Singer-songwriter Hannah Miller’s latest release, Doubters & Dreamers, is proof that you just have to be comfortable in your own skin and not worry about what people are going to think of your music. The third in a remarkably diverse trilogy—following the release of the acoustic pop EP, Journey to the Moon in 2010, and the blues-meets-Americana-meets-soul-meets-Gospel-sounding O Black River in 2011—Doubters & Dreamers has touches of rock, country and folk mixed throughout its six songs, and it even includes a genuinely unique cover of an Elton John song that will have you searching for the original just so you can find out how different it really is. Hannah Miller, like her music, is very multi-dimensional. Charming and affable one minute, shy and introspective the next, you never can tell for sure what you’re going to get from her; but one thing you can count on: you’re going to love every second of it. Listen in as she talks about her Elton John cover, being the first artist to record in a particular studio and how social media creates more of a disconnect than anything else.
Hannah Miller: Well the first one (Journey to the Moon) was a little different in that those were all my songs that I brought to the producers, Ian Fitchuk and Justin Loucks. They didn’t really write anything with me. But then O Black River and Doubters & Dreamers, I wrote with other people. For Doubters & Dreamers it was me and Neilson on a couple of tracks, and I had already started the songs but I just brought them to him and he finished them with me. O Black River had two co-writes with him and one with another friend of mine in Nashville, so the last two have been different just because on the first one I only recorded songs that I wrote myself. But Doubters & Dreamers was a fairly similar process to O Black River just because it was the same studio musicians. Neilson kind of has his guys, sort of his house band for his studio so to speak.
BP: Wow, nice.
HM: Yeah, but he did have a brand new studio for this one. O Black River was at his old place and in between that record and this one he moved to a new studio that’s really nice. Doubters & Dreamers was actually the first record made in the new place, and it was just kind of exciting because he was just getting all these new sounds and he was kind of like a kid in a candy store. “Can you believe how good this piano sounds? Can you believe the sounds we’re getting out of this room (Hannah laughs)?” So it was exciting to be the first person recording in there.
BP: You kind of got to break the studio in a little bit.
HM: Yeah (both laugh)! Maiden voyage.
BP: I had to go back and listen to the original version of Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” after hearing your version, and after doing that I liked your version even more than before because it was so completely different from the vibe of the original. You actually made the track your own instead of just doing it Karaoke-style.
HM: Yeah. Well, that’s one thing I always appreciate about covers. I hated them for a time because I never felt like I was any good at doing them. I couldn’t come up with a cool way of doing a song. I was always just trying to do it the way they did it, you know? But I was always frustrated because I could never make it sound the way they made it sound, so it was always frustrating to me. I was a little scared on the Elton John track so I just told everybody, “I have no idea what the song should be.” It was just a great group effort. I really give props to Kris Donegan because I feel like he was the first one to really settle on the style we were gonna use for the song, and I really like how it came out. It’s just a little bit different from the original (Hannah laughs), and I’m proud of that. I think it’s cool.
BP: I agree. I definitely dig the fact that it has its own vibe and you’re putting your own spin on his song.
HM: Thank you.
BP: What was the inspiration for “Telephone Wire?” Was this all personal or somewhat observational too?
HM: I think it’s a combination. It’s one of those songs where you sit down and it just kind of writes itself. We had finished all the songs that I thought were going to be on the record, but then I started writing this one and I really liked it. I showed it to Neilson and he really liked it and thought it should go on the EP, so we went back about a month later and added that one on. Sometimes with a song I feel like up front I have a grasp of what it is and why I’m writing it, but sometimes it kind of takes time for me to listen to it too and figure out where I was writing from. So it’s one of those songs where, listening to it, I feel like I was talking a lot about how we’re just really distracted, and we communicate a lot, but we don’t connect a lot. And I was even asking myself, “Why am I talking about telephone wires (Hannah laughs)?” Or, you know, “What does this mean?” I just kind of always had this vision of someone tied up in a telephone wire, like the old school long wires?
HM: Just lying on the tracks of a railroad. Just like all this stuff, all this constant communication, it’s like we’re plugged in but at the same time we’re disconnected, you know?
HM: So it was kind of that whole story which is my own struggle, but I also feel like that’s just kind of our culture right now on a wider level. It’s just that idea of finding our hearts desire, whatever that means (both laugh). Living from your heart. I don’t want to sound clichéd or anything, but it’s important to really connect with something or somebody.
BP: Well and it’s weird because more and more these days you have this dichotomy where you can technically connect with people through social media, email and different thing–
BP: But at the same time, the connection just doesn’t feel as real because it’s too easy.
BP: So it loses something and you really have to fight to maintain what’s there and really think about what you’re going to say when you connect with people so that you can actually “connect” with them.
HM: Yeah, that’s definitely true. That’s a sentiment I very much agree with.
BP: What are your plans for the rest of 2012 in terms of the record and touring and the like?
HM: Well in mid-July I’m headed out to the West and Midwest—Boulder, Denver, Kansas City, Oklahoma City—and mostly to places that are new territory for me into early August. And also, in early July I’m going to be doing a radio campaign for the first time.
HM: Yeah, so I’m curious to see how that’s gonna turn out and what we’re gonna see from that. We’re working with a cool company in L.A. called Substance Co. They’re really excited about the record and they think they can do some stuff with it at radio, so I said okay. So I’m excited to see how it’s gonna go this summer. I also just signed with a new licensing company so hopefully we can get some more placements because you always need those! So we’re just gonna keep on keeping on and try to go forward and not backwards (Hannah laughs)!
You can pick up Doubters and Dreamers by Hannah Miller on iTunes now.
Editor in Chief of Lemonade Magazine
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