June 23, 2023
Hannah Wicklund Talks Inspirations, Balancing Life as a Musician
Cassie Hunter

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

KSDT recently had the privilege of interviewing Hannah Wicklund, an independent singer/songwriter with a soulful 70s rock sound.  Hannah’s newest single, “Hide and Seek”, releases today, and her new album, The Prize, comes out on October 13th.  In addition to her new music, she will also be joining Greta Van Fleet on the European leg of their tour which—Hannah would like to confirm—“has been confirmed for over two years, well before Sam [Kiszka, bassist of Greta Van Fleet] was [her] fucking boyfriend for the fucking record”. We talked to Hannah about her influences, balancing life as a musician, and more.

KSDT: Thanks for meeting with us. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself first, like your name, where you’re from, that kind of thing?

HW: So, my name is Hannah Wicklund, and I was born and raised on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I started playing music very young. I had an extremely supportive family; my mom was an artist and my dad and my brother were musicians. So, art and music are pretty much the foundation of our household, which was a really beautiful way to grow up. I was afforded a lot of really spectacular opportunities being on Hilton Head, because it was such a tourist driven spot. And it’s funny because one of the things that was really hard about being on the island was that my family stuck out, you know, like a sore thumb because everyone was kind of in that more southern speed, sorority/fraternity, very cliquey vibe. And we were just that super artistic family that was on the outskirts. Because there weren’t many like-minded people, it gave me a lot of solitude to work on my art and my music and it gave me this kind of cocoon to really nurture all that stuff. So that was kind of my foundation growing up. 

KSDT: Before we get started, for those who aren’t familiar with your work, is there, it’s kinda like a difficult question, but maybe one song or a couple songs you would want to point people to, to get into your stuff?

HW: I think my last record—my last full length record—is just a really great capsule of my energy. The two songs in my existing library that I would point to would definitely be “Strawberry Moon,” which I named my record label after, because it just kind of wrapped up that message for me at that time. You know, like, I’ve got dreams to be thinking. When you’re that age, you gotta stay focused and think about your dreams, you know? That was a song that I wrote in like 30 minutes. There’s usually one song on each record that you just, like, pull from the ether, and “Strawberry Moon” was that one for me. And then the other song would be “Shadow Boxes and Porcelain Faces.” I’d say that if you’re into those two songs off of my last record, then you’re really gonna love this new one.

KSDT: As you’ve grown and matured, how have your influences and inspirations changed? It doesn’t just have to be music of course, but who do you gravitate towards now, and how has that changed from your youth?

HW: Well, when I was younger I was, you know, very heavily influenced by classic rock, obviously. That was basically all I listened to and was all I played, you know, the Tom Petty, the Jimmy Hendrix, the Janis Joplin. All of that stuff was very important for my development. My dad was such a big part of my upbringing, and he was the one showing me most of my music. I was covering Janis Joplin and Pat Benatar and stuff, and my dad loved Joni Mitchell, but that wasn’t really the lane that we were exploring together. I wasn’t really exploring much on my own, my band and the writing I was already doing was consuming so much. And feminine emotion kind of made me uncomfortable when I was younger. I wasn’t even comfortable using the word beautiful. I think it’s because I didn’t feel beautiful until I was a lot older. It took a lot of hard stuff to come around that self-love corner for me.

I definitely was very uncomfortable, I’d say, with feminine songs or love songs. That kind of stuff just didn’t soothe my soul. It kind of unsettled me in some ways. And so I think that’s the biggest difference, and kind of what this new record of mine represents. This new record of mine—it’s called The Prize—and it’s about passing the baton from girlhood to womanhood and learning to embrace your femininity and kind of forgive your younger self for, you know, some of the hardships that maybe you put on yourself. So I’d say nowadays my inspirations, my influences, are far more feminine, and just far more soft. And I am listening to Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. I’m listening to all different kinds of things that I kind of steered away from when I was younger. And also, like, Fiona Apple’s last record was such an inspiration for me with getting this record started because her feminine anger was just at the fucking top of that record. So, I still love my Tom Petty and I still love my Jimmy Hendrix and I still love all the boys, but it’s time now for the feminine influence to really, you know, truly settle in my soul.

KSDT: Obviously you started playing music live at a very young age. I wanted to talk a little bit about what it must have been like to play as a little girl for a demographic that is so wildly different from you and how you made a name for yourself in that kind of environment. Because I’m sure it must have been difficult.

HW: Yeah, I mean it was, it was an interesting upbringing, basically growing up in front of my whole town, you know? I kind of existed in this weird limbo phase where I was really well known locally, and people knew the band, and all that stuff. But growing up we never pursued going to the next tier or reaching out to a manager. My parents were not like that. I went on my path and everything for me has happened very organically. So I didn’t really have anybody to ask for advice; I had my parents’ support and I started writing original music. It was like, well we’re playing all these shows, like, might as well sell these CDs and get the music out. I had started writing music at like four years old, so it was just kind of this really fun adventure of seeing how far you can take it. And I think there was, like I talked about before, that cocoon, that juxtaposition of being a blessing and a curse of being on my own island, literally. So I didn’t have any idea of what I was supposed to be doing, so we just did everything. I said yes to every single gig that came our way. We did private parties, we did, you know, every, we just did so many random things and it just was like a snowball. Or like a plant, rather, and I watered that plant every single day and just poured myself into it. I took over management from my dad when I was, like, 12. And so I’ve been running the whole show since I was like 12 years old. I think it’s just one of those things where I just dove into the deep end and you really have no idea, but just to figure it out.

KSDT: That touches a lot on what I was going to ask you. As a college radio station, a lot of our followers are young musicians. Do you have any advice for balancing life, just in general, and also being a student?

HW: Definitely, I think I did a really bad job of balancing. I’m really lucky. I’m so happy these days because in a lot of ways I’m getting to revisit my childhood. I’m actually having to work not as hard now. But two years ago, it was like, I have to find some balance in my life because I have been so work oriented and I just have been grinding so hard. And when you want something so bad and you’re pouring everything into it, those highs are too high and those lows are way too low. So that’s what I realized. That’s why I’m doing my art now and that’s why I’m taking acting auditions. I’m just reigniting the other passions that I have, which are honestly now starting to play into the music.

So I think—I used to really get annoyed when people would say this—but you really do have to have fun. It’s not just about having fun with the music. If you get something that isn’t great news, literally distract yourself and go have fun with your friends or go have fun throwing paint at a canvas. Go have fun doing something else. If you’re not finding fun or joy in the thing because you care so much—which is what I’ve had—and when things become hard, or if you feel like you just can’t even get started, take a break, have fun, balance it out. So that’s my overall thing.

But in a practical sense, for someone who’s really getting started and just wants to know how to keep going, I just say be nice, make friends, be consistent and play whatever show you can. Just get out in front of as many people [as you can], and have no shame about promoting yourself. Don’t be weird about it. You know, like, just be cool.

KSDT: I think that’s beautiful advice even for non-musicians. I wish somebody would’ve told me that. Like when you mess up or when you don’t get the news you want, you should just leave it alone for a little bit before trying to fix it immediately. 

HW: Literally. You have to distract yourself because maybe there are some people who can hear some piece of bad news [and move on easily]. But, we’re not talking about the van breaking down on the highway kind of problem, we’re talking about you’ve just worked with a man for a year and a half, who was dropping the ball on all this stuff that you had no idea of and all these opportunities that could have been yours disappear in those moments. Oh my gosh, the rage that you’re gonna feel, the disappointment, the multitude of emotions that come with that kind of a realization in the music business, because it’s tied to your heart. Your music is your soul and an artist or anybody who is doing anything outside of a very black and white realm, there is more attached. It’s not just business, it is personal. You definitely have to take that pause. I’ve tried to fix things too quickly and that’s how I have dug myself into a deeper hole.  Maybe that’s the best piece of advice I could give is just patience in all areas. Patience and persistence.

KSDT: There is one thing in particular, I’ve noticed you play “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young a lot live. I was wondering what about that particular song you feel drawn to. How do you relate to that song in a modern context?

HW: Yeah, so that song has kind of gone through two stages for me now. The first was that my dad had a band on Hilton Head called the Bonzo Brothers. My dad was the drummer and they did a lot of classic rock covers and some original stuff, but Ohio was a song that they covered. And I remember very distinctly my dad showing me that song, he told me all about how the Bonzo Brothers would play it, but he also told me about the context. I don’t necessarily remember having a lot of the historical significance kind of conversations with my parents or l with my dad. There was definitely a moment when he showed me the song and he taught me about what had happened. And so when we started playing that song almost immediately—I’d say I was maybe 11, 12, when we started covering that one—oh gosh, I have no idea over the years how many people have come up to me and talked and said either, “I was at the school that day” or, “I knew one of the people that died”. I’ve had so many people, mostly older people, relate to me or cry to me or come up and just tell me how much it meant to see me play that.

That was when I was young, you know, and that was before I think the context of our country took such a shift. There’s been a very palpable shift. I had never anticipated releasing my cover of Ohio. But obviously things took a turn, and the gun violence, and mainly our government’s reaction to peaceful protesting, has just absolutely left me disgusted. I think a lot of us have forgotten some of those horrible, horrible videos that were coming out from Memorial Day weekend 2020. The George Floyd protests, what I saw happening on the streets, it was really disgusting. And so that was why I took the opportunity to capture my version of the song and release it out into the world in that context. All of a sudden the song meant something to me in a different way. It was my first time in my life where all of a sudden the impact of that event back then, all of a sudden I could relate for the very first time to the tears in those people’s eyes when they were telling me how much this song meant to them. So that song’s very important, and it’s the ultimate political anthem—the ultimate protest song.

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