Come Back Fighting - A Chat with Philippa Hanna

Posted by Aaron Lewendon  ·  Be the first to comment

Come Back Fighting - Philippa Hanna


I needed a comeback.

About two weeks ago, I sat down for a phone interview with Philippa Hanna. My first ever phone interview. Everything way ready. I found a quiet corner, had a glass of water, notepad, three pens sat on the cleared desk. I made sure that my phone’s battery was above 50%, tested the conversation-recording app by calling up my wife about what was for tea. I even used a pin to clear bits of pocket fluff from the mic on the phone. Every precaution that my anxious brain projected was taken care of before I hit dial.

The conversation was a sheer delight. Few people I have had the pleasure of talking with posess such a warmth and compassion as Philippa Hanna. With a strong Sheffield accent and passionate manner, her enthusiasm proved infectious. Before the interview’s ‘official’ start, during introductions and pre-amble, Philippa was a patient, friendly, and so very encouraging. I was nervous from the beginning, but found those worries swiftly put in place. “Why are you nervous? [...] You really don’t need to be”. And I believed her reassurances. (I can’t say I wasn’t, also, a little comforted to hear such a familiar accent, being a lapsed Yorkshire-ite who swiftly lost his own Northern-timbre upon moving away.) And so, the interview began.

We kicked-off by talking about her new album, Come Back Fighting. “It what you think it’s about” she told me, wasting no time on expanding on the album’s title and theme; that the album’s title spelled out exactly what it is all about. It’s a personal album, born of setbacks and triumphs. It has been made to encourage people knocked down by life, to help them get back up from rejections and disappointments.

There is a rootsy, gutsy sound to Come Back Fighting, and that was what we talked about for a large part of the interview. Philippa talked about going to Nashville, the home of country music, and how a lot of the sound of Come Back Fighting is influenced by her time spent there, as well as returning the the folk sounds. What was key, though, was that the sound was chosen not because of her passion for country music - one that, I’ll admit, was rather infectious - but for the songs themselves. Theses are Comeback songs that suit the earthy and authentic sound of country music. She described how country is a strongly cultural genre, especially in America, and that was what she wanted to bring back with her.

You don’t need to have been stateside to know that Nashville and Sheffield are staggeringly different places, so whilst on the topic of being in USA, I asked her what it was like coming back to Yorkshire after being at the beating heart of the country music scene. ‘There’s no place like home’, it turns out, is more than just a movie quote and popular phrase. For Philippa Hanna, it is a tightly-held truth. To then end, there was a song on the album, she told me, all about coming home. Titled, rather appropriately, Dorothy.

And music, just like Sheffield, is home for Phillipa. She shared how she grew up around music, and from an incredibly young age was writing songs and music. How she had always wanted to write and sings songs when she grew up. (I mentioned that I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was younger, but I never got very far with it - something she wasn’t having, telling me that I should get back into it. That it’s not too late to become a paleontologist. In all honestly, I felt a little on the spot there - having never been told so resolutely to follow childhood ambitions. But, if anything, there certainly needs to be more people in the world who will tell you it’s never too late to dig up dinosaurs).

Come Back Fighting - Philippa Hanna

We then moved on from music to crowdfunding, which is what separates Philippa Hanna from most other Christian artists. She is not signed to a label, but raises the money needed to make her music through a funding platform called Rocketfuel.

Now, this was where I was keen to hear first-hand what it was like to be a crowdfunded artist. Before the interview I had read up on this new way of funding, and even heard a great quote from one of Kickstarter’s founders, who said that ‘Crowdfunding isn’t about the funding; it’s about the crowd’. [Note: never go into an interview with a preconceived idea]

This seemed not to be Philippa’s main experience of crowdfunding. Firstly, she share how it is actually incredibly hard to be a crowdfunded artist. She told me how the most important thing you can do as a crowdfunded artists is to “educate your audience”. That a huge amount of money and effort goes into making an album, but that, with the rise of streaming services, such work goes unnoticed and unconsidered. She even told me about a time she was performing a gig, and afterwards at the merch table, someone looked at the CDs on sale and asked ‘are they free?’. People are so used to not having to pay much, if anything, for music that the huge costs of studios, musicians, as well as living costs go forgotten. That’s why, Philippa's experience of crowdfunding is educating your audience. But it also offers a unique freedom. Unbeholden to a label’s interference, she is able to pursue a personal and honest [..] direction in her music.

A big part of why she does what she does, she explains, is her faith. Whilst she may have grown up around music, she didn’t become a Christian, until she was 21. Through her whole career, she “learned to trust [God] more, and see his hand in everything”. I asked her if she would ever create a worship album (after having recorded a cover of Kristene DiMarco’s ‘It Is Well), and she told me how all her music was song-driven, but that if she ever had enough worship-focused songs, she would release them as a worship album.  

With Come Back Fighting being Philippa’s sixth album, I asked if she had any advice for aspiring musicians wanting to start out along a similar path. With a similar tone of firm encouragement that recommended I dig-up dinosaurs, she offered this for anyone struggling with their first steps in music: “What you do has value. It matters”, and that you just need to “Believe in yourself. Believe in the God who created you”.  

Having travelled the same path as countless other struggling artists who eventually found their place in music, as well as opening for big names such as Leona Lewis and Collabro (with whom she is currently in tour) it seemed fitting to ask Philippa who she would most like to have open for her. I expected a dream scenario; possibly with a superstar opening up a Philippa Hanna concert, but her thoughtfulness shone through. She didn’t want a chart-topping superstar to open for her. Opening a concert is all about “shining a spotlight on up and coming artists”, and to that end she passed on a single name. Maddie Cunningham, whose melodic songs and timeless voice I currently have playing through my earphones as I am typing all this up.  

I ended the interview with a lighter question, asking Philippa what her favourite Tom Hanks movie was (it turns out, she doesn’t have a favourite one, and that’s why she likes him). And that was it. I thanked her, told her how much of a pleasure it was to chat over the phone, how I hope her tour goes well, and how she had won an Eden award (Best Female Artist) earlier in the year.

She was right, I really didn’t need to worry about talking on the phone to her, and I enjoyed it much more than I thought since I wasn’t panicking throughout the 20 min conversation. And then I looked at my phone. The recording wasn’t there.

It turns out that at some point during the chat, the app had crashed. All of it was was lost. I felt my insides sink like lead. There was no way to recover the file, and my memory is (ask anyone I know) not the best. And neither were my notes, written in a handwriting that calling illegible would be a compliment. But I couldn't just phone back up and ask to do it all again. For the next few days I felt sick with worry, completely defeated. Piece by piece, I attempted to reconstruct the interview, but each time spiraled with worry. All the worry from before the interview came back with a vengeance.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I am at the point where it can wait no longer. So, to try and rekindle some of what Philippa Hanna said, I put on the first single from Come Back Fighting, titled Off the Wagon.

Have you had one of those moments where you come across a song that you needed to hear? A song that seems tailor made to where you are? Off The Wagon was just what I needed. I needed to be told to just get up, brush it off  and keep going on, which is just Off The Wagon is all about. I mean, what are the odds of that? Of the very person whose interview I had messed up provided the song that helped me get over the spirals of worry I made for myself?

So, if you happen to be reading this and are called Philippa Hanna, thank you for being so gracious and for inadvertently helping me get back up from worry.

And if you aren’t, I can’t recommend enough that you give her new album a chance. Disappointment may be universal, but so is the chance to Come Back Fighting.

Come Back Fighting by Philippa Hanna is due for release on 24 November 2017.

8th November

November 8th, 2017 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon

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