How long has Airling been waiting to drop the debut album? We sat down with Hannah to talk collabs, her production and a gutsy new sound

Airling has just hit the road for a few stops along the East Coast to follow up the release of single Move Me. Down to earth and totally herself, this rising Brisbane star is making waves with her unique and powerful sound.

Move Me is raw and completely stepping away from the conventional. In the lead up to her debut album due to drop in 2017, we spoke to Hannah Shepard, covering music videos, new collaborations, finding her own sound and playing basketball with Nacho Pop.

Illustration by Irene Feleo
Illustration by Irene Feleo

With 2017 edging closer and closer, Airling’s next record is just over the horizon. We picked her brain about next year’s release, and how it’s different from the rest.

HAPPY: I listened to Move Me and its such a beautiful song. But I loved it in a different way because it’s a step away from the other stuff you’ve been putting out, moving away from the romantic and delving into something a lot more powerful and gutsy… almost a fuck you vibe… ‘I do what I want and this is what I think about it’. What lead up to shaking off the rosiness and taking on something a bit rawer?

HANNAH: I’m stoked that you felt that way, its sick to hear, I guess I consider myself a pretty bold and strong person and I think I felt a little bit like I was portraying all sides of my personality and my fire and soul. Once I started writing freely after we’d released a bunch of stuff and I was left to my own devices and to explore what I wanted and I was making music at home and stuff like this started to come out. I think especially with this one, through the song and its sound, there’s a darkness to it and a light, a light heartedness to the intensity. There’s something really powerful about having a dark experience and turning it into something beautiful. I guess that fuelled me and made me want to not be taken so seriously, to think that I need to write a beautiful romantic ode, I like this beat, I love this melody…this feels really damn good! And it just felt good at home and when we started recording that just started coming out.

HAPPY: You said in your press release that it was just so simple and you were just mucking around at home with the beat and the melody and it all just kind of flowed. But the album, is that an expression of that paradox of the light and the dark as well? Do you go into that more throughout the entire album?

HANNAH: We definitely do. We ended up using a lot of the stuff that I was creating for this song, using a lot of the beats from the keyboard at home and doing original iPhone recordings. Tom and I love that lo-fi vibe with really lush and well recorded vocals and others instruments and stuff to keep it organic cause that’s how I write, it’s how I make music so we don’t want to polish it all up so it’s unrecognisably me. So a lot of the stuff on the album is a similar vibe. There’s one track where we sampled a beat that I’d created and recorded on my iPhone so you can hear all the birds in the middle of the track, and it sounds beautiful but it’s actually a pretty badass beat but its live so it sounds like what it’s like when you’re at my house.

And I guess Tom had a few of these demos and he loved how free and fierce I sounded when I was just at home and not worrying about anything, letting it all out of me. The whole album has stuff like that, I wrote with a lot of different people as well, there are other influences from other artists that I love on there too.

HAPPY: Have you got any collaborations? After the incredible success of Forces, people were exclaiming ‘oh my god what an amazing collaborator’, but you’ve got such an amazing voice of your own, are you looking to collaborate with other people?

HANNAH: I’ve actually just sung on a song with LANKS, I think his EP came out on Friday (14/10). But I sung on a song with him and the guy that’s supporting me Xavier Dunn. We just recorded a track together in Melbourne and that’s coming out next Friday (21/10). It’s pretty exciting. Then on the album, there’s a song that I write with Tom Iansek, which he sings on. There’s a song that I wrote with Emma Louise that she also sings on. Then there’s also a song with Mark from Fractures. It’s funny because all my friends are muso’s, I love them as people and it just happens… you don’t mean to but when you all have such a passion for something and you’re all hanging out, these things just come out of it. But I definitely want to focus on my own stuff a lot. The LANKS and the Xavier Dunn one’s just sort of happened but after that, I’m just really going to stay in the Airling world I think.

HAPPY: That’s a hard thing, coming off Forces. You have your own thing going on, has that been a challenge to step away from what that was, not that it’s not a beautiful track…

HANNAH: It was a funny one, I remember writing it during Falls festival when we played there and not really knowing where it fits, if anywhere and I sent it along to Gab (Japanese Wallpaper) and he really liked it. And so I never really felt like it was mine, I mean it was an it’s about a really personal experience but I wrote it in the hope of this song that Gab and I were going to do together. But it’s cool because having that experience, getting to play Laneway, and just singing that one song with Gab, that was an amazing experience.

I do feel like I need to play it at my shows as well which is…. it’s pretty special and when I see the crowd’s reactions, it’s pretty affirming and heartwarming, to have a lot of people singing something back to you and then telling you afterwards how much it means to them. That’s never a bad thing. But I’ve just been writing so much and I’ve had a bit of a problem with saying no when someone asks me to sing on something, or if I want to do this or write something for this, a top line or whatever. I’m kind of developing that more and trying to not see it as a bad thing and if I don’t focus on me and my stuff then that’s going to take a back seat.

HAPPY: So after Linda premiered Move Me, were you nervous for it to come out? Because it was ‘this is me, this is Airling’. This is a project of your own coming off the back of so many successes; collaborations and EP’s.

HANNAH: This song was the first time I haven’t been nervous to release something, and I have no idea why because usually I am but I think it was because I’m working on so much other stuff at the moment, this feels like the tip of a deep and really intense iceberg of my body of work that’s coming and I was almost just excited because it was the first step in being able to share this album. But making an album and making something that I wanted to do for as long as I could sing, I feel really excited and pretty fulfilled with what we’ve created. Move Me was picked not because we all thought it was a banger, it was because it made everyone feel good; Tom and me and my manager and we were all thinking ‘this is sick, this is dope, you just want to move your hips and it’s not the most conventional song but the vibe was just there.

HAPPY: It’s a beautiful song with a lot of sentiment, it’s a track that a lot of people will relate to, you’re often caught in a space of wanting to attach emotion and be connected to a person beyond physicality, but Move Me makes you stop and think ‘actually I want to be in control of this’… it’s a really empowering song.

HANNAH: I remember when I was thinking about the concept of Move Me as a title and wondering whether people would interpret that as the physical movement of someone or to be emotionally moved.  Its more intense than to be lustful for someone or be intrigued by someone. If someone could be moved by someone or something, that’s a much more intense sentiment. But then it also has this juxtaposition of moving your body on the dance floor, I loved the tongue in cheek of that.

HAPPY: You’ve been working with Tom for such a long time, obviously within your relationship something works because you’ve created so much beautiful stuff. What makes it so special?

HANNAH: Right now I would say the friendship, when you trust someone that much, and there is so much respect and love. I think that’s what’s taking it to the next level. But there was a time when I didn’t know him as well as I do now and something happened when we met where we ended up singing together and it was just really effortless and quite special and I think it’s really hard to define what makes those strange chemical relationships so special but when I first met him I was pretty shy about music and he made me think I was pretty great, and that was a hard thing to do at that point.

I was just in my bedroom writing songs; I definitely think he gave me the belief in myself to do it. But now it’s just a mutual respect and love, we understand each other, we’re not afraid to say to each other if we do or don’t like something.  Also his vibe, where if something’s good the way it is then he’s not of the opinion to overdo it. If I’m playing a song and it’s on the piano and it sounds good in that room, he’ll get a mic out and record that live and he’ll want to put that on the album. He’s just a big genius at capturing the vibe I guess. And not over complicating.

HAPPY: That’s something that you talk about a lot, not over complicating things and keeping it really organic and natural.

HANNAH: I think it’s because I tend to overcomplicate things in my life and overthink things and that’s sort of a bit of a trait of mine to create problem’s where there aren’t. So he straightened that out in me… I think I’ve said before that he’s my human valium. He calms me down and simplifies a lot of things in my mind and I think that allows me to be the best I can be musically.

HAPPY: So you’re in Brisbane at the moment, but the tour is actually pretty short, you’re doing Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne…

HANNAH: We haven’t done a tour for a while and we thought ‘let’s just hit these three cities and take two musicians that I love’.

HAPPY: Are you planning to get out there again in 2017, once you’ve released the album, to tour that?

HANNAH: Definitely, once the album comes out, we’ll plan a much bigger album tour. But I’m of the opinion that I don’t need to be doing too much right now, I just want the new music to speak for itself for it a bit. We’ve spent so long recording this that I’ve forgotten what the touring side of things was like. I feel like I’ve been so involved in this album, I felt so busy and then thought… oh we haven’t done a tour in a while.

HAPPY: Everyone’s pretty geared up for it, now that you’ve released Move Me, are you planning on releasing any more singles, in the lead up to the album dropping?

HANNAH: I’m not planning on releasing any singles this year. Definitely early next year, we’ll do another one, and I’ve got this collab coming out with Xavier, so hopefully that will be fun. So I think we’ll have another single going next year, which is always really hard to pick, which one we all want to release. Everyone’s got different opinions, but there will definitely be a couple out next year.

HAPPY: I remember loving the video for Stallin’…are you planning on releasing any video’s?

HANNAH: I was going to do one for Move Me, but we sort of ran out of time and money. I came up with this idea which I’m super excited about. So I’m just going to put all my energy into it, and to make that happen. I can’t work out how we’re going to do it but the next song will definitely have one, and it’s going to be really cool and you’re going to love it.

That Stallin’ one, it got shortlisted in the Byron Bay Film Festival. And so my directors are going and they’re really excited. It’s one of the best film festivals in Australia, it will be awesome to see how they go. I remember with Stallin’, Nacho Pop danced in it, and I remember meeting him at Splendour randomly, playing basketball at this house in Byron. And I was like, do you know of any dancers in Brisbane and he was like, well I’m a dancer. Then I went and watched his videos on So You Think You Can Dance. And then he was like, I actually really love your song, I’ll be in it if you want, and I was like ‘what the fuck this is so random’. It’s so weird how stuff like this happens.