INTERVIEW: Hannah Judson

Hi Hannah, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Well, we have been on lockdown here in France for over 3 weeks. I must admit it has been two things – perfectly normal, sprinkled with some dark moments. I have been working at home, like I always do, so that’s a nice continuation of normalcy, but I have found it hard to be creative. I am distracted by the monster of the Covid-19. There is so much disorientation, grief, fear, anger, and confusion. I try to stay away from thinking about the worst case scenario. In the early days of the lockdown, I started making a list called “Positives” and when I think of something good that is happening right now, or is a positive outcome of this weird moment of history, I add it to my list. I think the two main positives right now are that the earth is having a few weeks of quiet skies and reduced pollution. And I hope some kind of global public health protocols will come out of this. We all need to work together. There is no going back to our former reality.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Stingray”?

Stingray is the title song for a record I just released on Boneyard Records/ eLevator 8 Music. It is upbeat rock, and is so much fun to play live with my band. The song comes out of the moment when a narcissist no longer has any hold on you, when the relationship is truly, finally over. It’s a moment of personal heroism, taking back control over your own well being, and a reminder to go gently with yourself. When dealing with people who are not playing by the same set of rules, you can get into a cycle of trying to heal or fix the relationship based on your own expectations of what it should be.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

I had to untangle my part in a narcissistic relationship, which was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It took years.

Any plans to release a video for the single?

Yes! I am working on it in the lockdown!

Why naming the record after this song in particular?

Stingray is a great word. It is an elegant and otherworldly fish, hovering and traveling great distances. Stingrays are evocative, scary and elegant. And they are a Chevrolet!

How was the writing and recording process?

I am always writing songs, and working on them out in my studio. (Although, I am having a hard time focusing right now in lockdown, but I hope to get back to it soon). Most of the time, my song writing process takes time. I don’t whip out songs. And many of them never see the light of day. So, this was one song that kept my attention and made it on to the list of songs to record. I have been working with producer JL Espada in Sacramento, CA. We had some days blocked out last summer to record. I had been sending him roughs from France, and when we got together face to face, we were able to flesh out my ideas. Two of the musicians were in France, and they sent tracks across the Atlantic. I like being able to work at a distance, but there is something about being face to face with someone and being able to brainstorm, joke around, laugh, and work through the ideas.

What role does Chicago play in your music?

Good question!! I lived in Chicago for 14 monumental years. I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, bought my first electric guitar at a pawn shop (red), formed my first band (Salt Lick), and also my second (Sweet Bridget) and third (Kite Club). I played music the whole time in Chicago’s vibrant music scene. When I moved to France I thought that part of my life might be over. I had sold most of my equipment, though I did bring over my telecaster, an acoustic electric takamine, and two fender amps. In my new landscape, I began writing very different songs, not sure how I would bring them back out into the world. So, Chicago was a major chapter that clearly has influenced how I approach and value music. I have been so grateful to live in France for many reasons, but I have said over and over through the years, I miss Chicago. The music scene is incomparable. The winters are frigid, and still all that music finds its way up through the cracks in the ice.

How has Lucinda Williams and Elliott Smith influenced your writing?

These are two of many extremely important songwriters, whose lyrics come out of personal experiences, and a profound need to write and sing. They straddle the line of writing personal narratives but that still have enough windows and doors for others to enter. Their power comes from being genuine, relentlessly honest. I wish Elliott Smith had carried on. There was more to say.

What aspect of politics and society did you explore on this record?

I have to say, there is very little political motivation behind these songs, that I am aware of. They are mostly love songs at their root. One song “Twisted” is about a guy with an addiction issue, and he tramples over those he loves, destroying relationships, and yet, a relationship remains. It’s twisted. Parachute is about taking risks and becoming yourself, with a little flip of the bird at those who don’t like it, who want you to remain as you are. Silkworm is about grief, how it feels to be in a state of grief. You could say that song is about society, since so many of us are in some form of grief right now.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

My songs come from all sorts of different places. Things I read, conversations I have, ideas that pop into my head during long runs. Stingray is not a dark record. It reflects sadness that comes up in real life, but many of the songs are describing a transformation, an optimistic version of ourselves. There is a lot of love in there.

Any plans to hit the road?

I have a few gigs that haven’t been cancelled yet, but I am not currently booking. We are all in a wait and see mode for the moment. I have done a few live concerts online though. I participated in Left Bank Live’s six day music and culture festival in the first week of the lockdown. I have done a few spontaneous concerts on Facebook live. I did announce and plan for one concert, experimenting with youtube live, but that was glitchy. I have an online event coming up next week with Expatriates in Paris. All my touring is taking place in my living room in front of my long blue velvet curtains.

What else is happening next in Hannah Judson’s world?

So, on my short list: I am going to be contributing soundtracks to a friend’s short film; I am finishing a song for UnTon Music in Berlin; I am mapping out storyboards for Stingray videos; and I am going to get going on the next record.

You can hear Stingray on Spotify https://open.spotify.com/album/5kWcMY07nyv4nWWkvoCLaH

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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