South Carolinian-born Hannah Wicklund will release her third album “Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin’ Stones” on Strawberry Moon Records in the UK on Friday 13th September. The album was produced by Sadler Vaden, guitarist for Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit and received rave review when it was released in the US last year.
The 10-track self-released album was recorded in Nashville, TN and is a fresh take on Wicklund‘s musical influences drawn from ’60s, ’70s and ’80s guitar-driven rock. “Once we started writing some songs, I saw that she had a real, raw talent,” says Producer Vaden. “I was inspired to work with her by her love of classic rock music and blues. I wanted to honour that in making this album, but also add a little modern edge to it.” The album dovetails her nationwide UK Roadstars tour with Piston and Gorilla Riot in October.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Hannah Wicklund whilst on tour in the US to talk about her new album, the forthcoming Roadstars tour as well as digging a little deeper into the band’s history and influences.
So, first of all, I believe you are presently on tour in the US, I’ve been looking at your Facebook page and you’ve been all over the place recently. I just wondered, how has the show’s been going so far?
Oh, it’s been really great. You know, we’ve kind of started in the south and worked our way up north and we’re heading out west, so we’re covering the whole gambit. And yeah, we kicked it off with a festival. So we’re playing another festival in Chicago tomorrow and some other stuff. So it’s been a fun one so far.
Excellent. So I know that your latest album, it’s already out in the US, but you’re about to release it here in the UK on the 13th September. I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit about your starting point for the album musically. Did you have a particular sound or theme in mind for the release?
You know, whenever we were sitting down and starting to do the record, it really just came about organically. It just stemmed from the songs themselves. So it really started with that. And then, you know, sonically we made those decisions based on, you know, what the songs wanted. But Sadler Vaden – the producer, him and I sat down and we co-wrote a couple of the songs on the record, which really helped give it, you know, a direction.
So the first thing we heard from the band was “Bomb Through The Breeze”. And as soon as I heard that track on the radio, it just really blew me away. The track has obviously been receiving a lot of airplay on Planet Rock radio here, and this has generated a lot of interest in you and your work in the UK. I just wondered have you been overwhelmed by the response you have received from the UK so far?
It’s been phenomenal. I mean, I definitely never knew that there was such a good pocket for rock and roll music in the UK. So this has definitely opened my eyes to that. We’re excited to get over there and meet everybody and play and it’ll be a fun fall for sure.
And so have you ever played in the UK previously or visited here before?
No, we toured Europe back in 2017, but we didn’t make it to the UK – so this is the first.
So obviously you’re going to be hitting the road across the UK on the Planet Rock Roadstars tour alongside Gorilla Riot and Piston. It’s a great combination of three emerging bands. I just wondered, what are you looking forward to most about this tour?
I mean, other than seeing the UK and meeting everyone over there for the first time, it’ll be great to be on tour with those two bands. You know, the whole thing we’re looking forward to.
Have you actually had the chance to check out the other two bands online or have you looked them up?
Oh yeah, definitely. It’s going to be a good line up for sure. I think Planet Rock did a good job of curating the tour.
And, so you’ve also just released a new single from the album, which is “Shadowboxes and Porcelain Faces”. Could you tell us a little bit about that song in particular and kind of the inspiration behind it?
Yeah, that song is kind of my take on the social media culture, and being a little bit unsure about how to navigate it. You know, the shadowboxes and porcelain faces it’s kind of representative of, you know, shadowboxes being like Facebook and the soapbox and everybody’s portrayed versions of themselves and you know, the porcelain faces is even just kind of going directly to the filters and stuff. So it really does translate into that world. And it’s more about just being yourself and being authentic and not overthinking your responses and your human aspect.
Like you mentioned earlier, you worked on the album with Sadler Vaden from Jason Isbell and the 400 unit. I just wondered, what was it like working with Sadler and what did he bring to the table?
It was really fun working with Sadler because it’s the first time I had a producer that understood my position, seeing as he had a three-piece power trio rock and roll band when he was in his early twenties, and he was the lead guitar player. So, he understood my perspective better than some others might. And he did a great job of kind of tightening up the parts in the songs. So his focus was definitely on getting songs to the next better version of themselves.
Do you have a favourite song to perform live and if so, which song and why?
I think “Mama Said” is my favourite song to do live and that’s cause it’s kind of the one that we draw the most and jam on the most live. So it’s different – it’s different, but very similar every night. And I use the talk box on it, so it’s fun.
So, you just mentioned there that “Mama Said” – it’s different every night. In terms of the other tracks in the set, I mean, you know, how much different do they sound live to on the album. Do you try to improvise within your live performances?
Yeah, there’s a handful of songs that we play pretty similar to a t every night and then there’s a handful that are structured the same and really resemble, and sound like the record. All the songs, I think we do a good job of representing the record, but also we are throwing in some jams and some improvisational stuff to keep it interesting from night to night. Cause that’s my favourite part about playing live is more about what you don’t know is going to happen.
So expect the unexpected.
Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.
And in terms of the rest of the band, I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit about the rest of the guys in the band. How long you’ve been together and how you all met, that kind of thing.
Well, it’s actually, it’s a pretty new fresh line-up. But we all met down in Mexico, this past January at a music festival. And so the drummer, his name is Graham Spillman, and he and I have been playing together since the beginning of May – so very fresh. But then the bass player going to be with us over in the UK was also part of that in Mexico crew, and his name is Al Kim, and he’s a phenomenal bass player. So it’s a fun new line-up, but definitely the best one I’ve had.
That’s cool. So I understand that you know, you’ve been performing since quite a young age. Apparently, you founded the band as an eight-year-old, is that right?
Yeah, that’s what happened.
How did it all come together, give us a little bit of a history of the band? Obviously, over here in the UK, we’re still kind of digging under the surface to find out what’s going on with the band so can you give us a little bit of a rundown of the background of the group and how it kind of came together.
Yeah, so I started when I was eight. We were essentially like a classic rock cover band for the first few years. But we put out our first EP when I was 12 and we’ve been a power trio the whole time. And basically I graduated high school a couple of years earlier when I was 16, and I’ve been on the road since. And we’ve really transitioned from being like a classic rock band flying around playing back in my hometown, which is like a touristy island off the coast of South Carolina. And we transitioned into original music, you know, when I was around like 14/15, and started taking it way more seriously. And then, it’s just been snowballing from there.
Which artists would you say have influenced your sound and direction?
I’d definitely say, you know, Jimi Hendrix and Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. And you know, a lot of the bands that I covered when I first started the band are the people that had the heaviest influence on the sound at this point.
I have to say you’re not just a great guitarist, but I really love your voice as well. You’ve got such a great voice. And I mean obviously when you mentioned there about Hendrix, now that’s a default kind of guitar influence, but as a singer which singers would you say you turn towards?
I really love Etta James and Stevie Nicks. But I do take a lot of my vocal cues from men. So again, a lot of those, you know, classic rock bands, and stuff like even Grand Funk Railroad. You know, a lot of different people.
So I mean, as you said, you kind of started this band off when you were eight. What was your introduction to playing the guitar? I mean was that the point when you actually picked up the guitar and started playing. Were your parents kind of pushing you into that direction when you were younger. How did it map out?
Yeah, my parents had a lot to do with it. I started playing the piano when I was three and then when I was eight my dad got me my first guitar. I was only playing for like six months, but I had an older brother that had a band. He has a band called The High Divers. And so it seemed really natural to have a band. My brother had already had one since I was, you know, five or six years old – I’d been watching him. So, that was the next step.
So when did you actually first start gigging then? I mean, at eight years old, it’s going to be difficult to get shows in clubs as kind of a child prodigy. At what point did the band actually start taking its real form.
Well, we started making pretty decent money at shows when I was nine. So it really was seamless. I mean, once we started the band, our first paid gig that we had was playing like a private party at a house. I think we each made like a hundred bucks for playing like six songs, you know? And so it was like that we definitely all got bit by the bug. You know, Hilton Head is a touristy town. So in the surrounding areas, it’s just a tourist trap. So having a young kid’s band playing classic rock was kind of very welcome and it kind of fit in with the somewhat cheesy atmosphere around the island. So we were never starving for gigs for sure.
So, at what point did you actually start to realize that something’s actually happening here? This is like, it’s more than just a cover band. You know, I can see a career coming out of this. At what point did you think, right, it’s time to kind of really start taking this seriously.
Well, when I put out my first EP, we recorded it in my brother’s dad’s garage and I was like 12 and we were printing all of them on our computer and burning every CD. We sold like, I don’t know, like 3000 copies and we burned and printed and stuck stickers on every single one. And so when people were responding really well to my original music, you know, that was an indicator. But I think the most defining moment was, we had just put out that EP and just started playing our original music and we did a private party for Brian Johnson – the first of a few and he got up on the mic and he said ‘if these kids don’t go onwards and upwards, it’s their own damn fault’. And so, kind of from that point forward, you know, when I was like 12/13 was when I really started taking it super seriously and really started deciding to not take the SATS cause I knew that I didn’t want to go to college – that kind of thing started happening then. So, yeah, that was definitely, I think the moment.
So this new album, this is your third album. And so can you tell me about the two previous albums? Because we’ve not come across that stuff in the UK yet. So maybe we’re going to have to dig under the surface a little bit to try and find it.
So they’re actually not even really available anywhere anymore. They were under the name The Steppin Stones because the band was just named The Steppin Stones for the first like 12/13 years. And then I added my name two years ago when I found myself to be the only consistent member (laughing). Then, you know, so I haven’t really put that music back out there cause they were recorded when I was 15 and 17. But you know, the songs off of my newest record, “Mama Said” and “Looking Glass” are both songs off the previous records – the first full length I ever put out was titled Looking Glass – so that was the title track obviously. And then “Mama Said” was off the album that I put out right before this last one, which is also funnily enough self-titled only under the Steppin Stones name. So yeah, it’s weird, part of me considers this latest record to be the first one. You know, it was kind of the first one that was done with a producer that really kept a watchful eye and the first one with my name out front and yadda yadda.
And so obviously you’ve been performing yourself for a long time. I mean, what was your first experience of seeing another artist play live? What was the first concert that you actually went to?
Well, the first concert that I went to that I can remember was Alice In Chains opening up for Nickelback. And I was like four years old. And I think Nickelback had just come out with the Spiderman song and I was like on my brother’s shoulders waving a Spiderman to the Spiderman song. And it’s funny cause Nickelback is not necessarily my favourite band, but that is my earliest concert memory (laughing).
Do you have any particular British artists that you actually like or that you listen to?
I mean, I love the Rolling Stones and Adele but as far as like a tighter view on the thing, I’m not positive.
Obviously, you are going to be coming to the UK and you’re going to be playing quite a lot of different cities on this run. Is there anywhere, in particular, you are really looking forward to visiting?
I mean London’s got to be pretty cool. That’s probably at the top of my list in the UK right now.
In terms of your own musical tastes, kind of what do you listen to when you’re kicking back at home. I mean, is it always kind of blues-rock stuff or do you have anything else, you know, more eclectic that you listen to?
Yeah, I mean, I definitely get into a lot of like Marvin Gaye and Etta James. But I listen to a lot of like Jeff Beck for inspiration guitar-wise. Yeah, a lot of that kind of stuff. I tend to go further backwards than I do forwards, you know, I don’t really listen to too much current music presently.
And when you are songwriting do you kind of allocate specific time to writing songs or are you writing all of the time? Do you write when you’re on the road, you know, what sort of things inspires you to write song lyrics?
I mean, anything can inspire a lyric. I like to observe things too. So I like to get a lot of my inspiration and like the starting of songs from out in the world. Whether it’s like a sign or just like one word or you know, something like that. But you know, ideally in a perfect world, I’m writing every day, but really it tends to happen more in phases. You know, right now on the road, I can’t really get a whole lot of writing done. But usually, when I’m home, that’s when it tends to happen.
And the last question I’ve got is just we’re halfway through this year I just wondered if you’ve got the next 12 months mapped out – what’s on the cards for you.
Yeah, I have no idea. It’s a very blank slate right now, so we’ll see.
Keep your options open.
Hannah Wicklund will release her third album “Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin’ Stones” on Strawberry Moon Records in the UK on Friday 13th September. The album dovetails her nationwide UK Roadstars tour with Piston and Gorilla Riot in October. Tickets for the UK tour can be booked via www.planetrocktickets.co.uk and www.thegigcartel.com and from the 24 hour box office: 08444 780 898.
ROADSTARS – OCTOBER 2019 UK DATES
|Chester, Live Rooms||Thursday 3 October|
|Manchester, Rebellion||Friday 4 October|
|Birmingham, Flapper||Saturday 5 October|
|Norwich, Waterfront Studio||Sunday 6 October|
|Newcastle, The Cluny||Tuesday 8 October|
|Leeds, Lending Room||Wednesday 9 October|
|Bristol, Exchange||Thursday 10 October|
|London, O2 Islington Academy 2|