Ahead of her live set at The Old Blue Last, I had the opportunity to have a chat with Hannah Peel about her work past, present and future. Hannah is the type of musician who cannot simply be placed under the ‘singer-songwriter’ category; she approaches her work with the aim of making it a project, a labour of love.
Her music box compositions of covers in the mini-albums of ‘Rebox’ and ‘Rebox 2’ caught the attention of Hollywood and have been made use of in the films Anna Karenina and American Horror Story. And in 2012, Hannah travelled to the Orkney Islands alongside Simon Tong and Erland Cooper as part of The Magnetic North, in which they included the island’s choir in the album.
Sat on a curb in an East London side street, Hannah gave me an insight to all her various projects and an exclusive teaser on not just one, but two new albums.
What drew you toward the concept of music boxes?
It began when I was doing the music for a theatre show and I had needed things that turned round. So I began researching and got some gramophones and found a programmable music box in a magic shop. I instantly thought ‘I’ll get that’ and after the show had finished, I was thinking of ways to use it again.
I had just finished doing a festival which was all about technology, cables and health and safety. I just wanted to make something really simple, the fact that this is just a hole puncher on paper, it was just a delight. Just for a laugh I chose to cover ‘Tainted Love’, it went down very well. It got picked up, came out on vinyl and it just hasn’t stopped.
Did you find the music boxes quite technically different to normal instruments? Did you have to learn a whole new process?
No, it’s just like a mathematical grid. It’s a little bit like piano music, once you know where the notes are, and how to make the rhythms, it’s really easy. The turning is quite funny because when you’re turning it’s never in time to the music, so your hand, head and voice are totally separate.
Did you expect your music box covers to be met with such commercial success?
I didn’t expect it at all, I think that’s the beauty of it. I guess most people are known for things that they didn’t expect maybe? For me, when it got used on American Horror Story, it kind of summed up what I didn’t want it to be – a horror themed song.
What drew you towards the songs that you covered?
So Rebox 1 came out in 2010, but I’ve just got a massive love for the 1980s. Growing up with the music from the late ‘80s, I chose songs that I liked – in particular in terms of electronic synths. That’s why I put it to the music box, to give it an organic feel. For Rebox 2 (2015) it was just people I simply adore. For example, Wild Beasts and East India Youth, I’ve admired their music so much. I’ve been doing it all for the fun of it really.
With your work with The Magnetic North, how did working in the Orkney Islands inspire you?
The three of us (Hannah, Simon Tong and Erland Cooper) went up and Erland is from there so it was a wonderful experience to see his childhood through our eyes. Taking what he had seen on a daily basis, things that had always been there – the landscapes like the cliffs, all jaggedy and raw. It was all these hidden points which were beautiful, but also very dark. We recently went back and played in a castle, signalling the start of a new journey, as we’re about to start a second record.
Do you have any projects lined up for the future?
Yeh, I’ve just finished my record: a new album which will be the first in four years. That will be out early next year. It’s a record that will take you down the rabbit hole, it’s called Awake But Always Dreaming. The title says it all really, it’s about analysing the things that we live through, but also an escapism – a world of memory. It’s very beat driven and electronic, mixed with a classical side with piano and string arrangements. It’s quite a trippy record actually, it’s not a normal Hannah Peel album.
Huge thanks to Hannah for answering our questions!
Photo Credit: Garry Maclennan