Hannah Thiem is a talented musician who crafts an evocative soundscape heavily influenced by her travels around the world. Starting with classical music at an early age, her distinctive style has evolved past the simple boundaries of genre labels into something both ethereal and fierce.
She plays both acoustic and five-stringed electric violin, and has shared the stage with an impressive array of artists across the world. Her creative process is very hands-on, from writing to recording to editing, and she seamlessly incorporates elements from the natural world into her music.
Her passion for new creative experiences is reflected in her work, which is gorgeously spontaneous and dynamic.
Fr.U.N.T. Music had the opportunity to ask Hannah a few questions and she was gracious enough to take the time to chat with us.
Cardiac_in_Overdrive: It’s obvious that you’ve been inspired by your travels around the world, both in your music and in your life. Do you feel that having these multicultural experiences make you more open to trying out new things musically, or taking risks with your creative endeavors?
Hannah Thiem: Yes absolutely. Traveling gets me out of my comfort zone, I experience new sights, tastes, sounds, learn about new ways of doing things, have a heightened awareness of synchronicities. These all help me take greater risks and creativity with my music compositions. I had an amazing experience in Iceland a few years ago–I had just photographed a yoga retreat for a week, and then spent a week traveling Iceland solo. I went to Thingvellir National Park near Reyjavík and walked along the fissure between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates. What a powerful place to be. I sang melodies that emerged, into my phone to record them for later compositions. I lived on the island of Formentera (south of Ibiza) for a summer, and one of the most powerful experiences was the night of the full moon and my last evening there, I came upon a circle of drummers and dancers around a fire down in a cove. I waited above, and when there was a lull in the music, I played my violin–the sounds soared over the cove, to the sea, to the moon and everyone was entranced. It was pure magic.
CiO: You’ve mentioned that when performing at bigger venues, you’ve felt distanced from your audience. Why is it important to you to have that connection with your audience?
HT: A lot of my music is improvised on the spot, and part of that creative process and that in-the-moment creation comes from a strong connection with my audience, because the energy and attention and presence they share with me, returns 100x back to them in the music. It’s really a balance of energy, ambience, sound, light, presence. If some of those elements are missing, the performance is still good but not nearly as alive. I love to take a moment in my performance and go down into the crowd, with everyone forming a circle around me. There have been some pretty profound moments that have happened like that.
CiO: After reading about the writing and recording process behind BRYM, it becomes clear that you have a very hands-on approach, from editing to mixing and everything in between. Is that typical for your creative process, or it something you’ve found by trial-and-error?
HT: That is very typical for my creative process! I learn loads by just observing. I worked with a few different producers (Emch, Ming, Encanti) on Brym Al Mar, the first single off of my EP, and through that process learned a whole bunch of great tools and techniques based on their styles.
I’ve gotten to the point now where I can trust my ear and intuition a lot more when writing and recording. I have a very specific vision in my head of how I want the songs to be finished, especially if I’ve been listening to a work in progress for awhile, I become attached to the way it sounds. Dave Sharma mixed my EP, and I was present for nearly all the sessions. He was able to encourage slightly new directions for the songs and shape them in the mixing process so they each had a character that was cohesive but unique. Some changes would be harder to adjust to, but over time, I would grow used to the new sound.
CiO: You have a remix album planned for BRYM. What attracts you to the idea of remixing songs that you’ve already committed to an album?
HT: Remixing broadens the audience for my music. There are some more upbeat dance-driven tracks on the EP (like Phavet), but most are beautiful, evocative and cinematic with subsonic bass. The strings are gems for producers who are more beats and bass oriented. I’m looking to expand the scope of where my music gets played and placed, and part of that process is getting new fresh twists on these songs I’ve been working on for the past year.
CiO: You’ll be playing at the North American Wanderlust Festivals this year, which combine yoga, spirituality, nature and music. Do you think music and spirituality are tied together? Is it possible to separate the two?
HT: Very excited to be on tour again with Wanderlust Festivals. Last summer was truly life-changing–to be leading music meditation hikes in the mountains, performing on the mainstage, on smaller stages throughout the villages, and in classes, even a pop-up performance at the pool party in the middle of the pool in Tahoe. I think you can separate the two–music and spirituality, but music is so inherently tied to the core of our being that even if you remain silent, you will still hear music in nature, in your cells, in the stars. I do know that the experience of practicing yoga to music, especially a live musician or DJ curating the class, is a profound experience. People have told me after a yoga class I’ve played for, that they saw visions of past lives, they experienced deep welling emotions rise up, or they had an out-of-body experience. The violin is especially potent because it’s the closest to the human voice.
CiO: What do you hope your audience takes away from your live performance? Is it different than what you hope they take away from a studio album?
HT: A studio album is polished, perfected, tweaked and in general made out to be the best audio you can manage. I’m a perfectionist, so I belabor every process of my music creations. There is a point where you can call something “done”, but I’m sure every musician/producer experiences a desire to reshape something years after it’s out there. Live performance, I like to capture a sense of freshness, of spontaneity and creating a moment that has never before been created, and will never again be created. I like to keep my songs a bit more fluid in that sense, allowing for a creation of a mood and a place in time. I’m experimenting with ways to allow even greater intuition and fluidity with my electronic elements. If I’m feeling really connected and present with my surroundings and the audience, there’s no telling where we can go with the music!
Hannah’s new album BRYM is slated for release in late May of 2014 and she plans on hitting the road in the summer.