There’s something unique about some bands. They aren’t just a musically aligned group of people, nor are they just a bunch of friends. It’s something more. On a good day a band can be a close-knit family of artists all passionate about putting their creative energies into the same project.
With that in mind, we spent a day in the studio with Brighton trio Hanya to find out how they work and to get a sneak preview of their new music. We dropped in to take photos while they were recording some tracks at Echo Zoo Studios with the help of producer Max Fletcher.
Hanya are a Brighton-based trio comprised of Heather Sheret, Ben Varnes and Jack Watkins. They formed in 2020, developing from a two-piece with the later addition of Ben. Their most recent release, ‘Amateur Professional’, is a post-punky tune with layers of nostalgia, floating vocals and punchy guitar. The previous year they released their acclaimed seven-track EP ‘100 Metre Sprint’, which combines indie rock with a soft shoegaze sensibility. The explorative guitar, alongside the memorable drumbeats, is a real joy to take in.
Hanya’s sound can be described as dream pop, but it’s constantly developing so maybe it’s not helpful to put them into any particular category, at least at the moment. However, if we had to try and pin down the band’s musical influences it would be worth looking at the nostalgic sounds of the indie scene with bands like The Sundays, Heavenly, My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins and Beach House. While it seems a cheap move to reel off a list of classic dream pop bands, it’s worth noting that Hanya themselves don’t directly attribute their sound to a love of the genre.
Having heard Hanya in the studio, we’ve realised that each instrument contributes to a sound that’s greater than the sum of its parts. This sense of harmony is echoed in the relationship between the musicians. There is a silliness and humour in Hanya’s music that can be found nestling in the serious songwriting and dreamy atmosphere. This element of their music is easy to spot after spending a day with them. Afterwards, we sat down with singer Heather to try and get a better understanding of how the band works.
The three of you have very different personalities, but it all comes together in the music. What’s the secret?
Truly I think the thing that ties it together is how comfortable we are with each other. I personally never thought I would be able to write with other people, but we have such respect for each other’s lifestyles and musical approaches that it means we can be ourselves. We have also known each other for so long. I have known Ben for eight years and Jack for 12.
What is it that appeals to you most about the dream pop sound?
It’s not specific bands… we got told we sounded like certain bands after we started. The initial pull was the fact I was playing the guitar a lot with pedals and really enjoying the washed-out sounds. And also coming from a singer-songwriter background, it was quite easy to write that way, to make things texturally interesting without being that good at playing the guitar! But overall, I think it’s an accidental thing that we have fallen into that genre. The sort of music we listen to is quite far-reaching, but we can all agree that we like guitar music with a driving element to it, anything that feels elevated from your average ‘indie pop’.
What’s the biggest difference between a studio recording and a live set?
I scream more.
Okay, so what’s the best bit about being in the band for you?
For me, it’s playing live. I’ve always loved performing and being on stage. Also, I think post-pandemic there is a real “let’s just let go” side of it that I was missing previous to that. But I also really enjoy just making things and the process of focus. It’s not necessarily about putting a song into the world for me, I think the process is the best part, often by the time it’s released you hate it anyway…
You’re no strangers to releasing your own music… what are the biggest challenges of being in a band now?
Financially it’s definitely getting much harder. It used to be that we could tour on a shoestring and it would be alright, but that’s becoming increasingly more difficult, especially since we want to make the live experience as good as it can be. I think we learnt a lot about adding more and designing the live show so that it’s really fun. But that comes at a cost of bringing more people and more equipment and constantly wanting to add more elements, so you can’t always do it when you’re at the level we’re at. We have bigger plans than our budget will ever allow!
Do some of your experimental sounds come out of the fact that Ben is pretty handy at building and fixing guitars?
Yes is the short answer. He’s great at discovering new things, whether it’s slide chaining the keys to the kick drum or coming up with new ideas for the production side of things. Going back to the first question though, I think we fill in each other’s gaps. I am much more spontaneous with how I write and Ben is more considered and together we can write things that have elements of both. Some things are more my way, some things are more his way, but we can help each other to get started or to finish a track that way. But yes, the experimental stuff definitely does come into play, even if it means we have to lug around his giant stereo cab which makes every sound engineer hate us…
What have we got to look forward to from you guys?
Well, we can say that we are playing the official Great Escape which we can’t wait for! In related news we have also signed to FatCat records, so look forward to lots of new tunes coming your way.
Hanya are playing at The Great Escape festival in May and at the Hope & Ruin on Friday 7th April
Words and photos by Leo Sartain