Tell us about your new album, “Through The Gash”. What was the songwriting and recording process like for you, and what hopes do you have for the album once it is released?
Hannah: Well, I was rearranging my philosophies about everything at the time. I was incredibly sad about a lot of things. But, as a whole, the album is just about my obsessive nature, and the fact that I’ve finally come to terms with it being a necessity rather than a negative trait, which is how I always viewed it before. So a lot of the songs deal with that, and with things and situations resulting from that basic personality flaw, or whatever it is. Also, after my friend died, I was writing a lot and I found that the songs were very helpful to me. It felt like they were messages. Messages telling me that he was okay, in some way that I don’t really understand. And so I also became very fascinated by the idea of not needing any guarantees in life. But still, I found myself compelled to do some pretty in-depth research into things like time and space, near-death experiences, and quantum physics and things like that. I read things in books, online, saw films, and talked to my friends, and I kind of cobbled together a philosophy or theory that made sense to me but that isn’t based on belief so much as on intuition and hope. I really don’t have any use for knowing anything definitively. It’s the mystery that interests me, and when I look back at my life I realize that that’s actually how it’s always been. It just came very clearly into focus on this album. So I guess my hopes are that some of those things will come across. As far as writing and recording, the creative process is always manic and largely subconscious for me. No thinking allowed.
After so many years of being an independent artist, would you consider signing with a label now if you were offered a recording contract?
Hannah: Sure. But it would have to be something that makes sense for everyone involved.
Has your approach or attitude toward songwriting and music changed since you composed “The Vampire’s Waltz” as a teenager?
Hannah: Not really. I’ve always just done what I feel and the songs have always been — and still are — just the result of me being overcome by something emotionally. The way the songs come about nowadays is exactly the way they did back then.
You taught yourself to play piano. Do you think this gives you a disadvantage toward composing songs on the piano, or do you feel this allows you more creative freedom than classically trained pianists?
Hannah: I kind of think it makes it possible for me to write at all. I would never have cared to learn an instrument if I didn’t have songs to write. Learning piano was a direct result of having one song rattling around in my mind and suspecting that I had other songs to write if I could only get at them.
Your sound seems to have evolved over the years, with the focus shifting from delicate and ghostly piano melodies to a more sensual electronic beat. Was this change intentional or just the natural progression of your songwriting? And what other styles or genres would you like to explore with your music in the future?
Hannah: I knew I wanted to make an album that was confrontational because a lot of the songs were very confrontational. And so I really wanted to have a lot of drums on this album. I also knew that I wanted the music to sound like it was coming through wires from outer space. Because so much of the subject matter has to do with loss and death and trying to retain some connection despite those things, I wanted some of the music to sound like it was coming from very far away. So I used things like walkie-talkies for some of the vocals and I used a lot of effects. I also knew that I wanted it to have some circus, carnival and music-box sounds, but nothing that would suggest music that already exists in a certain place or time. I wanted those elements to be more organic and detached from chronology than they usually are when people use them in music. Other than those things, I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about how this album should be. In the future I would love to be able to do lots of string arrangements and things like that.
What do you think of the comparisons to Tori Amos and Kate Bush that you often receive? Did either artist influence your music? What other artists have influenced your style of music?
Hannah: I haven’t listened much to either of them in years, but I really love a lot of what they’ve done and I always will. I think they’re two of the most important artists in music, ever. In the past, I’ve definitely been inspired by both of them.
In terms of the comparisons, I guess it depends. On the positive side, I think that people might be responding to the music in a similarly strong way, and that may be part of why those comparisons come up. I do think that there are some similar elements to the music. And I think there is an intense quality that some people can hear in my music, and in theirs as well. But I think anyone that says it actually sounds the same isn’t really listening. Some people mistake some similarities in sensibility for actual sameness, and that’s the negative side. Those people don’t know what they’re talking about.
As for influence, and other artists, I’m very inspired by things that other people do, but only in a general way. I love music, and if I love a song I will listen to it over and over again. But when I’m writing, everything else just goes away. So I don’t run around feeling like I have to wear a HAZMAT suit to protect myself from influence. I have never, ever decided to write a song. It doesn’t happen that way. My songs never come from “ideas.” They only come from emotion and inspiration. And I don’t record unless I’m inspired by the song to record. And when you’re in that state, there’s no way that any falseness is going to get through. It just isn’t possible. And even if it was possible, it wouldn’t feel good. I think most of what people call influence is actually blood memory, anyway.
But having said that, there are so many amazing people that I’ve listened to in my life, and think: I want my music to be as much mine as theirs is theirs, you know? That’s the goal of anyone doing anything creative, I think. So in that sense, I’ve been influenced by tons of people. In the past, Daniel Johnston, Lisa Germano, Stevie Nicks, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Damned, the Cure, Pixies, Crowded House, Nirvana, Hole, Jeff Buckley, early Peter Gabriel, early Elton John, Cat Stevens, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Blondie, Olivia Newton-John, Throwing Muses, Cocteau Twins, Dolly Parton, Radiohead, Katell Keineg, the Beatles, ABBA and on and on…
And for the past several years or so I’ve been really into rap music, and that’s about all I’ve listened to during that time. Not all rap music, just certain artists. Most of the artists I listen to can’t actually be summed up by the rap “genre.” Like OutKast, Wu-Tang Clan, Everlast, Public Enemy, NWA, Fili Stylez, Eminem, and Snook. And then I’ve listened to a few other things like Bright Eyes and Aimee Mann and Minnie Riperton. Sometimes it’s an artist in general and sometimes it’s just one album or even just one song or one performance that makes an impact of some kind.
What are your favourite artists, albums, and songs of all time? What modern artists, albums, and songs do you like?
Hannah: It is so hard for me to list artists and albums because I really feel like I need to be complete, and that’s impossible. But some stuff I’ve been listening to in the past year are Heathen by David Bowie, which I never had before now, and it is a great album. I’m also listening a lot to a Jerry Rafferty compilation CD. And I’m With Stupid by Aimee Mann. Other than that, rap music. Snook in particular right now.
But a few (and just a few) of my all-time favorite songs are:
(in no particular order)
“If You Could Read My Mind” Gordon Lightfoot
“Baker Street” Jerry Rafferty
“Never My Love” The Association
“Steppin’ Out” Joe Jackson
“Year of the Cat” Al Stewart
“Golden Brown” The Stranglers
“Landslide” Stevie Nicks
“Honey I Sure Miss You” Daniel Johnston
“Wasteland” The Jam
“September” Earth, Wind & Fire
“Les Fleurs” Minnie Riperton
“Found Out About You” Gin Blossoms
“Save Me” Aimee Mann
“If You Have Ghosts” Roky Erickson
“Walk on the Ocean” Toad the Wet Sprocket
“In the Meantime” Spacehog
“She Divines Water” Camper van Beethoven
“Dream On” Aerosmith
“Heart-Shaped Box” Nirvana
“Doll Parts” Hole
“God Only Knows” Beach Boys
“Dirty Work” Steely Dan
“Jolene” Dolly P
What is your favourite song that you have written, and what song do you wish that you had written?
Hannah: Right now I like “No Man Alive” and “The Apple.”
Wish I’d written: “Landslide,” “Doll Parts” or “If You Have Ghosts”
What is your favourite book, piece of art, film, and tv show?
Hannah: A few favorite books:
One Hundred Years of Solitude
House of the Spirits
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
the Harry Potter series
A few favorite films:
City of Lost Children
Wings of Desire
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
The Elephant Man
A few favorite pieces of art:
“The Angel of Meat” by Mark Ryden — I love all his paintings
Ray Caesar’s stuff (hard to pick a favorite)
Kendra Binney — all of it, but I have a little print of “They’re Saying Mean Things About You” that I love so much.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Six Feet Under
The Office (both versions)
Strangers With Candy
Battlestar Galactica (new one)
Levi’s commercial “French Dictionary”
Are there any other connotations of the title “Through The Gash” besides as a reference to lyrics in “Defenstration” and “Beware The Touch”?
Hannah: It just kept coming up in the lyrics of the songs, and it connected with the album cover and the dream that inspired it. I just wanted to evoke any kind of transformation, any kind of passageway. It could be getting through something negative or positive.
Were the lyrics of “Don’t Be Scared” directed toward yourself or someone else?
Hannah: Mostly toward someone else.
Is there a Part I to “Carnival Justice” and if so, will we ever hear it?
Hannah: There is no part I.
The lyrics of “The Apple” seem to refer to the Biblical Garden of Eden. Is Eve the narrator of the song, or is she an archetypal Eve representing independent females in general?
Hannah: It’s more the idea of the poisonous thing. The delicious thing that can cause trouble. In terms of atmosphere, it’s more like Snow White’s apple than the apple in the Garden of Eden. In the song, it’s not meant to actually be Snow White’s apple, but something similar to it. Something inherent to one person and passed to another in an unintentionally harmful way. So that’s how Snow White’s apple doesn’t really fit, because that was intentional. But the dark sparkliness of Snow White’s apple was sort of the feeling I wanted to get across. Brightly colored apples and people being wrong for each other but not caring. Beautiful things that make you forget that they could be bad for you. But I guess the original dangerous apple was in the story of Eve… that’s really an interesting aspect that you bring up, but one that didn’t occur to me as I was writing it. It could be that, though, definitely.
The lyrics of “Where The Wounds Are” obviously played a part in the striking cover art for the album – were there any other inspirations for the picture?
Hannah: The stitched-up back is entirely from a dream I had years and years ago. Actually, the whole album can be traced back to that dream in some ways.
Gregory Maguire contacted you regarding your songs that were inspired by his novel. Have you read the sequel, “Son of a Witch” and if so, what are your thoughts on the book? Do you foresee writing more literary-based music in the future, or were the “Wicked” songs a solitary event in your career?
Hannah: I haven’t read it, but that’s only because I’ve been reading mysteries for the past few years. I will definitely read it eventually. I don’t ever foresee writing anything specific. The Wicked songs were totally unplanned. They just came about because I was so attached to Elphaba and so sad about the end of her story. I felt real loss when that book ended, and that’s what inspired all those songs. I can never predict what or who will cause the next obsession.
I didn’t realize when I reviewed your first album that Jeff Buckley was the inspiration for “Away”? What was your experience with his music and death?
Hannah: Well, I just love him. I saw him live a bunch of times in small clubs in Austin. He was amazing. And I was working at this clothing store at the time, and my friend who worked there was also a huge fan of his. So she came in one night and said “Jeff Buckley is missing, he went swimming in the Mississippi river and they can’t find him.” And we were just really freaked out, but we thought for sure that he would be okay. So she kept calling people to find out the latest news all during our work shift. And then I got home and I said to my boyfriend, “But they’ll find him. He’ll be all right, right?” And he was kind of noncommital and that was the first thing that clued me in to the fact that maybe Jeff wouldn’t be all right. So then my boyfriend went to the store, and when he got back I’d written the song. I don’t remember anything about writing it except that I was so sad. But looking back at it, I think I knew that he wouldn’t be found alive.
Many if not all of the lyrics on this album seem so full of raw emotion. Does such personal content make performing the new material easier or more difficult than older songs?
Hannah: Thank you so much for saying that! I am so glad you feel that way. It has been a frustration to me over time, that some people seem to think the music is theatrical. It’s not, and never was. All of my songs have resulted from something personal, but of course they’re dealt with in sort of fantastical or metaphorical ways. But I think the personal sources are more obvious on these songs.
Is it true that you’ve never performed live infront of an audience before? Do you think that you will in the future, or do you consider yourself more of a recording artist?
Hannah: It is true. I think I’m getting over my stage fright a little. I never enjoyed getting up in front of groups of people. Even in school it was really hard for me to go up and read stuff in front of the class and stuff like that. But I do want to do some live performances eventually, even if I feel terrified. I am looking for some cool musicians to be in my band. And I would love to open for someone on a tour of some kind. I definitely feel like recording is the most important thing to me, though.
Is music your profession or do you have another “day job”?
Hannah: I have always had day jobs. Different things at different times.
Besides music and making jewelry, do you have any other hobbies or talents you’d like to share? You seem to be an art lover, do you paint or draw?
Hannah: I used to draw. Growing up, I drew constantly. All the time. After I started writing songs, I never really drew again, because I found that music was a much better medium for me. I was using the same energy, I just transferred it to music instead of pictures. But drawing is actually something I wouldn’t mind getting into again at some point.
You dedicate the album to Alan. Was he the high school sweetheart referred to in your Penny Dreadful newsletter, and if so would you like to share his story?
Hannah: Yeah, we were together when we were in high school and for some years after. Actually, we were only in high school together for half a year because he was a bit older than me. I was 14 and he was 17 when we met. He was the reason I ever started writing. He was the inspiration behind my very first song, and thinking about that song now, knowing what I know now, I realize that that song was a premonition. I never really understood the ending of it until he died, and then it all became clear. The ending of that song was actually written several years after the rest of it, when we were no longer in touch with each other. But anyway, he was just one of those people that impacted my life in every possible way. We lost touch for many years, then he got back in touch, but not long after that he died. I was sadder than I’d ever been in my life, and a lot of songs came out of that. I think everyone has people that they’re supposed to know, and he was one of the people that I was supposed to know. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few of those people. I think they are very rare. But just for the record, he was not the catalyst for all of the songs on the album.
What are your plans for the future, other than releasing “Through The Gash”?
Hannah: To buy a run-down building in Philly and trick it out somethin’ fierce! It’s more of a dream than a plan, though.