Montreal-based musician Hanorah is a powerhouse – forceful, mighty, moving. She can sing the blues, rock you with a ballad, break into a fiery guitar solo, or make you dance the night away. The thing she does best is simply being herself.
Fronting the stage
A culmination of an already well-filled musical career, Hanorah’s debut album Perennial was launched in the world in October 2022. Now, she is about to hit the road again, a journey to which she is no stranger. In the upcoming weeks, she’ll be headed to the West Coast, the United States, Australia, and the UK – a first for the musician. “I try not to freak out. But I am so excited,” confides the singer.
Whether familiar with a place or not, Hanorah always finds herself at home on stage. It’s where the most fun happens, harnessing her ultimate frontwoman energy: “I’m the boss. I’m in charge. I’m front and center. And I tell stories, sing my butt off, and jump around.”
This time around, the band will be accompanying her on tour. “I just love the sensation of a drumbeat and the bass filling my heart. And there’s all our harmonies, and the physical sensation of making sound with my throat is just amazing. That just gives me all the happy feelings,” Hanorah says enthusiastically. The musicians sharing the stage with her are more than just colleagues. “It really becomes like a family, learning how to manage all the different personalities and when to take their guidance, when to kind of insist on stuff. They teach me so much,” says Hanorah.
With no formal musical training, she has learned everything on the job. And she has her bandmates to thank for that: “Through the years, they have taught me a lot of what I know about how to perform and do shows. From how to set up my cables, figuring out the setlist and how to make one, and arranging songs so that it makes sense.”
Calling the shots
She isn’t the shy type in the studio, either. “I do prefer to write and make demos at home because it’s cozy, and I could take all the time I want. In the studio, the pressure is on, I have to get the takes. I do like that.” Just like on stage, she is in charge when it’s time to record. For the musician, much music-making occurs at the recording stage, even when the bases have been laid down, and the piece written or arranged. “It’s about the process of experimentation. Sometimes, it’s hard to get people to go along with an experiment because they think we’re doing one thing,” she concedes.
For the singer, it is important to assert herself and band together with the recording crew. “I like to work with people that are on board with me, giving me space to do that, because I’m not just a singer that needs everyone to tell me what I’m doing. I have ideas too, and it’s a collaboration. I’m not just there with a pretty voice waiting for everyone to put their sounds on it. I’m running the show.”
Artist at work
Lately, writing has been on Hanorah’s mind as well. “When I was recording the album last year, while the others were working on something that they didn’t necessarily need me for, I would have my journal out and describe the scene as it was happening, as if it was a novel, describing how the producer was moving, the sounds that I was hearing in the room, just as an exercise,” she says. While working on her journalling, Hanorah discovered her love for fiction writing: “I really, really love it. I’m finishing one piece, I’m starting another, and it then inspired the next album too. So it’s like it’s feeding on itself.”
Another breakthrough has been joining Ensoul Records, a label that shares her views: “I wanted a label that respected my vision and was willing to support what I was doing and work together, not just dictate what I would be doing and what my artistry was.” As different people get involved, it can be challenging to stand up for yourself against their opinion. “I thought I knew exactly what I was doing when I started. Then, you sign with a label, you get put in front of all these people, and they have their idea of what you are,” she speaks of her previous experience.
The human behind the songs
Although Hanorah takes the microphone freely, it doesn’t mean that she is ready to perform every single day. Artists, Hanorah reminds the public, are also regular people. In 2015, she wrote songs about recovering from sexual assault. At the time, it wasn’t something that was being done a lot. Things have changed since then, including the public’s relationship with the subject matter itself. People allowed themselves to share their own stories with her. If it once felt liberating, Hanorah is now moved on to explore other topics in her music.
“I think one misconception is that you’re strong enough to take on everything and that it’s reasonable and appropriate to do that. The truth is that human beings are very sensitive and don’t want to hear everybody’s most traumatic experiences. It’s not my job,” reflects the singer. And she does her job so uniquely well already.
She makes a clear effort to steer away from the algorithms of social media and streaming services, where she notices a lack of variety in music. “I just try to stay inspired by making sure I don’t get stuck in that internet loop of the same voices in the same sounds. If not, you just start to sound like them.” As distracting and pressuring as social media can be, Hanorah prefers to sustain an audience that is here for the music. “I want to write songs and perform, so that’s where I put my energy. I want my vocals to be frickin top-notch every time I hit the stage. And I want to give people a show that they will never forget.”
Written by Christelle Saint-Julien
Illustration by Yihong Guo