What’s new in Nashville? Not country. Not even rock. In fact, it’s something completely different and hard to categorize. Hannah Fairlight – a no-name Midwestern girl turned TV-personality and original music pioneer – is busy paving a Bright Future in Music City.
With one self-produced EP, Bright Future, echoing Jack White’s raw rock sound, a Joan Jett cover released by Univseral Big Machine, a full season starring on a prime-time reality TV show, AND an EP produced by legendary rock producer Michael Wagener (Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osborne, Motley Crue) all under her belt, Fairlight is anything but tiptoeing around since her move to Nashvegas from New York City less than two years ago.
On the heels of the release of her album Bright Future, Hannah and her husband welcomed the newest member of the family, their son Rory into their rocking world of music. Even with all these great things going on, Hannah took the time with NMG to do our Lucky 13.
Lucky 13 with Hannah Fairlight
NMG: What was the first song you ever performed?
Hannah Fairlight: “Fur Elise” by Beethoven – a very simplified version I learned by ear from a babysitter. I would have been 4 or 5 years old
. “Castle on a Cloud” from the musical “Les Miserable” was a close second.
NMG: Did you come from a musical background?
Hannah Fairlight: Somewhat. My dad played trumpet and flute in school, and my mom played cello. My dad was a huge music enthusiast and so I grew up with a large vinyl collection of his favorites. Carl, my dad’s brother, played piano really well and reminded me of Elton John. My cousins played guitar and piano. My mom always wanted a piano when she was growing up but didn’t get one. So even though we lived quite frugally, she rented and finally bought a used upright Kawai when my brother and I were very young. And I’m so glad she did. I took to the piano like wild fire. It held my interest for hours.
NMG: What are your musical influences?
Hannah Fairlight: Vast, mostly seated in classic rock, with lots of influence from blues, roots, folk, and singer/songwriter traditions. I’m also influenced by a wide range of piano virtuosi and writers – old and new. My dad used to rock us kids to sleep to Dan Fogelberg. There was plenty of Carly Simon, James Taylor, Fleetwod Mac, Paul McCartney, Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, The Who, Three Dog Night, The Guess Who and The Beatles. I gravitated towards Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Paul Simon, and later found my own footing in everything from Tori Amos to Chris Whitley. My brother dug R.E.M. and fringe, cult-y bands like They Might Be Giants. Then I finally found Led Zeppelin. It was a huge discovery and led to my love of the hair metal era with bands like Def Leppard, Heart, and Whitesnake …and the eventual discovery of a number of artists I felt a spiritual affinity for, including Neil Young, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin.But let’s face it, I was a preteen and teen in the 90’s, so rock bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, and later Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age held my attention pretty solidly as well.
NMG: How do you balance your music career with your other obligations in life?
Hannah Fairlight: Key word here is “career”. Music is my number one passion, but it’s also my career. I make all my other obligations work with my musical pursuits. I’m lucky and proud to have attended and graduated from a prestigious college years ago in New York City, but I accrued substantial student debt from doing so. Which is tough for a super ambitious, creative young person who wants to take risks and be on the road and keep a band together financially. I’ve handled my debt for a decade by doing audio engineer work on the side, which also facilitates much of my investments in music. There’s no magic money source here – it’s all self produced, which I’m proud of and have taught myself to be patient with. Because the fact of the matter is, I have to do both to get by. After a lot of push and pull over the years, I can happily say I’m a full-time musician that does audio sometimes. And luckily those two pursuits both fall in the entertainment industry and have supplemented each other nicely in many ways over the years. I’ve learned a lot and come across many great opportunities through the work I do. I’ve gotten to travel extensively. I’m exactly where I belong and feel lucky to have created a career where it is still possible to take some risks. The days of big money, big tours, and huge record deals are over (or extremely rare); so even though I’d ideally be living on a shoestring out of a van playing music 100% of the time, I make it work. I teach piano and guitar lessons sometimes. I hand-make some of my music merch. I do television, acting, and modeling gigs sometimes. I stay positive and focused on my goals. I have a really good life, and each rung on the ladder gives me more courage to barrel forth. Until then I’m developing more wisdom and a richer history for myself. And a thicker skin. Oh yeah (laughing) – and I just had my first child! That’s a very big event that deserves mention. But ditto on all of the above. This little dude’s coming with me everywhere my fiance and I go. On the road, TV performances, cruise ships. I’m not the type of person that believes life has to come to a screeching halt when you have kids. It might slow down, and will certainly become much more complex in ways I can’t yet understand. But I’m excited to inspire the little guy through what me and my partner do for a living – the colorful musicians’ life. 🙂And he has already inspired me immensely. All these other “obligations” in life…they are fuel for the fire. Life inspires music. I live a rich, eventful life, and I get the benefit as an artist to translate it into my favorite expressive language: Music. I wouldn’t trade any of it.
NMG: What is a typical day/week like for you?
Hannah Fairlight: A typical day or week for me includes a myriad of business tasks; upkeep behind the scenes AND in the public eye. Lots of computer time, rehearsals, organization, reaching out to venues, radio stations, labels, managers of other bands you’d like to hop on shows with, etc. Lots of social media upkeep (which can be tedious). Though I prefer to maintain a somewhat mysterious presence in the public domain, I’m still trying to establish myself on a larger scale. And the way the industry is now, the responsibility of making “the loud statement” falls entirely on the shoulders of the artist. So much of my time is spent creating and posting online content to hold fans’ interest and to grab the attention of new fans. I work on my website, book my own shows and appearances, write music, do publicity photos, videos, and interviews, organize band rehearsals. My biggest challenge every day is to do at least one spontaneous thing to keep me close to my sense of wonder and innocence about music.This propels me through all the business crap and helps me remember the joy inside what I’m doing.
NMG: What personal advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue this career?
Hannah Fairlight: Make sure you are IN….200%. Don’t enter this career with a “Plan B” in mind; there is no room for second-guessing. There is no instant gratification, so if you’re hoping to just sing once or twice and have someone discover you, good luck. This path takes lots of hard work, perseverance, humility, patience, more hard work, creativity, resourcefulness, more patience…and there is no room for self-doubt. Don’t listen to ANYONE who puts you down; these people are insecure trolls. You must stay positive and stay focused. The very best way is trial by fire. Don’t half-ass it – take a deep breath and throw yourself off the cliff. Chances are, you will land gracefully, or even fly….and exceed your wildest expectations of yourself.And that…is priceless in life.
NMG: If you had to do it all over again, would you still choose this career? Would you do anything differently?
Hannah Fairlight: Hell YES I would do it again … AND again and again and again. I’m kind of crazy. And crazy by definition is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results! 🙂 Willingness to fail repeatedly until you find the magic formula is part of this game! That’s how you learn the most. I’m well aware I’ve chosen one of the hardest career paths out there. And I have taken the long road. I don’t really write pop music, nor have I accepted offers along the way to bend myself into somebody else’s idea of what I should be just to gain success or have a shortcut. There have been offers of money, deals, producers, promises…compromises…all of these things will come into your path when you are fervently on a quest for success. I would say the one thing I would change is not beating myself up so much when I was younger. I started playing out in clubs in New York when I was 18 and started to freak out by the time I was 22 or 23…thinking I should have “made it” by then. I played in a put-together girl rock band for a couple years, kind of like the Spice Girls. We got close to landing a major deal, but there were many internal things wrong with that picture. I overworked myself immensely. That all had a steep learning curve attached to it. I’m relieved we didn’t get the deal because our relationships were too shaky to handle fame. I had to work a full time job as an audio rentals technician in Manhattan during the daytime 8-5ish…I’d bike to work and my boss would let me leave a little early sometimes so I could make soundcheck wherever in the tri-state area we were playing, or rehearsing. We played a show or rehearsed almost every night of the week. We did late night radio interviews and stuff. And after some shows it’d be 4am by the time we loaded gear back to the studio in the flatiron district and I’d make my way home on my bicycle or on the J train into the heart of Bushwick where I lived at the time (an hour plus commute). I pretty much didn’t sleep for a year or two. Often I would crash on the couch at the studio, sometimes wearing the same thing for days and not eating much. Apart from burning the candle on both ends and being so hard on myself, I wouldn’t change much. I guess that’s all part of being young and ambitious. I was reprimanded plenty by mentors and producers for “getting off track” if I fell in love and ran off to another country, which happened a few times. But I never stopped working on music. It’s all been a vital part of my story and made me a better artist.
NMG: How would you describe your music to someone that has never heard you before?
Hannah Fairlight: Raw, real, emotional, living-breathing rock and roll. I’ve resorted to using words and artists metaphors like…”tenacious,” “vulnerable,” and years ago people started calling me the female Jack White. (That made me beam with pride.) I’ve also gotten Lucinda Williams, Patti Smith, and Jenny Lewis comparisons. I have a very wild spirit that comes alive on stage. That’s where I am my most comfortable and uninhibited self. I like to surprise myself, make every show into a challenge. So my music has many different colors in it, though the underpinnings have lots of melody and emotion, similar to Tori Amos or even Ben Folds. And some of it rocks really hard with raw blues riffs, like the Black Keys or White Stripes. I write lots of acoustic stuff too, which is my inner Paul Simon.
NMG: As a child growing up, music surrounds us; What type of music did you hear the most back then? How does it differ from what you listen to now?
Hannah Fairlight: Back then it was classic rock and singer/songwriters: James Taylor, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, Carole King…The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Phil Collins, The Who, Genesis, and Elton John. As a child, I had an imaginative and emotional response to the music. I remember holding Paul Simon’s Graceland album in my hand, or The Beatles’ Abby Road, or Billy Joel’s River of Dreams and letting the imagery in my mind run wild while I listened to the music and lyrics. Some stuff was hilarious to me, like the song “You Can Call Me Al” that always made me want to dance, or trying to imagine a woman as a “human trampoline” in Graceland (only vaguely picking up on adult connotations). Things like this I pondered for weeks, haha. I like plenty of new artists now – Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams, Chris Whitley. But I often revert back to my old favorites, or delve into old groups or albums I’ve never discovered before. The past is vast. There is still an infinite amount of treasure to discover if you go backwards. History and old things intrigue me. I like music that feels good, rock and some electronic. Sometimes I like emotional listening, so Joni Mitchell or Norah Jones or Ryan Adams will satiate that need. Sometimes I need to dance like a weirdo, so bands like Yeasayer or Hot Chip will do it for me. Sometimes I’m dark and Josh Homme helps me out there. Dave Grohl has always inspired me. It takes a lot for new artists to hold my attention, so admittedly I spend the majority of my time exploring old vinyl. I can become obsessive about courageous pioneers and weirdos, or those who had to fight to make it or maybe never made it, so I love watching rock documentaries on Queen, or the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, or Big Star, and then listening to the groups’ music after. You listen to Tom Petty in a completely different way after watching a doc or reading a couple books on him and learning the bigger story.
NMG: What do you feel distinguishes “an artist” from just a musician?
Hannah Fairlight: I feel like an artist is an all-encompassing one-person show. An artist is a personality…covering the full spectrum – writing, performance, imagination, personal image, belief system…charisma. Vibe. Things people relate to in you as a person. Andy Warhol’s art wasn’t genius because of just the art…it was genius because of Andy Warhol. Bob Dylan ain’t some killer singer..neither is Tom Petty really…but DAMN those guys created kingdoms! They had charisma, poetry, and a burning drive to create and live their dreams. An artist is a dreamer who dares to build something out of their dreams and in the people around them.
For me personally, I’ve always had a little light turned on inside me, tugging at me every day, that says, “Sing…perform…create. Be yourself. Be heard.” It’s never gone away for as long as I can remember. I am still aspiring to the exact same goals I had when I was 6 years old. And they are the rounded goals of an artist; not the virtuosic goals of a musician. I’m a rule breaker and rule creator by nature; not a rule follower. I welcomed my classical piano training but quickly became restless with it (I took lessons for 10 years). The musician part of it, well…for me it always ran deeper than learning theory and studying the greats. The music and the artists I was drawn to were magic. I realized if I can connect with people earnestly, be my truest self, and let my imagination out, I’m creating my own magic. Music is the vessel. If I can create something totally new nobody has yet experienced..something totally unique and honest…I’m doing the medium justice. I understand songwriting formulas and certain appeals that other performers or singers emulate, especially if they have proven successful in the charts or whatever. But that would never be what I base my beliefs or career on. My inspiration comes from inside and my challenge is to express it. I aspire to be a great artist. I spend my days dreaming up ways to put out the ideas I have…to bring my dreams to fruition. Whether it’s through photographs, performance…poetry, video.. or musical recordings...I thrive to outdo myself and to grow. Taking one step each day toward this strange vision I have for where I’m headed and what I could be. It’s a much bigger more colorful picture than just getting good at music, even though that’s at the center of it all. It’s the difference between a novel you can’t put down and a textbook. Look at Alice Cooper, or Tom Petty, or Madonna even…why are they interesting? It isn’t because they play the most genius challenging music the world has ever known, that they are incredible instrumentalists. It’s because as people they are the whole package; they dance, they create a spectacle, they have cool style and charisma. They are pioneers. Look at Elvis! Would people have cared as much if he didn’t shake his hips? How you shine on all the other platforms apart from the music..that’s what makes the artist different from just a musician.And some were destined to become geniuses across the board. Like Sir Elton John. 🙂And Paul McCartney and John Lennon and Brian Wilson…and…
NMG: If you had the opportunity to change something about the music industry what would it be?
Hannah Fairlight: Ha!Give all the money-hungry dickheads who run everything a billion dollars each to comfortably retire to some island and stop corrupting and over-saturating the system with shitty repetitious uninspiring music.
NMG: What are your up-to-date performance plans? New Releases? Tours ? News?
Hannah Fairlight: I just independently released my second official album. It’s an EP called Bright Future, produced by the AMAZING Michael Wagener, one of Nashville’s two rock producers. It sounds incredible and is one of my most prized accomplishments to date. My band includes Ryan Adams’ ex rhythm section Billy Mercer and Brad Pemberton and Jeremy Asbrock on guitars. I sing, play guitar, Rhodes, Saxophone and some other stuff. I just released it in July and played a big release show at the Basement East. Plans are now to print it to vinyl and continue promoting it. Performance wise…I’m due any minute with my first babe, so I’m sticking to lower key shows for the moment, like local acoustic rounds at the Bluebird or short three-song full band sets at Mercy Lounge. That being said, you can still catch me and my huge belly doing Immigrant Song or something insane at Thee Rock n Roll Residency at Dan McGuinness Irish Pub every Tuesday night. That’s hosted by two of Nashville’s most talented rock guitarists – Philip Shouse and Jeremy Asbrock, and features rock legends from bands including Alice Cooper, Accept, Cinderella, Steven Tyler’s band, and many others. So if you’ve never seen a super pregnant woman do Led Zeppelin or Runaways…well, you should hurry up and get to Dan McG on a Tuesday night! After baby comes and vinyl in hand, I’m planning to do a massive college tour, taking over college radio and hitting much of the east U.S.’s college market. The ever-present goal is to jump on tour with one of my like-minded heroes.
NMG: As an artists, how would you define SUCCESS?
Hannah Fairlight: Success to me is willingness to fail or fall short over and over again without a loss of enthusiasm. 🙂 Inevitably, if you truly keep trying at something, you will learn, make progress, and likely exceed your own expectations. You will also discover that success doesn’t necessarily mean hitting an envisioned target you had in mind all along; rather, it may come in realizing the value in everything you gained along the way as you tireless pursued your goal or passion.
Check out Hannah’s Video for “Tomorrow”
Without music, I would be … lost, uninspired, painfully bored, and/or dead.
Music is … my language of choice.
My music makes me feel … free! Powerful! Weird. Excited! Adrenalized. Calm. Happy. Hopeful.
I write the songs because … I honestly believe it is my very best means of communication, and my very best thing I have to offer.
Support music because … WE NEED IT. We thrive off of music like we thrive off of love. Music can inspire us past our wildest dreams. Can you imagine a world without music? Void of such a vast spectrum of cultural and personal identity? Whether or not we realize it, all human beings universally love and relate to music. It is woven into ritual, tradition, spirituality, and daily life. It is one of the most ancient, primal means of expression. Music holds deep importance well past anything business-oriented, and despite what the “industry” is doing. We need music, and must acknowledge its importance…so the dream weavers who create it can continue to thrive.