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Shaky Knees 2019: Hannah Wicklund Interview

Nicole Kitchens

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When she appears in the press area for our interview, I immediately notice one thing: Hannah Wicklund is exhausted. 

And she has every right to be. After opening up the Peachtree stage at Shaky Knees by immediately diving into a ripping guitar solo (to let the crowd know exactly what they’re getting themselves into) and tearing through her setlist, she doesn’t really feel like wandering around the festival, drinking beer, and discussing the shape of modern music, as I’d planned.

“Honestly,” she says, after we wander around for a bit looking for a spot for the interview. “I just want to go back to my artist tent.”

So we do.

“Oh shit,” she says upon entering her tent, taking inventory of the basket of snacks left for her and the Steppin Stones, her backing band. “We’ve got M&M’s, Goldfish, chips…” 

She settles on a fun-sized bag of chocolates and a bottled water before sitting down on the sofa, ready to begin the last of her interviews before she can actually enjoy the festival with her family and friends. The 22-year old South Carolina native is kicking off her US tour at the festival, supporting her self-titled album that was released last year. It’s a pretty far cry from her breakout days in Hilton Head Island, where she was the front woman of a classic rock cover band.

“We did like, ‘Rocking in the Free World’ by Neil Young, ‘Satisfaction’ by the Stones and ‘TNT’ by AC/DC,” she laughs. “And I think our first seven songs were rounded out by ‘Piece of my Heart’ by Janis Joplin.”

It’s hard not to notice the affect that classic rock has had on Hannah; from her tie-dye bell bottoms to the fact that her songs ooze her own reinterpretation of the genre.

I feel like there’s definitely a Janis aesthetic going on here.

“I mean, she and Stevie Nicks were my two main favorite women in music,” she says, mouthful of M&Ms.

Which leads us to another major point worth discussing; she’s one of a handful of female artists performing at one of the top indie rock-centered festivals in the Southeast. In a year that has truly been the “Year of the Woman” for music, Hannah is grateful to be on the rise in today’s era, rather than the music industry from 10 to 20 years ago.

“I’ve had some experiences at this point where I know I wouldn’t have had if I was a man,” she tells me, picking thoughtfully at a bag of Goldfish crackers with her fingernails. “I’ve even had people in high up places say, ‘She’s cool, but it’s hard to break a female rock artist.’”

Clearly, none of the industry’s blatant sexism has stopped her. 

Produced by Sadler Vaden, known for his work with Jason Isbell, 2018’s Hannah Wicklund and the Steppin’ Stones shows the raw talent of a prodigal guitarist and songwriter; most of the tracks on the album were written when Hannah was just starting high school.

“‘Looking Glass’ and ‘Mama Said’ were written when I was about 14 or 15,” she explains, but when it comes to her favorite track off of the record, she leans more towards her newer music, commenting mostly on the message behind “Shadowboxes and Porcelain Faces.” “It’s my take on this day in age with social media, it’s hard not to get caught up in it. Everybody you see is taking videos and selfies, or just sitting on their phones.”

It’s refreshing to see an artist who truly wants to focus on the “here and now” aspect of their life, rather than the culture of musicians who plaster their everyday routines on Instagram and Twitter. 

“When I was in Cuba, doing the video for [“Shadowboxes and Porcelain Faces”], it was really nice taking a complete break from technology. There’s barely any internet in Cuba, so it was a week of not even holding my phone.”

Once again, she begins to note the days of the 70’s, pointing to Led Zeppelin’s storied career; a band whose manager strayed them from too many TV appearances and promo events, limiting their contact with journalists and interviews. 

“It’s just one of the things that I miss about music, is the mystery,” she says. “I’m personally a fan of things taking a long time, and things being artful and having thoughts go into them before the go out into the world.”

And for anyone who listens to her songs, her thoughtful artistry is certainly apparent. 

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Nicole Kitchens is a Journalism major at the University of South Carolina. She is an avid music writer and once received an Instagram like from Keith Richards -- she hasn’t stopped talking about it since. To read more of her reviews and features, visit her blog: https://www.theelectricblonde.com/. Also, follow her Hunter-Thompson-esque adventures on Instagram: @nicolekitchens

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