Photos by Jon Karr / www.thatverynextthing.com
Don’t let the sweetness of her voice fool you – Hanna Rae’s music hits hard. She’s tough, and while there is a soft reserve, the main trait of her songwriting is courageous honesty. It’s through her vulnerability that she shows grit.
Her new release, Rookie in the Ring, demonstrates her strengths as a writer in grand fashion. From the more upbeat “Man in the Moon” to the somber “Alabama,” it’s an album that runs a full range of human emotion. That’s part of what makes it worth coming back to again and again.
NYMM: Take us back to the beginning: how did you get started?
HR: I grew up in a little town in Virginia, where both my parents are musicians. My mom is a singer and my dad is a rock ’n roller. So I grew up listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, and Heart, and I’m thankful that those are my roots [laughs]. When I was in high school, I asked my dad to come play guitar for me so I could sing “Hotel California” in my class. That’s when we all knew this would be a lasting thing. I started writing seriously around that time and it has gone from there.
NYMM: When did you make the decision to pursue it full-time?
HR: I was getting very serious about writing and I visited Nashville to go to a music festival. The minute I arrived, I knew it was where I wanted to be. I never really had a plan B. I enjoy being surrounded by a lot of talented people, so I think if I ever had any doubts, it would have been from the overwhelming amount of talent around me. But instead, I enjoy it. I love the push and pull of collaboration. It keeps me inspired.
NYMM: When do you think you started developing the sound and style you have now?
HR: Maybe it was when I arrived in Nashville. Being around so many writers, I started trying to find my own thing – what felt right for me. I started listening to a lot of Brandi Carlile and realized that I wanted to blend the pop world with the folk world.
NYMM: When did you start putting together Rookie in the Ring?
HR: I wanted to record something for several years, but I didn’t have the exact product that I wanted to put out there. It took about two years’ worth of writing and experiences to blend the songs that are on the album and make them a whole project. When I wrote “Alabama,” I knew where the project was going to end up and that helped drive the direction of the rest of the songs. I wanted it to be a beginning-to-end outline of my experiences over the last two years.
NYMM: “Alabama” is an interesting song. Tell me a little about it.
HR: I was in a very rocky state when I wrote it, and that song helped me realize that writing is an important outlet for me. It’s great when you can use that outlet to tell a story. That’s probably the song that I’m the most connected to because it hits home the hardest when I play it. I can still feel everything that I was feeling when I wrote it. I think that’s a good thing, because hopefully then people can relate to it.
NYMM: Was there a similar writing process behind “Man in the Moon?”
HR: “Man in the Moon” was one of the peak points of the last few years, so when I sat down to write it, the words just flowed onto the page. It came out so simply that I second-guessed it at first. After I played through it, I realized that it was exactly what it needed to be and was exactly what I needed to say. It’s a happy song that starts with the first feelings of romance, that then takes you through the rocky parts that come later, and then ends with the idea that you can find beauty in the things that aren’t perfect.
NYMM: Is writing what you go to when things aren’t going well?
HR: Yes, but that can make it easy or difficult. If life is going really well and everything is on an even keel, then those songs don’t come as easily. Then when you have a big event, you come up with things more quickly. I wrote “Rookie in the Ring” in about an hour. That’s the tricky thing about being an emotional writer: you have to wait for it. The muse has to come to you.
NYMM: How do you make sure you’re staying honest as a writer?
HR: I’ve gotten to the point where I write a line and realize that I’m covering something up. I’ll realize that there are words in there that are too flowery or not raw enough. That’s when I will scratch it out, step back and think about what I really want to say. I try to say it simply and not cover it up. It can be scary, but it can also be really powerful to just lay it all on the line.
You can find more Hanna Rae here:
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