I recently interviewed British artist Philippa Hanna via email about her 4th studio album, ‘Through The Woods’. Personally one of my favourite albums of the year, I discussed about her recent tour with legend Lionel Richie, as well as her journey as a Christian since 2004 as well as the many different themes in the album, with songs like ‘Apples’ often taking on some fairytale thematic elements as it appeals to lovers of the fantasy movie/TV show genre. One of the most popular Christian artists from Britain currently (alongside Rend Collective Experiment and Martin Smith), be sure to check out this interview below and the review of her album here.
Question 1: You have been around the music scene for a while now since your debut album released in 2007 (Watching Me). Now in 2013, with a tour with Lionel Ritchie underneath your belt, you are readying for your 3rd full album release (and fourth overall), Through the Woods. What has encouraged you to continue to pursue music throughout all these years, and what has God been teaching you throughout the album production process of your highly anticipated album release?
Good question. I’ve been learning a lot about the music industry. Music is all about emotion and expression and the music industry can be like the ugly sister. But you have to learn to get along with her if you want people to hear what you’ve created! It’s really important to have a team you trust and who value who you are and not just what you do.
Question 2: Your musical sound, especially on Through the Woods, is an infusion of many musical genres, from pop, to Irish folk, to blues, acoustic and ballads. What is the general sound of Through the Woods, and how does the musical soundscape of this forthcoming album differ (or stay the same) with reference to your two previous albums, Taste and Watching Me?
There are definitely folk and country influences on the record. I wanted it to feel quite ethereal in places and bring you back to Earth in others.
Question 3: Your journey throughout your Christian life (since 2004) has been quite a significant one, and also releasing on July 1st is your autobiographical book, Following the Breadcrumbs. What is the message behind your book, and is it in any way similar to the message you want to convey in Through the Woods? If there is one thing people can experience after either listening to your music, or reading your autobiography, what do you want it to be?
(The book out in September) is an account of my journey since I asked God for help in 2004. I wanted to recount the many amazing grains of hope that have been placed along the road to show me the way! I hope the result is an honest and interesting account.
Question 4: I love the album cover by the way! How did the idea for the apples over the cover come into fruition? Was it intentional choice in picking the cover to reflect the themes of the album?
I wanted to appeal to those who have a love of stories and fiction. There is a lot of popular fairytale inspired fiction at the moment and it sparked my imagination. I love the idea of escaping to another world in my mind! I think God loves creativity. Beneath those pictures however are some very real stories in this case.
Question 5: I love the song ‘Apples’, which reminds me a lot of the story of Adam and Eve, as well as the fairytale of Snow White, and from the album cover, Red Riding Hood and that fable is brought to the fore as well. From looking at the album cover and listening to the first single ‘Lighthouse’, I can surmise that the song and album both try to remind us of God showing up and being a lighthouse for us in times of trials and darkness! What was the initial idea behind Through the Woods and what do you want the album reveal to listeners when they hear it?
It’s the sound track to a journey from darkness to light. Jesus spoke to his followers using parables And i love his use of pictures and stories to convey a message. Some of the greatest fiction is allegorical (Narnia, Lord of the Rings etc). I love the idea of presenting truth in a new way.
Question 6: The first radio single on the album is ‘Lighthouse’. What does the song mean for you personally? From listening to this song, I can get a Celtic-banjo like vibe from it, which is great to listen to because if its musical uniqueness. Did you ever do any musical experimentation on the album that wasn’t on albums previously? What has the Lord been saying, with reference to music and its uniqueness, and how it translates into your own life and the choices you make each day?
Thanks! The song is about being lost and that moment where you ask for help. The moment I sent that signal up in prayer a light appeared in the distance and I began to follow. The new life ashore was amazing.
Question 7: Was there anything about the process in writing for this album difficult, frustrating or just plain tiresome? What was the favourite song to write/record for the album? Was your favourite song ever the most difficult to record because it was either the most personal or most meaningful to you?
New for old has real resonance with me. Is about an old man who finds treasures in scone hand stores. Nothing is beyond restoration to him. That’s the nature of God. No one is ever useless or beyond repair to him. These songs are never difficult to record because their personal to me. I actually find it easier because the emotion brings them to life.
Question 8: You share a record label with artists like Peter Nevland, Daughters of Davis and Roo Walker to name a few. How is it like being on a label with these other artists? What is the best thing you have experienced on Resound Media U.K.? Are there any label-mates you would love to tour with (or even write with) in the near future?
I’ve toured with all the above! It’s great being able to share experiences. Life on the road can be hard and company is good. I’m hoping to collaborate with Daughters of Davis on their next album
Question 9: Is there any music artist (or film, or TV show or book) that has inspired yourself through the album recording and writing process over the last few months? Which artists (it can be from Resound Media U.K. or another label) besides yourself are your favourites at the moment? Have they influenced you, not only in the production of this album, but also in your personal walk with Christ recently?
I’ve been reading the hunger games! It’s pretty gritty but a great story of survival and integrity. Of self sacrifice and perseverance. I love to read. In terms of music I love country and folk! Love listening to people like Ben Howard Laura marling and Jake Bugg at the moment.
Question 10: What has been the response to some of your new material when you perform them live? Is there a favourite song (aside from ‘I Am Amazing’ which I know is possibly your biggest hit) that has gained the most respected response during live concerts? For me some of my favourites on the album are ‘Apples’, ‘The Daffodil Song’, ‘Sharks’, ‘Lighthouse’ and ‘Fire’!
Apples has a real effect. I think many relate to putting their heart in the wrong hands. Also lighthouse is a firm favourite. It’s uplifting and fun! Everything else is so new I don’t really know yet!
Question 11: What has God been teaching you lately through Scriptures, other people, or the media? Is there anything that can be shared that you have learnt, and can listeners identify with anything spoken over you throughout the last few years in reference to the themes from the album? Has what you’ve learnt and gained from the whole birthing of Through the Woods something that you think the listeners can obtain and understand as well?
I’m learning out His grace more and more each day. Love scriptures like ‘my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness’. Apples has reference to scriptures like ‘guard your heart for it is the well-spring of all life’. I hope the album reflects my own struggles and questions and God’s fatherly ability to guide.
Question 12: You have been within the music industry for a long time. What keeps you grounded and places things in perspective as you travel and create music? If there are any young musical artists wanting to break into the music industry via a label signing, is there any advice that you can give as to how to succeed in the industry yet also keep your beliefs, values and integrity intact?
You have to remember that your work is what you do and not who you are. God loves you whether you fail or succeed. He never feels any less or any more affection for you. You can’t impress him into loving you more. You just have to rest in your identity in Him. Keep people around you who care about your relationship with God.
Question 13: Is there anything else that you would like to add that hasn’t been covered in this interview yet? Any encouragement you’d like to share with readers of this interview, something that you have learnt from your journey as a musical artist that you think can be great wisdom to pass onto those who’ve listened to you throughout your journey as a Christian artist?
Be yourself and give your day to God every morning.