We met Hannah Epperson (violinist and loop pedal extraordinaire) in a cozy East-Van coffee shop to talk about the Peak Performance Project and other musical ventures.
LotusLand: Hey there, polar bear! First off, can you introduce yourself?
Hannah Epperson: That’s a daunting task… My name is Hannah Epperson, and I am currently defining myself as a Vancouver-based independent musician. I’ve previously gone under many other guises, but that’s the story I’m telling people these days. I’m originally from Salt Lake City, I moved here ten years ago, and I love it. Love the mountains, love the ocean, the trees, the nice people… I could go on.
LL: Awesome! Can you give us a quick summary of what’s going on with your music right now?
HE: “Quick” isn’t my specialty, but I’ll give it a whirl. I’m currently one of the contenders on the Top 20 Peak Performance Project roster. That’s coming to a head this week, I’m playing at Fortune Sound tomorrow*. It’ll be the final showcase before we enter into the online popularity contest.
[*Note: This performace has come and gone as of press time. The final results of the contest will be announced on November 5th.]
I am currently curating the fourth in a series of performance jamborees. I started this project called CHRUCH with one of my friends, Haley [Win], two years ago. It’s basically this intermedia mash-up series. I wanted to bring a bunch of artists from different artistic enclaves together to cross-pollinate, share their communities, and tear down some of these arbitrary walls that are dividing different creative pockets in the city. We’re having our next CHURCH explosion on December 4th.
A bunch of the proceeds from that are going towards a new mental health initiative called MadCAPS, which basically is looking at alternatives for BC residents who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses. It’s a venture that’s very close to home, I have a very dear, artistic, creative brother who was diagnosed 10 years ago, and in the past decade he has been misdiagnosed over and over again, and put on a bunch of different drugs, and I think it could have been gone about much differently, more tenderly, with a lot more understanding and empathy. So that’s a big thing right now, I’m involved quite closely with MadCAPS as they launch forth. Other than that, I try to feed myself, wash myself, remember to put shoes on before I leave my home.
LL: You’re doing better than I am, I went grocery shopping barefoot yesterday.
HE: [Laughter] No way.
LL: I did. They had comments to make.
HE: Dang, girl. Well, with this unseasonably warm weather, I applaud you for taking advantage.
LL: Thank you. You mentioned the Peak Performance Project, what’s it like being a part of that?
HE: Oddly enough, the Peak Performance Project has little performing involved. There’s one showcase at the boot camp, and then you have a final showcase where you’re actually judged according to a point system. So I’ve only done one performance under the umbrella of the Peak. I’m really nervous about tomorrow [the final showcase], to be honest. Performance has always been a very unguarded, real experience for me, and the fact that I’m going onstage to play for people who are judging me according to a point system, which will determine whether or not I could win $100,000, is not a circumstance that I’ve ever been presented with.
Also, tomorrow night I am doing something I’ve never done before, which is playing with another musician. I’m a loop artist, and it’s really tricky to collaborate with other people, but I’m taking it on. Tomorrow is going to be our first public performance of what we’ve been rehearsing for the past week. That’s going to be really exciting and, again, to be totally honest, I think I wouldn’t have felt compelled to try challenging myself to perform with another musician if it hadn’t been for the Peak setting the stakes really high and saying I needed to push my project a little farther. If it goes well, thanks to the Peak. If it goes horribly, curses upon the Peak! [Laughter]
LL: It’s great to be taking those risks.
HE: Yeah, it is. That’s what being alive is all about.
LL: Are there any bands that you have a huge band crush on—want to jam with them, want to marry their music—now that you’ve heard them at the Performance Project?
HE: Oh, of course. I do come from Utah, I have a Mormon background, so polyamory is not… I was going to tell a polygamist joke, but it didn’t work. I could not see it to completion. Anyways, Oh No! Yoko, for sure. I am head over heels for those little pieces of shit. I mean, those boys are… I don’t know why I like them so much, they’re not my people, but they are totally my people.
LL: They’re a little insane at everything they do.
HE: Yeah, there’s something about them. It helps that I was paired up with them for the songwriting challenge. We had a great time coming together through various states of delirium as we were recording and producing this track in the middle of the night, at ungodly hours, at boot camp. I was also nursing a broken leg at the time, so I think I was feeling especially tender.
LL: Literally and figuratively. How did the broken leg happen?
HE: I am embarrassed and delighted to report that at the time of the incident I was skipping backwards, up a hill, telling a story animatedly.
LL: That’s the best way to go.
HE: It’s a good way to go. Skipping backwards… it’s so ludicrous that I broke my leg doing that. And it’s important that that was the way it happened, because I had this amazing epiphany after the “oh shit, I just broke my leg,” moment which was “it’s so miraculous that this doesn’t happen every day.” Our bodies are so cool. They’re amazing. They’re resilient, and they heal, they hurt, they hold themselves together… for the most part. We take it for granted.
LL: Besides the broken leg, the Peak Performace Project… thumbs up?
HE: Oh yeah.
LL: In general, what bands do you think have some sweet tunes?
HE: I’m pretty outspoken about being obsessed with Björk, I always have been. Since I first heard her music. My brothers were also obsessed, and I took it upon myself in elementary school to learn everything about where she came from. I did this totally gratuitous research project and presentation for my 4th grade class in elementary about Iceland and its pop diva, Björk. I think Iceland feels the same way, they gifted her her own island. It’s insane.
LL: [Laughter] Just like “you’ve been cool, have a land mass?”
HE: [Laughter] Yeah, well, Björk deserves it. Besides Björk, Radiohead… I don’t want to say obviously but, obviously. They’re one of the most prolific band, it’s so incredible. Bar Talk, Johann Sebastien… I listened to a lot of old Appalachian folk tunes growing up that have been passed down, so no one knows who’s written them. Currently, I’m into James Blake. I don’t have a lot of time to research artists, so I’m not one of those people who are like “here, these are all the amazing obscure bands I’m listening to right now.” Certainly, there is a reason that those three artists I mentioned are as well known as they are, and I’m a really big fan.
LL: On the subject of sweet tunes, let’s talk about your music for a bit. How do you think your music has changed since you first started writing?
HE: It sucks to say it, but I think I’ve become more self-conscious about writing music. I’m now dating a musician, who I look up to, and I hear him and a lot of our community in constant critique mode. It’s made me a lot more aware of how other people listen to and interpret your music. All of the music I’ve written has come from a very… I’ve used this word before, but a quite unguarded place, often as an escape from other things, like academics or shitty relationships or family anxiety. Now that I find myself in a position where people are expecting me to write music I suddenly feel this strange disconnect from the writing process, which has always been without any purpose or end goal. It’s been very spontaneous and honest, and this is going to be an interesting year because I have to write a record. If I’m going to be a musician, I have to write more music. And I’m really afraid to. It’s exciting, I’m not afraid in the bad “I’m going to get locked into paralysis and die” way. But it’s going to be an intense year, for sure. I’m going to have to work through a lot of barriers in myself and that’s really exciting, ultimately.
LL: That’s definitely exciting. What would you say is the best way to listen to your music.
HE: Live. For sure. I don’t really have so many good recordings out. It’s interesting, I’ve played a lot of shows, especially in the last year and a half, and I haven’t made time to create good quality recordings. I’m releasing a two-track EP on vinyl, which will hopefully be out in the next month. I just got my test pressings, I’m really excited to check them out.
Anyways, what I do as a musician is create these huge orchestrations, and they’re all done in a totally live setting. There’s no pre-recorded tracks, I create this orchestral sound, and it all happens in real time. I think it’s a lot more engaging when people are there to watch it unfolding.
LL: Well, it certainly sounds amazing. You’ve played so many shows, what’s been your highlight so far?
HE: I played a show in this amazing venue in Dawson City called the Palace Grand. It’s over a hundred years old, it was burnt down, it was rebuilt with period tools to be an exact replica of the building that had previously been standing. I played at the Dawson City Music Festival this summer, during a bizarre time for me, emotionally. When you’re that far north in the summer, there’s no night, there’s no darkness. It’s truly bizarre, and I’m someone who is very reliant on Circadian rhythms. I just had an insane show there. I had this experience of being truly connected, viscerally, emotionally, visually, to the music that was coming out of me, in a way that I’d never experienced before. I think it was received really well and when I got to the end I could not believe that there was this room full of people who had given me their attention and had met me half way for this extremely personal experience. And I felt my chin start to quiver as I received an ovation, and I had to go offstage and I just started sobbing. I felt like I was puking out these tears, and I don’t understand why. It wasn’t a bad experience, it was amazing. For sure, I haven’t had another performance experience like that.
LL: A lot of people say that music is about connecting people.
HE: Yeah, I think that’s why we do it. Part of why we do it, anyway, I think there are selfish reasons as well.
LL: Alright. What’s up next for you?
HE: I have a couple cool shows that I’m looking forwards to. I’m doing a few North West dates with a woman named Julianna Barwick, who was just on tour with Sigur Rós. I’m really looking forward to meeting her and hearing her music, playing with her and opening some of her shows. I’m headed to Toronto this Saturday to write an album’s worth of music with Cayne Mackenzie from We Are The City for Shane Koyczan, the spoken word artist. That’s a tremendous undertaking that I’m exhausted just thinking about right now, but it’s going to be really cool. I think next year is going to be truly explosive, and at this point I’m so overwhelmed with what’s going on now that I haven’t had energy to set a solid trajectory for the future. You’ll have to stay tuned.
LL: And stay tuned we will. Is there anything you’d like to say before we wrap things up?
HE: Thank you for this opportunity to be alive.
LL: [Laughter] Great. Your last question: what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found lying on the street?
HE: Weirdest? That’s a difficult adjective to work with.
LL: Most unexpected?
HE: I’ll go through my archives. This is a really hard question. Give me five to fifteen minutes, maybe…
LL: Take your time.
HE: A fully uneaten cookie! Dang! Who puts a cookie on the street and doesn’t eat it. That is truly weird to me.
LL: That’s inhumane.
HE: It is. It’s inhumane, it’s rude…
HE: My immediate family were professional cleaners. I remember my dad, one time, we were walking down the street in Kits when I was in high school, during my more socially critical era… my dad saw a half eaten cookie on a plate outside of a café that had clearly been abandoned. He was like “Huh, a perfectly good cookie.” So he picked it up, split it in half, and we ate it together. There was a moment where I was like “Dad! What if someone saw you do that!” Then I realized, a quarter of a cookie? So worth it.
LL: Free cookie, man. Well, thank you for the interview! Keep it real, harbour seal.
HE: Keep it real, harbour seal.