Left-of-center pop music. Raw Americana. Eclectic, electrified indie folk.
On her self-titled album, Hannah Miller plays it all. Written and recorded after the birth of her first child, the record captures the Nashville-based musician in transition, moving away from the coffeehouse-friendly songs that filled her previous releases in favor of something louder, livelier and more indebted to the sweep and swell of a full backup band.
“For the first time ever, I didn’t focus on just the songwriting,” she says. “That was the foundation, but we also focused on the treatment of each song, the arrangement, the presentation. I wanted to be bold, and not worry about whether or not I could play the songs alone, with an acoustic guitar, in somebody’s living room.”
For years, Miller spent much of her time on the road, playing shows with artists like Langhorne Slim and Elizabeth Cook one minute and headlining her own gigs the next. She was a storyteller, taking details from her own life — which include a childhood spent in Alabama, a musical coming-of-age in South Carolina and an eventual move to Tennessee — and rolling them into her songs. To cut costs, she often played alone, relying on little more than the acoustic guitar and her voice to hold an audience’s attention.
Something changed during the late 2012’s, though. Miller wanted to experiment, to make music that moved. Once her baby boy arrived, she became a bit more fearless.
“It makes you more confident to try new things,” she says of parenthood. “Your perspective changes a bit, and in a lot of ways, you overcome your inhibitions. It makes you willing to try new things, even if they fail.”
On the self-titled Hannah Miller, those new things involve an emphasis on electric guitar, keyboards and, occasionally, the moody, reverb-heavy arrangements of artists like Chris Isaak and Lana del Rey. Miller’s songs are still rooted in the classic sounds of the songwriters she grew up with — Tom Petty, Simon & Garfunkel, even the Ohio-based folk duo Over the Rhine — but their presentation has changed.
“We didn’t want anything to sound too shiny,” she says of the album, which was recorded at Nashville’s Sputnik Sound with producer, Mitch Dane. “It’s more raw than mainstream pop. Bluesier. Crunchier. The band is playing hooks and important parts — not just background music.”
One song, “Promise Land,” has even become a viral hit, thanks to a YouTube video created by 60 Minutes cameraman Danny Cooke. The video hit the internet in late 2014, combining footage of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster — which Cooke had filmed for a TV special coinciding with the Chernobyl catastrophe’s 25th anniversary — with a 30-second clip of Miller’s song. The video racked up more than eleven million views within three months, kickstarting a new wave of popularity for the songwriter it highlighted.
With TV shows like Sons of Anarchy, The Following and Pretty Little Liars also featuring her songs, Miller is ready for the second phase of her career — one that isn’t boxed in by genres or anxieties.Hannah Miller is the first step in that direction, a career-shaping record that’s melodic and moody in equal doses.