Since the independent release of debut album Watching Me in 2007, Philippa Hanna has grown from her roots in the Gospel scene to be one of the most engaging and inspiring songwriters in the UK. I caught up with her before she sets off on a UK tour which includes a stop in Ipswich where she will be supporting Leona Lewis on March 7th at Ipswich Regent. Philippa will also be appearing at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds on 12th April headlining her own “New Album Tour”.
Lets talk about yourself and your music, and how you got to where you are today.
OK – I was born in Barnsley, my Mum was a primary school teacher, my Dad was an entertainer on the cabaret circuit. He’s Irish, from an Irish show family, so I grew up with show business. Then basically I spent most pf my young life in the music world, following my Dad around, travelling with him to shows and stuff like that. I started writing songs when I was about thirteen. I’ve been writing songs ever since, I’ve released four records, I’ve written two books and I do a lot of touring – that pretty much brings us up to date!
So you’ve not done a lot have you?!
No, not really! But I definitely want to do a lot more.
How would you describe your music?
My music has kind of evolved since I started writing songs. When I was younger, thirteen or fourteen, I started off writing pop and R&B and dance music. Then when I was about nineteen or twenty I had a bit of a faith journey that began and that opened my writing up to more spiritual content. I try and write songs that I hope will help people, help them feel inspired, help them feel comfortable with themselves. Really I just try and tell my story. My last album and the one before had, I guess, quite a folky element because there is a lot of story telling in the songs.
Your song “I am Amazing” from 2011 is very much about helping people to recognise themselves, isn’t it?
Yes, its about having a healthy self image. We are surrounded by all these air brushed images. We’ve got the celebrity culture where value is placed on how many followers you have, how good your Instagram feed is. It is hard to know where your true value comes from and what makes you special and unique. It is a tough culture to have healthy self esteem in. “I an Amazing” is about my journey with that, the lyrics are a bit of a pep talk to myself.
As we mentioned you keep busy, you are about to embark on a UK tour – do you enjoy touring?
I do. I love it. I feel like life gets broken up into different segments and touring is one of them. It is nice to tour because that’s all you have to focus on when you are on tour. The rest of the year it is more like isolated events here and there which is harder because you have to balance all your other stuff with that. But it is great to just be on the road. It is tiring, but it is amazing.
You are here in Ipswich on March 7th and the next day you are up in Glasgow! I’m assuming you just jump in the back of a tour bus or car and somebody else does the driving whilst you sleep?
Yeah – you know I have to be honest that is the case. I’ve got a great husband who is the driver, I will curl up with my Starbucks or whatever and just let him do all the work. It is very tiring, just the adrenaline of going out on stage in front of lots of people and then coming down off of that it does put your body through a lot.
At the end of a tour do you then just sit back, relax and do nothing for days on end?
I try to have a couple of days off, sometimes its not possible to have a lot of time off, but yeah – I usually just sleep for a couple of days, have the duvet day with the dog, stay in my pajamas, watch Friends on TV, that kind of thing.
Talk to me about Rocketfuel and crowdfunding – it is how you are making a lot of things happen I suspect.
I am an independent artist, I have never had a record deal. I have worked with labels on different things like distribution and I have a fantastic management team but I have never had a record deal. Part of the reason for that is because of what I am doing sort of falls between the cracks of a lot of different genres. Some people pigeon hole me as a Christina artist, some as a Country artist, some say its pop – its very hard to push me into a box which record labels love to do. If they can’t do that they find it a bit confusing. So rather than make myself one particular thine lets just try this crowdfunding thing and see if the fans will help carry it. And they did! I was so surprised – it is three years ago today that I reached my target for my “Through the Woods” album, we went over our target by 40%. I think it is a sign of the times because music is more about the consumer now than ever because of streaming and YouTube. People decide what they like now, not lables, so it is great to stay indie!
Quite apart from touring in your own right you have also toured with some pretty cool people: Lionel Richie, Rebecca Fergusson and of course the current Leona Lewis tour. Do you get to know these people?
You do get to know people, you get to know the team members and band members maybe more than you get to know people like Lionel Richie who is a person with a very busy schedule and who kind of drifts in and out to do his show. But we got to know him and spend a bit of time with him. We got to know the Collabro boys really well last year. It was a long tour as well, it was thirty one dates so across that time we really did become like a little family – night after you enjoy the after party having done the show.
But you have your own band with you, its not just you on stage, tell us about your band.
Well, on the Leona tour it will just be me and Joel on percussion but for my own tour this year I will have a full band: myself, my husband, my brother-in-law, Josh on bass, and a guy called Matt Hill who plays electric guitar and will be the support act as well.
A family affair then, it is true, isn’t it, that your Dad opened for you one one tour?
Yeah, he did. But I opened for him many times when I was growing up. He released his first CD for a number of years towards the end of last year so we did a little tour together. It was really nice, just like coming full circle in a way.
Apart from writing songs, you have written two books along the way. Is the process of writing songs different from writing books?
There are similarities, I think with book writing one of the things that really helped me was just to just let it spill out in whatever shape or form in comes and then to start to edit later. I think with a song you do a bit of that – getting it down on paper and then editing but it is a much quicker process and you obviously strip a lot more content out of a song and condense it a lot more. Both of them are process that I am getting better at – hopefully!
You have a new album coming out in April, “Even Now” is a track from that which is available to download – can you tell us about the rest of the album?
Yeah – “Even Now” is a good little taster of what is to come. It is probably a little more contemporary than my other records. I worked with a great pop producer in Nashville called Kyle Lee and we both listen to the same stuff at the moment. We listen to a lot of pop even though we are both fans of country and other stuff so we were just kinda drawing on those influences. So, yeah, really it is a lot of fun, I’m just hoping that when people listen to this album they are just going to want to listen to it again and again and again, in the car, singin’ along, dancin’ along. Hopefully it is uplifting – the theme of the album is taking a risk, stepping out in faith, which is what we have done with the album. We made it in America, we literally went over on a plane, didn’t know anyone and within six months we had this team in place and doors just began to open. It is just like that feeling of stepping out into the unknown and trusting, and the fear that comes with that and the amazing things that happen – that is the theme for this year for me actually!
Something happens when you take those risks, something that just brings a new level of power into your life. Me and my husband are planning on moving out to the States for a little while from the summer and it is a complete step into the unknown for us – but you know, if you are not doing things like that with your life you are just going to get stagnant and bored. Somethings you’ll get it wrong but sometimes you’ll get it right and do it your way.
Are you going back to any particular part of the States?
We are going to base ourselves in Nashville, mainly because of the song writing community, it is just incredible. In one city there is just an unlimited supply of talented writers so I am just going to try and make my way around everyone. Then we are going to hit the road and tour.
Before Phillipa disappears across the pond, there are plenty of opportunities to see her perform around the UK. But for now let me leave you with one of my favourite Phillip Hanna numbers which is not from the new album but I think you will like this version of “Easy Like Sunday Morning“.
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