Melbourne-based singer songwriter, Hannah Cameron, is a musical poet, adept at juxtaposing words with lyricism. Coupled with her eclectic vocal range, she weaves her harmonies on human transgression and the machinations of relationships, while spinning tragedies fused with emotional complexities, from grieving and hopelessness to acquiescence and, occasionally, acceptance.
‘Backsliding’ actually came out really fast. I wrote it in one day — but it was probably only a matter of hours. It doesn’t often happen but when it does it’s a good feeling.Hannah Cameron
Cameron’s latest single, ‘Backsliding’, released earlier this month transcends into new heights.
Unsurprisingly, her velvety vocals remain undramatic and stoic, yet I sense a smirk, dipped in satisfaction on some of the fiery lyrics, as Cameron grows anticipation with the song’s sonic rhythm, one that breathes chills onto the lyric’s protagonist. The tempo of Backsliding is slightly more upbeat than Cameron’s usual repertoire to align with the subject matter of this empowered track – which is ever so forthcoming, and a fitting sequel to her 2018 LP, I Lay Here Where You Lie.
I spoke with Hannah Cameron about ‘Backsliding’, her first single of the year.
You’ve been described as a master in the art of subtlety. How would you characterise the themes of Backsliding? I sensed it’s about satisfaction, maybe emotional domination, two-way street journeys, detachment, moving on, and numbness? But there is probably more?
Wow, thanks for listening so closely! I think you’re pretty much on the money but for me it’s also about accountability and taking ownership of one’s choices (the good and the bad) and endeavouring to practice what you preach.
On your LP, I Lay Where You Lie, most of the songs capture the pitfalls and aftermath of a relationship. I feel Backsliding transcends the present and looks into the future, with a heavier track and a gutsy move into the final stage of relationship grief. Is this the theme moving forward for Hannah Cameron?
Yeah, I guess you could say that. I Lay Where You Lie was an album about relationships and moving through grief and loss to find a place of acceptance, but not all of the stories were my own. It was kind of an exercise in empathy – trying to tell other people’s stories in a personal way and to zoom out from my own life and tell my stories through a more external lense. I think that ‘Backsliding’ is less about relationships with other people and more about my relationship with myself. Realising that for every action there is an equal or opposite reaction and that it’s okay to take risks and to “play with fire” but that there are consequences and that you need to be prepared to deal with them. I think that deep down we generally know when we’re making bad decisions, but it’s easy to drown out that voice in favour of instant gratification. This song was me trying to listen more closely to that voice.
How satisfying is it to write ‘Backsliding’, with lyrics such as I want to teach a lesson I don’t want to learn (juxtaposing against the restrained dramatisation of the sonics) and I want to start fire just to feel the burn?
Haha, there’s definitely a sense of satisfaction that comes from being able to verbalise a complex feeling or emotion with a couple of lines of verse. It feels nice to be able to distil an idea and get to the bottom of what it really is that you’re trying to say.
‘Backsliding’ is thematically opposite to ‘Just Leave Me Here’ from your second album – a song about hopelessness and fragility — and we shared your pain. Is it easier to write and perform a track that supersedes a breakup grief, while redirecting the life force of hope?
I think both are satisfying and cathartic in their own ways. It can actually feel really nice to perform a sad song years down the track – it’s kind of like reading through an old diary. You don’t necessarily read those passages and feel sad right? You look back with empathy and reflect on how far you’ve come. And I think particularly in times like these it’s nice to be reminded that you can get through things. That you have survived loneliness and loss before and you will do it again and come through the other side.
You have poetically crafted the theme of ‘Backsliding’through an alternative folk style genre. Would it be easier to increase the tempo, flirting with pop to propagate the message? Or would that have nullified the chill factor resonating from the piece?
To be honest, genre doesn’t really cross my mind when I’m writing or producing a song. I play the song at the tempo that feels best to perform it at, and the rest of the arrangement is built from there. I like challenging the idea of genre because I think it can be limiting – both to the artist and to the audience. I grew up listening to singer songwriters and folk music, sung classical choral repertoire throughout high school, studied jazz at university, fell in love with country music in my early twenties, discovered I loved playing loud electric guitar in my mid twenties and now I’m in my late twenties writing music that has without a doubt been informed by all of those influences. If I could I’d love to put ‘N/A’ in the genre section.
How much control do you have sonically, or do you allow Leigh Fisher on Drums and Luke Hodgson on Bass do their own thing?
It’s a pretty collaborative experience. I usually go in with some ideas but I always way their input (because they are absolutely amazing at what they do). Matt Redlich produced the track and he gave everyone (myself included) some really great direction when we were tracking the song.
How long did this song take you to write?
‘Backsliding’ actually came out really fast. I wrote it in one day — but it was probably only a matter of hours. It doesn’t often happen but when it does it’s a good feeling.
Are personal and life experiences the fundamentals to your songwriting?
Yeah absolutely. But I don’t think they always have to be your own experiences. I think about some of my favourite songwriters (Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Anais Mitchell and Laura Marling to name a few) and their songs are not just about their own lives and experiences. They think deeply about the world around them and write stories that feel universal in their meaning and their message. That’s what I’d like to try and achieve in my own writing.