Interview: Hannah Judson

Welcome Hannah Judson! Let’s jump right in, tell us about your story – how you got started in music and more about it. You are a phenomenal guitar player! How long have you been playing guitar?

I had music lessons – violin, clarinet, piano and harpsichord – all through grade school and high school. But really, what I wanted all along was a guitar. I bought my first guitar with my first paycheck after I graduated from college. I was in Portland, Maine, cashed my paycheck on the Friday after work. I walked over to Buckdancer’s Choice and chose a very simple $100 guitar and a Bob Dylan songbook. I went back to my apartment, learned a Bob Dylan song, inverted the chords, and then wrote my own. I have been writing songs since then. A few years after that I lived in northern Spain in the Basque Country for a few years. I studied Spanish Classical guitar while I was there, and I had a really sweet guitar. When I moved to Chicago to go to graduate school at The School of the Art Institute, I didn’t know my way around town at all, but I found a pawn shop and bought a small amp and a Japanese Fender knockoff. I didn’t know anything about electric guitars. I took my red home, plugged everything in, and began writing Spanish classical infused weird little rock songs. All of that evolved as I became more involved in various bands and projects. 

We love your last album Stingray. It feels very personal. Did you write the album yourself?

Absolutely! I am a songwriter, and write and co-produce my work. All of the songs begin with deeply personal images and ideas, but the songwriting process is bigger than just me. I wander into rooms in my head and pick up memories and objects that may or may not make it into the song. I let ideas I don’t always understand stay in the song for a while until I realize why it is there. My work comes from my experience and journey within the songwriting but the subject is never me or my specific experiences. 

Do you have a favorite song on the album? If so, why?

The song “Deep Sea Diver” treats the idea that two people from different extremes of the universe can be pulled into a love story — from outer space and from the ocean floor — however unlikely, and that it not only makes sense to them, it is part of their being, it is who they are. Our journeys are vast, and when our soul resonates with another, we know it. Love doesn’t require a linear narrative. It can be literally all over the place. 

Things are starting to open up more. Do you plan on doing a tour?

Yes, that is the plan, but not until 2022. I’m working on a new record now, and will tour with these new songs on the US West Coast, east coast and in Europe. 

Who or what is your biggest inspiration and where do you find motivation when things get rough?

I’m always looking for new ways to tell the stories that are important. I am motivated by an optimistic view of the future, and no matter how sad or dark a song I write, I am still working through the process because I can imagine it having a meaningful run, connecting with people, inspiring other songwriters. Inspiration is cyclical. Just by doing your work, you inspire others, and vice versa. Fine artists like Frida Kahlo, Cindy Sherman and Kara Walker also inspire my work. I like listening to what people have to say, in whatever format they are using, and I love it when they say it in a way that makes me pause, stop and think. 

I am also a runner, and I get a lot of ideas on runs, looking at the landscape, clouds, rocks churned up in the fields by a plow. On my runs I always try to find something beautiful. Even when I am running the same old loop, I look for something brand new that I have never seen before, or that I am seeing in a new light. This inspires me. I also get a lot of mileage out of conversations with interesting people. Sometimes it’s just one word, or a turn of a phrase, and I am off and running with a song idea. 

I am attracted to artists who use potent lyrics. I have eclectic tastes that run through the centuries– classical, modern, new music, folk, pop, rock, experimental etc. and different things inspire me at different times. It could be the way an artist has held on and evolved their craft through time. Ani DiFranco inspires me for the way she has managed her own career, as well as her authentic songwriting. It could be the way they use lyrics to create intimacy and a narrative that tells a unique story, like Leonard Cohen. It could be the way they use sparsity to build tension, like Velvet Underground. Or it could be the way they play their instrument with expertise and love, like Bonnie Raitt. I’m listening now to Laurie Anderson, Jill Sobule, Lou Reed, John Prine, and Cowboy Junkies’ latest release “Ghosts”. I just finished reading “Just kids” by Patti Smith about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Wow, she is so inspiring! Honest, aware, wild, calm, kind. Also Annie Lennox, Vagabon, George Harrison, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliott Smith, Liz Phair, Mazzy Star, and Low are regulars on my playlist. I just was listening to John Prine and Bonnie Raitt’s “Angel from Montgomery” which is such a deeply emotional song evoking a longing for a life that never was. This is a really intense emotion of looking back, and still feeling the longing, the passion, that never goes away. I am inspired by this song. I love songs.

Fine artists like Frida Kahlo, Cindy Sherman and Kara Walker also inspire my work. I like listening to what people have to say, in whatever format they are using, and I love it when they say it in a way that makes me pause, stop and think. 

Things have definitely gotten rough this year for anyone with a creative process. On my Facebook page I have been asking people to share out what their creative process is, and what they are doing to stay inspired. It’s a great question to ask, and I have learned so much from the approach other people take. I think that people who are doing well right now have an ingrained and conscious consistent process as an approach to each day. For example, routines that include exercise, getting outside, contact with friends, intellectual stimulation, and some kind of meditation, really do keep people well. Without the process it’s easy to slip into the fog of the moment. 

We have just entered our second lockdown in France. I found after the initial discomfort of the change to lockdown, that I was able to keep going this year with my creative projects and working with others at a distance. I did spend some time taking a closer look at my studio, upgrading some gear, and adding a few strategic acoustic panels, since I’ll be doing a lot of the vocal recording from my own studio. I had to make a new plan for my annual activities– eliminating touring, and considering what other things I can do to connect with fans and remain creative. I have been hosting live stream conversations on my Facebook page with other artists which helps keep me connected and engaged, and gives me an opportunity to meet new people. 

I’m always looking for new ways to tell the stories that are important. I am motivated by an optimistic view of the future, even if it’s hard to visualize right now. I always hope my work can have a meaningful run by connecting with people and inspiring other songwriters. Inspiration is cyclical. Just by doing your work, you inspire others, and vice versa. I think that is especially important right now, that we continue to create and connect. 

What’s been keeping you occupied during the pandemic?

When we went on our first lockdown in France, I remember thinking it was going to be just a few weeks. I had just released a record, Stingray, and was planning shows and a US tour in the summer. All of that slowly got put on hold, and then taken off the table completely. I am always writing songs, and so I kept on writing, but without any sense of coming and going. Everything was so static. It took me a while to regroup, but I decided to go ahead with record release activities online but just backwards, all experimental. I planned events for 8 weeks, tried out different platforms, ways of performing, communicating, broadcasting and connecting. 

A couple really great things came out of my backwards record release activities. One is that I started live streaming conversations with my friends. Each week I changed the format a little bit, and before long I realized I had a livestream and a podcast. In January 2021 I officially launched The Hannah Judson Beat, a podcast about amazing women in music, both music business and artists. We talk about process, creativity, innovating during the pandemic, and all sorts of other things too. You can find past episodes here.

I also brought my annual music, film and culture festival MUSEfest online, and produced a 2-day amazing festival of music, poetry, film, literature, dance, video and more made by gracious, inventive, profoundly creative and communicative people in the field. Even when we go back to live venues, I will continue to produce an online version of the festival. It is a different experience completely, but I love that it has reach. 

Tell readers where they can find your music and connect with you on social media! 

Listen on Spotify and all the other major streaming distributors.

Follow on Facebook and Instagram!


Collaborate with me. 

  • Participate in my videos. Send me your own photos and/or video that could potentially be included in videos and media related to the songs. I am interested in images of you, and things that inspire you and keep you going during these dark days. 
  • Share your story with me. I am interested in learning how other people are managing this moment in history. What keeps you going? What holds your interest? What have you discovered? What has changed? Get in touch with me about sharing your story. It can be one sentence, one paragraph, a video, or a long, live conversation. Open to varied media. 

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