Interview: Hannah White on her hopes to take “Sweet Revolution” to America

How the love of stories, harmonies and roots music influenced her own music.

Hannah White has had a very busy year, one that started with her winning Song Of The Year at the Americana Music Association UK Awards and has ended with her releasing ‘Sweet Revolution’ through the Last Music Company and joining their select roster of roots artists, you can read the Americana UK review here. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with Hannah White over Zoom in the middle of her INSTORE tour to discuss the current year and ‘Sweet Revolution’. She explains how the new album was recorded at home thanks to the mad scientist technical skills of her guitarist husband, Kieron Marshall, with the Magic Numbers Michele Stodart adding a helping hand on the production side of things. She explains how difficult it is to keep The Sound Lounge venue going in Sutton, despite its popularity with music fans due to the current economic state of the grassroots music business. INSTORE tours are now a key part of the marketing plans for new releases, and Hannah shares the fact that while she was initially nervous, she has found them to be extremely enjoyable from both the artist’s and audience’s viewpoints. Finally, she shares her hope that she may get to play in America in 2024 providing ‘Sweet Revolution’ creates the right level of interest.

How are you, and where are you?

I’m fine and in a Premier Inn in Oxford, the glamour is real, you know.

How was Friday night at Bush Hall?

Oh my gosh, it was quite special. It was amazing, a big band and a lot of people came together to make it happen, and we wanted to make it a bit of a show so it was a little bit different from any other gig I’ve done. A lot of people showed up so it was really good and it was worth it and it felt like a fitting event for all the headaches around releasing this goddamn album.

You are doing some INSTORE dates I believe.

I am, and that’s why I’m in this Premier Inn in Oxford at the moment, we did Banquet in Kingston, we did Truck Store in Oxford last night and we are off to Liverpool today, it’s the first time we’ve done The Jacaranda in Liverpool. I was a bit anxious because I’d never done these before and I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been so nice to play these little hubs, these special little places with music everywhere, and they just fill up and it’s such a nice atmosphere. It’s really nice, I’m loving it.

It is quite a popular marketing exercise these days.

Yeah, I can really see why as a performer and as an audience member, they are like special moments.

You’ve had a very busy year this year, and it started with you winning Song Of The Year at the Americana Music Association UK awards show.

What I think happened was that the song that won the award was like a five-minute song, it wasn’t a single, and it’s a ballad and it shouldn’t have even been in the running for it, but I went on tour supporting Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue across the country, and I played that song and shared the story behind it and everyone was tweeting about the song and messaging me. It was all over social media, and I can only imagine that that’s what led to the nomination. It kind of seemed to come from nowhere, and I was so surprised and obviously up against some amazing artists. I was like, there’s no way I’m going to win but how amazing to be nominated alongside these amazing people. We went to the awards and we got dressed up, and I’d decided I was going to just get drunk and enjoy myself because I’m part of all this. I did peak too soon, and when they called my name it just took a moment because I was so unprepared and I wished I hadn’t had so much to drink. It was really kind of amazing, and it changed everything.

What is it like being on Last Music Company which has a very select roster of artists?

They have been amazing. They signed the record, and then after that they signed my entire back catalogue for publishing. They are obviously distributing it worldwide and we are releasing it in America, and that is happening in January. It is a campaign like none I’ve ever had before, so that feels amazing, and yeah, they’ve been amazing with the launch and the INSTORE tour, and just all the promotion, stuff I’ve always done myself. I’ve always been a bit scared of the industry because the business side of things and marketing just turns me off and terrifies me, but they are so in it for the music, and that’s why they’ve got the roster they’ve got, really brilliant, rootsy artists. When they are talking about our campaign it is always about me as an artist, it’s not about how we get these sales figures it’s about how they support my career and get me out there to more people. It just feels that I’ve been really, really lucky to have good people who are hardcore music fans supporting this project.

How did you record ’Sweet Revolution’ and what did Michele Stodart bring to the process?

I produced my previous record myself, and Michele and I met at a gig, we’d both been invited to a women’s line-up, so we ended up playing together and we instantly clicked both musically and humanly. We did quite a few gigs together, and she approached me to see if I would let her help me with production work. We kind of felt our way through it together, and Michele is just a phenomenal artist, and writer, she does it all, and because we have a real chemistry between us it helped me let go a bit after producing myself because I didn’t want to lose my sound. Because we have a connection it was really comfortable, and she pushed me in all the right places but never somewhere I didn’t want to go. It was a very unexpected but brilliant collaboration.

Who selected the songs for ‘Sweet Revolution’?

I always have loads of songs there, and a few of them I knew had to be on the album, the singles like ‘One Night Stand’ and ‘Chains of Ours’, etc. Some of it was just a question of when I was meeting up with the musicians and Michele and playing through them and the ones that really worked the songs told us, sort of thing. A couple of songs when we were playing through them didn’t feel quite right, and whether that’s not quite right because of the other songs or whatever, the songs again kind of told us.

Did you feel any pressure given the success of your second album, ‘About Time’?

I honestly didn’t feel any pressure. We recorded it at home, my husband Kieron Marshall is my guitarist, and he’s a bit insane in that he gets excited about microphones and he studies where these classic albums are recorded and where they positioned this, that and the other, and he gets quite obsessed. So, he set up our house and the bathroom with this stuff, and under the stairs where our coats were and it was like a mad scientist’s house. I suppose because it was at home it felt totally safe and no pressure at all. It was really fun. You couldn’t switch off because when you woke up the mics were like there, but it was really fun.

What are the dynamics of working with your husband?

A lot of people ask us this because we spend so much time together. I don’t know, it just seems to work. We are so similar in lots of ways and different in the right ways, and he is obviously such an amazing musician. We played together before we got together so music was responsible for our friendship before we were a couple. I think because we have that musical chemistry where I can just sit down with a song he will play and tune-in in a way that enhances it. It feels like the song isn’t really there until he is on it. He does all the technical side of things that I’m not interested in and I find really dull, but he absolutely loves it. He also does all the organising, and I suppose I’m very female and I get very emotional about stuff and I fall apart very easily, and I get really high and very low, and he takes a backseat because he doesn’t want any profile or glory or attention, and he always just wants to lift me up. I feel really lucky because without Kieron I don’t think I would have it in me to carry on. The lows are quite low, my crashes are quite bad, and it takes it out of me. Music has a great power over me and that can be brilliant, but it can also be quite bad.

What are you most pleased with on ‘Sweet Revolution’?

I don’t know, I’m finding this really hard to answer. I suppose my head is into new music and how to make it better, I kind of always move on to that. I’m really proud of it, the people who are on it, and even the visuals of it, and with the label there are lots of good people who just rallied around and made it happen. I am proud of it, but I wouldn’t listen to it by choice, but I always think I just want to do better. I hope there is better in me, and because I write compulsively my heart and head are somewhere else. I don’t know really.

Ricky Ross had a cameo on the album.

He’s been so good and we’ve become very good friends. When I was recording I contacted him to see if he would do this, and he was like, yeah even before he had heard the song. I thought gosh, what if he doesn’t like it, but I sent him the song and he did really like it. Before we put that version down, we were playing around with a  stripped-back much slower solo piano version, and that was really nice and I’ve still got that in my personal collection. We then changed around the vibe of the song, and he was brilliant, he just wanted to support what we were doing, he’s pushing us as artists and he’s got behind us and got behind my music. He has really made a difference and I don’t think he realises, or won’t accept, what he’s done. He’s a very generous kind human being, and everything he does is because he means it, there’s nothing in him that can do fake at all.  When we were on tour people would stop him and go “Are you Ricky Ross” and he would go “Yes, and this is Hannah White”, and I would be cringing, thinking nobody cares. He doesn’t want to talk about himself, he just lifts other people. I’m grateful to have him in my life just as a friend, he and Lorraine are really nice, giving people.

You mentioned the album is getting an American release, are there any plans to tour there?

Maybe. We are talking about going out there next year. Nothing’s been confirmed yet, but there are conversations and things happening right now. So, hopefully, I will be able to announce and share details but I suppose it also depends on how the album does, though we are getting nice noises already which feels positive, but we’ll see. It is coming out on January 5th, I think, in America and we’ll see if there’s a response because I’ve never been to America, never been out there so nobody knows me and I don’t know how it works. So, I am hoping 2024 is the year we go to America.

As your career builds, how important are Sutton and The Sound Lounge to you?

We have our venue there and it is hard being in the grassroots music sector right now. Venues are closing, and I think 160 have closed this year throughout the country. They are closing more than they did during COVID now, and it is a really hard business and unfortunately, it’s not like theatres and museums, or other places of culture, grassroots music venues don’t get any support. People who come don’t do so to spend a lot of money to get really drunk they are listening, and rightly so, and the ticket money goes to artists and engineers, and you have to pay for all the equipment and stuff. It is an expensive thing to run and it doesn’t really bring in any money. It is really hard, and a constant struggle but we’ll just try to keep going for as long as we’re able to and see what happens. People absolutely love it, and it has a loyal following of pure music fans who are open and just want to consume music and hear more. There’s a lot of brilliant and exciting new music, and I just wish people would get behind it because there’s a lot of heart there. I just feel it needs a bit more support, but we’ll see.

You’ve won an americana music award, but how do you describe your music?

It depends who asks and in what context, but singer-songwriter. Sometimes I go a bit more rocky and sometimes I’m very country, and sometimes not. When songs arrive they just do that, and you can’t write to order so I’m not trying to write an americana song or a country song, it just happens. I find that categorisation a little bit difficult, but I suppose most people hear the americana and country aspects because I like the stories and the harmonies, and I love roots music. It is hard to define, isn’t it?

It is and that could be a good thing.

Yes, it could be a good thing because you don’t want to write too much to a formula

We like to share new music with our readers, so currently, what are your top three tracks, artists or albums on your playlist?

When we are on the road, for some reason, we always listen to the Staples Singers, Mavis Staples and Pop Staples and all that stuff. That’s always our driving playlist, so that’s what we’re listening to right now. The Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album, which I would also not know how to define because it can be a bit world musicy, is just brilliant. Also, the Stray Birds, an American band, I love them but it’s not their new album which I haven’t managed to listen to that much yet, but their previous two albums. I’ve been listening to them a lot and I played them to Michele just the other day.

Is there anything you want to say to Americana UK readers?

Americana UK readers are just brilliant because they are the ones keeping all this alive and supporting it. I’m really grateful for this interview, and anyone engaging with music at this level. It’s not massive and everywhere, and it’s hard and we are all doing it because of the passion and the right reasons. So, I’m very happy for this time and this space.

Hannah White’s ‘Sweet Revolution’ is out now on The Last Music Company.

 

About Martin Johnson 387 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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Julia

well, 2024 is Spain year, too. There´s a few fans and it´s growing.