POST-ROMANTIC STRESS DISORDER: An Interview with Soul-Jazz Artist Hanorah

Hanorah

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!          

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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.

 

Hanorah2 

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?

Old!

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.

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The Indie Pop Voice Phenomenon, Part 1: Where Did It Come From?

adele

Pop music vocalists have always had their share of unusual pronunciation and accents, and the most recent trend is so-called “indie girl voice,” or more generally, “indie pop voice.” This vine star parodies it, and even Buzzfeed has noticed it. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, definitely check out the above links—I think you’ll recognize it once you hear it. I notice this accent A LOT in artists like Taylor Swift, ZZ Ward, Halsey, and Adele, as well as in the young singers I teach. All this leads me to ask: where did this trend come from? What should we call it? And what should we, as singers and/or teachers of singing, do about it?

I first noticed the trend a couple of years ago, and it seemed to only affect certain words. Notice the way Kesha and Joy Williams of the Civil Wars each say “one” in the following, each from 2013:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHUbLv4ThOo (start at about 0:18)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnkM_ebv9BI (start at about 0:56)

What you’re hearing is a diphthong, which is essentially two vowels one right after the other within the same syllable. There are lots of diphthongs that occur naturally in the English language, like the “ah-ee” of the word “I” or “oh-ee” of the word “boy.” In fact, most American English speakers would treat the vowel “oh” as a diphthong of “oh-oo,” especially at the end of a word (say the word “hello” while looking in a mirror, and notice how your lips close to an “oo” shape at the very end).

But the word “one” as sung above contains what you might call a manufactured diphthong, or one that doesn’t occur naturally in our language. A lot of diphthongs may be brought on by accent, a southern twang or a Cockney clip. This accent, the “indie pop voice,” is a product not of a geographic region, but of the virtual, musical region of “indie.” Mostly, indie pop voice is characterized by sustaining the second vowel of an existing diphthong as opposed to the first (the way Adele says the word “hello” in her recent hit of the same name), and also by adding an “ee” or “ih” sound to the end of pure vowels like “oh,” “uh,” or even “ae” like “back.” This would explain words like “good,” “just,” and “touch” mentioned in the Buzzfeed article above; “good” becomes “guoid,” “just becomes “juist,” and “touch” turns to “touich.” The accent also calls for closure to “ee” before and after singable consonants like “n” and “r,” which explains the words “one” that I noticed or the “stare” and “care” examples in the Buzzfeed article. Adele also exemplifies the “ee and r” phenomenon in “Hello:” listen to the way she sings the very last word of the song, “anymore,” and it’s almost “anymoreeeeeeeeee.”

amywinehouse

As for the origins of this trendy accent, there are a few good theories that I’ve mostly culled from other voice professionals and random commenters online—it’s not a well-researched topic thus far, to be honest (by the way, it seems most people online are calling it “indie girl” as opposed to “indie pop”). The one that pinpoints the most recent possible origin is the Adele/Amy Winehouse theory, and it makes sense. Those two singers cropped up late in the last decade, when the singers who are coming up now would have probably been in middle or high school. Thus their popularity may have profoundly influenced the next generation’s singing style. Adele’s recent use of the accent is well documented above, and you can hear it in her earliest hit, “Chasing Pavements” and throughout her work (start at 0:20 and listen to “lust” and “I”).

Amy Winehouse preceded Adele, and uses indie pop voice in early hits like “Stronger than Me” (start at 0:33 and listen to “through” and “care”) and later ones like “Back to Black” (start at 0:15 and listen to “regret,” “wet,” and “bet”).

Others claim Regina Spektor, Bjork, or Kate Bush are the cause of the accent’s inception, and I think it’s important to note that all these women have very particular natural accents in their speech that may influence their singing (Adele, Winehouse, and Bush are all British, while Spektor is Russian American and Bjork is Icelandic). But perhaps the most important similarity to note between these women is that they all count jazz among their main influences, especially Winehouse and Spektor. Indeed, I hear little evidence of the “indie pop voice” as it exists today in Bjork’s sound except in her version of “It’s Oh So Quiet,” a Betty Hutton cover. So are these more current singers the originators of the totally invented “indie girl voice” accent, or did they adapt it from the jazz/big band singers who influenced them? Listening to Betty Hutton’s version of “It’s Oh So Quiet” lends credence to the idea that she influenced Bjork’s pronunciation, and the way the White Christmas crew sings the word “snow” is a toned-down version of the current accent. Even Ella, in the way she closes to the “ee” in “skies” and the “r” in birds, seems to have been an inspiration for this trend, along with Billie Holiday, with her long “l” on “I’ll” and her “ih” at the ends of “you” and “through.”

So it’s most likely that this is less of a current trend and more of an evolution, through jazz and blues to singer-songwriter through the years and now, to so-called indie girls. At this point, I think it’s important to note that the trend is not limited to women; Shawn Mendes, mentioned in the Buzzfeed article, has maybe the most exaggerated version of this accent I’ve ever heard, and Great Big World (starting at 2:26) does the same thing to “one” that the female artists do. But it does seem particularly prevalent in women, perhaps because of the Adele/Amy Winehouse influence. Still, I’d really prefer not to call it the “indie girl voice,” since guys can and do use it. “Indie pop voice” seems like a slightly better, or at least more PC, term for it. The term still doesn’t really acknowledge the trend’s likely jazz origins, but it speaks to both to the fact that this is an accent, rather than a vocal technique like vibrato or voice breaks, and the accent’s main current use in indie pop.

There’s the origin story of indie pop voice—stay tuned next week as I discuss how we handle the phenomenon as singers and voice teachers!

To read Part 2 of The Indie Pop Voice Phenomenon, click here!