Why did Airling take so long to craft Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream? We delve into the debut LP with Hannah Shepherd

The Pieater label is a unique one. Centred less around genre and more around vibe, the Melbourne label (comprised of acts like Big Scary, Christopher Port and #1 Dads) is continually interesting to watch as it accumulates more and more acts on its roster.

However, despite each act’s variety and individuality there is a common thread stringing them all together. Each act on the label treats their music with immaculate care. The ‘less is more’ aesthetic manifests itself in one way or another in each artist and as a result, produces a lineup that is evocative and cohesive while simultaneously leaving room for experimentation and difference.

A name you will find sitting joyously on the roster, among those of Slow Dancer and Tom Iansek, is Airling (Hannah Shepherd). Chances are, her name isn’t foreign to you at this point.

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Airling has unveiled her debut LP Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream, placing a vulnerable and conceptual side of herself right in the blazing spotlight.

The crystalline, glistening compositions on Shepherd’s debut EP, Love Gracefully beckoned for love and their call was answered when people were left adoring her silky vocal chops and calming energy. Leaving us drooling for more, the EP was a warm and well-received invitation into the Brisbane artist’s marvellous and noteworthy style.

Three years later, it’s a new page for Shepherd. In many ways, a debut album shouldn’t be taken lightly and she certainly hasn’t done that on Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream. Creating an abstract and thoughtful soundscape that flaunts her artistic ability more boldly than ever, you’ll find yourself even more enthralled in Airling’s colour and vibrance on her debut full-length.

“I tend to write a lot about what I feel, what I’m experiencing or the things I’m trying to understand”, Shepherd explains to Happy. “I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about and trying to comprehend life and death, so it’s only natural that this comes out in my writing”.

Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream allows space for ambiguity, drawing listeners in and out of curiosity and fascination with its nebulous, heavy and broad themes. Following a loose conceptual narrative of dreaming, spoken word interludes are interjected to break up the hazy compositions and tie all of the record’s overarching themes together.

“Once the majority of songs were tracked, Tom and I had the idea for the spoken word interludes, featuring the voice of Peter McMahon who is a hypnotherapist and psychotherapist that I was seeing at the time. This was a later thought, much like the last tracks written for the album. So I didn’t initially choose to make this album slightly conceptual but rather the album showed us what it was, as it grew.”

Unafraid to expose her truths, Shepherd allows minimalistic and subtle instrumentation to hold up the lyrics, clearing room for her smoky vocals and stunning poetry to shine. As the album commences, you already find yourself falling into the it’s rhythm and by the time the first official track, I Am Just A Body concludes, you’ve slipped into a new headspace and are prepared to experience the rest of the LP.

None of these songs are just lyrics thrown over some chords and a catchy beat, there’s significant consideration behind every track. “l’ve been experimenting more with beats and synths, trying to create and capture the vibe of the song as opposed to just its melody and chords”, Shepherd reveals.

When you reflect and listen back to Love Gracefully, there’s a unique, fresh energy and radiance embedded in it. With quirky pop numbers occupying its space, the EP gave an insight into what was to come with Airling and still shared that youthful, ‘first release’ glow.

“I think it was the volume of material I had written”, Shepherd says, discussing the shift between EP and album. “When we recorded my first EP, I had just decided to start a solo project, so we only discarded a few songs that were being considered, but with the album, there were handfuls of songs to choose from.”

It’s certain at this point that both formats work exceedingly well for Shepherd, who continually manages to portray her story and create a consistent body of work.

“Both processes can work and are exciting and interesting in their own way, so I’m not sure what will be my preference when I next jump into the studio and hopefully that’s soon”.

You fall into a groove on Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream. There’s a peaceful, non-confrontational and light-handed approach that Shepherd brings to her music, something that listeners will find rubbing off on them after a certain amount of time.

With indirect and not yet entirely realised thoughts laced throughout the record, the manner in which she writes feels outstandingly organic and therapeutic.

“Songwriting is an outlet and an expression. I suppose it’s just like with any other artist or person who writes songs, words, books or who creates or paints pictures – sometimes your art is subconscious and through it, you discover things about yourself and your inner musings are revealed”, she reflects.

“My process has changed a bit over the past few years. I’ve become more open minded, and less self-judgemental. I just began to write more honestly and then these connected and humanised themes organically shone through the album.”

Trying on an 80s pop/rock aesthetic on Give Me All You Got, Airling hints toward a Divinyls influence and fearlessly grabs inspiration from The Preatures.

On A Day In The Park, (the third feature with Iansek) a concentrated energy is exuded among the more free-flowing and nebulous tracks. “It began unintentionally, when I walked in on him in the studio playing the piano riffs”, she describes.

The contrast of Shepherd’s tender, emotive voice and Iansek’s husky tones work together divinely and in the context of a stripped-back track assisted only by a piano, gleam stronger than ever before.

Collaboration seems to become an essential facet of the record around the eighth track, Far Away (featuring Emma Louise).

“Emma is one of my best friends. As well, she is a prolific writer and we have similar voices and tastes, so writing with her was full of grace, ease and laughs.”

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Having relied purely on herself with her initial EP, Shepherd has opened her arms to the assistance of talented friends on Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream.

“I love working and collaborating with Tom Iansek and Graham Ritchie. Being able to extend myself and reach out to other people like Emma Louise and Fractures (Mark Zito) really opened my eyes to how fun collabs can be.”

The beating track Vessel (including Fractures) is potentially the most diverse one on the record with a cluttered, phased-out, layered and thick chorus reminiscent of Wasted Pilots off Love Gracefully.

“It makes me think that I should be delving more into co-writes in the future because the results on this album are just so beautiful, and were often happy accidents.”

Hard To Sleep, Easy To Dream is precisely the confident and lustrous debut that we were all expecting from Airling and so much more. Stretching her capabilities beyond what we saw on her first EP, she’s showcased versatility, beautiful storytelling and an ability to create a cohesive record.

The future is slightly fogged for Airling and where she goes from here is a mystery but we should have all confidence that it’s going to be dazzling and something worth tracking.