Hannah McKittrick

I'll introduce Hannah through an anecdote. I was preparing for a show I was playing early last year, I get performance anxiety so I worked with a vocal coach to feel fit. My vocal coach mentioned a musical likeness between myself and Hannah who I'd not yet heard. Upon listening, I fell in love with Hannah's deep, smokey vocals, backdropped by tender keys and emotive soundscapes. 

I went to see her play live, she had this earnestness, hands clutched to her heart as she sang. Embodied devotion.

When we finally met, we spoke on Patti Smith's book Devotion, which Hannah is clutching in the following images, like she clutched her hands to her heart that evening.

Listen to Hannah & Soak PBS.

A key Patti Smith quote has acted as a catalyst in delving into your next project. Can you share it with us and expand upon it's influence?

Ah yes. It’s from her book ‘Devotion’ and it goes ‘What is the task? To compose a work that communicates on several levels, as a parable, devoid of the stain of cleverness.’ Ugh it’s so perfect. It’s a guiding light to me, a reminder to draw nearer to what is vast and universal and love, and push away from the hollow attempt to be impressive. Another line I think about is when Greta Gerwig’s character in ‘Hannah Takes The Stairs’ says ‘I think I like things that aren’t explicitly about one thing’. These days I am more and more interested in concepts that aim to be wide. I think the truth is wide. I don’t know, I just want to try and offer something helpful, or comforting, or substantial, that has long enough arms to reach or unify a room of people. Or at least attempt to. There is so much beauty in the attempt.

You're in the midst of building your next album, what kind of mood and language is stirring from it? 

I’m still piecing it together, but currently the mood is diffused, detached at times but very specific too. I think you can feel Melbourne in it. It’s got multiple references to animals, crowds of people, my friends and the things we say to each other. I’m not sure what it’s about yet but I think I’m asking questions like how do you live, how do you know what to do and is it fine that it’s beautiful and difficult all the time.

Can you expand on the importance of ritual in your practice? And perhaps even, on the idea of creation as devotion. 

I love rituals but I forget mine all the time until I really need them. I like doing tarot, I like going out for pasta on my own after my radio show, I like having coffee with Lach on Saturday mornings, I like having a almond magnum at the Fitzroy Pool, I like going to Good Times with Jess, I like sitting on a rock at the Merri creek during Lionsgate portal, I like going to museums and guitar shops with Ferg, I like sitting on a windy cliff with no jacket, I like putting my arms around my dog first thing in the morning, I like going for night walks with Hill when she gets silly, I like turning the lamps on just before the sun goes down, I like saying ‘thank you’ when I see house number 23 on a street. A ritual is something that is fun enough to return to over and over again. I would like my music practice to feel calm and enticing like these rituals are.

Your PBS show Soak embodies its title perfectly, curating a distinctively shadowy, tender soundscape. How would you describe the thread throughs of your playlists and the importance of public radio?

Radio is such an easy way to feel connected to other people, in the same way that my friend Mads used to tell me getting a massage is such an easy way to feel in your body. The radio medium is so strong, I don’t need to do much as an announcer beyond treating the form with love and respect and facilitating the connection between listeners and the music. One of my favourite parts of it is the textline (I have written a new song about this!). People are so funny and sweet and poetic on there. Soak is at 7pm on Sundays and every week I get updates of people’s cooking, their gardens, where they are watching the sunset from, who they are listening with and how their day was. It’s anonymous so unless they say their name I don’t know who they are or where they are tuning in from. But there is a deep tactility to it somehow, which perhaps comes down to the analogue nature of FM radio. I treasure the shared joy of it.

What makes for a memorable performance? Can you share some transportive shows you’ve seen?

Leonard Cohen said something like as a performer ‘you have to risk something, the audience can tell if you can’t.’ I think a powerful performance is one that stands on the edge of something, and reaches for something else. Humans are designed to only glimpse corners of heaven or God or spirit, but a good performance will leave room for this grace to rush in, even if only for a second. When I’ve felt strong in a performance, it’s been when I’m leaving room for things other than me, de-centering myself from it and allowing it all to be bigger than just me. This allows energy to flow between me and my bandmates, the crowd, the room, the city and everything unseen in between us. I love watching my friends perform, the way Angie is gracious, how Ruby is strong, Genevieve is solemn, Theo’s wildness and Ol’s focus. Their distinct styles don’t lead you to a specific place, they teach you to find it yourself. I also love when you can tell that a performer respects the exchange between artist and performance. I think that’s everything. I’m not sure what the point is otherwise.

You’ve got amazing style, I had a giggle at your “in and out” list you shared in the new year, on which “a flattering outfit” was out. What’s your personal style approach? 

Haha thank you, that’s so nice! I love clothes so much. I’m not sure what my approach is, but I know when I feel best in an outfit, it’s when I’ve considered forces beyond aesthetic, which sets me free from the reductive evaluation of whether or not it ‘flatters’ my body. Instead, I’ve learnt to ask myself what fabric does my skin want to feel, where on my body do I want to feel the breeze or the sun, will I want to sit with my legs crossed today, am I feeling slutty today, do I want to be able to walk home comfortably if there’s no tram for half an hour… I also think no make-up and undone hair are as compelling an accessory as any. My boyfriend Lach is the most stylish person I know, and through watching him get dressed every day he knows (I have learnt) how to layer an outfit to give it dimension and texture. I chase the feeling of balance in an outfit because I like there to be more than one prevailing aesthetic at any given time. I also like light blue, dark blue, grey, big button downs, longline jackets, tops with animals on them, pants I can fall asleep in, thin cotton, ruching, tie-up components, things that slip effortlessly over my head, square necklines, clothes that give zero clues away about my personality and clothes I’ve had since I was 18 that I still love now because I remember how much I loved them back then.