Signal Path Podcast: Hannah V
Listen to the latest SIGNAL PATH podcast with HANNAH V, a London-based producer and pianist who studied at the Royal Academy of Music before touring the world with Rihanna.
Hear the stories behind the sounds: Signal Path by Shure meets sonic innovators to explore how they're shaping the world of audio.
Episode 067: Hannah V
In this episode of Signal Path, Marc Young speaks with Hannah V, a successful songwriter and producer known for collaborating with the likes of Stormzy, Yola and JP Cooper.
Marc and Hannah sat down at the Shure booth during the most recent London Podcast Show to talk about how her multicultural upbringing in Germany and India influenced her early musical education, her transition from classically trained pianist to key member of Rihanna’s backing band, and how she once composed a track for Netflix’s Bridgerton series in just a matter of hours.
Marc Young: Let’s trace how you made it here to London. What drew you to the piano as a little girl living in Berlin?
Hannah V: Actually, I started piano lessons in India. I lived there with my grandma and my uncles and aunts. I started when I was five for a couple of years in India, came back to Germany, and then continued with a very strict, incredible classical piano teacher in Berlin.
She would yell at me if I was playing repertoire that she did not tell me about, you know. But in hindsight she was incredible, in terms of my technique, in terms of my discipline, all of that.
Aside from your teacher, what influences did you have when you were growing up with the piano?
Yeah, my story is interesting because my parents weren't necessarily musical, so it was just me and the piano. I was very supported by my family. They're wonderful. They've always been 100 percent behind me, but it's not like I had anyone at home super interested in music, you know?
So my dad would blast Tamil Christian music, for example. We'd have the radio on we'd have mtv on so there's lots of different influences.
We also went to an incredible church that was full of classical musicians and singers. When a lot of people say they learned in church, you immediately imagine like a gospel upbringing. For me, it was hardcore classical, so I'd walk into church and the choir director would be like, “come over here and sight-read this.” So my chops were also developed in church and in school.
So, you had that as your foundation, and then you eventually came to London for jazz piano. How was that? You know, you show up at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music and you get thrown in the deep end. Can you describe that to us?
It was intense! The Royal Academy was a bit of a culture clash, because I went to an American school with American teachers where we're just used to the American way. Everybody being super enthusiastic. Then you come to moody, moody, moody Britain!
The way the academy works is you only have one person per instrument, and everybody's shy and British and then some random chick from Germany walking in being like, “Hey guys, I'm Hannah, I play the piano!”didn't really go down well. And it took me a while to understand that this is cultural, it’s not personal.
It was also intimidating being surrounded by the best of the best. I was always used to kind of being able to nail everything that was thrown in front of me, you know? And then I'm literally around child prodigies who started years and years before me, were professional when they were 10. It was intimidating.
You've also said that part of the reason why you came to the UK was because you felt at the time in Germany, maybe there weren't the same opportunities for a woman of Indian heritage. Is that right?
There's no such thing as the perfect place, right? But what I found in London was this city that is vibrant, that is cosmopolitan, where I'm seeing people of color, Black people, Brown people, in positions of power, which is something that I did not see in Germany. I'm seeing communities being proud of where they come from.
That must have been very liberating culturally. But how about musically?
London is a musical melting pot, it's insane. So, I'm coming from Berlin, a big city, but nothing compared to London. And all of a sudden I'm introduced to the jazz at the academy, but I'm introduced to jazz funk. I'm introduced to drum and bass garage. I'm introduced to the club scene. I'm introduced to all the squad parties and there's so much music around me that I'm living and breathing away from my formal education. My ears just awakened my soul awakened.
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