Entering the coffee shop to meet country artist Hannah Anders for the first time, I was ready for anything. This was a young woman who had her album release party at Santa’s Pub. If you’ve been there, I don’t have to explain a thing. If you haven’t been there, Santa’s Pub is a place you either love or you hate. There really isn’t a middle ground. I’m a very simple person. I’m very easy to please. I don’t eat fancy food, I shop at thrift stores and I LOVE Santa’s Pub. It’s no country club lounge, and if you can’t handle the smell of cheap beer and stale cigarettes, steer clear, but let me tell you, for me, Santa’s is like a trip down memory lane.
As a little kid, I spent many afternoons in the gin mills on the East Side of Buffalo, New York, twirling around on barstools, inhaling those very same delectable scents. Now, I wasn’t drinking beer or smoking cigarettes, but I was downing cherry pop and eating chips. This was my typical after-school outing with Dad. Crucify him if you want. It was the 1970’s and it wasn’t uncommon. My Mom was at work until dinner time, he got home around noon. It’s what we did. It was normal. I enjoyed it. I learned to converse with adults (so they were a little speech-impaired, I never judged), I learned how to rack billiard balls and best of all, I learned so many great songs and who sang them in those bars. I don’t regret one moment of those days. In fact, I’m really grateful for them. I even have a framed photo of the owner of our most-frequented establishment, a little place called Regal’s, which was located on the corner of Broadway and Playter Street. His name was Eftem “Jimmy Regal” Pappas. He’s just one of the many muses in my office. He’s looking at me right now and telling me to shut up and write the interview on Hannah Anders. I’m going to do that, but Santa’s Pub and my story were a good place to start. I wanted to go to Santa’s Pub for that release party. I got bogged down with other things and I just couldn’t make it. Unlike when I was a kid, I had no choice. I missed that non-option. I wanted someone to tell me to get in the car and drive me to Santa’s Pub, and go sit down and smell that nostalgic blend of old beer and cigarettes in a place where nobody cared if my hair was or wasn’t on point, or if I had more than a few dollars in my bank account. That was my kind of release party. My only question when I was going to meet Hannah Anders was if she had this release party at Santa’s because she was really down with that environment too, or was she having it there to mock it? It didn’t take me long to figure it out.
Coming over to the table I was already sitting at with my 8-year old granddaughter (who was on Fall Break, which I never recall having back in the Dark Ages), Anders carried a plate. “I hope you don’t mind if I eat my breakfast.” No, I didn’t mind at all. She had just got in from some tour dates and was clearly tired and hungry, but not the least bit grouchy. She was even very sweet to my granddaughter, who tends to be on the shy side, so I appreciated that as well.
Think Country: You’re from Atlanta, I read?
Hannah Anders: I am.
TC: Were you born and raised in Atlanta?
HA: I was born right outside of Houston, Texas. My Dad was actually an Astronaut Trainer at a Space Center there and that’s why I was born there. We didn’t really put in a ton of time in Houston. I predominately grew up in Georgia, although we moved around a little bit in the first few years of my life, but I don’t really have any solid memories of that. We moved to North of Atlanta when I was about four or five, so I was there until I graduated high school.
TC: When did you start playing music?
HA: My Mom says I sung before I spoke, which I think she thinks is a little irritating. She would ask me to take a bath and I would sing, “Bath, bath, bath” (in a singing voice). She couldn’t get me to just speak. So, my parents just kind of knew early that they wanted to nurture that because it was obvious that I was taking to the performing arts. I very early on went into voice lessons and choir and I grew up in a really small town in Forsyth County, Georgia, and I think my closest neighbor was like, three miles away and she was my best friend.
Image of Forsyth County, Georgia courtesy of Wikipedia
TC: Oh wow. Well, you didn’t have any other choices, right?
HA: Exactly. We grew up on 18 acres and had goats and horses and it was a very idyllic childhood. Definitely how you gain a good work ethic, like we all had chores around the house. So, there wasn’t a ton in the way of agencies, like in New York or Los Angeles, so I had to grasp at whatever resources were available.
TC: I can understand that.
HA: I come from a really musical family. My Grandma was my first piano teacher and we always sung in the car and at church so as I got into high school I chose to go on to a boarding school in North Georgia that had a really strong performing arts program. I wanted to really immerse myself into that and then I learned about Belmont when people from the college come in and pitch their school. I thought, “Oh, my God. I can go to school for classical voice? I can go to school for commercial voice? This is amazing.” So, that’s when I really put my eyes on Nashville and decided that’s where I’m going to school. I pulled all my safety school applications, it was like, Belmont or nothing. I developed a relationship with the Admin Coordinator for the Southeast in my junior year and I would write her every quarter and have her look at my syllabus to make sure I was in the right classes to meet Belmont’s recommendation of standards for admission.
Photo courtesy of belmont.edu
TC: It sure was Belmont or nothing. That’s good. You had a plan.
HA: I did. Also, at that time in high school, that’s when I really started to write songs. I was about 14, and there was an alumni of my high school that actually had a recording studio in North Georgia, which was crazy. There’s just not much up there! So, I actually recorded my first few songs with him, and he became a really dear friend. That’s when my love of music became pen to paper and when I began to understand the process of writing and recording and creating something that was original.
TC: You said you played piano as a young child, that your Grandma taught you. Now, do you play piano? Do you play guitar? Do you play anything and everything?
HA: I definitely don’t play anything and everything. I wish I was one of those people that can pick up any instrument and play it. Piano is definitely my dominant instrument. I kicked and screamed my whole way through, but my parents made me stay with my piano lessons, but then when I went to Belmont I had to have a secondary instrument. My first instrument was voice and my second was piano. I opened a business as a vocal coach when I moved to Los Angeles several years ago, so I really had to own my piano because it’s very hard to coach someone on voice if you can’t accompany them. About a year or so ago, I picked up the guitar. I think I can play five chords now and go from one to the other, fairly seamlessly!
TC: Hey, as long as you’ve got those three!
HA: Right?! You just need the three! I hope to get good enough at guitar that I can accompany myself at songwriter nights, but piano is definitely my dominant.
TC: You would describe yourself best as a country singer?
TC: How would you describe your sound? I never ask anyone to compare themselves to anyone else because everyone is their own individual person, but let’s say, if you were opening for someone, who would you fit with?
HA: You know, I think we have a very good combination of non-traditional country, yet at the same time I’m so influenced by the classic southern rock bands, Skynyrd, Alabama, AC/DC and Aerosmith. I really love all of that. I think we could just as easily swing between a country and a rock band for an opener. I think we could open for Miranda Lambert. I think we could open for Chris Stapleton. I think we could open for Lynyrd Skynyrd or Kid Rock. I think we could run the gamut for this kind of stuff. When I first lived in Nashville, I was really getting pushed by my team at the time to go into the pop country world. I love that kind of music, it just isn’t what I write naturally and it isn’t what I gravitate to as a performer. That’s not to say there isn’t some influence and I think you need to be conscious of what’s in vogue when you’re trying to make popular top 40 country music, but I definitely wanted to make sure we didn’t lose an edge that made us different, that I felt made us true to who I was. Even in our set we do a rock medley. We go from “Back in Black” to “Walk This Way” to “Sweet Home Alabama” to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and it doesn’t seem odd in our set at all.
Video courtesy of Hannah Anders and YouTube
TC: That’s a very common thing in country right now, to mix classic rock or southern rock in. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but it works, especially if you have a little bit of edge to your sound. You don’t just want to go out there and do a country cover, like a Miranda Lambert cover or a Carrie Underwood cover. It’s good to throw something from a different genre in just because for the people, that kind of wakes them up.
HA: I agree.
TC: Don’t you think it wakes up the crowd?
HA: It one hundred percent wakes up the crowd. We have people that are kind of enjoying it and you throw something like that in and all of a sudden they’re jumping up.
TC: Right, because everybody knows it, everybody can sing it.
HA: “Walk This Way”, the first time I had to learn the lyrics, I realized that’s a really dirty song!
TC: It is. Dating myself here, but when that song first came out, it was kind of like, “Whoa!”, and they were playing it on AM radio, so that was really taking a risk back then, not only for the artists but for the program directors that were crazy enough to play it. It’s one thing to play the song and sing along to it, but to remember those lyrics and have to sing them by yourself?! That has to be a little bit of a chore, is it not?
HA: It is, because I forget lyrics to my own songs sometimes. It’s really rare and I really try to be in a space where I’m never thinking about lyrics. I want to be performing. I don’t want to be in my mind going, “Uh oh, what is the next line?”
TC: You just want them to roll out.
HA: I want them to roll out, I want to be on autopilot with lyrics. There have been times at the end of a show and it’ll be like when you drive home and you don’t remember how you got there.
TC: Oh yes, I can relate! Honestly though, I think country audiences are more forgiving than the average concert audience. I’ve been at shows where major artists have forgotten lyrics. I remember Dierks Bentley forgetting lyrics. He just kind of stopped, looked up and said, “I can’t remember what comes next.” Nobody cared. If someone like him can stand up there and admit he couldn’t remember his own lyrics and nobody cared, we’re all human, it’s all good.
Video courtesy of Hannah Anders and YouTube
HA: Absolutely, it happens. Actually, as an audience member, I love human moments with artists, and as a performer, it happened to me the other night with “Sweet Home Alabama”. We had a guy and he was dancing all around and I was laughing so hard. We got to the second verse and I completely forgot the lyrics. I got up to the mic and I said, “I’ve lost total control of the situation.”
TC: Do you have a certain way of bringing your audience into the show? A certain way of connecting with them? A style?
HA: I love to talk to them. The smallest gap between the stage and the audience is the largest gap.
TC: Some artists come out, they sing, they leave. I don’t sense that with you. I feel like you want that connection.
HA: I really make that effort. I also feel you’re somewhat at the mercy of the personality of your audience, because every audience has a personality to it. Some are very rambunctious and responsive and some are very subdued and you have to give grace for people to enjoy music the way that they do. So, I think there’s that line of doing your genuine best to connect and also don’t force yourself on people if that’s not how they want to enjoy your music. I really do try, especially on the originals, to tell stories and ask questions of the whole audience. We have a couple songs where we’ll ask them to call out a response and if they give me a really crappy one I’m like, “Wow.” It usually comes after the medley, and I’ll say, “I know we’re not AC/DC, but throw me a bone”, and that usually gets people laughing and they kind of catch themselves. I like to find the little personalities in the crowd and kind of call them out in a funny, positive kind of way so they start talking back. I think you have to remember that you’re not up there for yourself. We are fed, as performers so much by being up there on stage. If you haven’t reached these people, then, you’re probably not getting asked back and they probably can’t put their finger on why they didn’t love you, but something didn’t connect. The artist has to find that way. Adele is brilliant at that, because she’s not a dancer, she doesn’t walk around the stage, but she’s hysterical and she’s exceedingly popular.
TC: Again, a style. She’s selling more albums than God, she’s found her style and obviously you’ve found yours. New music? You have some that’s just been released, right?
TC: How’s that going? How are your streams going? How is all of it going?
HA: You know what? I think it’s going well but I have to check back into that because I’ve been on the road. I try very hard to walk the balance of caring about those things because that’s how you’re going to reach people and move up in the world, but don’t be so focused on Spotify numbers that you’re so upset that they aren’t doing more.
TC: Don’t obsess?
HA: At the end of the day, I know better than anybody that I don’t have the millions of dollars and the record label machine behind me. I can’t compete at that level right now. It’s not that I’m not capable of that or because I don’t want to, I just don’t have the resources. So, to feel badly because I’m not doing that is not a productive use of energy, however, I have to recognize that that’s important. You also don’t want to fatigue your fans. Like, on Facebook. “Here’s my music, here’s my music.” They’ll tune you out.
TC: At some point, you can’t oversaturate your fans. You can only listen to it “X” number of times, and they’re going to say, “Okay, well, I’ve listened to that 500 times.”
HA: “I’ve got it!” (laughs)
TC: Exactly! All you can do is hope you get new people when you go out on the road and you connect with new people and then you get more and you grow your fan base.
HA: Exactly. We recently got verified on Spotify which was really great.
TC: That’s good. It’s nice to have that little blue check mark.
HA: That little blue check mark has really helped. Partly because our first single got added to a Spotify playlist so that was a big deal.
TC: Everything is changing so fast. This week it’s getting on a Spotify playlist and who knows what the next thing will be. Trying to keep up is getting tough. It’s mind boggling. It’s nice that you have a publicist that can keep those things sorted out for you. It’s hard for an independent artist to keep up with the streaming machine while doing all the other things an artist has to do.
HA: You’re right. It’s very hard to do that and go out and be an artist, to try and compartmentalize all of that.
TC: Yes, because being an artist and putting out your best work is what your job should be, but nowadays there are so many other things you have to worry about as an indie artist. Unless you have help, you can really lose your way. Back in the day, artists worked on their music and tried to get signed. Now there is so much more to it. I have to get my streams up, I have to get on this playlist and that playlist and keep my streams up. It’s stressful.
HA: Right. How many Instagram followers do I have? Did I lose any? Aaagghhh!!! I wasn’t a business major, I was a voice major! I just want to write a song. I’m not gonna book that show now because my Instagram followers went down or my Spotify streams aren’t high enough. At the same time you have to recognize that in this day and age, more than ever, this is a music BUSINESS and if you cannot put that hat on and accept that you are a brand to be sold and if you’re not marketable, you’re not marketable. There is an element of that, and as an artist you have to get a little callous about it and not take it personally as much.
TC: I give independent artists a lot of credit these days. They have a lot on their plates if they’re doing everything that needs to be done to really try and make it. Even artists that have label backing, I guess they have the money, but then they lose a lot of control, so I suppose both sides have their advantages. What do you think?
HA: That’s true. If you’re signed to a label you lose your say, but then again, I’m staying at The Days Inn tonight.
TC: Or in a van. Or in a Toyota Corolla.
HA: We’re also the roadies and the hair and makeup team.
TC: Your own booking agent and everything else. I do wish you luck though. So, lastly, when you “Think Country”, what do you think?
HA: I think really good stories. I think a very specific feeling from growing up in the country.
TC: Yeah, you really did. Three miles away from your best friend who was really your only choice!
HA: (Laughing) True! Good thing we got along! I lived in Los Angeles for nine years before coming back to Nashville, and in that time I missed that quietness and nature and calm. All of those things that in my early 20’s I kind of begrudged living in a part of the country like that. Not that I’m old now, but back then, I was like, “I want to live in a city, I want to be around things”, I wanted all that stimulation. Now, I really don’t. I want it sometimes, but mostly I don’t. I have a house now by Percy Priest Lake and I have woods in my backyard and I look outside and I can breathe and it’s really nice. People always told me to wait until I got I a little bit older and I would really value space and quiet in my life, and it’s true, I really do. I love coming home at the end of the day and just taking all that in, it feels like an exhale.
TC: Especially with the life that you live.
HA: I think in this business you need two things, you need good people around you to check you when you’re not acting right and to love you and celebrate your success and pick you up when you’re falling down, and you I think you need balance to refill your tank. I think if you don’t get those two things, you’ll burn out pretty quickly.
TC: Those are the people that fizzle and give up, or worse yet, the people that don’t have a good support system, those are the ones that end up sitting on the street with a cardboard sign. You don’t ever want to be the person sitting on the street with a cardboard sign. Go fake it till you make it or flip burgers, but don’t end up on the street with a sign. Keep good people around you.
HA: Nope. I’m not interested in anything like that. I woke up this morning, made myself a cup of coffee, opened my back doors and breathed in the fresh air and thought, I’m okay.
You know what? Hannah Anders is okay. Maybe she didn’t spend her afternoons in smoky gin mills on the East Side of Buffalo, but I think that album release party at Santa’s wasn’t due to her current financial situation. She could have had it in her backyard or a park. If she didn’t want it to be there, it wouldn’t have been there, period, and people don’t choose to spend more than ten minutes of their lives in Santa’s Pub unless they want to be there. It takes a special kind of grounded individual to WANT to be there for more than ten minutes. Was she there to mock it? I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all.
Hannah Anders can be found: