AfterDark’s Dean Hodge speaks to Hannah Grace – one of this year’s nominated artists for Horizons 2015.
Sometimes the best words that can be said are no words at all, and silence can be the loudest of all. It’s a philosophy of thinking which springs into mind when trying to sum up the music of the aptly named Hannah Grace. Because one listen of her benign, breathtaking voice, instantly takes the words out of your mouth.
It would be a waste of valuable energy to even try to articulate the power of the force that hits you right from the first few notes. You simply just have to feel every ounce of her volcanic vocal and the simmering soulful edge in her sound, exactly what a true ‘soul’ artist should do.
Only someone with as much emotive authenticity as Hannah Grace could write a song about a person calling off a relationship and somehow make you empathise with them as much as the one whose heart is broken. Yet somehow the 21-year-old Bridgend songbird manages to achieve exactly that on the title track of her debut EP Meant To Be Kind – a raw yet refined four-track cut which sounds remarkably accomplished for a debut yet still tinged with a raw, intense energy.
The EP is released through Never Fade Records run by Hannah’s close friend and recent touring partner Gabrielle Aplin, and it’s only a matter of time before Miss Grace achieves the same level of recognition.
One of the selected artists for this year’s Horizons initiative – a scheme delivered by BBC Cymru Wales and Arts Council Wales to develop new, independent, contemporary music – Hannah Grace gives an exclusive interview to AfterDark’s Dean Hodge about her songwriting inspiration, her music influences and being nominated for Horizons.
DEAN: First of all, congratulations Hannah on being one of the twelve artists selected for this year’s Horizons.
Like many people who will likely be discovering these artists for the first time, are there any of them you have just been introduced to or who you are already familiar with?
HANNAH: With the exception of a few including Dan Bettridge who lives not far from me, everyone else I have only just come across for the first time. It’s really great that through Horizons, I now have the opportunity to discover more of their music and to get to know them over the course of the year ahead.
DEAN: Are you excited at the prospect of touring with all the other Horizons 2015 artists?
HANNAH: Definitely! They’re all so different and it’s great that this year has such a mixture of artists, which really highlights the diversity of the Welsh music scene. I’m excited to see them all play live, to get to know each other more and potentially perform together as well.
DEAN: Have you taken any inspiration or advice from the artists that were selected for Horizons last year?
HANNAH: I knew The People The Poet very well, and even know I don’t know her personally well, I’ve been following Kizzy Crawford’s music for the last few years as I’m a really big fan of her style. One of the great elements of the Horizons project was seeing how much she progressed as an artist.
All of the artists’ journeys, and how they made the most of being selected for Horizons, really inspires me to work hard myself with the opportunity that’s been given to me now. Horizons is such a great initiative and it has opened a lot of doors that not many people get to walk through, so I know I must work hard to not waste that. I’m honoured to be representing the new class of Horizons artists.
DEAN: You recently released your new EP ‘Meant To Be Kind’ a couple of months ago. Lyrically, what was the inspiration behind it?
HANNAH: With the title track Meant To Be Kind, I wanted to write a song about heartbreak but one that was from the other perspective – the one breaking someone’s heart as opposed to the one whose heart is broken. I thought it was an interesting twist on the concept.
I try to be more experimental in my approach to songwriting, and I regularly draw on either my own personal experiences or on observations of other people. As well as lyrically, I like to explore new avenues musically as well, and look at ways of making my sound more expansive.
The songs I’ve written lately come straight from the heart, yet have such a big sound and lend themselves to being played in a live setting. I want to keep true to my own style, while taking inspiration from the artists I love most.
DEAN: Are you considering playing with a band more often, as well as playing solo?
HANNAH: Mainly up to now, I’ve played acoustically as I’m still getting used to playing live, and performing my own songs with a band is new territory for me. However, it’s exciting to get to explore that and it is something I really want to start doing over the next couple of months because with the songs on the EP, they lend themselves to being played with a full band.
I may experiment with performing with a band at some gigs during the summer, and see how well it captures the sound of my EPs. But I love the intimate atmosphere of playing acoustically, and I want my music to ultimately be the best of both worlds.
DEAN: Do you see yourself as more of a live performer, or do you feel equally at home in the studio?
HANNAH: Prior to recording Meant To Be Kind, I would have definitely classed myself as a live performer at heart. Playing in a live environment gives you the freedom to be creative, experiment with your songs and how they sound. Whereas in a studio environment there is a certain pressure to get it absolutely perfect.
During the recording Meant To Be Kind though, I realised I got a buzz from working endlessly to get my music sounding as perfect as it could be, and the instant gratification when I manage to get the sound in my head onto record.
DEAN: Would you ever consider putting two and two together, and recording a live EP in the future?
HANNAH: It’s certainly something I’ve considered. I’ve recently finished recording a lot of demos for songs I’ve written, with designs to put it on the next EP. All the demos were performed in one take, with me and the other musicians basically just interacting off each other, and as a result they really capture the raw energy of the songs. I really want to be able to distil that soulful energy more often.
I don’t know whether I get to the point of releasing them yet, but a live single or EP is something I’d certainly consider.
DEAN: At the moment, do you have a rough inkling of when your next release will be?
HANNAH: I already have a lot of songs written already and a lot of demos laid down, so it’s just getting them onto record. I think a new single or EP will likely materialise towards the end of this summer.
DEAN: You supported Gabrielle Aplin in the past and released the Meant To Be Kind EP through Gabrielle’s Never Fade Records label. How did you first meet her?
HANNAH: We’ve actually been friends for quite a long time, and we’re part of a large group of friends that includes the guys from Hudson Taylor and Orla Gartland. All of us are regularly on tour at the same time so we all help each other out.
She approached me about playing with her on tour and releasing my music through her Never Fade Records label. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to share my own journey with my friend’s too, and she’s been so supportive of me.
DEAN: Are you open to collaborations, and are there any artists in the Cardiff music scene who you would like to perform or record with?
HANNAH: I’m a big fan of singer-songwriter Greta Isaac, and we’re good friends as well, so I would certainly be open to collaborating with her. Dan Bettidge, who alongside myself has been chosen for Horizons, has a great voice and sound, and I really admire that soulful quality to his music. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.
DEAN: Dan Bettridge said in his interview with AfterDark that he would love to play in America eventually. Given the similar American influences in your sound, is that a goal you share?
HANNAH: So many of the singers that inspire me are American, and there is such a love for soul and jazz music over there and real a connection with it. I would be hugely grateful for the chance to perform there, and visit all these great cities such as New Orleans, Memphis and Los Angeles that have such a rich musical heritage.
Hannah Grace’s debut EP Meant To Be Kind is out now. Find out more about Hannah and all the other Horizons artists here.