Among all the different art forms, music has always been and always will be the one to which every human being is naturally connected to. We start loving music when our parents sing us lullabies to help us falling asleep, when we are at an infant stage of our lives and we carry music throughout our whole existences, either when we sing loud under the shower or when we are with friends, messing around or even when we get our hearts broken, as teenagers, when we meet the first boy or girl that makes our hearts racing at an insane speed. And the circle of life goes on and on, with music always been there, as a trusted companion constantly present, ready to evoke happy or sad memories at our command.
For a music artist, said art form is much, much more. It's what they are, it's the only way they have always known about expressing who they are, their feelings, anxieties, fears, hopes and dreams, through their musical abilities.
As an artist, the South Carolina-born powerhouse Hannah Wicklund has found out at a very early stage of her life that music was and still is her own healer, the only tool that allows the Blues/Rock singer/songwriter to give voice to her inner feelings, not just through Wicklund's phenomenal ability as a songwriter but also and especially, through her incredible vocal skills.
The last 24 months in Wicklund's career, in particular, have been very fulfilling for the American artist. Her third album, simply called Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones, has been highly praised not only in the United States but also in Europe by music press and Blues/Rock aficionados, thanks to a winning music formula combining 70's Psychedelia with moments of Blues/Folk of the highest quality level, the lot superbly led by Wicklund's formidable singing voice.
With a new EP out now called The Inbetween and new material due to be released very soon, Bluebird Reviews discusses with the South-Carolina's music sensation the making of the new EP and how she is coping, as an artist, with this current and very unsettling that the whole world is living.
BR - Hi Hannah, thank you for talking to us at Bluebird Reviews. Congratulations for the release of your new EP Inbetween, a record that we find very moving and intense. How challenging was it for you to choose the songs to be included on the EP?
HW - You know, it was pretty easy for me to choose the songs that I was going to include on the record. The EP is basically just a collection of alternate versions of songs present on my last record with the full band. I just chose the songs that had evolved a little bit over time, the ones that had meant more to me, since wrapping the last studio album. Bomb Through The Breeze was the first song that I knew that I wanted to do in a more stripped-down version, going back all the way to my piano roots and that was the starting point for the whole project.
BR - The Inbetween sees you working side by side with your older brother Luke Mitchell, who produced the EP as well. How easy was it to work with him and how satisfied are you with the job that Luke did in capturing perfectly the essence of your incredible singing skills?
HW - Working with my brother is really nice. We definitely had our fair share of brother and sister moments, while growing up but I think we have come up to the other side and, as I said, it is really nice working together with him. For what concerns the musical side, we have been touring together and he had played drums for me, back few years ago and that was really the first time that we had connected in adulthood on anything about music. This record that we just did, it is a sort of natural development of our new found artistic relationship, thanks to that tour that we did together. He is very settled, you know. We know artistically each other really well and he was able to select few things from this record and really get the best result off the songs I recorded on the EP. I am really happy that he produced The Inbetween, it was a very relaxing experience that I was not expecting
BR - There seems to be a sort of running theme of loss and quest for salvation, in the record, especially in a song like Meet You Again. Did you feel, at some stage, when you were compiling the songs to be included in The Inbetween EP, that there were few common factors through the lyrics of each song?
HW - You know, that wasn't a pre-planned purpose of mine or anything super-intentional. To be honest, I think that the running theme you spoke of, it runs almost through all of my music. Fortunately for me, I guess that my "theme " is consistent! (chuckles). I definitely have struggle with feeling lonely, as i guess everybody does and that constitutes a very big font of inspiration for my music. I think that a lot of artists tend to write when they are alone and, say, the song that you mentioned, Meet You again, it is the direct result of that realization when you are on your own, of that friendship that meant something to you and that you have now lost and you desperately want back again. I think that, like me, everybody has got a story like that.
BR - In a record like your new EP, due to the fact that each song has been recorded in acoustic, do you ever feel yourself being a little "exposed", as an artist, singing songs in a more stripped-down version, rather than having a full band accompanying you?
HW - Certainly. By nature, the whole experience to record songs in this way, it is unquestionably a bit more exposed for an artist. But I really enjoy it. It feels, to me, much more authentic, because whenever I am writing songs, or playing the new songs that I write on my own, that is the way that the songs sound like, at their original stage. To play in that way, it definitely feels more natural than anything. When I was younger, in an island in South Carolina, where I come from, which is also a big tourist trap, I was fortunate enough to play a lot of shows and, during summers, half of them would be solo shows, therefore I developed something like a three-four hours long solo set that I played who knows for how many times and that really made me appreciate the art of playing solo and standing up there by yourself. As you said, it is a totally different thing than playing with a band because you don't have a safety net with you but still, it is to me very enjoyable because, playing solo, it allows you to be free!
BR - Your eponymous third album was hugely celebrated in Europe by both music press and your many fans. Were you expecting a reception of that scale, when you came to tour in Europe, Hannah?
HW - I had no idea of what to expect, to be honest. I had toured Europe before in 2017 without having any new album or new material out. My previous material I had released, at that time, was under the name of Stepping Stones, back when I was younger but the attention that I got, especially from the press, it was miles away, in comparison with the one I had with my last studio record. Going back to Europe and to the United Kingdom for the very first time to promote Hannah Wicklund & the Steppin Stones, I definitely found a big difference with the crowds and their participation overall. I felt very grateful that the people that bought the record and came to the shows felt connected to my music and I am super excited to get back over there soon. We supposed to tour with King King back in April this year but, given what's happening right now in the world, we were forced to reschedule and hopefully get back over there in Europe real soon.
BR - Some of the songs included in your third album were written when you were 14/15 years old. How much has, in your opinion, the direction of your music shifted during the last five-six years?
HW - I think that the direction in the way I make music has been pretty consistent, through the last years. My roots and my upbringing constitute still a firm musical platform in my rock'n'roll vision, with artists like Tom Petty and Jimi Hendrix providing still that great inspiration to write my music. As far as songwriting goes, I strive to keep growing in that direction too. The oldest songs that were included in my last studio record, Looking Glass and Mama Said, that I wrote respectively when I was 14 and 15, they still inspire me a lot and I love to sing them live at any possible opportunity. Moreover, with pun intended, I truly believe that the songs I just mentioned, they are "Steppin Stones" to my next sound, so to speak and I know that the next studio album with the full band, it will be just a very organic progression of my last record.
BR - You are an artist that, for your own admission, likes to take the time that is needed to create art form, in your case, clearly, music. How much is this strange and challenging time of the world helping to feed your creative juice in writing new material for your next studio album, Hannah?
HW - It has definitely been a blessing in disguise, at least, to me, somehow. Having a forced break, as I am sure many thousands of artists are having right now, it is certainly providing me the space for daydreaming a little bit more. I have been digging in a lot of old voice memos and allowing myself to go to places of my soul I wouldn't normally go to find inspirations, taking a look back at what was my creativity, back then. I think that this time of the world, to me, it is a very constructive reflection time, for kind of cataloging how far I've come as an artist and as a person. To have the opportunity to sit down and look at what has happened into my life in the last few years of my life, it is something that I am really enjoying a lot.
BR - I remember you mentioning once how much you enjoyed the time you spent in Cuba, filming the video for the Shadowboxes And Porcelain Faces song, where there was no technology surrounding you. Given what is happening right now in the world and how much technology is helping all of us to remain in touch, have you changed your views about the role that technology plays in your life?
HW - That is a very good question. I have always been struggling, as an artist, who doesn't greatly enjoy the social media aspect of the business, to face a camera or speak to a computer or to a phone on social platforms. But with all that is happening now in the world and now that many shows are shifting on the internet, I can see the importance of live streaming for us artists but it is definitely something that it is never comparable to the feeling an artist gets while playing a live show in a proper venue. I think that when I get to completely accept this new forced streaming culture and look at it for what it is, it'll definitely be a new tool for me to utilize. But I still think that I need to monitor and balance the amount of time I spend with media platforms; lately, I have used it way more than I probably need to be on, in this down time. I definitely feel anxiety and stress and triggers from stuff for my phone... I don't know, to be honest, where I stand right now on this, because I appreciate that technology is a very important tool in these days and age but there also some down side to it. As for many things in life, I guess, there is a good and a bad side to it at the same time.
BR - Are you planning to release any more material or even a new record, this year, although touring a record seems an implausible possibility, right now or are you postponing any new release directly to 2021, Hannah?
HW - I am actually planning to release my version of CSN&Y's Ohio to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Kent State shooting on Monday May 4th. That will be certainly a full band rendition of this great classic. The song will be available digitally for sure and I also have another single coming out, not sure exactly when, which is a kind of sister track, although it is an original song, called Psychobabble. I am thinking of releasing the new song in a 7'' inches single format, very classic. I am also hoping to have the chance to get back into the studio soon and to try and be able to get down few more songs, so to kick-start the next record. Or, at least, to try and get some new music out there. I don't have a solid plan right now, I am just as clueless as many people, on planning the future but I know that, if the stars align, I'll have plenty of songs to go into the studio with.
BR - Music has always been an integral part of your life, since you were 8-years old. Do you feel that, at this stage of your life, music has definitely provided you with that "salvation" you mentioned in the lyrics of the Meet You Again song or are you still searching for it?
HW - I am not sure whether that "salvation" that you mentioned is something that anybody is ever going to find, in life. Music is something that brings me a lot of joy and I am super grateful to have it. I think that music is the ultimate extension of myself, at this point but I am not sure whether it has provided me yet with any kind of salvation or clarity, about things in life. I am hopeful it will provide me, at some point, with answers, regardless them being connected or not to salvation but I think that it is more of an inner quest, something that I am still working on, at the moment (smiles)