with her new single 'I'll Make You Strong', taken from her forthcoming third studio album 'Whose Side Are You On' proving to be one of the must-be-heard tracks of 2016 so far, we got the opportunity to have a chat with Hannah White all about her career, future and more.
For those who may not yet have heard your music, how best would you describe yourself as an artist?
I dread questions about music genre because when asking the question people are really looking to learn more about something that matters so much to me, and I always feel like I can't deliver an honest answer in one genre which makes me feel so conflicted. I much prefer this question.
As a writer, I can only write about things that matter to me and things I genuinely feel. I do literally write on a daily basis, so I don't find songwriting hard, but I will always need to be connected with a purpose. I write a song because I have a need to express something. For that reason, I write songs that are both very personal and quite political. Musically I love beautiful melodies, I love harmonies and I love rhythm.
What is it about the world of music that drew you to this career path?
My commitment to music as a career choice was something I succumbed to rather than chose. The music industry tends not to be a representative one and therefore not one I felt had a space for me.
I actually didn't start performing publicly until relatively recently. I suffered from extreme anxiety and even some of my close friends and family didn't know I played and wrote until I 'came out' as such. It is something I had been doing privately, even secretly, since I was seven or eight years old - I still remember some of the great numbers I wrote at that age! It was something that simply wouldn't go away; something I couldn't bear to be without.
How do you feel the treatment towards women may have changed, progressed or evolved as of late in the music industry?
Actually the first song on my album 'Stupid Little Fruit Tree' is about my experience with someone fairly well known in the music industry who more-or-less advised me that I would have to make changes to the way I looked and lie about my age in order to make it. Which of course, I didn't accept.
The mainstream music industry's relationship with women has not improved in my view, despite its assertions it has, I actually think it has worsened. The music industry, and mainstream media generally represents one type of woman and one type of voice. And there remains an enormous amount of pressure on women who perform, to meet popular culture's beauty standards and to objectify themselves, which invariably means music consumers are listening with their eyes and not their ears.
Mercifully, there are lots of independent artists, like myself, and smaller labels and genres outside of the mainstream, that do represent women who are older or who do not conform to the same beauty standards, but these women are very much on the margins within that industry.
The industry's refusal to drag itself into this century has been more damaging to itself than it is prepared to accept. It presumes that 'superficial' is what people want in treating music as a brand-based business. I know that there is money in music, but music is art and people listen to music because it makes them feel. People want to be able to relate, to connect and to emote. This is why the nation went into such a deep, collective mourning for Amy Winehouse when she died. Amy was so real. You don't have to be a drug user to be able to relate to pain; and when she sang, you could feel her pain.
Individuality and strength between women in the industry looks to be at an all time high - do you find support through other female artists?
I am not sure that I can really say that I have personally experienced an increase in individuality and strength between women. I receive most of my support through my close friends and family, and the producers and musicians who work with me, who, incidentally, are all men. I know a lot of other female artists who are self-managing, doing their own PR and marketing, booking their own tours etc. They are all fiercely protective, understandably so, of the territory they are forging for themselves.
I do draw a lot of strength and inspiration from women like (radio and TV broadcaster, and founder of The Other Woman) Ruth Barnes, who provides a platform for 'alternative' women in music, journalist; activist Caroline Criado-Perez, who writes about and actively campaigns for gender equality for all women today, and also singer/songwriters like Thea Gilmore, who has always rejected major label deals and without submitting to the usual pressures we are all under, has developed a huge, loyal and doting following that I could only aspire to. Thea has enormous integrity; it shows in her writing and at her shows.
Where else do you draw influence and inspiration from for your work?
From my own personal struggles and experiences both past and present. I worry a lot about the planet, about human rights abuses and inequality around the world, and that comes out in my songs. I keep writing because I believe in the power of music and the power of song. I believe that there is a vast freedom in singing a song and that music can connect with people so instantly and at a level that other art forms can't quite access, or at least not in such an instinctual, subliminal way. I am pretty sure philosophers have agonised over how and why musical notes can make people feel in such a way. That is why, no matter what happens in my music career, I will always write and I will always sing my songs. That won't ever stop.
If you could work with anybody going forward on new material, who would you choose and why?
I have been lucky to work with some wonderful human beings as well as incredible musicians and producers. I would work with them all again in a heartbeat.
If I could work with anyone new, I would love to write with some of the great songwriters: Tom Paxton, Tom Waits, John Prine. I would love to work with Gillian Welch, I absolutely adore her writing and performing. Also Bruce Springsteen! I love his stripped back writing. And I love that he loves Woody Guthrie. Hmm, they are all American. I clearly love American singer/songwriters for some reason.
You're releasing your new album 'Whose Side Are You On' later this month - what should fans expect from this record? Can you tell us a little bit about the creative process behind this album?
This record came about following an experience in which I was travelling back from a holiday in France with my two children and I was stopped at the French/English border as is habitual. On checking our passports the customs official challenged me on the fact that my two children each had different surnames to each other and to me. He asked how that could be. I had to explain they each had different fathers and I was not married to either. After disappearing to consult with his colleagues, the officer returned to tell me I fit the profile of a drug trafficker and my car was searched.
I wrote a song about that experience, 'Whoops'. I performed it at a show once and a man afterwards approached me and told me he'd felt as if he'd experienced a glimpse of what it is to be a single mum. I thought that was amazing! There it was again, the power of a song. I decided there and then to bring together songs I had written about being a woman, into one collection. Not to preach about right or wrong in any way. But to share my story and hopefully start conversation.
What does a typical day in the music studio look like? If there are indeed any 'typical' days!
It definitely depends who is in the studio with you. (laughs) Every person brings their own energy and that impacts on whatever process is taking place. For this particular album, the writing was what meant most to me. Unlike in my previous albums when I was more adamant about what I wanted to hear, I did lean on my producer, Nigel Stonier, enormously. I did not want to bear the responsibility of how the songs sounded. I would basically turn up at the studio, sing and strum my song and in doing so hand it over.
Watching Nigel's creative juices in flow was amazing. He would instantly hear rhythms, instruments, 'events' as he called them. He is incredibly intuitive, he would almost run up to the piano and just play. Everything he did came wholly from the heart. I love being in the studio with people like Nigel. People I connect with. It is exhausting but so, enormously rewarding.
My guitarist and husband, Keiron, also has his own studio, and we can easily lose ourselves playing and exploring ideas for hours. It is a very special thing to be able to share; it's quite exclusive, you know, other people can't quite get in.
Do you have any definitive aims or goals for your career going forward?
If there is one thing I have learnt from working in music, it is to not have a definite aim or goal. The music industry is a cruel and heartbreaking one. It would be very easy to withdraw into the idea that what I am doing is irrelevant, doesn't matter, or that no one would really care if I stopped. So I survive, emotionally, by keeping it in the moment and being grateful for what it is today.
What should we expect from you in the coming months?
This summer I am touring the album and some dates are still being confirmed but I know that I am going to be really busy with those as well as with the promotion. I have a lot of radio sessions coming up both with the BBC and with regional, community shows too. I will be meeting lots of new people which I love, and I am excited at the idea of getting my music out there to new ears. Who knows what next? Though I am itching to start recording another album!