Hannah Judson is an internationally touring American singer-songwriter, performing original works that draw her audience into storylines of political, social and personal power, love and loss. On guitar, with live looping percussion and harmonies, Hannah’s vocals co-mingle and ring out and intimate set, with a modern folk sound reminiscent of Cat Power, Lucinda Williams and Elliott Smith. Noted as “the real deal” by UK’s country music Maverick Magazine, and “with a style that channels Elliott Smith” by Indie Country fm radio, Hannah has appeared regularly in Paris, throughout Europe.
Alongside writing and performing, she founded and produces MUSEfest, an international music and film festival that spotlights inspiring women in music, film and art. The first two editions were in London and Paris, with New York City projected for 2017. She also performs in Lacuna Echo, an experimental audio/visual digital environment project with painter Florence Artur and Absynth creator Brian Clevenger.
She discovered her first electric guitar at a Wicker Park pawn shop, as a student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied painting, sound and design. In Chicago she was a continuous member of folk, grunge and alt/rock bands, as the songwriter and lead vocalist. She also produced and hosted GrrrlsRock events at Beat Kitchen.
Now, with the release of her latest track “Stingray”, her career has taken a whole new directions, and she is going for gold.
IPM: Congratulations on your release of “Stingray” It seems to be doing very well around the globe. Tell us about the song, the production, the recording process…
Stingray is the title song for a record I just released on Boneyard Records/ eLevator 8 Music, and is a rock song describing a release from the shackles of an unhealthy relationship. It’s not about breaking up. It’s about understanding what was really going on, and no longer having space for the dysfunction in your life. It’s an anthem and a rock song and is fun to play with the band! It always makes me smile to play it. I had written the first verse very quickly and I knew I was on to something, but I wasn’t 100% sure what the song was about. I did spend some time researching narcissism and the stages of breaking the hold, and I kept those in mind as the remaining verses unfolded.
I recorded it last summer at Boneyard Records in Sacramento with producer JL Espada. Some of our musicians were in France, so tracks were flying back and forth across the Atlantic during production.
IPM: Has COVID-19 changed your creative process?
I found after the initial discomfort of the change to lockdown, that I was able to keep going this year with my creative projects and working with others at a distance. I did spend some time taking a closer look at my studio, upgrading some gear, and adding a few strategic acoustic panels, since I’ll be doing a lot of the vocal recording from my own studio. I had to make a new plan for my annual activities– crossing out touring, and considering what other things I can do to connect with fans and remain creative. I have been listening to Jazz tutorials on youtube for some chord and technique inspiration, to shake up my usual process, and revisit music theory.
I’m always looking for new ways to tell the stories that are important. I am motivated by an optimistic view of the future, and no matter how sad or dark a song I write, I am still working through the process because I can imagine it having a meaningful run, connecting with people, inspiring other songwriters. Inspiration is cyclical. Just by doing your work, you inspire others, and vice versa. I think that is especially important right now, that we continue to create and connect.
IPM: Who are your biggest influences? Who are you listening to these days?
I am attracted by artists who use potent lyrics. I have eclectic tastes than run through the centuries– classical, modern, new music, folk, pop, rock, experimental etc. and different things inspire me at different times. It could be the way an artist has held on and evolved their craft through time. Ani DiFranco is a person one who inspires me for the way she has managed her own career, as well as her authentic songwriting. It could be the way they use lyrics to create intimacy and a narrative that tells a unique story, like Leonard Cohen. It could be the way they use sparsity to build tension, like Velvet Underground. Or it could be the way they play their instrument with expertise and love, like Bonnie Raitt. I’m listening now to Laurie Anderson, Jill Sobule, Lou Reed, John Prine, and Cowboy Junkies’ latest release “Ghosts”. I just finished reading “Just kids” by Patti Smith about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Wow, she is so inspiring! Honest, aware, wild, calm, kind. Also Annie Lennox, Vagabon, George Harrison, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliott Smith, Liz Phair, Mazzy Star, and Low are regulars on my playlist. I just was listening to John Prine and Bonnie Raitt’s “Angel from Montgomery” which is such a deeply emotional song evoking a longing for a life that never was. This is a really intense emotion of looking back, and still feeling the longing, the passion, that never goes away. I am inspired by this song. I love songs.
Fine artists like Frida Kahlo, Cindy Sherman and Kara Walker also inspire my work. I like listening to what people have to say, in whatever format they are using, and I love it when they say it in a way that makes me pause, stop and think.
I am also a runner, and I get a lot of ideas on runs, looking at the landscape, clouds, rocks churned up in the fields by a plow. On my runs I always try to find something beautiful. Even when I am running the same old loop, I look for something brand new that I have never seen before, or that I am seeing in a new light. This inspires me. I also get a lot of mileage out of conversations with interesting people. Sometimes it’s just one word, or a turn of a phrase, and I am off and running with a song idea.
IPM: Tell us about France! What do you love most about it? What is the music scene like?
I live just outside of Paris, in a small village on the Seine River. It has been a very calm place to be during the pandemic. The music scene in Paris is interesting. There are some beautiful bars, theaters and clubs. It doesn’t have the edginess of London, New York, LA or Chicago. Paris is a beautiful city, but it’s not a city of innovation, at least not in this century.
IPM: What are your goals/hopes/dreams/fears for your music?
My main goal is to carry on. To continue writing songs that challenge me, that tell the story in a new way, that are worthy of listening, that communicate. I don’t know at what point a person retires from a creative life, but I am not certain I will be stopping at any point. I hope to continue to find the right platform, projects and people through my activities.
IPM: Thanks so much for taking the time. Any last thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
You can hear Stingray on Spotify: http://open.spotify.com/album/5kWcMY07nyv4nWWkvoCLaH
Subscribe to my youtube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnEEjJe5QaSkyp4St9Vbgkw
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