Hannah Clive is one of those incredible people you always hope you will meet.
She is a singer and a songwriter, a stage performer, an interviewer, and writer … if it involves media in any way, chances are she’s either done it or is looking to try it.
While the London musician does come from a storied background (her father was the wonderful British comedic actor John Clive), it is her own talents that stand out in the world of indie music. Her songwriting is in the style of Carole King, Sheryl Crow and Kate Bush. Every song a masterpiece.
“Kiss of Life” is a vibrant love song, awash in Hannah’s bright honeyed vocals. A wedding classic tune if ever I’ve heard one.
“Wanna Have Fun” has a gentle country feel, taking the listener on an emotional journey as Hannah makes her case to have a good time.
“Lost Boy,” with The Herbaliser, goes a different route entirely — broaching modern electronic funk and Hannah’s breathy vocals — and is wonderfully stunning.
“Fire” paints a passionate picture of a deep love affair, the kind we all long to find ourselves in.
After several weeks of general chatting, we decided a real interview was in order, one that digs deeper into explaining who Hannah is and what this amazing woman is all about.
Here is our conversation:
Let’s start in the beginning … how and when did you get started into music?
My family background is the arts and entertainment so from as far back as I can remember I have always sung and then learned to play instruments as I grew up beginning with the piano … I also wrote poetry … The written word and the literary are another strand in the family trade so really … I just decided one day aged 11 to try to combine the two — the music I was writing on the piano and the words of my poems became lyrics instead …
I first sang professionally aged 10 in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Production of “Evita” in London’s West End and did that for two years alongside my schoolwork — so that too gave me a taste of what it was like to earn money from as well as enjoying performing — plus it was brilliant experience. So all of that happened around the same time.
Wow, that’s a lot bigger than starting in “Annie” … did you have a lot of competition to get the role? And what was the part?
I had to audition with a bunch of other kids, my brother was in it too — there were five of us in each performance. Two girls and three boys with an actress playing the part of a third girl. We played all the kids parts in the show as part of the chorus line, I guess. And there was a dance routine, one girl would do on her own out on stage with an actor playing her father — quite a fun routine I recall and then all the other actors joined on stage. It was great fun because I remember when I’d get picked to do it I would get thrown up in the air and be caught (those dancers can throw you high) and had to duck through someone’s legs at one point!
Then when I was 15, I was offered a record deal by Sinitta’s mother, but that turned out to not be such a great contract to sign, however it did give me studio experience as songs were recorded and photographs were taken, etc.
I went on from there to form a band and we went out gigging doing a mix of covers and originals but at that time live music was in decline other than at the established venues, so we did perform at places like the Hard Rock and The Borderline in London, but people were just not up for live music as say they are now because the emphasis then was on dance music and raves. Had it been the 70’s, I’d have been fine!
I started to sing backing vocals on records alongside the brilliant session musicians here In London at the time beginning with a track with Right Said Fred and so by the age of about 17 or 18 had sung on a record with Ray Charles — all the while I was pushing my own material and recording.
That sounds like a great musical training ground and the studio work too … Recording with a master at 17 … You had to have learned a lot!
I learned from watching the musicians predominantly … I was either singing on or party to some incredible sessions in that period such as “Circle of Life” with Elton John or accompanying The Who tour across America – and infinitely more appealing than university! And it’s not just the artists themselves — it’s the whole team they work with that you learn from. And the session guys would talk to me and explain what they were doing, sometimes even coming and sitting in with my band — it was a rich training ground but sadly with all the quirks that road has — and I watched several close friends succumb to heavy drugs.
I tried helping them as one would do, but to no avail, and that rather put me off the industry for a while. It exhausted me, plus by then they were telling me that anyone over 25 was too old to be signed (no longer the case now) – so I guess you could say I took a sabbatical and went off to live on a narrow boat.
Plus the music I was writing was just not en vogue at the time — it was all dance beats — I was writing songs in the style of, say Adele, but industry just wasn’t into that and back then there simply wasn’t the artistic freedom there is now — we’ve had the Digital Revolution since and of course, artists can release without the need for industry — although that too has its pitfalls!
Did you have stage fright initially as a child performer? Does it still ever get to you?
Well “Evita” was when I first started learning how to steady my nerves in front of an audience, to ride the nervousness out and make it work for you … plus how to sing to the back of the stalls!
And I was nervous, yes — I remember wanting to go to the loo a lot, but I soon got used to it. And yes, I still get it but I have work rounds. It’s rather like riding a bike, the more regularly you perform — the less it bothers you.
It’s when you don’t perform for a while that you get it more acutely. But once you’re on — you’re on and it goes. My Dad, who was a film and television actor, always said that if you didn’t have nerves you shouldn’t go on — that’s when you do a bad show.
When you perform, is it mostly alone or do you have a band? Surely you’d have fewer nerves if it were shared with a band?
It doesn’t really seem to matter nerves-wise … because you still have your part to focus on – just as the other musicians are focusing on theirs … but yes it is easier to perform with a band in a musical sense because there are more of you, so you can get more out of it — basically it’s less work for you in a way because by definition there are more of you! Solo you are carrying it all.
However, when I play a band as the “frontman” (I dislike that word) — the audience does tend to focus on you more — you feel it. Plus, if it’s my material and I put the band together, you still have to lead it.
Which do you prefer? Playing alone or with support?
I prefer playing with support … mainly because I think music is about layers and with other musicians you can create and interweave more of them; it’s better visually too, I think, because although there is an intimacy with an audience when playing solo, when you are interacting with another on stage as a performer, the interplay between you is enriched once again from an audience perspective — it’s seeing that human interplay between creatives and the magic take place.
Let’s talk about being a woman in the music industry — what do you find are the challenges?
The greatest challenge being a woman in the music industry — and it is a challenge — one that I have grudgingly come to accept as being the case — is not getting hit on. By that I mean I can be standing there having a perfectly normal, professional conversation with a colleague and then at the end of it … they try and flirt with you. And you just think — why does it have to come back to that? Whilst it’s flattering as a woman really, that’s not what I’m choosing to be there for, really all you want to do is sit and talk music or play it.
Then there’s the other side, which is that when you refuse advances you might not then get the break — you are passed over – presumably for someone who will. And it still happens within industry. It’s an ego thing. A power thing, I guess.
I would have thought after all this time there would be less of that happening.
Nope. It’s certainly still true of a certain generation within the industry … Maybe not so true with the new generation … They tend to just straight up respect you for what you do musically and don’t try it.
What’s the best way that you have found to combat it and still get ahead?
I just don’t know … You just have to keep your wits about you, be aware of it, try not to become bitter about it because that has a negative effect on you. And just navigate the waters … Smile, be polite but firm tends to work, then make a joke about something else and move on!
I say that…but we all still get tripped up occasionally … or fooled and used…and I guess making music with people can be a deeply emotional, sharing process that brings you closer to them than you might ordinarily and lines can get blurred. The trick is to learn from it I guess and move on.
Maybe write it out in a song? Speaking of which … How many songs do you have?
I was just thinking the same thing. Another way to get it out is to write a song about it … best catharsis in the world that is … for me anyway.
I’m not one of those incredibly prolific songwriters who does a song a day or every week. I tend to write when the mood strikes me, trying to force it doesn’t work, I have to wait until the songs come to me — unless someone plays me something and then asks me to add to it. Then I am quick. I’ve been writing songs for most of my life — but usable? I don’t know — I’ve never counted — and then you forget about songs you’ve written and years later rediscover them. I couldn’t put a number on it.
I think you have your hands in everything! Acting, singing, writing, radio … Just what ALL do you do?
My first love is music, writing it, singing it, and performing it. But my family background is acting, TV, film and literary. So there was always a part of me that wanted to explore those too. With the advent of the digital revolution and its impact on the music industry people like me who had hitherto focused on just music now have to diversify — whether through choice or other. So it was a natural progression for me to delve deeper and look at other avenues within media. That’s why I went back to university and did a degree in media because I recognized quite early on that musicians were gong to have to diversify and use multiple media platforms in order to survive.
I found along the way that I love using my music experience and other presenting or writing skills to help other artists too.
That’s very impressive. You are like the total package then — DIY in a box, so to speak. That makes you very valuable!
Oh, I don’t know about that. I am simply responding to a situation and what other options present themselves to me. For instance I am exploring interviewing bands and music people because they are whom I know; whom I regularly interact with and enjoy speaking with. So I am starting to do that in a more structured way by interviewing them but I suppose I talk to them on their level because I am one of them. I just interviewed, for example, a respected mastering engineer who has worked with many well-knowns over the years and I guess because I am a music person he talked to me in a way that he might not with others.
So that is an interview I would like to get published — especially since it has hitherto unpublished, touching and funny anecdotes in it, that include legends like Eric Clapton and David Bowie … a whole host of them. But my main premise in ALL of this is to support music, musicians and its production at what is a very difficult time for people in the industry.
Whilst at the same time documenting it for posterity. Music matters culturally and it brings people together.
Yes, it certainly does. Our lives would be quite dreary without it. So you have somewhere in mind to publish the interview? It sounds like it is brilliant and would be a popular piece.
Like the music industry, The press and publishing industries are in a bad way too so it’s not as easy as you might think … But they too provide a vital “service” and good journalism, just as good music production, is vital and for that investment is needed from somewhere.
Trouble is we’re all just trying to work out how!
Meanwhile — everybody wants everything for free — or at a reduced cost from individuals who for years have invested in their craft, their skills and are now expected to do it for nothing. Also, the music industry (what remains of it) — fights furiously over what’s left. The pie used to be huge but now it’s like a cupcake! Artists and music production people and other associated industries are really suffering. They can’t pay the bills anymore.
It’s why you are seeing so many acts back out on the road again. They’ve seen their repeat monies dwindle (their pension) and so quite understandably, are now back out on the road again because they can still earn enough to keep themselves by selling concert tickets. Where does this leave the youngsters coming through? Fortunately they are coming through because real talent always does but a lot of quality is being lost along the way too and what does come through isn’t perhaps produced or finished as well as it could be. Artists do still need to be developed.
Have you got any new tunes coming up? I know you have the remastered “Kiss of Life” out now …
I am working on various projects with different individuals. I have my own new material in production working with the same team as “Kiss of Life.” Also I am looking at remixes of existing material — either published or unpublished and letting other acts loose on them, for example Jake of The Herbaliser has just “remixed” my last award-winning track “Fire.” We’ve worked together on it and really pushed some boundaries. It’s a continuation of what we did on “Lost Boy” with his band The Herbaliser and Huey from the Fun Loving Criminals plays that on BBC Radio 6. So I was really inspired by Lost Boy and liked mixing genres — to create musical hybrids. It’s remix culture and something that interests me creatively.
Matt Warneford from (IAM)WARFACE is looking at another of my tracks called “Control Freak” with a view to working his “Rock-tronica” magic on that. So, I am looking forward to hearing those. I am always open to working with other writers, mixing things up!
That is another fascinating thing about this industry — it’s harder and harder to label genres because all the boundaries are blurred — everyone collaborates with everyone and the results are amazing and different.
I think we are in a time of great creativity — like in the 60’s because of the freedom to create and to publish. The problem is it’s a lousy time to be making money at it, but the water is still finding its level and in the meantime that is a good time to be experimenting — using media … Talking to each other, helping each other and setting traditional band rivalries aside.
That is why I am happy to promote what I believe to be good music from other bands. And if their fans like what I am doing then perhaps they might listen to mine too. Like I said we all gotta help each other here #Supportartists. If we can make it fun along the way, then all is well and good … music always was fun and should remain so.
We musicians love a bit of silly … and I like cake! Which is why I’ve recently been successfully doing this running gag about cake and music on Twitter, bands and fans alike, we’re all having huge fun with that … “Cake helps Indie! Vote Cake.” Lord knows there’s enough serious stuff going on and humor and music offer a bit of light relief. It crosses all boundaries.
Hannah is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com, on Twitter at @hannahclive , on the web at http://www.hannahclive.com/, on https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_tenZ6D2ew3piyvKuryXjw and on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/hannahclive.
Anyone is welcome to send in a cake and a tune spot, all you need to do is film a short video of your favorite indie song of the moment and your favorite cake, then Tweet it to @hannahclive, @Xenakita or @RT2EAT.