Gavin Brown Takes On Hannah Epperson | Interview Special
For fans of… Sylvan Esso, Julia Holter, Emily Wells, Grouper
Canadian talent Hannah Epperson has had an incredible 2018 so far. At the start of this year we first introduced you to Hannah Epperson as she prepared to captivate listeners with the release of her then eagerly awaited album Slowdown, which was released 16th February 2018 via Listen Collective. The second half of a two-piece project with first half, album Upsweep, being released back in October 2016. Hannah has the incredible ability throughout her new album 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.
With the album release followed by extensive live tour dates, our own Gavin Brown got to spend some time with Hannah a few weeks ago They discuss Hannah’s standout album ‘Slowdown’, the writing process, characters within the tracks, live performances and more….
You recently released your new album Slowdown. Can you tell us a bit about the album and how it was created?
Slowdown is the second instalment of a two chapter creative experiment I began with my debut record, Upsweep. Both records feature a Side A and Side B, where the same songs are explored by two distinctive characters called Amelia and Iris. The Amelia renditions of the tracks on Side A exist in the world of experimental pop, while Iris’s Side B explores the textures of violin and voice in much more minimalist renditions of the songs. The creative processes behind the two sides of the records are distinct from one another as well. I worked closely with friend and producer Stint over long periods of time to create the bigger sounds on Side A, while on the other hand I composed, engineered, performed and produced the Iris versions of the songs in extremely condensed, focused and isolated conditions. It has been a thrilling creative process overall, and deeply satisfying.
Is the album a companion piece to your last album Upsweep and how do it the two records link in with each other?
As I mentioned above, Slowdown and Upsweep are the two component parts of a single project. In some ways, I don’t really feel much of a separation between the two collections of work, though I think Slowdown features a more confident, independent representation of my work as a composer, engineer and musician.
Can you tell us a bit about the characters Iris and Amelia whose tales, these albums tells?
Iris and Amelia are basically character foils for each other. Two opposing world orders, kind of, but rooted in similar ambitions and a commitment to finding a fullness and honesty in expression. Amelia is more of a seductress – flirtatious, sexual, enigmatic, alluring, and socially very adept. Iris on the other hand is much more of a secluded character, introspective, private, shy. Two polar expressions of the same person.
What inspired the creation of Iris and Amelia?
Iris and Amelia are actually characters from a screenplay I wrote a few years ago in a period of intense inner distress after the passing of my brother. In the screenplay, Iris and Amelia represented two polar but coherent orders of a world gone amuck to a young man struggling to recover from an episode of madness and inconsolable alienation. The characters Iris and Amelia appeared to me again, apart from the context of the screenplay, as I was struggling to find a way to bring together two very different musical expressions that I was working with simultaneously.
The juxtaposition between the two characters tracks is very visceral and makes them come alive. Do you feel that this was important when making these tracks?
To be honest, I didn’t think about the characters at all when I made the music. The music always happens organically, spontaneously, it passes through me at the same time that I pass through it. I think actually the music is what brought Amelia and Iris to life … Amelia and Iris become ordering principles to make sense of the music.
Your music is very immersive, did you want that to come across when making the album?
Again, when I’m making music – performing, writing, recording – I don’t necessarily think my focus is ever on a product. I think maybe the sense of immersion comes from the fact that during the creative process, I myself was immersed in it. The boundaries between my person and the sonic landscapes I’m building more or less dissolve – I guess this is what the flow state tries to describe. This sense of complete immersion, where boundaries between space and time dissolve or become irrelevant. I guess on some level you could say I wanted that to come across, but my experience of making music isn’t about achieving something. It’s about being inside of something, and being inhabited by something whose origins I can’t trace.
What has the reaction to the album been like so far?
I think for some people, the genre-bending aspect of the album is challenging. For some people it’s exciting, in that it gives permission to present more than one side of a story. I care that the album finds its way to people who can feel moved by it, or encouraged to push their own forms of expression in more directions. As far as “official” reactions go … I wish I cared more, it might help me sell more records.
You have released a very interesting and immersive video/short film for the track 20/20. Can you tell us about that?
The 20/20 (Amelia) video was incredibly fun creative process. My dear friend and collaborator Jake Saner – with whom I also co-directed the video for Story (Amelia) – and I made a spontaneous decision to make the video a few days before I left for a month long tour. We called three equally dear friends of ours who work in the immersive theater / contemporary dance world in Brooklyn with very vague hints of what we wanted to make with them, and because friendship, trust and creative respect are our currency, we were able to make this bizarre, beautiful piece together in two days in house where I’m living, just an hour north of New York City. Jake and I talked lengthily about the themes we wanted to explore – creative latency, coming of age, emotional dependency, the distortion and perversion of personal agency, the tension between the muse and the sexual partner … there were so many things we sought to explore in the short film, especially because we saw 20/20 (Amelia) as a sequel to the last music video we worked on together. Jake shot on 16mm film, which was expensive and thrilling, and our dancers performed everything more or less in one take. It was absolutely beautiful, uncontrived, fun, intense. I wish I had the resources to be able to work more in that world.
(At time of writing)You’re in the middle of an extensive European tour at the moment. How has it been so far?
It has been all the things. Exhausting, emotional, inspiring, goofy, challenging. I’m one month in, with another month to go. Time unfolds in a strange way on tour – it’s an explosion for your senses, to move through so many geographies so quickly. Every day a new language to adapt to, new colour palettes, new smells, alternate sound systems, different train travel requirements, etc. I’m also touring alone, which I enjoy a great deal, but which has been taxing on the my body as I haul kilos of vinyl and electronic gear across cobbled cities, up and down stairs in train stations, so on and so forth. I think I will have a fantastically strong shoulders and an exhausted inner monologue by the time this tour is over.
Are you playing much material from your new album in this tour?
I’m playing a pretty even mix of songs from Upsweep and Slowdown, but since I’m touring alone, my performance is much closer to the Iris side of the record, which features violin and voice.
What have some of the highlights of the tour been and what are you looking forward to?
Ahhhh, hard question. Every day has its highlights. But most recently I played in Warsaw and Tallinn, two cities in two countries that I’ve never played in before, and I was wonderfully surprised by both of those shows, for very different reasons. My time in Estonia was especially magical because my parents, who I am very close to but don’t get to see very often, travelled from Vancouver to Tallinn for the Jazzkarr festival I was playing at. I was really honoured they made the trip, and felt a such a strong desire to make them proud and feel confident that I’m doing the right thing with my life… it was kind of surprising to recognize those compulsions in myself, and honestly kind of funny because there’s something that feels kind of childish about wanting to prove something to your parents. It was a wonderful show, and it was hilarious to realize that my parents made more of an impression on the festival organizers than I did. Playing the soldout Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg was also pretty dizzying, but feels like too obvious to put on the highlight real. I’m really looking forward to going back to Spain and Portugal, where I have some dear friends, favourite audiences and SO much good food.
How did your tour with RY X go earlier in the year?
It was a perfect tour, honestly. Such a good crew to travel with, so much kindness and sensitivity and support. That was one of the best experiences on the road I’ve ever had, and it was an incredible gift to be able to play the stages that I did, and for the wonderful audiences that come out for Ry’s shows.
Who would you love to tour with in the future?
I mean … Bjork. Is that too much to ask?
What are your touring plans for the rest of the year once this Euro jaunt has finished?
I have some shows and festivals in Canada throughout the summer that I’m really looking forward to, and then a small stint in Europe again at the end of October. I’m really looking forward to not being on tour, as well, so I can work in the garden, go for camping trips, be a good friend and partner for a while… Always hard to find a good balance, but I’m getting closer every year I think.
Where do you love playing most in the world and what makes it so special?
This is a dangerous question, but at this very moment I would say Switzerland and Portugal have been some true sweet spots. A huge part of what makes a place feel special to play is the relationship that I am able to build to the community and to the geography. I’ve had incredible fortune in Switzerland and Portugal in both these regards, and feel true kinship with the people I’ve forged friendships with and the landscapes I’ve connected with in Switzerland (lucerne and baden) and Portugal (porto and lisbon).
If you could choose one, what would be the best gig that you have ever played?
Honestly, there was a show I played in Vancouver two years ago that probably still takes the cake. I had been on the most grueling tour of my life, almost three months, in Europe and then across Canada, and I was more exhausted than I’ve ever been in my life, so disconnected from my friends and family who I had all but abandoned during this tour. The Vancouver show -a sold out, homecoming show – was my last show of this whole insane stretch of gigs, and I was playing with two very, very dear friends and musicians and it was just … so euphoric. Such an epic release, we made so much sound together, it was the most respectful I’ve ever seen a vancouver audience. That was a really special confluence of feelings and sensations, that show, and I think it will be hard to match that.
If you could curate your own music festival, which five live acts would you pick to play alongside yourself?
Bjork, Radiohead, Yo-Yo Ma / Edgar Meyers / Mark O’Connor, Big Thief, Chance The Rapper
Who are some of your influences and inspirations when it comes to creating your music?
Arvo Part, Bach, Bjork (have I mentioned her enough times yet?), The Cranberries, Kronos Quartet, Dirty Projectors, Pete Seegers, Joni Mitchell, I don’t know … it’s so hard to say how my own music making is directly influenced. But those are a few names that are, and have been, important parts of my life’s discography.
What music are you currently listening to and enjoying at the moment?
I’m enjoying listening to nature sounds the most at the moment. Birds. The sound of wind in the trees. Magnolia petals hitting warm spring pavement. I honestly can’t listen to that much music right now … that happens from time to time. There are tons of bands making unbelievably good music right now, but I’m really enjoying listening to the sounds of the places that I’m in at the moment.
What is the music scene like in your hometown of Vancouver like at the moment and are there any bands that you could recommend to us?
I’d say I’m a little bit more aware of the Brooklyn music scene at the moment, but We Are The City, Aidan Knight and Holy Hum are vancouver hometown heroes. In Brooklyn, there are almost too many amazing bands to try and start listing, but Uni Ika Ai, Pavo Pavo, Anna & Elizabeth, Cuddle Magic, Taylor Ashton are all wonderful starts.