Hannah Joy has been building her reputation as one to watch on the Sydney scene… that’s if she ever finishes uni! On the day of her single launch for Shiver, Wither the young songstress spoke to Happy about working with Minx and other DJs to grow as a musician, her debut EP and the importance of building a public persona.
Photos by Liam Cameron
HAPPY: We were just talking about how 2015 is a big year for you. But something that doesn’t always strike people is an important part of building your public profile as an artist is image. As someone who is still quite fresh to the business how do you tackle this?
HANNAH: To be honest it’s something that only just started entering a conscious level for me now. I think being quite fresh and young I’ve just focused on the music and very little thought went into how I looked, or just in terms of my brand. So I think that I’m still only figuring that out. Only today have I thought about it. Usually I just get up and wear jeans and a t-shirt. So I think that’s still a thing I really need to think about. But I do feel like I want the music to be the thing that speaks most loudly about my image, and I think I do hope that my public image is pretty similar to my normal image. I feel like there’s a crossover because I just make music all the time.
HAPPY: So there’s a lot of transparency between Hannah Joy the musician and Hannah Joy the person.
HANNAH: Yes, definitely. And maybe there should be less (laughs). I’m not sure, we’ll see (laughs).
HAPPY: Well this may seem like a weird follow up, and forgive me if this comes off creepy, but when I first googled you there are nude images. Not of you!
HAPPY: Yeah man. Just all these other random women with the same name I suppose.
HANNAH: Sweeeet! Is there?
HAPPY: There really is (uncomfortable laughter).
HANNAH: Hectic! Just nude photos? How strange. I’m gonna search that later!
HAPPY: It could be your next album cover.
HANNAH: That’s right! I’ll just use that!
HAPPY: Well in terms of gender – especially in the entertainment industry – there’s an obvious difference in how people present themselves. Does that occur to you and is there any pressure to add sex appeal to your public profile?
HANNAH: Yeah I think so. I used to be in a girl band, we used to play in pubs around Sydney a couple of years ago. Two of the other girls were just really attractive so I just pushed them to the front. But it’s interesting that was a big pull for us. And one hand you hate it but on the other hand you’re like “It gets people through the door“, but I think that it’s something I don’t lend too much though too. I would be naive to not see it as a thing. I think I’m just trying to figure out how much without jeopardising my own image. Again it comes after the music. I mean, I play with two guys in my trio anyway. I even think being behind the keyboard kinda takes the focus off me as a physical being and keeps it more on the music and I don’t have to do much. But it’s just the same as the whole image thing. It’s still early days and I’m in no rush. I think I am trying to – there’s a little momentum right now. I still have uni to do and more to come with this.
HAPPY: You’re at uni?
HANNAH: Yeah still at uni.
HAPPY: What are you doing?
HANNAH: I’m doing a music degree, I finish in August. It’s actually meant to be a two year degree and I’ve almost been there five years. It’s just, holy shit I’m just not a good student. I actually have to attend school to pass.
HAPPY: (laughs), Yeah, you actually have to do things, like get credits for your classes!
HANNAH: That’s right (laughs). It’s like “Oh, I have to do things?” If you look at my transcript you’d think I was autistic or something, sometimes I was fine and others I was failing. I was failing because I wasn’t going. But I’m going now! And I’m gonna graduate in August and it will be a big miracle.
HAPPY: Is that hard? You’re trying to take a step forward with your career but you still have school.
HANNAH: Yeah. Hell yeah. And I think that even at the end of last year I was definitely feeling that. Because I just wanted to do uni, and then all of a sudden things were happening in terms of singing and stuff, so both of them were kind of competing with each other. So I’ll be interested to see how things go this year. I think I’m more excited by the music stuff as opposed to uni. But I really want to get a degree! It’ll be so sad if I don’t finish this thing.
HAPPY: Is that important to you? Seeing things through?
HANNAH: Well it hasn’t been. It’s so hard for me to finish things! I’m so close, it’ll be helpful in my life if I’m able to finish this. But at the same time if my big break happens and I have to do these things then I’m happy to – I don’t care about the degree in itself.
HAPPY: It’s more about the achievement.
HANNAH: Yeah. I’m just trying to do something good with my hands and finish it.
HAPPY: It’s funny you talk about going through a lot of stress last year but your music was also getting a lot of potential, which if course led to you working with Minx with Hold On. Can you tell me how that relationship formed and ended up working on that collaboration.
HANNAH: Well that was cool! An A&R guy from EMI who Minx is signed with, he was literally scrolling through Bandcamp one day. I wrote Hold On as an indie song with a dance element to it, but he just found it and it was the first song I kind of released. He had the vision to turn it into a dance track, and he asked me and I said yes. It was kind of one of those bizarre things. Before that I wasn’t really doing anything, and since then it’s been really cool because a lot of other producers and DJs have asked me to sing on their stuff doing top line work. Which is cool, I never thought I would do that kind of work but I love it. You don’t have to do much. And it’s cool with technology! they just send you a little track, I just sit in my room and sing over it and send it back. I don’t even meet half of them.
HAPPY: What was that moment like when you got that first email to work with Minx?
HANNAH: I was excited, I didn’t even know what was happening. But I was super stoked. I felt it was kinda funny that I sold out, because basically they bough the song from me. So now I’m a total sell out in such a short amount of time…
HAPPY: And that will define your career from now on…
HANNAH: Yeah that’s right! I’m a sell out! (laughs).
HAPPY: Did you get to meet with Minx?
HANNAH: Yeah! And I’ve got to work with her on more stuff. So I think we might be releasing another track later this year, it just depends on her schedule. We did a video clip for it and so, she’s awesome so we work great together.
HAPPY: And you said you’ve gotten to work with other people as well? Can you tell us or is it still a secret?
HANNAH: It’s still a secret. It’s not anyone huge, but it is cool because some of them are from overseas. One dude is from Brazil, and Spain and LA. But that’s the awesome thing about shitty little bedroom recordings, you can actually do a lot with it. I’m learning a lot and it’s different.
HAPPY: Did it take you by surprise to be working with international artists from your room?
HANNAH: Yeah totally. And by doing so I’ve been able to grow and stretch my understanding of this genre.
HAPPY: So with these experiences the growth and experience must be exponential. When you first started out did you ever see yourself woking in this domain?
HANNAH: Not really. I don’t think I ever saw myself making – I’m doing a lot more electronic stuff myself – I’m from a classical piano background, like doing orchestrations for strings and symphonies. That’s what I’m learning, that’s I love. So this has been really cool. I’m obsessed with synths now, which is a new thing.
HAPPY: (laughs) You’ve been converted to the electro movement!
HANNAH: Where has this been all my life!?
HAPPY: That’s cool. Well Shiver, Wither is very electronic-y and has that influence. Was that a product of working with Minx or a natural progression for you?
HANNAH: I actually wrote that a while ago. I think probably, yeah, even Hold On that first track which Minx used – I was using 808 in it- so there was a strong synth element to it anyway so I think I was already going down that road but less dance-y. It’s funny Shiver, Wither is kind of poppy. Like 80’s poppy somehow. So I think I’m a lot more poppy that I saw myself. I think I used to do a lot more darker, sad songs but now it’s a lot more poppy which is cool.
HAPPY: You incorporate a variety of genres into your music; there’s elements of folk, rock and electronic which is cool because it gives you a bigger canvas for storytelling, but isn’t there an danger of spreading yourself too thin musically?
HANNAH: Yes. Yes, definitely! I think I need to reign it in at some point. I mean, there is something that’s nice about not being known, but having a small group of people who listen to your stuff, because I can use them as a sounding board for finding my sound. So I’m getting worried now where I’m like “Where is the point where I have to stop?” and I feel like I’m getting there. I’m releasing an EP in a couple of months. Se I’m trying to figure out what vibe I’m going for their. Because I think a lot of my songwriting process is organic, I don’t know how a lot of it happens. So it’s just trying to channel it somewhere. And I think maybe my voice ties it all together, but you listen to Shiver, Wither and Fire In Your Eyes and that is not the case, they’re totally different. I am thinking about it. I have no solution for it. And I don’t know which way I want to go at this point. Maybe I – no, I think I do wanna go more electro-poppy…folk?
HAPPY: I guess you could say Montgomery is kind of like that, or even #1 Dads.
HANNAH: I would say so. I’m pretty sure that exists. But it’s trying to stick in the middle of them without going too far to the edge. You could be in that genre and have all these different tracks. And it’s like trying to (Hannah does a fist bump and then produces spirit fingers to describe her point).*
HAPPY: You mentioned your EP is coming out in a couple of months, do you have a date set or is it still a bit vague.
HANNAH: I don’t have a set date, but I will be done by March.
HAPPY: And how do you feel? The debut EP is a pretty big deal!
HANNAH: It’s exciting, and debilitating all at the same time. But it’s cool. It’s all just bedroom recordings. You know it is hard when you have a lot of interest form industry people and they’re waiting to see what I have to give them. It’s hard when you want their resources to make what you want to make. So it’s that weird middle ground right now, but I think that like even with these last two tracks they’re fine in terms of their quality, so I’m excited. It’s been fun, I’m just trying to finish this!
HAPPY: That’s an occurring thing for you, finishing things.
HANNAH: Oh yeah…dammit! But it’s true.
HAPPY: Are you signed to a label?
HAPPY: So like you said people are waiting to see what you do. But doesn’t that effect the way how you approach music?
HANNAH: Kind of. I think that definitely pumps up the urgency. That’s why I’ve given myself until March, because people are like “How’s it coming” and I’m like “Agghhh!” So I don’t think it necessarily shapes what I create but when it comes.
HAPPY: Can you say who’s been talking to you?
HANNAH: …I don’t know.
HAPPY: Well moving on from my game of Guess Who, how is the EP shaping up? Are you leaning towards more of a synth-y side?
HANNAH: I think it’s probably more down the vibe of Shiver, Wither, it’s a synthesis of electronic instruments and live. So I’ve got guitar, bass and drums. But also I’m using some pads and, what else do I have? Maybe that’s all. But there’s definitely some synth in there. I think they’re all really groovy, I like a song with a good groove.
HAPPY: And how are you finding the experience, with all the outside pressure and pressure imposed by yourself?
HANNAH: It’s good for me, it’s challenging. If I didn’t have external pressure I’d find it hard to be internally motivated. You always think of yourself as a fraud or that you have nothing to give, so when people say “We’re interested“, it’s like “Oh!!!“. But at the same time I just like making the music itself, I can’t help it, I just have to. When I first started studying music I wanted to be a film composer or a freelance composer, so I thought it’s kind of taken a different route and I’m super glad because I love this. I’m learning to be a better performer, that’s not a natural thing for me but I’m getting there.
HAPPY: Well later today will be the single launch for Shiver, Wither. How are you feeling?
HANNAH: I feel, probably nervous but also quite excited. This last week I’ve been feeling quite anxious and it just sits in my belly and I just walk with it, but I think the day of today I feel super stoked. I feel grateful for the experience and just excited to play. We’ll see how it goes.
HAPPY: You were saying before our interview that there is a lot of stuff to plan, how involved are you in a show like this?
HANNAH: I think before I was talking more logistically, like getting all the bands together. But we’re playing with a new drummer tonight so there was a lot of rehearsing as well. I’m excited when I get to point when I think of the performance as just a show. I’m looking at getting another musician, so I want to get one soon.
HAPPY: For live or to collaborate with?
HANNAH: For live, but I’d love to collaborate too. A guitarist would be fun so that way I could dance more and not be so stuck behind the keyboards. But I also think it’s still kind of early.
HAPPY: Have you been consciously developing your live show?
HANNAH: Hmmm, I think yes because I’ve bee developing the songs and the songs require more from the live show.
HAPPY: Do you have a dream live show, with like fire, glitter and unicorns jumping across the stage.
HANNAH: Yes I do! (laughs). None of those things but I do have dream show! It’d be cool to have a string quartet, a brass section, three back up singers all going “Shee-wup-doo-wop-doo-wup“, someone just doing all the synths, two drummers, aaaand a bass player. And me!
HAPPY: (laughs) And a bass player! Just tucked away in the corner!
HANNAH: Wearing silver pants!
HAPPY: Will there be costume changes?
HANNAH: Yes. No there won’t be, but a girl can dream (laughs).
HAPPY: I know we’re just having a laugh but when it comes to the future is that kind of where you want your career to go?
HANNAH: Oh man, I would love that so, so much. Because I love the collaborative element. I think it’s very powerful, very community building, I think it’s just fun and the stuff that can come out is really cool. Much better than what I can do in my room. And that’s what I find hard sometimes with me just making it in my room, because there’s no way i can make it as good as other people can contribute. So I am excited for that. But that takes time by getting a name. People don’t want to jump on board if they have nothing to jump on to.
HAPPY: Metaphorically speaking of course?
HANNAH: Yes of course! (Laughs).
HAPPY: What makes you happy?
HANNAH: Ah! Oh shit, what makes me happy? I think, probably, doing the thing I feel I ought to be doing. I don’t know that might be too broad. I think, really what makes me happy is seeing my friends and family and ice cream and going to the beach. But in a broader way doing what I feel like in front of me and hopefully doing a good job of things.
HAPPY: Finishing things off?
HANNAH: Finishing things off! Yes! (laughs).
*Does that mean anything? Sign language experts we could use your help on this one.
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