Canadian artist Hannah Epperson prepares to captivate listeners with the release of her eagerly awaited album Slowdown, out on February 16th (2018) via Listen Collective. This is the second half of a two-piece project with first half, album Upsweep, being released in October 2016.
On Slowdown, there are two distinct versions of each piece – one extremely reduced and minimalist (Iris), the other a crystal clear pop interpretation (Amelia). Each tracks has the incredible ability to completely submerge the listener, surrounding them with haunting, visceral soundscapes and Epperson’s evocative lyrics and whimsical vocals. Armed with her violin and loop pedal, Epperson combines dream folk, synth-pop, classical and jazz influences to create something both elegant and brave, sitting somewhere between the inventive sounds of Julia Holter and Sylvan Esso.
In this interview spotlight, I speak with Hannah about her latest project, motivations, challenges and much more.
Full Q&A along with links and music below.
Let’s dive a little deeper into You, the artist and your music. What attracted you to this genre(s) or style(s)?
I don’t know as I’ve ever felt particularly drawn to any one style or genre over another. I’ve always been more compelled by the vast array of voices or presences, ways of storytelling, of expression, across a lot of genres and disciplines. It’s like the thrill of seeing the dispersion of visible light through a prism into its different colours. All of those colours are part of the same visible light, they just bend through a prism at different frequencies. The same goes with musical genres, I think.
How long have you been creating and sharing your music with the public?
Music was a substantial part of my upbringing, so in the company of three very musical big brothers, there was a lot of noise-making in my youth, both in the house and well outside of it. I started playing in what I can only call a boy-band when I was in highschool, and eventually ended up supporting a lot of different musicians as a violinist throughout college. In 2009 I started experimenting with a loop station when I ran out of money living abroad in Berlin, and when I returned to Canada to finish my University Degree, I continued playing small shows at cafes in my neighbourhood for fun. Over time, my for-fun solo project has turned into a much more substantial undertaking than I had ever bargained for, and I love it.
Who or what influences your playing and/or writing? Also, what motivates you to keep going?
I don’t feel particularly bound by any who or what when it comes to my music or lyrical compositions. I try to stay as connected as I can with the natural world, I spend a lot of time walking in the woods or in the city, listening to tree sounds, to flowing water, wind through wire or stubborn beech leaves in January, the sound my feet make on different surfaces in different season. I try and read a lot, though I get easily distracted by notifications on my phone. I spend one on one time with people who I love, who I find inspiring and connected to worlds much outside of themselves. I try and follow politics, I try to muster the courage to be political, to be invested in projects that remind me how much I love humanity when it’s so easy to feel venomous and discouraged and hopeless. These are all aspects of what influences me, and also what motivates me to keep going. Finding ways to be in love with the world, with my neighbours, with strangers, with the woods, with my ancestors, with the imagination, with the immense capacity we have to be good. I fight really hard in my own life to find all the reasons I can to feel alive, and as long as I’m fighting to do that, the rest flows through.
Were you trying to accomplish anything specific on this new project? Creatively or otherwise?
I think my perspective on this project has changed a lot over time, I think I can see with greater clarity the way I used the structure of this project to work through some deep, complicated feelings of grief and loss I was experiencing in my personal life in a way that was measured, disciplined and somehow removed enough from my actual reality that I was able to actually deal with it. And also, I think I’ve been trying to figure out my own voice – to figure out what Hannah sounds like. I spent a lot of time supporting other phenomenal musicians who had really distinct “voices,” and this was a project of discovering how to be honest and inside of my own. There are loads of other ideas and reflections that this project has been a vessel for, but to get into the full architecture of the vessel would take a great deal of time and space I think.
What was the last song you listened to?
“Already Dead” by Uni Ika Ai on my car ride to Brooklyn yesterday – maybe my favourite song of 2017.
Which do you prefer? Vinyl? CDs? MP3s?
I honestly don’t feel precious about the medium … Vinyl is cool but requires you to not be a homeless person because you need all the fucking paraphernalia to play it. CDs are great in cars from certain decades but are a pain in the ass because they’re easy to scratch and now everyone’s fucking apple computers don’t have disc drives anymore but at least you can make mobiles out of them to keep the crows from fucking up you’re turf, and MP3s are super convenient but are so super convenient that you end up with like 200,000 of them and then you don’t know which way is up and which way is out or easy or inside or north or west or whatever.
How about this one…. Do you prefer Spotify? Apple Music? Bandcamp? Or something else? Why?
I have issues with all of them, I think Liz Pelly wrote a really brilliant piece for the Baffler that summarizes way more eloquently my own feelings about the fuckery that is Spotify (highly recommend: https://thebaffler.com/salvos/the-problem-with-muzak-pelly). Bandcamp definitely feels the most human and empowering of all the platforms, maybe because I’ve been using it since I was practically a teenager, although I’ve lately started to feel like the percentage they take from artist sales is kind of skewed. I’ve been hearing about new kinds of collective streaming platforms that are actually trying to compensate the artists whose music is being played, but I haven’t given enough time to research how they’re set up or if they’re actually achieving what they set out to do.
Other than the digital era overwhelming us with access to an abundance of music, what are one or two of the biggest challenges you face when trying to attract listeners to your music?
The most difficult thing is justifying the effort and energy put into trying to attract energy at all. It’s not the challenge of getting people to listen to my music in and amongst all the other music that burns me out, it’s the challenge of justifying asking anyone to pay attention to a new record instead of like … going out into the streets and disrupting the system, getting political, doing activism. Most of the people I follow on social media are people who are addressing huge social justice issues, people who are organizing for the DSA, climate activists … and so adding my voice with a feeble “hey check out my new record” feels like a fucking joke sometimes. Being in the business of self-promotion is pretty soul-sucking and doesn’t feel very humanitarian. I’d say that’s a pretty significant challenge.
Do you gig, tour or perform? Do you ever live stream? Where can music lovers see you live?
I do gig, I do tour! I’ve never live-streamed, but I’m not entirely opposed to the idea. I’ll be touring a lot in Europe this spring: there’s a big support tour with an artist called Ry X in February, and then a two month European-wide tour in April and May to support my new record “Slowdown,” with two North American dates in March (New York 03.21 and Vancouver, BC 03.24) which gets released February 16th. Look at that, I’m self promoting. And then hopefully there will be a summer of music festivals. Lots of new dates will be rolling out in the next month I suspect.
Where is the best place to connect with you online? Discover more of your music?
Bandcamp is a pretty solid way to access whatever I’m releasing, but if people want get the weird inside scoop on scattered Hannah streams of consciousness, instagram is pretty fun, twitter is mostly political, and facebook is a mixed bag. And like it or not, both my records will be streamable on Spotify too.
Any last thoughts? Shout outs? Words of wisdom?
Too many to even know where to begin. Thanks for the pesky questions, the shadows of a January sun have moved beautifully across the wall of my study while I’ve responded to them.