HANA IN NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 2015. PHOTOS: JAMES RYANG. STYLING: DAVID CASAVANT. HAIR: SHINYA NAKAGAWA FOR KERASTASE/ARTLIST NY. MAKEUP: LAURA STIASSNI FOR DIOR ADDICT/ARTLIST NY.
For more than a decade, singer-songwriter Hana Pestle performed and released acoustic music, touring with the likes of Joshua Radin and covering Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” In April 2015, however, a mysterious girl, simply named HANA, released “Clay,” an infectious electro-pop track that was co-produced by Blood Diamonds (now her boyfriend) and immediately garnered praise from Lorde, Lana Del Rey, and Grimes (who she counts as a close friend). Pestle, 26, had dropped her last name and stylized the first. “I feel like I was reborn a bit,” she says, “and this is what has come out.”
Though HANA has only released two other singles since “Clay,” her self-titled debut EP is out next week, following a North American tour with Purity Ring last fall and a world tour with Grimes, which concluded last night. Writing as HANA “opened up this whole new world of art and sounds,” she continues. “I used to have writer’s block and would feel very stagnant. Now it all just comes falling out of me.” Earlier this year, we spoke with Pestle over the phone about everything from growing up in Montana and her writing process to The Lord of the Rings and anime.
NAME: Hana Pestle
HOMETOWN: Billings, Montana by way of Atlanta, Georgia
CURRENTLY BASED: Los Angeles
SELF-CONFIDENCE: Hana is a culmination of what I’ve been working on for the last year. I’m surprised by and proud of myself because the relationships I was in, when I was young, were so bad. There were business relationships and personal relationships that were not good for me at all. Since I was so young, my brain developed underestimating myself and believing what people would tell me, like, “You don’t know what you’re doing,” “Let us handle this,” or “We’re the people who know what to do.” Taking it into my own hands and making that a huge part of this project, I’ve been overwhelmed and surprised by myself. I think what surprised me most is how inspired I’ve been. It’s like a whole new canvas for me to work on. Writing a song used to be a really a long process and now it’s so natural. It just makes me very happy and proud of how far I’ve come.
THE PROCESS: With most of these songs the music has come first and the lyrics have followed, but I also journal a lot. So sometimes if I don’t have an immediate idea for a lyric, I’ll look at journals from over the years and if something sticks out then I’ll use that as a jumping off point. Sometimes I’ll do my thing, where I’ve made something and I’ll listen to it over and over and cover my eyes—I don’t know why I cover my eyes but I like to be in pure black when I’m listening—and see if a visual idea comes to me and go from there.
NATURAL INSPIRATION: I’m inspired by nature and weather, lately. I went on a little road trip with my family over Christmas, we almost got stuck in a snowstorm, and that’s been a huge point of inspiration—kind of linking natural elements to emotions that I’m feeling. We were driving to Oklahoma and we actually didn’t even get there because of some storm called Goliath. There were tornados and ice storms. It was terrifying but also inspiring, because living in L.A., there’s no weather. It’s something that I draw from emotionally and artistically and I think that may come from me being from Montana, where it’s so extreme—so hot in the summer, so freezing in the winter, and the landscape is beautiful and extreme. I’ve been really pulling from those visuals and overall feelings of earth, clay, rain, and snow for a lot of my music lately.
MUSIC FROM THE START: When I think back on my earliest memories, and really any of my memories, it is always linked to a song or certain musical movement that was happening at the time. Music has always been so prominent in my life. My parents were young when they had me, I was born in Atlanta, and we lived in a pretty cool part of town. I was really young—I lived there until I was six—but I remember the culture of the area, Little Five Points, and it was a very gritty, grungy part of town. There were always bands playing in shops and cool theaters. I remember The Cranberries being on the radio, and R.E.M. and Radiohead. My parents were always listening to music. My mom always says it comes from my grandma who passed away; I never met her. It just feels like something that’s been in me since I was born. I’ve always been singing and wanting to learn to play things. My parents got me a guitar at a garage sale when I was pretty young and I just ran with it and started learning songs that I’d been obsessed with forever.
BORN FOR THE STAGE: My dad was an English teacher and the drama teacher at the high school in Montana. On the weekends he’d be directing a play and my sister and I would be backstage, going through all the costumes, and putting on our own little plays for each other. We’ve always been dramatic and grew up on a stage. I did [a few musicals] when I was in high school. I loved it. I think I just love being on stage singing in any capacity. I used to be in all the choirs at my school. Pretty much anything that had to do with singing on a stage, I would sign up for. [laughs]
SCI-FI AND FANTASY ARE… huge points of inspiration for my life in general, and they have been for a long time. My dad was always making us read, but I always loved it. When I was 12 or so I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and the same with Harry Potter and Star Wars. I’ve always been obsessed with otherworldly places. Now, that’s what I’ve been trying to create through music. I like to submerge myself in whatever I’m making—like turn it up really loud in my headphones and cover my eyes—and if I feel like I’ve been taken to another planet or fantasy world then I feel like I’ve succeeded.
I’ve been watching a lot of anime lately. I’ve been revisiting [Neon Genesis] Evangelion, which I’m obsessed with and have been for a long time, and it sparked so much inspiration and ideas, visually and musically. Star Wars[: The Force Awakens]—I’ve seen it three times. I went to see The Revenant—it’s definitely hard to watch certain parts, but it’s very good and so beautifully shot, and that’s exactly the visual world that I’ve been putting myself in when I’ve been making music, so it was really inspiring.
THE MESSAGE OF THE MUSIC: It’s overall positivity for anyone, taking your life into your own hands and not feeling lost, no matter where you are. I went through a pretty dark relationship that I could’ve been stuck in forever, and leaving it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. My friends and family almost held me hostage, they took me out of the situation for two months. I could’ve gone back if I wanted but [I realized] it was like I had been brainwashed. I could look at my life and situation finally with clear eyes, and be like, “This is getting out of control, it’s been five years and this could go on forever.” So I want my project to inspire people and [tell them that] you aren’t stuck wherever you are, you can get out of anything negative and turn something positive, no matter how impossible it seems. Maybe my songs can inspire a girl to leave a relationship that she’s been stuck in for a long time. I want to convey positivity and strength for everyone.