With a new EP titled Ghost Stories set to release November 12, Hannah Fairchild, the lead singer and guitarist for her Brooklyn, NY based band Hannah vs. The Many, chatted with us about her background, the inspiration behind Ghost Stories, her band, and how she started her musical career. Originally moving to New York to pursue a career in musical theatre, Hannah quickly discovered she would much rather pursue a career as a musician. So, her journey began!
I’m sure you get this a lot, but how did the band start, and what’s behind the name – Hannah vs. The Many?
When I first started playing my own songs, it was just me and my acoustic guitar—it was super folky, super country, and super simple. Then some of my friends who played instruments sort of suggested that they play with me and it never even really occurred to me to start a band. And my friend Matt said to me, ‘Do you maybe want me to play keys with you?’ And, I said, ‘Yes, actually I do!’ So I had a line-up of guys I knew from around basically for a little bit there.
When it came to the name, we were thinking about different titles but couldn’t come up with anything. Then I was at work one day, and I thought, you know, all female-led bands never end up the name of the girl and the name of a thing. So we decided to go with that format, and I thought ‘wait, what if we had a versus something?’ So I emailed my keyboard player at the time and I said, ‘Matt, what if we were Hannah versus something?’ Basically, as a joke, we Googled “Hannah vs. the”…and after checking back an entire two pages worth of various things, one of the things was Hannah vs. The Many, and I actually thought it was kind of awesome and said we should name the band that. So it was actually the result of a Google search and us being sarcastic. [Laughs]
I actually have a completely different band line-up currently than I did originally. Guys got interested in other projects, a couple got married, some moved…so I have a different line-up now than when I originally started, but everybody I’ve worked with has been great.
You moved to New York in 2005. Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from Moorhead, MN which is a very small town right next to Fargo, ND of Fargo the movie fame.
You have a new EP Ghost Stories set to release in November. What was the inspiration for the EP?
Before I had the band and it was still just me and the acoustic guitar, I decided I wanted to make an album all by myself, basically to prove that I could. I didn’t want anyone to help me. I wanted to do it all by myself. So I picked ten songs that I had at that time, and I played them all by myself in my apartment. I sort of did a baptism by fire approach to learning ProTools and I taught myself rudimentary bass. Then I bought a violin off of Craigslist and tried to play that – usually failing [laughs]. Besides a little bit of piano that my friend did, I did everything else on that album myself. I had a friend of mine mix and master it for me. That album is called Paper Kingdom, but it’s very stripped down, very acoustic, very simple.
After that album was when I started trying to put a band together. I kept playing the songs on that album but they sort of mutated into band songs. They went from me alone on acoustic guitar to me with a full band line-up and some of the songs changed so drastically and sounded so great with the band I have now that I really wanted to put out an album of those recordings NOW…in a sort of a new iteration. So I picked half of the songs from the original album that I made by myself in my apartment and re-recorded those with the band. So that’s what Ghost Stories is – just basically took a bunch of old songs and brought them back.
I read where it was originally scheduled for release last year. What caused the delay?
Yes, we were going to put out this EP last year and life just got in the way. Everybody got really busy with gigs and jobs and stuff, so it took us a little bit longer than anticipated to get it done, but it’s done now.
Can you share with us the background for some of the songs?
It was interesting going back through them because they are little pieces of my life from when I was twenty-five and twenty-six. So going back and revisiting them with a couple of years’ perspective has been kind of interesting. A lot of the songs on that original album were about getting over a rather severe heartbreak. So it was nice to take the songs—not detached exactly—but looking at them with a little more life experience and as songs rather than bad emotions.
I read where the song “Poor Leander” is played at three times its original tempo. What was the original tempo and what made you decide to change it up?
Well, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. It’s probably not three times as fast, but It is considerably faster. Originally, when I wrote “Poor Leander,” again it was just me on my acoustic guitar and it was very Country Western, very folky sounding. As I got more guys involved in the band who had different backgrounds than I did and were familiar with different types of music, it just punkier and punkier and punkier. Every time we played it, we started playing it faster. It’s kind of my drummer’s fault because every time we do any song, he says, ‘We should play that faster’ and I go ‘Okay.’ So that’s what’s up with that. But it originally started out as a folkier hoedown and it was also sadder…like ‘I’m a girl who’s been done wrong’ type of song, but in its current version, it’s much faster, much louder, and much more of a ‘you’re a jerk, go away’ song now.
To hear “Poor Leander” click HERE.
Then your songs “Nicolett” and “Slow Burn” really slow down and are a little more mellow with jazzy overtones and I really like them…I actually like the entire EP with all the different genres.
Well, thank you. I come from a musical theatre background and I do have a musical theatre degree. I grew up listening to show tunes rather than rock music. I came into rock and punk later in my musical travels. I like albums that have different genres. I don’t like listening to an album that has the exact same song ten times. I want to have slow songs and fast songs, I want things to be jazzy or rock or punk or country. I really like lots of different influences coming into an album. So even on a 5-song EP, I wanted it to be a little bit different.
Is there any one particular song from Ghost Stories that is especially personal to you and why?
HF: “Lady of the Court” is probably the most personal one. It’s basically a word-for-word account of my twenty-fifth birthday, which was not a fun time for anyone—least of all me. [Laughs]
Lots of drinks and lots of feelings were had on my twenty-fifth birthday. But that one song, in particular, is one that I look back on in retrospect and the whole point of that song is to try to get yourself out of a bad situation, recognizing that where you are isn’t great, and you need to crawl yourself out of the hole. So it’s kind of nice to play that song now and realize that I did in fact manage to do that…I overcame some of the things that were going on at the time that I wrote that song.
What is the writing process for the band? Does the riff come first or the lyrics?
The songs that I originally wrote before the band and even now, I write the rhythm guitar parts and the melody and the lyrics…the vocal part. What I like to do is write the song doing a really simple guitar and vocal demo and then send it to the guys that I’m playing with. Like I said, they all come from different backgrounds and they hear things that I don’t hear. And in some cases, it will completely change what I originally thought the song could be, usually for the better. We have one song that I wrote as a sort of tango pop song and I brought it to the guys and they turned into a surf-pop song…and it’s so much better. That’s a song that we’re working on hopefully for an album next year. I love collaborating with the guys…they know their parts, they change things around, but they’re also respectful of the structure and the way that I write the songs, but they bring their own influences to the table which I think makes the band stronger as a whole and the songs a lot better than if it were just me.
That’s so great that you are so open to their input because sometimes people are so set in their ways that it can hold them back.
Yeah, the guys I play with are so fun and so talented and I would be a fool if I didn’t take their input on the songs.
How did you get your start in musical theatre? What came first, acting, singing, or guitar?
I always sang as a kid…I just did. I have memories of being a small child and singing at bullies on the playground because they were being mean to me. I chose to sing at them instead of yell at them….I was a weird kid! So musical theatre came naturally from the fact that I was always singing. My Mom started playing show tunes for me. I got into musical theatre and acted and danced all throughout high school. I then went to college for musical theatre and ultimately headed to New York with the dream of becoming the next big Broadway superstar. I spent a year auditioning and hated it…hated every second of it. Everything that I had been auditioning for I didn’t think was very good, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities, I hated being typecast and not having an opportunity to be more than just the “loud, b**chy girl.” I thought I could do better than that. So after about a year of really being miserable doing musicals, I got into rock bands. I picked up the guitar and originally started writing my own songs because I wanted to have songs up on my website where they could be heard and I wouldn’t have to pay copyrights for them. And then I started liking writing my own songs more than singing other people’s songs.
When did you start playing guitar?
I started playing guitar when I was twenty-four.
Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
I took some lessons here and there. A lot of it for me has been listening to songs and then learning them and then saying, ‘Okay, I want to write a song that does this’ or ‘I want to write a song that sounds like this song…how does this song go?’ So I figured out how to adopt that style of choice and make it my own.
Do you come from a family with a musical background?
My family is avid music listeners. My mother frequently told me she herself was tone-deaf, but I don’t know how true that is since she said it. [Laughs] My parents always played music for me when I was a kid. My mom introduced me to musical theatre. She loved Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and bands like that. My dad played Genesis and Kate Bush for me when I was small. So they were always playing music for me, even though they themselves are not musicians.
What artists have inspired your musical style?
I think my strongest influence in terms of lyric and melody writing is a musical theatre composer by the name of Stephen Sonheim. He was my favorite musical theatre composer growing up…he’s my favorite! He’s a legend on Broadway and he’s amazing! So his musical influence was huge to me as a kid so it would be impossible for me to not be influenced by that lyric writing style.
Musically, I like a lot of different kinds of bands. I liked Indie folk stuff when I first got into it and it sort of branched out from there. Neko Case was a huge inspiration for me and made me want to write songs and also made me realize a girl could to this. It had not even occurred to me before. And Kate Bush was a huge inspiration for me, too, and Joni Mitchell, as well.
Have you found it hard being a female in the music world?
There are challenges. I think women in the music world have challenges that would never even occur to men. I talk a lot with my female friends who are also fronting bands and the same issues always come up. We’re worried we’re going to be perceived as a b***h if we play too hard – we worry too much if we’re going to be a bother…particularly if we play with men, and if we send too many emails, that they’re going to get annoyed with us. Even after playing guitar all these years, I still get slightly anxious when I go into a guitar store because I feel like I’m not as qualified to be there. I still have trouble with that.
I hear that a lot from some of the artists that I’ve interviewed where they get asked if they are buying something for their boyfriend.
Yeah, I get that a lot. Guys assume I’m just holding someone’s guitar for them. I get asked all the time when I’m carrying my guitar around New York City and people will say, ‘Do you play that?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m carrying it for my boyfriend…of course, I play it!’ I think that’s what great about your site is that it’s a great way for women to talk to each other and realize we do all have the same issues and it’s not just in our heads…we’re not making it up. And we do have a right to be here! It’s kind of a hard road, but I think it’s getting easier as there are more examples of women in music.
Well, thank you! Tell us your gear set-up for your performances?
My set-up is super simple. I have a Stratocaster guitar and I have a distortion pedal and that is what I use!
Any plans for a tour and if so, where can our readers find out more about where to catch a live show?
HF: I’m working on finishing up another full-length album which I hope to record next year. I’m also hoping to do some East Coast shows next year, as well – Boston, Philly, and I’m dying to go back to my home State! You can check my website for details.
A fun question, what the top three songs on your playlist?
HF: “Methuselah” by San Fermin; “Kenosha” from Swearin’; and “Speakeasy” by The So So Glos.
Here’s a tricky one I’ve asked some other artists and I always find their answer interesting. In one word, describe what music means to you?
HF: Inevitable. People ask me all the time, ‘What are you gonna do if music doesn’t work out?’ or ‘What do you think you’re going to be doing five years from now?’ and I don’t have an answer for that because I do music. Nothing else occurs to me because that is what I do.
For more on Hannah vs. The Many, click HERE.
Ghost Stories Track Listing:
All Eyes On Me
Lady Of The Court
Cover Photo credit: Greg Shutters