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NewTracks New Artist: Hannah May

NewTracks New Artist: Hannah May

Leaving The X-Factor and Mae Valley behind her, now Brisbane-based Hannah May steps into the limelight again as an independent country-pop artist with her second single Passenger Seat. NZ On Air Music picked up the hopeful song for their NewTracks compilation this February.

What’s your name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

My full name is Hannah May Elizabeth de Villiers and I was born in Hamilton, NZ. I play the guitar, sing and know about three chords on the mandolin. (It’s a work in progress!)

Was any high school or other music training important to you?

Unlike a lot of artists, high school wasn’t really a defining factor in my music. In fact, I wish I had paid more attention in music class at school. It wasn’t until a little later on in life that I began to really love music and take it seriously. However, I have my first ever singing coach, Bettie Pratt to thank for my vocals. She taught me from a very young age and has played a massive part in my music ability. Along with this, I performed on many stages from a young age and gained experience in performing to crowds which has given me a lot of confidence.

Any other other projects that we might know you from?

You may remember me from the second season of the television series The X Factor NZ where I was one half of country duo Mae Valley, who placed 7th in the final. Following X Factor, we were signed to record label Sony NZ and went on to release a number of country-pop songs, an EP and completed a national headlining tour.

How did your songwriting evolve from the beginning to where it is right now?

Well, I began writing songs from the age of about 13 and let’s just say I knew nothing about everything at that age! My songwriting is forever evolving and improving in my mind. Like everything else, you only get better the more you practise something and it’s definitely the case for writing songs. I released my first solo-written single in 2018 and at the time I thought the song was my best song. When I look back now I think, wow it really wasn’t! I’m still proud of it, but I know I can do better.

I was super excited about Passenger Seat as I felt it just represents me clearly as an artist and also because it’s a song that came about in a challenging time of my life and career, so feels authentic and raw.

What makes Passenger Seat stand out for you as a single?

When I wrote this song, I definitely didn’t have a ’single’ in mind. As I was writing it, I just had the feeling of, ‘Okay, this one is a bit of a vibe,’ and straight away I could imagine the music behind it and what it could sound like. That’s when I thought it could really be my next single. I don’t always know exactly what I’m going for when writing a song, it’s like a luck of the draw most of the time, and this one just stood out to me.

What is the story behind Passenger Seat?

When I wrote Passenger Seat, I was thinking about a loved one and how they were currently in place when they weren’t completely fulfilled in their day to day life. They were working a mundane 9 to 5 job, it was comfortable but they weren’t truly happy.

I think there’s a certain pressure on young people to live a pretty structured life and to have it all together by a certain age which in the long run can hold you back from doing what you really love and what you are passionate about.

I wanted to write about it in a way that uplifts people and encourages them to go for what they want because you don’t want to get the end of life and regret not doing all the things you wish you would’ve done.

From what I remember, the name of the track came before the song itself. The idea of being in the passenger seat came to mind and I thought it would be a really cool idea to base the song around. I like that it wasn’t a generic song title, and stands out a little.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

I really love the chorus and that was the part that got me excited when writing the song. It’s catchy and has that feel-good vibe going on.

Who did you write/produce the single with and where? 

I wrote this track and had it produced by a Sydney-based producer named Peter Holz who is an absolute legend of a producer and a guy! I flew to Sydney for a few days to record the track and it was such a fun time.

Time goes so quickly in the studio because of the fun and excitement of the whole process. Nothing excites me more than hearing my songs come to life through production, especially when the producer just gets it! Peking Duk were recording in the studio next to ours which was also epic!

What would you like listeners to take away from the song?

I’d hope that when people hear this song, they hear something authentic and unique. I hope they feel uplifted and inspired through the lyrics and feel connected to the song.

In general, how do you work out what would make a good single?

If it’s catchy and has the ability to connect with listeners. I think I’m pretty picky with what I would select as a single, I have a pretty short attention span, so If I can listen to a whole song without getting bored, it could be a potential single!

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?

Yes, I am working on some projects this year, but I can’t give too much away. Definitely keep your eyes peeled for updates as it’s going to be an exciting year!

Can you please tell us three other local tunes that should be on a playlist alongside your song.

Kaylee BellWasted On You

Jenny MitchellLet Me Be

Jamie McDell Botox

Have any of your previous applications not got funding or included on NewTracks? Got any advice for people out there?

I’ve only submitted one track to NZ On Air for funding, back in 2018, and didn’t receive funding. My advice is just to keep going and don’t take that as a negative because It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. I was just kind of starting out back then and I had a lot to learn about the industry and about myself as an artist. I’ve worked really hard in the last year trying to get my music out there and it has just started to pay off. I’m excited to get the chance to submit my next projects for NZ On Air funding and see how that goes.

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

NZMusician.co.nz of course! 😉 It’s good to keep up with the music news from home as I’m currently in Australia. I have actually been watching a lot of music industry Youtube videos lately. It’s good to get advice on all the different aspects of the music industry because it’s such a mysterious industry that no one seems to know how to navigate. I’ve definitely learnt a lot, especially on marketing your music.

Any last words?

Thanks to everyone who has streamed Passenger Seat, I never expected such a great response. Keep listening!