Interview: Hannah Peel

Hannah Peel is a musician who very much marches to the beat of her own drum, or rather more fittingly, the beat of her Moog synth. Always diving head first into whichever project or two she has going, always pouring in a sense of discovery and wonderment, creating her own unique blend of sound.

We caught up with Hannah to talk about her recent touring, creating the sound for a musical adaptation of Brighton Rocks, as well as the story behind her upcoming remix album Particles In Space.

“Dipping my toes back into the theatre for Brighton Rocks was brilliant for me as I could express a lot of things. I had a lot of freedom with the director and the creative team to explore what I wanted to. They were really up for pulsing, dark synths.”

But how did she cope with the pressure of the interpretation?

“The most interesting part of that discovery is the book – when you go back and read it from a musical point of view there are hundreds of references to music in there… One of my favourite films is David Lynch’s Blue Velvet – you’ve got this classical kind of you know… ‘Blue Velvet’ (she sings down the phone) underpinning it all. In the show there’s a dancehall theme and they go to the cinema. I wrote three songs which were of a classic kind of ilk.”

Storytelling is something that Hannah does best with her albums, and with her most recent Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia, Peel makes use of a colliery brass band and synths to launch Mary Casio (a wonderful, mad space lady) into outer space.

On paper it looks like something that wouldn’t work, like it may be twee or something. But actually the power of the brass and synths, using the low end of the sub of the Moog fills that whole sonic palate of waves of the brass band. Live, you just get this overwhelming feeling – it just hits you like a force! It has this effect of making you feel like you’re really small… I would put on my glasses and play Casio keyboards, like the tango and rumba beat. Just as a way to alleviate what Awake But Always Dreaming (Hannah’s album prior to Mary Casio) was. I started taking it a bit further but there’s actually a star constellation called Cassiopeia which is the most insane thing – what if she went to space? What if she’s this mad space lady? I’ve been reading up on physics and in one of the books I’ve been reading it said we have a hundred billion neurons in the brain which are as many stars as there are in the galaxy. Reading that just cemented the idea – she’s going to go to space!”

Awake But Always Dreaming was dedicated to the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease on sufferers and their families. Something which Hannah dealt with first hand with her own Grandmother. Mary Casio, however, lives in the world of lost memories.

“At the very, very end of the album my Grandfather sings on the ‘Planet of Passed Souls’ and that’s him from 1927 as a 13-year-old boy. I kind of imagine that she got to this planet, stepped out of her spaceship, and has gone out and seen all the wind and rain, but the planet itself was sort of a place that might filter the rain out of the atmosphere, all the memories and sound and what you might remember. Take them off and put them into the air, swirl them around you… That is the end of the whole thing. After that I couldn’t write anymore anyway as it felt like that was the end. But maybe this was just her waking up in her garden, maybe this somebody passing into the realm of a different life. Maybe she just went there?”

With such a magical story behind the album, what was the thought behind inviting others on board for Particles In Space?

“I wanted to see how other people would interpret synths and brass bands, see what they would do with them…. I’m very honoured a lot of people have done the mix for me. I wanted to call it Particles In Space because of all these new stars that are being born and the atmosphere. All the people on there are UK based and that’s something I really wanted – to be a nod to the radiophonic workshop. I would say about 80% of it is female. Everything has its time, now seems to be the analogue, synth revival – I don’t think I’ll ever change out of it, I like it way too much!”

Huge thanks to Hannah for the chat and answering our questions!

Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia is out now and Hannah Peel is playing at BBC Music Biggest Weekend today in Belfast.

Nicky Lee Delisle

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