In Conversation: Paddy Hanna

In Conversation: Paddy Hanna

How zombie films and constant innovation fuelled his daring new album...

Often referred to as an unearthed gem of Irish music, Dublin-based Paddy Hanna is back with a third album.

‘The Hill’ signifies the second collaboration with Girl Band’s Daniel Fox. Uncovering the sound of nature and the outside while echoing the sound of film scores, the outcome is a mesmeric record that taps into themes like the past and the present and the struggles of mental health.

Admired by the likes of Fontaines D.C. and Burt Bacharach, Clash caught up with songwriter to discover working methods and views of the unconventional songwriter.

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‘The Hill’ reveals an intriguing sound, how was it achieved?

Daniel and I made ‘Frankly, I Mutate ’. When we came into 2019 I was a in a bad space. Daniel knew the best way to get me out was to make a record. He had a week in his schedule between touring to produce. We went to West Cork and locked ourselves away for a week. Drummer Adam Faulkner creates strange noises and layers.

We went out into the wild to find sounds within the area where we were recording, the album creates this immersive atmosphere. We found some old rostered anchors., there was an old boatyard where we were chucking things at wobbly walls. You can hear these raw sounds. Listen to the drums, you’ll hear a block of wood being hit, slates on the driveway outside the houses. We recorded with ambient mikes outside to get the sound of the area and a few drums.

There’s a fun photograph of Adam sitting outside the basement with lots of microphones and a bit of joint in his mouth, playing with two chopsticks. He created this fun sound. There’s a sampled feel throughout.

Definitely, it also feels natural. How would you describe the overall ambition?

A key component was to have natural atmospherics; an album in three parts with acoustic guitar and double bass. Your accordions and drums all miked-closely, nothing is plugged in. There’s the synthetic element, synthesizers paired with vocals, the synthetic mixing with the woody, natural sound. You hear the tone and the dark. We have the natural and un-natural. The third component is the fan sound outside, the clang of metal, the sound of wood hitting slate. Those were the three stylistic elements I wanted to hit on every track.

You come from a musical household, what drove that?

I’d love to say I grew up with traditional Irish music, I grew up with classical music. My father was an opera singer, who performed the HMS Pinafore. I saw him perform ‘Trial By Jury’, a satire on the British legal system. He wore full makeup and red lipstick. He could really sing. He stopped performing around the late ‘90s/early 2000s because he had another job. He could have gone pro, but he went into the family business, which is law. He’s a lawyer, my mum’s a solicitor.

What inspired your arrangements?

I intended the record to be like Tom Waits’ ‘Rain Dogs’ , to be sprawling, all over the place, but it made sense to make it folky and keep that anarchic feel. ‘Watertown’ by Frank Sinatra and movie soundtracks like Exorcist 2: The Heretic with Ennio Morricone’s score. Cannibal movies from the ‘80s including Zombie Flesh Eaters, Cannibal Holocaust, Zombie Creeping Flesh and Dawn Of The Dead influenced it.

I had to pay tribute to those movies. Between the age of 18-20 I spent my time watching them in my bedroom. I watched zombie movies in my underpants for about three years before picking up instruments.

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How does the cinematic vision work with any themes?

The album deals with putting the past behind you, forging a future for yourself, grabbing the past by the scruff. We’re sitting down, we’re dealing with this now, it’s important to have the element of those movies. Listen to the theme song from ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. I wanted it to be cinematic, but not big-cinematic; B-movie-cinematic. I didn’t use strings, I didn’t want it to sound like a big orchestra. I wanted it to sound like a mellotron.

Is Irish music better now or are people paying more attention?

There’s no doubt that the focus is on Ireland. The bands are more regimented, some have come through BIMM music college where they have learnt how to avoid the pitfalls of the industry. Ten years ago Irish bands had no focus whatsoever, drunk messes, un-regimented, that’s the main difference. There’s no doubt that there’s more variation in Irish music now, with an insane hip-hop scene, R&B scene and guitar bands.

There seems to be a different vibe surrounding Irish bands.

There’s something to be said about how we perceive ourselves as Irish. We’re bad at taking compliments, we have that innate thing of not wanting to cause a bother, hassle a promotor about getting gigs. We don’t want to come across as arrogant. Irish bands are trained in how to deal with stuff now. You don’t have to leave your hometown to make a big splash.

Do you see your artistic route as different to theirs?

There’s a case to be made that you should have to experience the pitfalls in order to develop. I’m twelve years making music now, that’s put hair on my chest, it’s helped my songwriting. If I had had some of the things thrown at me twelve years ago, I’d be concerned about being chewed up and spat out, signing the wrong this, doing the wrong that. I needed to build an enamel, get some scars to create the music I was meant to create.

I wonder about some people who got everything early, but were chewed up, spat out without getting to create music that they should have, just watered down zeitgeisty stuff. Twelve years ago, I had just left my bedroom, put the zombie movies on. Like, I’m not writing the next great album at this point in my life, I need time.

How did you meet Girl Band and Fontaines D.C.?

Daniel is my good friend and producer. I’d seen them when they were on the cusp of figuring out who they were. I ran into them in a pub called Whelan’s, I was able to muster up some courage to ask Daniel if he wanted to do something. I then met him in a bar called JJ Smyth’s jazz bar. One pint turned into ten..

We were suddenly working together, he wanted to make the records. The stars aligned and that became ‘Frankly, I mutate’. We worked well together. I had ideas that I’d never tried, Daniel said let’s try it and see what happens, take the crazy ideas and see if we can make them work together.

Fontaines D.C. I haven’t seen in a while. They ran off, constantly on tour. We gigged together. I was very tight with Grian. They all share the same rehearsal rooms called Yellow Door, most of the Irish guitar bands on your radar including Fontaines D.C. Girl Band, The Murder Capital, Silverbacks and Pillow Queens are in the same complex. They all know each other.

Where would you like ‘The Hill’ to take you?

I’d love it if this album connected with people. It’s a strange listen, but my all-time favourite albums are the ones that made me return to the shop after hearing them for the first time, the best ones hit you like that. They challenge you.

‘Geogaddi’ by Boards of Canada and ‘Alice’ by Tom Waits are some of my favourite albums. It’s like the 17-year-old Paddy in me needs to hear someone like that to realise what a rich tapestry music is.

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'The Hill' is out on October 23rd.

Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Daniel Martin

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