Singer-songwriter HANA talks Music and Magic
Photography by Ambar Navarro
Photography: Ambar Navarro
Styling: Keely Murphy
Hair: Leticia Llesmin
Makeup: Amy Strozzi
Set Assistance: Brittney Scott
Interview: Mukta Mohan
Before making music, HANA pictures her sweet escape. She's in a snowy forest with a purple and pink sky. Born (Hana Gabrielle Pestle) in Atlanta, Georgia, the LA-based singer/songwriter tenderly describes the magic of her imagination that moves her beyond the "here and now". In 2011, HANA won a contest held by Incubus during the beginnings of her career. A few years after, she joined Grimes as part of the opening act for Lana Del Rey's Endless Summer Tour, and has been performing since.
Mukta Mohan: Thanks so much for taking some time to talk with me today. I’m really looking forward to this. I wanted to start off with politics. It seems like you're pretty politically active and you stay up-to-date with what's going on in the world. How are you currently feeling about the political climate?
HANA: I've gone through a lot of different feelings. I guess [in terms of] the election, obviously really, you know, lost, sad, ashamed, confused. I just remember being in Brussels [on tour last year] and somebody came to the merch table. It was the first time that I realized that the world was kind of taking [president] Donald Trump more seriously than I think we were and somebody came up and said, "Don't vote for him", and I was like, "Are you kidding?" Obviously not! It's not like I have the biggest following ever, but I'm trying to use what fertile influence that I have with my followers and my fans to spread the word that we aren't powerless and that contacting our representatives every day is the biggest thing that will do the most good. It's been enlightening for me. You know, I just saw somebody who stopped me and said, "You're Hana, right? Every time you post on your Instagram story to call your senator, I do it". It really makes my heart feel so good. I can see what my purpose in life is: to spread positivity, to lift people up, and show people that they aren't powerless.
MM: When you make music, do you find that it's typically reactive to what's going on in your life, or maybe in the world? Or is it more of an escape to you?
H: I think it can be both. Lately it's been a bit reactionary with the content of everyday life. It usually does serve me in both ways, it just kind of depends on the day. Sometimes I'll open up a book, play Zelda, [or] go to other worlds just to escape the reality of a Trump presidency.
MM: I read an interview that you did recently where you were talking about Claude Monet and how that changed your worldview. Is there anything else that has maybe shifted your worldview or have influenced your aesthetics?
H: There's this book that I read recently called The Name of the Wind and there's a second one too called The Wise Man's Fears. The author, Pat Rothfuss, writes magic in a really, really inspiring way that I've never read before.
MM: The books that you just mentioned, and Zelda, both have magic that ties them together. Do you think that music--your music--can provide that same sense of magic, wonder, and exploration that you seem to be drawn to?
H: That's usually something that I really want my music to evoke. I want to take [listeners] out of the everyday, you know. When I'm making a song I'm drawn to those sounds that are more ethereal, mystical, and swirling. When I make music, I'll just put my hands over my eyes and for some reason it just helps me if everything is pitch black. If it takes me somewhere that is inspiring [or] out of my studio at that moment, that's usually what I strive for. Not all the time does it happen, and that's okay, but I think I'm usually happiest when it makes me feel like I'm transported somewhere else.
MM: That is so cool. What's one of your favorite songs that you've ever written, and if you close your eyes right now and picture it, where is it taking you?
H: It's hard, but I am really proud of "Chimera" because I wrote it when I was at a pretty gnarly moment of my life, coming out of a pretty terrible relationship. I really wanted to reinvent myself as something that would be bigger than myself. Now I can laugh at it, but at the time in this relationship, I would get these emails from my ex-boyfriend like, "You're stupid! You're despicable!" At that point, I was giving in to see the situation as, "Okay, what if I was this monster that he thinks I am? What if I was someone whose main purpose in life was just to destroy this guy's heart. What would my song be?" It was just a vindictive song where I really enjoyed exploring myself as this monster because it's so not who I am. I'm honestly way too nice and it gets me in a lot of problematic situations, so it's really fun to perform that song. I'm transferred into a world where I am the final boss of some game. It's weird to be an artist, especially at a time like this when there's so much tragedy going on in the world. I try to volunteer and I try to give back. My dad is a teacher and my mom is a physician's assistant, so I think being an artist is a weird job to choose just because it can feel selfish. I mean, right now I'm talking to you on the phone about my art. I just really feel like music is an outlet, so why not try to make people feel good or realize certain things about their relationships. Everyone on the inside is having problems and everyone feels insecure and that it's okay.
MM: I think it's important for people to feel seen and heard, and to know that they're not alone. Music is often people's way to that connection. I do think that there's a lot of good work in that.
H: I love to be on the stage, I love singing, and I love meeting people. That human connection for me, makes everything really worth it.
MM: So, what are you currently working on?
H: A ton of music. I think it'll be an album. I'll probably put out a song or two before then. I've just been really cooped up, working on the next step of my music and it's really, really exciting. I'm kind of right at the point where I have to start making some decisions, perfecting, and narrowing things down.
MM: Is it similar to what you were making before or does it depart?
H: I'm growing as a producer, songwriter, and as a vocalist. I think it's just going to sound better. I really honed my skills, even as an engineer and learning how to properly record. I know those are all very general statements. I also want more upbeat music, so I've been making a lot more things that are easier to dance to. It's so fun to dance on stage. After touring so much, I came home with a new perspective and some new skills that I'm just excited to put into new music. I'm really, really excited about where it's at.
Originally published in IN #6, Fall 2017