Hanorah blooms on her new LP Perennial

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“The connection always comes back to music, and that’s where I find my freedom.”

Speaking with Hanorah is like hanging out with a very good friend. One who digs deep and is not afraid to share her truth or call you out.  We first met three years ago when she performed for POP MONTREAL with Mavis Staples and Clerel at the Rialto.

I was lucky to speak with her again on the day of her album release.  “Perennial” is a rich and soulful record layered with deep moods and passionate energy.  Most of the tracks were written and recorded during the pandemic. Hanorah took her time during the dark days of lockdown and gave herself a much-needed break for rest and self-reflection.  Tending to her emotional garden allowed the lush “Perennial” to flourish. 

“Like for most people, we’ve all had losses and big life changes and stuff like that. So, I did not have it together the whole time. But, I think that from that, I was able to kind of recenter, come back to the basics, focus on exactly what it is that I wanted to do for my life because I came into music to deal with my life, you know, to help me heal.” H

I felt a strong shift on this album, a more mature and refined sound.  From her strengthened vocals to her experimental arrangements, Hanorah is taking chances, and it’s working.  Exposing her vulnerability and owning her truth, she shared her views on some very personal and controversial issues. And also generously offered some interesting backstories on some thought-provoking songs.

In the song “If Life Were A Movie,” she reveals;

“I kind of lean into the little emotionally immature side that feels that pang of jealousy when they see an ex move on, let’s say… and instead of pretending to be more mature than I am, I just kind of like, say what it is and have a laugh about it.” H

“Okay. But nobody’s mature, and nobody really has their shit together. And the people that pretend they do are all faking it <laugh> some fake it better than others, I guess.” A

In “Skeletons,” you’re sort of confessing about all your faults, and I mean, it’s great to embrace your faults, but as I said like everybody has their faults.”  A

“Right. I think I struggle with perfectionism, and I think that that comes from like a deep fear of rejection. And so, for me, looking at those faults and saying to myself that I’m still worthy of the same kind of love and acceptance as everybody else is the way to kind of combat that fear of not being good enough.  And ultimately, it gets in my way, like that, that attempt to please everybody or whatever. Like, it’s not helpful. So in that song, it’s kind of like, we’re gonna have a reckoning here.

We’re gonna look at ourselves in the mirror, and we’re not gonna run away.”  H

“There’s perfectionism, but it’s just you being hard on yourself. In most of the other tracks, you’re very courageous. You sound like a woman who’s matured and is sure of herself and is saying, Well, this is how it is.” A

“Yes, exactly. <laugh> In the lyrics, it appears that way, and I’m not apologizing for how I feel or think. I think for me, like the first three or four songs before on the album that come before “Skeletons” are kind of like me dealing with a lot of messy stuff that I don’t actually need to be dealing with. Me being involved in situations that were a waste of my time and energy. And then “Skeletons” is kind of the moment of like, this isn’t working. <laugh>.  We need to have this moment where we strip everything down and look at ourselves so that we can feel more assured so that we can move forward in wisdom.”  H

“Okay. But your twenties are designed for like, dealing with a lot of shit and being in a lot of relationships. And then you realize, oh no, I shouldn’t be in these relationships. Or why am I wasting my time?  But they’re all lessons, right?” A

“Yeah, exactly. Things you need to get through. And for me, sometimes to learn a lesson, I kind of need to be hit over the head with it for certain ones, you know? Especially when it comes to that line between like empathy and compassion and enabling and codependency. That was the line that I’ve kind of been like negotiating with throughout my twenties and my friendships and relationships.

So that’s kind of why it’s present in those first few songs. And then “Skeletons” is like, that’s not working <laugh>.” H

“Well, at least some people never even realize this stuff. And they’re in their thirties, forties, fifties, and they’re still not aware.” A

“I think it’s a different process for everybody, maybe. I do have also that perfectionist thing. Like I do self-examine, maybe more than is healthy, and that can become a tool of perfectionism as well. So, I also need to learn when to stop, like self-helping myself to death.  So, it’s like there is no such thing as a perfect soul. So, I just try to do my best and accept it for what it is.” H

“Well, as I said, there are a lot of layers and a lot of issues going on in your lyrics.  You’re exploring a lot of dark and difficult things, and I don’t wanna jump to the end because the end is really….” A

“That’s my favourite song!” H

“Is it?” A

“Yeah. I love it very much!” H

“Yeah. We’ll save that for the end. Okay. <laugh>, because the album’s called Perennial.  And when I first saw it, I thought it means flowers. Cause on it you have sort of flowers on your eyes, and it’s so pretty. And, then I’m like, wait a minute… Perennial has many meanings, right? So where were you going with that?” A

“Well, that was kind of the connection of revisiting the same subjects or issues over and over again, but from different perspectives and trying to approach them differently each time.

There’s that.  There’s also how the fact that soul music keeps having revivals because it’s addictive, and everybody loves it.  And on the album itself, on the record, if you listen to the A side and then the B side or the B side and then the A side, you still wanna flip it kind of thing. I don’t know how to explain that, but the arc is kind of a double arc if that makes sense.” H

“Do you mean in terms of how the selection, the order of the songs.?” A

“Yeah, it’s kind of a loop <laugh>. So those are like some of the reasons that it came about that way, and also like the big one being that having faith that it will come back.  If I feel like I’ve lost a creative spark or my mental health center or whatever it is, like there, that’s always an ebb and flow.

There are always periods of darkness. There’s always a fall, a winter, and then spring and summer comes again.  There’s kind of that reminder in the phases of dark Night of the Soul <laugh>, that that’s not permanent and that neither are the perfect times.” H

“I love that you explore that.  You have a way of exploring darkness, but you don’t make it ugly It’s sort of like, you’re shining a light on darkness.  It’s heavy, yet it’s therapeutic and cathartic at the same time.” A

When I mentioned that “Slingshot” was one of my favourite tracks, and it made me curious as to who really pissed her off, Hanorah laughed and indulged me in the backstory. 

“I think that when you’re very young and signing your first record deal and you’re in a room full of people that have a million dollars, that they’re trying to decide whether they’re gonna give you any of that money to make your record. Their expertise is important, but sometimes, you know, it can get a little bit foggy as to who’s actually doing what, like who’s the musician in the room. You know, everyone’s role is important in this industry. Of course, it’s an ecosystem. It takes all types to make the whole thing work….After I left my first label and moved on in the space in the middle, there was a lot of like just straight-up anger…So that was kind of my sign to me that I needed to let it out in a safe container. I was like, this industry’s ridiculous. Like, it doesn’t have to be like this. It’s all smoke and mirrors. What do you know about music?  When that spell broke, and when the veneer shattered between artists and industry, I was like, this is dumb. I don’t want to do this. And so now I moved on to a new team (Ensoul Records) that I love with all my friends. And Kevin is amazing. And the whole team is amazing.

The new label and direction of Hanorah’s music shine through on Perennial, which explores a wide range of difficult human experiences with courage, curiosity and humour, transforming pain and loss into a vibrant tapestry of soul-searching lyrics and soothing harmonies.

“I write my best songs when it is safe to be vulnerable.” H

Watch the full interview below:

Interview – Annette Aghazarian
Portraits – Steve Gerrard

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