On the cusp of releasing two new singles, fourth-year College student Farrah Hanna sat down with The Cavalier Daily to discuss her experience recording music as an independent artist, her musical influences and her songwriting process.
Growing up in Egypt, Hanna received some education on classical instruments, where she immediately fell in love with the cello. At the age of 11, her family moved to Virginia and she was finally able to learn to play. Over the course of the next few years, Hanna would pick up the guitar, the piano and even the ukulele. She began to write short compositions, which would later become something more.
“At first it was just music,” Hanna said. “Then as I grew to be like a more conscious human being, I guess into high school, I found myself adding words to a lot of my musical pieces.”
Over the course of her musical career, Hanna has been inspired by a great many female indie folk artists like Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Adrianne Lenker. This genre in particular attracts her because of its honesty and intimacy.
“I think it's got a special rawness and vulnerability to it that a lot of other music genres don't,” Hanna said. “It's a very intimate genre where you get to bare your soul.”
For Hanna, there is something exceptional about the ways in which women write and create folk music, particularly if they are independent artists. She believes young women have a very particular understanding of the world that enables their music to feel more intuitive. When looking at male folk artists and their female counterparts, she finds that the women’s lyrics are often more complex and inspiring.
“Maybe I'm biased, but I just feel like it's almost like a sixth sense or something about how women are in touch with the world and with their emotions, at least in the earlier stages of their lives, than men are,” Hanna said.
In the past couple of years, Hanna has released three singles on Spotify — “Everything is Different Now,” “What Kind of Man” and her most recent release “Growing Up/Apart.” She asserts that all these songs were written through the same process. Once she is inspired, Hanna’s writing process is quick. Each song is written in a single sitting, and once she is done with a song Hanna asserts that she never rewrites any part of it.
“It starts with the instrument, with the chord progression,” Hanna said. “And then the words get added on in the same sitting, or else I will never come back to it. It's usually very much like an outpouring, like it comes all at once.”
Fourth-year College student Elie Bashkow produced all three of Hanna’s aforementioned singles, and his musical prowess can be heard in the guitar riffs and the violin. Like Bashkow, Hanna herself is a very skilled musician. In her released songs, she plays all the lead guitar parts, as well as the keys. Her euphonious, angelic voice accompanies these instruments — she is soft-spoken, yet her tone and lyrics have intense emotional resonance.
The music video for her most recently released single, “Growing Up/Apart,” depicts some of Hanna’s friends drawing to the slow, sentimental ballad, which describes the brutal process of growing up away from the people that were once very important to you. Although the idea of the video was simple, Hanna felt that her friends were really able to connect with her song through their illustrations.
“We gave people crayons and printer paper and that's all you had access to,” Hanna said. “So it's a very childlike environment, or tool box, to be able to connect to something that you thought you would have in your life forever, that you ended up growing away from or apart from for whatever reason.”
After a long couple months of writer’s block, Hanna wrote two new songs in her usual fashion — swiftly and without need for extensive rewrite. To record these singles, Hanna traveled to New York to work with producer Ben Coleman. One of the songs is called “Signs” and the other is named “22.” They will be released as a double-track single on Spotify on October 7th.
“I did a lot of experimenting with the first three songs to figure out what I can put out there, and now I feel like I've kind of gained a handle on it,” Hanna said.
Indeed, Hanna feels she has learned a lot since she first began the process of recording her music. Though initially daunted by the very technical recording language used in studios, Hanna quickly learned the terms required to get her creative vision out there. This can particularly be seen in her most recent release “Growing Up/Apart.”
“I felt like I had a grasp on what I wanted it to sound like already and I knew what terms to use to describe that,” Hanna said. “And so it was a really different process. Because of that I feel like a much better product came out of it.”
In anticipation of the release of two of her singles, Hanna looks to her future as a musician. Hanna believes that she is only at the beginning of her musical career, and hopes to further pursue it next year in New York. Although most of her listeners cannot follow her all the way there, she hopes most will still follow her on Spotify.