this for yourself.’ He also said, ‘I’m 60, so don’t be expecting me to hit those high notes.’ But he came in and the moment he started singing, Jamie and I cried. His voice is incredible. It's so strong and in person it’s really loud.” “Romance With a Memory” “For this album I’ve done a lot of playing around with my voice. I have only ever sung in duet with Romy—if I step out of that, where can my voice go? I love trying to see how high can my voice go or how low can my voice go, even if I'm pitching it down to a point of it either sounding like a parody of what a masculine voice would sound like to it being totally demonic. I like hearing male voices sing together. There is something very masculine about it, but also something romantic and tender, too. The whole idea of men harmonising together, I think, is quite queer.” “Sensitive Child” “This is something that I’ve definitely been called. It’s definitely a euphemism for a certain type of kid, in particular a little boy. I think hearing it as an adult, and as a gay man, brings up a lot of childhood feelings of not being acknowledged. It’s also probably one of the fullest songs I’ve ever made. Normally, for me songs start as words on a piece of paper, but this started with a Del Shannon song called ‘Break Up’ and then I did all the writing around that. I'm the kind of person that spends months on a song, but this song happened very quickly. I see this as quite an angry song.” “Never Here” “I talk a lot about memory on this album, and this song asks the question of just how reliable my memory can be and how, maybe, technology warps how I remember things. It's also, sonically, one of the heaviest songs on the record, which was really fun for me. The music that I really got into as a teenager was either from my sister's record collection, which was just mid-’90s American R&B like Aaliyah, TLC, En Vogue and Ginuwine, or it was heavy music like Placebo and Queens of the Stone Age. It was fun to get into that a bit more with 'Never Here' and to scream. I think that's the few times that I've allowed myself to scream, which is a real release.” “Unreliable Narrator” “I've come into this record with just tons and tons of questions, but not necessarily the answers. I wrote this song as, in my head, this album is a movie, and this was a plot point I wanted halfway through the record. It was inspired by this monologue Bret Easton Ellis wrote for Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. In the film, it's where Christian Bale's doing his 14-step morning routine and about how he’s not really there. I’m not a psychopath, but I think that idea of facade and wearing a mask, to any degree, is so relatable. I also thought halfway through this film of my album if I was to admit that anything I could be saying is unreliable would be quite fun.” “Saccharine” “I’ve made my whole career on love songs—that is my home. For this record, I’ve tried not to write too many love songs because I think that I could have done a lot of hiding if I did. But to me, this song is still quite revealing about myself. It has much more to do with myself than anyone else; it’s my fear of intimacy. I didn’t want this album to be sweet. It could have a sense of humour, but it had to be savage. This is very much about my inner saboteur and how I react when things become too sweet.” “Confident Man” “It’s funny: At school, I felt like an outsider because of my sexuality. I didn’t know I was gay at primary school, but it was always made apparent that I was a bit of a dandy. I was never invited to play football. I didn’t want to play football—I hate football—but it’s not nice to not be included, especially when I’m drawn to these boys for reasons I didn’t quite understand. But then, to experience that as an adult within the gay community, a community of outsiders… I don’t know. There’s that feeling of performative masculinity and of what confidence actually looks like. I think there’s something very insecure about feeling like you have to perform masculinity. What do people actually even consider masculinity? I think there’s something very confident about saying, ‘I don’t feel so confident.’” “GMT” “Jamie and I had gone to Australia. This was before COVID and we’d started the record. I had gone there to bypass the English winter because seasonal depression is real. We'd started in Sydney and we road-tripped down to Byron Bay just listening to lots of music. We were listening to The Beach Boys and I started singing things in the car. When we got to Byron Bay, we ended up sampling The Beach Boys on the song. I was in this beautiful sunshine yet still pining for London a little bit. I think there is an inherent melancholy about London, which has been the driving force for so much amazing creativity. This was a jet-lagged love song about London.” “Fruit” “Funny enough, this is the hardest song to explain, because I think it kind of says it all. It's the very Drag Race moment of ‘What would you say to five-year-old Oliver?’ So it is talking to five-year-old me, but it's also very much talking to me today, because there is a part of me that is still five years old. I’m still a sensitive child, but now I’m hearing the things that I would want to hear.” “Run the Credits” “When I was talking about ‘Unreliable Narrator’ being a plot point, this was the song I wrote exactly for the end of the album. It was the note that I want to end on and mirrors the scariest thing I find in cinema, which is the open-ended ending. A Disney-style bow to close everything is so tempting, but there is nothing scarier than leaving it open-ended. Your imagination's always going to tailor-make the scariest outcome.”

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