Hanorah hails from Montreal, Canada and is releasing the first part of her second album, Post-Romantic Stress Disorder, on August 30th. The depth and beauty of her writing is arresting and staggeringly personal, and her voice is a raw, glorious instrument. I got the chance to preview the new album (it’s crazy good) and ask Hanorah a few questions about her work in the interview below. You can preview a song from the album, “Clementine,” here on Hanorah’s Reverbnation page, and stay tuned on her social media for updates on her album!
You released your debut album, Unstuck, in 2015. What inspired you to start writing and releasing your own music?
Three years before I recorded anything, I was sexually assaulted. It completely ripped me apart from the world and I felt so completely alone and crazy. I lost friends, alienated myself from my family, and stopped leaving the house except for school (I was studying fine arts). It was a really difficult time, and I think my feelings were just spilling over into poems because I couldn’t talk to people about them yet.
I always sang around the house when everything got to be too much, and my mom always encouraged me to do something with music. I always had doubts and was also terrified of going out in the world, but one day I saw that Shia Laboeuf “Just Do It” video and realized that I was the only thing standing in my way. So I found a producer, Sookz, and improvized melodies over my poems and the music we created together.
How do you feel your sound has evolved in Post-Romantic Stress Disorder?
I’m much more sure of my voice now, and have found what I’m good at. I gravitate towards certain harmonies, melodies and phrasing, so I try to change it up if I find myself getting repetitive. Most of what I do is just listening and allowing myself to feel and respond.
The music itself is also more polished, and I’ve become more aware of how one can challenge pop song structures without disregarding a structure completely. “Clementine” is probably the best example of that.
Your voice is so bold, raw, and mellow, and I love how you layer it almost like an instrument in your work. Who are your major vocal influences? And how do you approach your vocal layering in the studio?
I learned a lot about singing by listening to Etta James, Joss Stone, Adele (her album 19 changed my life), Amy Winehouse and Ella Fitzgerald. I used to listen to my favorite songs like “Fool That I Am” and sing them over and over again, trying to find different tones in my own voice that were pleasing or interesting.
When it comes to vocal arrangement, it’s hard to say where that came from. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the rock stuff my dad played when I was a kid must have given me an ear for harmonies. Looking back, as young as 8 years old I was trying to pick out all the different notes in songs by Yes, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and The Beatles. I also had a Bob Marley phase and a gospel phase thanks to mom. I think I just liked the feeling of adding something to the songs I loved so much.
I also took piano lessons briefly as a kid and thought the only “good” harmonies had to be do-mi-sol; but my dad would show me stuff like “I Don’t Mind” by Moke, for example, where they sneak in extra notes to give it a different flavor. Then I learned about tritones and that was a whole other discovery! I have a long way to go.
You collaborate with a lot of talented musicians–how do those collaborations inspire your work?
Aside from my short stint playing piano rather badly, I don’t have musical training. Everyone I work with is a teacher in some way, whether it’s music theory or more abstract philosophical thinking. They inspire me so much; they’re like endless libraries of information and inspiration. I believe they move me forward and don’t allow me to get stuck on any one thing. They’re also incredibly supportive of my catharsis.
I find your story so personal and so important–do you find that sharing yourself so openly in your music helps you connect with listeners who may have gone through similar situations?
I’d say the most important thing for me is that people hear the music and go, “Oh wow I feel the same way.” It’s not necessarily that my story involves rape that makes it important, although it is important, but it’s my quest for honesty and understanding that keeps me going. When people hear my stuff and know where it stems from and approach me saying a similar thing happened to them, it’s almost like looking in a mirror– I know I’m not alone, they know they’re not alone. But I think anyone can find something for them in these songs.
I imagine it must be difficult to be so straightforward about a traumatic event in your life and make sure that it doesn’t become the ONLY focus of your work in the minds of others–how have you dealt with talking about your rape but presenting yourself as a whole?
The rape was the “élément déclencheur” for me, but it is not my entire identity. Some of the songs are literally about the incident itself, but most of them describe my life and how I’ve been changing since it happened. They are snapshots of a personal revolution. People can write songs because they were cheated on, or lied to, abandoned, physically abused, or high on acid. I don’t think the specific origins of the content are necessarily the only way to appreciate or relate to a song. A good example is “13 35” by Dillon. It’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful and sad, and you don’t need to know that it’s about a miscarriage to love it. Knowing why she wrote it just closes the circle.
For me, I will talk about the assault whenever people ask because I remember how awful I felt during those years. I know it happens so often and affects more people than we can imagine so I’m happy to come forward with it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want anyone else listening to my music.
I want to know a couple of rapid-fire favorites! Tell me:
Peanut butter: creamy or chunky?
Creamy! It’s easier to spread.
Vinyl or digital? Or both!
Vinyl is great because listening to music becomes an active experience. Every note, every lyrics, every beat becomes an essential part of a message across time.
Beyonce or Rihanna?
I’ve never really been a huge fan of either. Beyonce’s got crazy vocal chops, and Rihanna has a unique tone in her voice. I admire them both as entrepreneurs.
R&B: Old-school or new-school?
That’s hard to say! Old school embodies an organic approach to expression and music-making that I really relate to. But because I’m making music today, the programs and techniques a lot of us have available makes for pieces of music that are like bits of art.
Old Star Wars or New Star Wars?
Finding Nemo or Finding Dory?
I loved Nemo but I haven’t seen Dory yet! Looking forward to it.
Finally–what is the main thing you hope listeners take away from your album?
Just that there’s always someone out there who understands, and everything will be okay no matter how bad things may seem. There’s always a way to heal or to make the best of a situation.