For the last year, the purple-tressed singer-s/songwriter HANA has been traveling the world as part of Grimes's band, confidently nailing guitar lines and dance moves alike. A few weeks ago, Grimes released The Ac!d Reign Chronicles, a 38-minute film featuring seven music videos — four from Art Angels, and three from HANA's recently released self-titled debut EP. More than just a nod to her bandmate, it was Grimes's message to the music world as a whole: HANA is ready for the big leagues. (Lorde, Purity Ring, and Shamir have also given HANA the thumbs-up).
It's a high-profile position for a musician with a scant five tracks to her name. But HANA already had almost a career's worth of evolution behind her before transforming into the all-caps electro-pop queen. Born Hana Pestle, HANA's first musical incarnation was as a teenage folkie busking around her hometown of Billings, Montana. Relocating to Los Angeles and connecting with an agent allowed her to sidestep having a day job in favor of a stint in the college music circuit, where she spent upwards of 200 days a year playing university campuses across the country. But it wasn't until she traded her guitar for a laptop that the artist began making music that she felt she could truly be proud of.
Blessed with both a beatific soprano and acute production sense (yes, that's her behind the mixing desk, thankyouverymuch) HANA in her new form is very much a modern pop star — able to tease out heartbreaking stories of emotional abuse and doomed relationships across airy beats that imply maybe, just maybe , things will get better. Melodic, moody, and sincere to the utmost degree, hers is music that's easy to image crossing boundaries and breaking hearts.
While she was at home in Los Angeles for a brief period of time between tours, HANA and I caught up at a café. Over kombucha we discussed how she finally discovered her sound, how her upcoming full-length album might get a bit political, and the true source of all happiness (dogs).
Laura Studarus: You moved from Montana to Los Angeles at seventeen, which is impressive.
HANA: Yeah, I graduated high school, and a week later I drove my car down here. I just was very ready. I think now, I look back and I think [fondly] about my childhood, growing up in Montana, and growing up near nature. But at the time, I just wanted more, I wanted to be able to go to concerts, which very rarely came to Billings. I just yearned for more going on. Now I feel like I miss nature.
LS: How did you transition from making folk music to producing electro pop?
H: I was touring colleges 200 days a year and I was making money, but I was getting kind of burned out, and I wasn't getting any artistic satisfaction. I was really in a rut writing because I was touring so much and I was never really home for long enough to create or even stop and think, What am I doing here? Am I fulfilled? Is this what I want to do for years? I was pretty young. I started doing sessions, and that's where I met my new boyfriend. That first session, he asked me, "What do you do? You have an artist career. Tell me about yourself." I went on this huge rant about how I play these college shows, make a lot of money, and I can pay my bills, which is expensive in L.A. He was like, "Are you happy?" I was like, "Yeah," then he asked me if I was fulfilled. And I said, "No."