Following the release of her debut EP, Hannah Pickard joined The Mic for our latest instalment in our FOCUS Nottingham feature to talk all things music: her changing relationship with it as both a student and a creator, the composition and publication of her first release, and the teasing of a new project to be developed over the next year.
Nottingham-based dream pop soloist, Hannah Pickard is the master of an exclusively soft and pensive sound. Simple and stripped back as it is, it is difficult to pin down the exact source of her music’s illusiveness; it’s as though she lets her voice drip onto a tranquil layer of undisturbed synths and organs, out of which her forgiving vocals ripple and resonate without fail. In terms of genre, think of her as some sort of descendent of The xx: Jamie, Romy and Oliver are the children of her estranged and troubled uncle, and Hannah, well, she’s just their talented cousin, understated.
"When I was younger I used to watch the TV a lot, and I remember enjoying listening to the music and how it worked with what I was seeing on the screen. I wanted to be a film composer."
To understand Pickard’s musical influences is to overlook genre. Drawing from the works of Radiohead, Lana Del Rey and The Doors, it’s easy to see where her poetic ballads come from. People listen to Radiohead for emotional variation, they listen to Lana Del Rey for a stylised, romantic rundown on what it means to be a young, modern woman, and, in very much the same way, they listen to Pickard to be immersed in their own world of memory and nostalgia, and to be guided through it by her soft vocals as they latch onto each falling note.
Originally set on writing scores for movies, the cinematic experience of Lana Del Rey is something which is particularly recognisable in Pickard’s music: ‘When I was younger I used to watch the TV a lot, and I remember enjoying listening to the music and how it worked with what I was seeing on the screen. I wanted to be a film composer.’ The relationship between sound and sight is something which Hannah uses delicately throughout her music, with her words often sketching out an intimate picture, the colours of which are determined by the characteristically gentle sonic patterns filling the holes. Baby Blue, one of the songs on her debut EP Apricot Cocktails, is perhaps the perfect way to describe Pickard's music: synaesthesia-inducing.
Originally from Watford, the singer-songwriter's residency in Nottingham is a by-product of her past pursuit of a master’s in music. When asked about how her musical studies impacted and informed her own music, she responded, ‘I’d like to say I think more about time signatures and chord patterns, but in reality, I still just do very standard 4/4 conventional music. But I do think it made me think about music in a very different way, especially when I’m listening to new music, I like to really examine chord patterns and see if anything interesting’s going on, and then see if I can incorporate those weird dissonances into my own music.’
A charming incongruence is to be found in the space between her complicated, intricate lyrics and the simplicity of the sounds against which they are set.
Aside from a new perspective when listening to music, Pickard's time in Nottingham has granted her a certain familiarity with the local music scene, something which was quite the change of scenery from Watford’s one and only open mic night. Though not yet completely integrated in Nottingham’s live music scene, playing open mic nights and gigging with other local musicians has meant that Hannah has been able to recognise ‘the actual music community’ in the city in which she hoped to establish herself as an artist of more prominence and recognition pre-lockdown. In spite of the unfortunate circumstances, Pickard is determined to provide keen Nottingham listeners with some form of live music. Having participated in livestream gigs for Leftlion’s ‘Sofa Sessions’ and Rescue Rooms’s ‘Acoustic Bedrooms’, Hannah’s name is becoming increasingly household.
The debut EP of this particular Nottingham talent is a definitive establishment of sound and style. Apricot Cocktails incorporates much of what you’d expect from the proverbial cousin of The xx: satisfying chord progressions and touching lyricism. The four-song collection moves effortlessly from allusions to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, maintaining that ‘God is dead, he wasn’t wrong’ to more intimate and familiar takes on personal aspects of the human experience such as those heard on Fool Up On Your Shelf. Often drawing from her experience as a poet, the invocation of abstractions and intellectual concepts seems to be characteristic of Hannah’s work: she acknowledges that it helps to ‘frame things in a more complicated and thought-provoking way’, granting her music a unique attraction, a nod to the lyrical work of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. A charming incongruence is to be found in the space between her complicated, intricate lyrics and the simplicity of the sounds against which they are set. Such a collision on each track, and in fact, throughout the EP, effectively squeezes out a rawness, a heavy and deep-rooted emotional resonance that the listener can’t escape for the captivating 15-minute stretch.
[People] listen to Pickard to be immersed in their own world of memory and nostalgia, and to be guided through it by her soft vocals as they latch onto each falling note.
While talent exists, the future is inherently exciting. Pickard's presence in the Nottingham scene increases that sense of anticipation just a little bit more. Alongside building her repertoire as a live musician, the singer-songwriter is intent on continuing to create music, and to move away from the stripped back nature of her debut work to something more musically unconventional and disobedient. As an enthusiast of classical music, Pickard states that ‘although it might sound a bit silly, I’d love to write a symphony using electric instruments.’ As with many developing artists, Hannah Pickard is in the embryonic stage of her career, a time for creative freedom and exploration – the next year or so will see the artist discover more precisely what her sound is, and if her debut EP can be taken as any sort of standard to meet, Nottingham has a very exciting musical prospect on their hands.