meet hana: the purple haired producer who is too good to be true
Grimes' right hand woman talks to i-D about creative rebirth, life–changing breakups and why Claire Boucher is exactly as cool as everyone thinks.
We first met HANA in the lobby of her Melbourne hotel. She was in town supporting Grimes on her most recent tour: she sings backing vocals for the Canadian artist, who's also her close friend. HANA was excited, because it was the first time in a while she'd also be performing her solo set, but her in-ear monitors were lost in the post—they'd been shipped over with CHVRCHES' gear, who were also coming to town, by mistake. She said she'd manage, and we believed her. HANA's had the 10,000 hours it take to perfect a craft and then some.
The Montana native blew up after two of her Soundcloud tracks were hyped by Lorde and Grimes. The Canadian asked her to join her on tour before she could even get a third song out. It's the kind of assent to success teenagers dream about in their bedrooms, but HANA didn't come out of nowhere. If you watch closely, you see her in the music video for Grimes and Blood Diamonds collaboration GO; and before that, she'd been performing acoustic tracks across college campuses for years, as Hana Pestle. Here, HANA explains how her not-so-sudden breakthrough came about, the breakup that changed her life, and what's happening for her in 2016.
Let's talk through your setup, and get as techy as possible.
I use Ableton, but I also use ProTools and Logic for different things. Because I started writing on piano and guitar, I'd never felt like I could write a song with a soul with a computer. I couldn't find that connection until I started working with Ableton: something about it is so intuitive and fun
You started with piano and guitar — was music a childhood hobby?
Yeah, my parents were pretty young when they had me and we lived in Little Five Points in Atlanta. It was a really cool part of town with lots of venues and in the 90s it was pretty grungy. I remember one guy who'd walk around with his whole face tattooed like a leopard. My parents were very chill and smart; they got me my first guitar at a garage sale. I had blisters on my fingers from that shitty guitar, but I was obsessed.
Were you cool in high school?
I wasn't uncool, but I wasn't the coolest, I floated around, I had a lot of different friends. There were definitely mean girls, but I kind of avoided drama. I don't know how. I guess I was just very focused on music and I only had one really close friend. We were very creative, on weekends I'd hang out with her and write songs while she painted or busk at the farmer's market.
You sound so wholesome! You moved to LA after high school, were your parents cool with it?
They were! They were very, very supportive and I feel really lucky about that. I learned so much that first year in LA. Coming from Montana, LA was so scary I was really overwhelmed.
People are really divided over LA — it's too hectic, or they love it.
Now I really love LA, but it took me a while. I've been there for almost eight years. At first it tripped me out that there were so many shows going on at one moment. Like, why would anyone come to my show, I don't even know what I'm doing. It was an ego problem.
In Montana I was a big fish in a little pond. Classic scenario. Eventually, I got into campus shows at colleges around the US. I would play like two hundred shows a year, just me in my car going from college to college. You feel very disconnected from the real world, I don't think I could have done it much longer than I did.
What made you open the next chapter?
I ended a five-year relationship that I'd been in that whole time, that was a milestone moment. I was 23 but still felt 18. It's like I time travelled. When I got out I was like, what have I been doing this entire time? I think my life started after the break up.
Did you start exploring different sounds?
Yeah, I got Ableton and started messing around with it. At that time, I was sessioning to make money and meet people. That was how I met Mike, Blood Diamonds. He really took me under his wing and something clicked. Seeing him work so hard opened my eyes. After that I took a break from shows, took my own music off the internet and planned a rebirth of my art.
And HANA was born! Tell me about this tour.
Some people don't like touring, some people love it, I feel I was just made for it. I love every second, I love being in a new place every day. Plus Claire is one of my favourite people; the fact we get to tour the world together blows my mind. The things I've been able to see and experience with one of my best friends is amazing. I'm so thankful she brought me, these are places I've only ever dreamed of going.
What's on the cards when you get back to LA?
I never expected to be touring this much, so I haven't been in the studio lately—that's what I'm looking forward to, getting back in the thick of it. So far, all the songs in my set will be on the EP, and then there will be two or three other songs, but they're not as fleshed out. It's looking like it'll be out in March.
I feel like I've seen a lot of write ups about your singles where they're credited as "produced by Blood Diamonds". Talking now though, it's clear you're handling almost all of that work.
I was just talking about this the other day. It's kind of a double standard because men collaborate with each other all the time and all get the same amount of credit. But being a woman collaborating with a man, it's assumed the man did more work. It sucks, because I love to collaborate with Blood Diamonds. Mike is kind of my life partner at this point, and we love to work together. It sucks that when we do collaborate, people kind of assume that I don't do the same amount of work.
I think people can also struggle to "get"' a multi-talent. Like, "Are you a singer or producer?"
That's why I don't get too upset about it—it's understandable. But I do want to show people I do a lot of the work myself. I can produce by myself. That's why it's important for people to see me in front of the computer, doing the work. I Snapchat it a lot, to hammer into people's brains: this is what I do nine hours a day. I think that's what it's going to take. People will figure it out.
Thank god for Snapchat.
Text Isabelle Hellyer
Photography Charlie White