There aren’t many feelings better than discovering new music and getting fully emerged in its beauty. It doesn’t always happen, at least not fully, but when it does, nothing else matters. Listening to Hannah Epperson’s Slowdown certainly did that for me. So, obviously I was ecstatic when she recorded a session. Fair warning though: these videos might tear you apart.
Whenever I request a session, I try to make it as clear as possible that it involves covers, because those usually take a bit of time to pick and rehearse. Sometimes the message gets lost in email traffic though, as it did with Hannah Epperson’s session. Imagine her surprise when I picked her up at Utrecht’s main train station and drove her to Husk’s ceramic workshop in the South part of the city. It didn’t matter much as it turned out, because after a couple of minutes she knew what she wanted to cover. Surely this would take an hour to practice first, right? Not for Epperson, soon enough she was ready to shoot. ‘I’d been humming the chorus recently, so when I showed up for the session, completely unaware that the whole premise of the shoot pivoted on cover songs, it was there at the top of my song rolodex. It was also one of my brother’s favourite songs, and because he’s not with us anymore it’s umm … it’s an immediate way to access him in my memory, feel close to him.’
‘Love Will Tear Us Apart follows a pretty repetitive chordal pattern that lends itself handily to a loop station. I listened to the track twice in earbuds before the session and figured I could build the dynamic architecture of the song between two phrase banks. Because the chord structure is so accessible, it’s very easy to play around the structure without compromising its integrity or recognizability. Also, improvised moments are what I live for… they are the moments in which I feel totally secure about there being some actual substance from which I’m drawing upon to express my Self.’
Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division)
Okay, you, reading this. Yes YOU. Did you watch the video of Love Will Tear Us Apart yet? If you did and it didn’t move you to tears or blow your mind, just get out of here. You’re a fool. Just kidding, read on of course, but how brilliant was that? I’ve mixed the audio, edited the video and watched it a hundred times already and I still can’t handle. Growing up, Epperson was influenced by a diverse set of musicians, people and nature, she tells me. ‘Björk, Ravel, Arvo Pärt, Pete Seeger, The Cranberries, Ursula K. Le Guin, Radiohead, my brothers, Natalie McMaster, Värttinä, various tree species. None of this in any order, and none of this exclusively.’
‘I’ve always read a lot, and I’m sure that I’ve been influenced by a myriad of writers, the connections to whom may remain forever ambiguous, vague and impossible to highlight. I loved Ursula K. Le Guin, Orson Scott Card and Philip Pullman as a kid and am sure that a lot of themes I was introduced to in their various series have framed the way I think about or approach a lot of things I observe as I get a bit older.’
‘I think these days, I’m often moved by artists who don’t know how to or don’t care to use social media very well or at all. Or else artists who are unapologetic, thoughtful critics of the completely fucked up capitalist hell gyre we’re all living in and aren’t afraid to use their platforms politically. So much curatorial energy goes into the ad-nauseum presentation of attractive, context-less, purchasable “stuff.” It’s so exhausting and it hollows a person and a culture out over time – both the consumers and the producers. The artists I look up to are in love with process, so much so that they often forget the “stuff” part. They are the artists for whom the process makes meaning, and for whom those meaningful moments are compelling enough to live for, even only for one day at a time. They are the artists you often never hear about because they’re so fucking busy working or else are so tired from taking in so much of the world through their saucer senses that they don’t have energy leftover to promote and package their process for consumers.’
Epperson sees life and death in everything at the same time
‘Whenever I’m stuck or need inspiration, it’s always nature. Submersion in brook water. Sound of earth under foot. Smell of wet forest detritus. Nature makes me feel calm because I see life and death in everything at the same time. Somehow seeing it all there like that – life and death and the ways those two states and the processes in between – tempers the scalar messiness of my own contradictory feelings of guilt, self-loathing and self-worth that I often find crippling. You witness so many time scales in a single instant in nature. It’s quieting and remarkable and humbling, and these moments beg for the use of all your senses. It’s life giving. It’s somehow sad and joyful. There’s not easily a most beautiful place, but recently spent a week in Icefields Parkway in Banff, hiking for hours every day beside huge slow glaciers, plunging into glacial turquoise rivers and lakes, alpine abundance around this corner, stark geological sediments plunging up into the sky in halting diagonals around the next. There was a lot of cathartic weeping.’
Epperson has spent a lot of time traveling the world on her own on solo tours. It’s taught her valuable life lessons, she tells me. ‘I think I’ve needed a lot of alone time in the last few years as I work through a really profound personal loss. It’s important to know how to spend time alone, to find value in the way you build connections to the natural and political world you live in without relying on validation from your social network. I’m comfortable with long bouts of silence, the freedom it gives my mind to wander, to ping between different avenues of thought.’
‘The society of others often makes me feel very anxious, worried and over concerned about subtexts and dynamics that may or may not be there. I feel bored with myself when I fall into this kind of hyperactive analytical frame of mind, so alone time is very nice and often quite invigorating. As for lessons out on the lonesome road? Best not to accept drinks from strangers, but if they offer to carry your (obscenely heavy) bag up a flight of stairs, take em up on the offer goddamnit. In other words, it’s great to exercise your independence and avoid being drugged or beholden, but there’s no need to break your back to prove it.’
All photos by Matthijs van der Ven.
HUSK Ceramics, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Simone & Suzan (HUSK Ceramics)
Theo van der Ven
Filmed, edited and graded by Matthijs van der Ven.
Audio recorded & mixed by Matthijs van der Ven.