Five questions with: Singer-songwriter Hannah Frey

Hannah Frey Album Release Party w/ Young Charles, Ivory James

Trumpet Blossom Cafe — Thursday, Dec. 12 at 8:30 p.m.

Hannah Frey is holding a release party for her debut album on Dec. 12 at Trumpet Blossom Cafe. — via the artist

There’s nothing like discovering new-to-me music to keep the dead of winter from burying me. So when I saw the artist behind one of my favorite albums of 2018 (Young Charles) on a bill supporting a debut release from Hannah Frey, I knew I needed to get to know her. Her first single, “Ghost,” came out in late October, and it has me incredibly excited for the full release of White Picket Fence, out Dec. 13 (released independently; recorded at Flat Black Studios). The song has a delightful hook and is beautifully grounded, but it’s the retro-smooth tonality of her voice that makes it a must-hear (on repeat).

Frey landed in Iowa City for school in 2014 after developing her decidedly Iowan folk-country sound as a kid in Cascade, and she decided to stick around after graduation. Her parents are both musicians, and recorded with her on White Picket Fence. She credits music for cracking her out of her shy-kid shell: “The first real performance I remember,” she told me via email, “was singing ‘Desperado’ by the Eagles at a benefit show when I was 8 years old and basically sprinting off the stage.” It all clicked into place for her when she started writing her own songs.

The album release show for White Picket Fence is 8 p.m. at Trumpet Blossom Cafe. Cover is $8.

What is your biggest passion musically? That is, do you enjoy performing or songwriting more? Singing or playing? Or does it all just sort of bleed together for you into a single enterprise?

I love writing and performing for different reasons. I’ve always been drawn to writing in all its forms. Rhymes and phrases are so fun to play with, and I think organizing words in a pattern-like way has become sort of a mind game for me. Songwriting is also an amazing outlet for stress and anxiety management. It’s helped me to piece out my feelings and thoughts in ways I never fully appreciate in the moment.

Performing is all about emotion. My goal is always to share my experience with an audience and let them into my heart for a little while. There’s nothing quite like live performance when the audience connection is there. The best feeling is when I’m able to evoke emotion through lyrics and the message I’m trying to convey resonates with someone. In my opinion, those moments are what being a singer/songwriter is all about. That’s what makes it hard to separate the songwriting and the meaning of the songs from performing them. It’s all one cohesive package that I hope is a clear expression of who I am.

What was the first song you learned to perform? Do you still love it?

The first song I performed on my own was “Bubbly” by Colbie Caillat. I had just started to learn chords on the guitar and played it for my 6th grade talent show. I’m sure it was pretty rough, but I think that song is very simple and sweet. It reminds me that I play music because it brings me so much joy.

When did you start the process of recording this album? How did you know it was time?

I started recording in November 2018. This project started out as kind of a “now or never” leap. I had just gone through my first year post grad and learned a lot of lessons, which led me to writing a lot of songs that were meaningful to me. I wanted to document them, whether music became something I pursued further or not. At its core, this record is about navigating adulthood — growing up and learning that we might be better off unlearning many of the things society teaches us as children.

‘White Picket Fence’ is out Friday, Dec. 13.

Who are some of your local inspirations — favorite musicians on the scene here or folks who have been pivotal to your journey?

For a relatively small city, Iowa City has a pretty amazing arsenal of diverse and talented artists. I really look up to Iowa City staples like Dave Zollo, Anthony Worden, Dan Padley, Brian Johannesen, Blake Shaw, Flash in a Pan and the Halfloves. People like Dana Telsrow and Arin Eaton of Karen Meat are also really indicative of the scene here. They’re wildly creative, talented folks that want to put their own unique spin on things and see the value in performance. Then there’s powerhouses like Elizabeth Moen and Penny Peach Jr. who inspire me to really hone my voice and style. When they perform, they’re unapologetically themselves. That’s what I’m striving for.

What most excites you about the world and the circumstances in which you create (either in a macro or micro sense!)?

I’m really excited by this generation of creatives in the world. I think there’s a lot of unique expression coming from a pretty intense political climate and a very technology-driven society. I’m also grateful to live in a time where I am able to be a creative without too much judgment and speak my mind as a female musician. I think that if we lead with kindness and honest expression, creatives have the capacity to make an amazingly positive impact on the world.

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