Hannah Jacobs is an Isle of Wight-born singer/songwriter to whom music seems outrageously natural. The talent came from the paternal side of the family, she says, with her dad bringing her up on classic rock and “some very weird folk music I would never listen to in a million years”. Although the interest originated from her dad, Hannah attributes her tastes to her two older brothers, who encouraged her love for staple 90s indie bands like Green Day, Nirvana and No Doubt. She confesses, “I was, embarrassingly, a bit of an emo kid.” She then began to collate her own catalogue with Panic! At the Disco, Alkaline Trio and Goldfinger, more piano-based music like The Hush Sound, and musical theatre soundtracks. Ultimately, she says, “I love anything that stands out and doesn’t sound like anything else… I try to do the same with my music.” Hannah manages it too: while an artist like Birdy may be closest in terms of vocal tone, Hannah sings deeper; though her lyrics have similar themes to her ‘emo’ favourites, Hannah’s words are more poetic; the guitar and piano bases may even land her in the Ed Sheeran field yet still Hannah’s compositions are lighter and more ethereal.
“I don’t remember this at all but apparently when I was really young I saw someone on TV playing the piano and I said to my parents, ‘I want to do that’ and then they got me a little keyboard,” she laughs, “I honestly have recollection of this at all but apparently that’s how it happened.” Her voice is a natural gift with no need for training. Hannah began to teach herself piano with that little keyboard and then later guitar, briefly taking formal lessons for both at a later point, “I started teaching myself by watching other people. I can read music but I’m very slow, I learn more by watching people or by ear…” and she hasn’t stopped learning either. Recently, a friend gave her a ukulele and Hannah has begun to transfer her skills from the guitar onto the new instrument and incorporate it into her song-writing.Performing live, however, was what encouraged her to continue pursuing music, “My very, very first ‘gig’ if you like… was school talent show when I was eleven! I entered with my friend, who played the flute, and we played a couple of songs each and a couple of duets.” Nevertheless, together they won and Hannah caught the infamous performance ‘bug’. The following year she entered again as a soloist and won, again. From there Hannah played all over the island and entered a Battle of the Bands competitions at age seventeen. Placing second of twenty-three competitors, her prize was to play at the Isle of Wight Festival Bandstand to over three hundred people. Hannah was such a hit that one of the judges invited her back to play at his tent, The Kashmir Café, the following year. “[I did it…] on crutches no less! It was actually Friday 13th, I slipped over and tore the ligaments which hurt like a bastard at the time… my friends had to carry my guitar and my bags, so it was good fun, but I had to hobble around the festival!” Hannah still describes herself as a “shy, awkward person”, and it is performing live that gives her a release and allows her to be “taken away”.
Hannah was the first to sign with indie label, Splendid Fred Records, based at the University of Winchester of which Hannah is a graduate. The label was founded by Glenn Fosbraey, the Creative Writing programme leader there and a multi-instrumentalist himself, with the aim to nurture the talents of student and alumni songwriters, musicians and spoken word poets. For Hannah, signing with Splendid Fred has enabled new possibilities to experiment with her sound. With the technology of the label’s studio Hannah can put together a track “piece by piece”, integrate percussion, layers and loops she would be unable to consider when writing with only a solo live performance in mind. Like many artists, she has no repeatable process for crafting her music. Sometimes the tune will come first, others the lyrics. Maybe it will take just a few days to all come together, but on other occasions it’s more likely to be months. Her lyrics are inspired by her life experiences, like the “creeping” horizon of thirty in ‘28’, or interesting images and topics she finds in books. Sometimes the stimulus can even be political; for International Women’s Day 2017, Hannah wanted to write a song that captured her feelings about the discussions taking place at the time and wrote ‘Mine’ which she performed at a University event for female performers. Every song, she affirms, is personal.
So where to next? Hannah is releasing music regularly on her Soundcloud page, most recently uploading a sweet ode to her mum on Mother’s Day, and is composing constantly. She first wrote to me that, “I’m not sure the rock-star lifestyle is really for me, so in the long run – I have to be honest – I think of music as a hobby…” but after hearing her speak about her craft, the breathless, infectious thrill of creating something her own, it would be hard to call what Hannah does a “hobby”. Papier-mâché is a hobby. When Hannah writes music she affects other people, she connects with her audience, moves them and makes them think. When Hannah is making music, she is utterly herself.