Monday, February 16, 2009
Between being a mother, mentoring budding songwriters in a women’s prison and playing dozens of shows a year, FREYA HANLY has managed to release an album that’s rapidly gaining acclaim. ANDY HAZEL finds out how.
Mothering a 10-year-old daughter while choosing to be a professional singer-songwriter requires the sort of guts that a lot of musicians with louder voices and bigger egos seem to lack. As Hanly explains, it’s another manifestation of her guiding integrity and quest for deeper experiences. “It’s just what I’ve always known I wanted to do and I have a lot to offer at this point. Even though I’m 29 and have been writing songs since I was 15, I still feel at the beginning of it all. As you grow as person the more you can give your songwriting, I can’t wait to be 45 and writing songs that are hopefully a shitload better that the ones I’m writing now,” she says laughing. “I want to keep stretching myself musically and be inspired. Like going to Boronia [Pre-Release Centre For Women], it’s about the heightened communication you can have with people on stage or at a workshop in a women’s prison, getting people more in touch with those receptors that make them feel whatever they feel. Working at Boronia is an amazing experience. I love that it’s not about my music either, when you’re self-managing and independent your whole life revolves around yourself. I don’t want to do it for selfish reasons but I have to be self-focused and this gave me an opportunity to step right outside that. There are so many different ways to apply musical skills to bring self-esteem out in other people.”
Since it’s December release Hanly’s most recent album Quiver is being hailed as a diverse and revealing album, alternating between glowing spine-tingling ballads and lighter country-ish fare, it’s certainly unlike other singer-songwriters she may unfairly be lumped in with. “I’m happy with Quiver, but I’ll never be 100% happy with anything and I think that’s a good thing as well. It took so long to make that that it’s a little outdated now but I still love playing the songs,” she says of the album’s two year gestation period.
Winning recent plaudits from Clare Bowditch who, as well as describing her as ‘blindingly talented’, picked her as the artist she’d most like to see ‘break’ nationally. “I’d love the break to happen, of course,” she says, “but while I’m driven toward that I’m also wary. Musical integrity to me is everything, so if it doesn’t suit timing and luck then I’ve made peace with that as well; it’s not a burning ambition. Being nominated for Songwriter of the Year at the WAMIs was good, but competitions, breaking through and being successful is all just…the more I get to know the industry the less I invest in deciding that I’ll let it define my experience. Last night I played to 8000 people at a big amphitheatre. That was fun,” she laughs.
Feeling blessed for the opportunities that allow her to be able to pursue her creative spirit, Hanly also thinks that the timing is right for a musician who pushes humanity and simplicity in their music. “I think people are really hungry for acoustic honest music,” she explains enthusiastically. “It was more prominent in the 60s and 70s and as soon as people discovered Casio machines there was an onslaught of music which meant people and had to look pretty hard to music that is more direct in it’s communication. It’s a great time to be in this part of the music industry, there is definitely room for it now. A few years ago I got a lot more shit for playing acoustic music.” People heckled you for playing an acoustic guitar? “Maybe it’s more a WA thing,” Hanly explains, “but at pubs people want to rock out when they’re drunk, they want double kick and loud guitar and don’t expect to enjoy anything else. I’ve noticed playing live that people are becoming much more open to it.” It’s not hard to see why.