Hannah Blaylock: Nashville's Bandit Queen
One of my dearest and most talented friends, the fabulous Ms. Hannah Blaylock, just dropped her latest solo venture Bandit Queen. I recently caught up with her to find out more about the record, what it was like touring with country queen Reba McEntire, and got the scoop on what she's been up to since 2012's Edens Edge record.
en: The last we heard new music from you was the Edens Edge album in 2012 (which includes Billboard chart toppers Amen and Too Good to be True) -- what have you been up to the last few years?
Hannah: I’ve been writing A LOT. I started building what became Edens Edge in the 9th grade with my parents and family friend, Steve Smith. So to start all over and discover who I am without a band has taken a lot of searching. I don’t know the exact number but I think I’ve written around 350 songs. I’ve also been enjoying and (lets be honest) working on being married. We had our wedding 3 months before I resigned from Edens Edge. The band was such a big part of our lives we both had to build a new life and identity for ourselves. That required a lot of growth all at once. It was hard but amazing at the same time -- we both feel like together we can take anything the world throws at us and love each other even more on the other end of it.
en: Tell us a bit about the process of recording Bandit Queen.
Hannah: I signed a new publishing deal in mid 2013 with Big Deal Music Publishing. I did nothing but write like crazy for the next two years. I had written all of these songs but kept coming to dead ends trying to find the right producer. I just felt stuck in my life and in my musical growth in general. I had a little vineyard tour I booked in LA and my husband Justin had always wanted to try out the film industry. So, he quit his awful job and we packed our car to the brim and drove cross country to stay in LA for awhile; for how long we didn’t know. Big Deal had recently signed The Dixie Chick sisters, Emily and Martie, out of the LA office. We had gotten to hang and play a couple shows together in Nashville (which made my life) and also talked about writing but hadn’t found the time yet. As we know Emily and Martie are both successful authentic artists, but furthermore, they are badass super moms as well which made me idolize and look up to them even more.
When Justin and I were driving through Texas, we stopped to stay with some friends for a week. I knew I was kinda close to where they lived in the state and emailed them to see if they were in town or had any time to get together. Emily hit me back and turned out I was like a 4 min drive from her house! So crazy. We got together and her, her husband Martin and I wrote a bunch of awesome songs in 2 days, including “Bullet” and “Heatwave”. I went on to LA and shortly after they ended up asking me to come back and write for another week. I jumped on a plane ASAP of course and they graciously put me up. I had the time of my life creating with them and loved being a part of their amazing genuine family life. Their family dinners every night were my favorite part of the day.
At the end of the week they asked me if they could help me with my music and how? They offered their time, talents, connections and more and gave me the opportunity I was looking for to make this record. Martin produced and played on the record, Martie offered me her studio in Austin, Martin, Emily and Martie all played on the record and they also gathered all of their closest friends and favorite musicians in Austin to record the tracks as well. They did all this- and asked nothing in return. I still feel like it isn’t real life- it can’t be. And I have to hold back tears every time I tell the story.
We ran out of time and I didn’t get to record one last song I envisioned ending the record. That’s when I met a man named Jay Coyle. I worked with him and Pledgemusic to create a campaign and get the fans involved with my story and completing the last track. I was a little timid to do it at first but Im super grateful I did now because I feel like my fans and I all got to share in not only making my album, but in seeing it to its completion. Its really special to me that the album has that story.
Because I had been writing for the album for so many years, the songs on the record have vast birthdays and with a wide range of co-writers. I love that. It shows the journey in a cool way to me. I do have to say the main co-writer that got in the trenches with me for this record was my dear friend Autumn McEntire. She is one of the best writers, and people for that matter, that I have ever met. I definitely wouldn’t have found myself to the depth that I did or be inspired to create Bandit Queen without her in my life.
en: You've played the big stages, and opened for acts like Reba and Brad Paisley. How did that impact you? What ideal direction are you looking to go with your career now?
Hannah: So many endless blessings and once in a lifetime moments were given to me in such a short amount of time. The things I value the most are learning from my idols what it means to be someone worth looking up to. Reba is the Queen of that -- she is golden inside and out and is insanely loving to everyone she meets. She takes really good care of her people and is also very real. She doesn’t do it to be an idol, she does it because that’s her heart.
Those INSANE opportunities also made grateful and be ok with being undeserving. We were put in the fast lane really quickly in relation to how long we had been in Nashville. All the friends we made in town had been here and worked so hard for so much longer than us. They were also WAY better than us in my opinion. It rocked my paradigm, especially when I sang on the Opry, I really struggled with it every time I stepped into the circle. It makes me happy that a lot of our friends are rising now and being recognized in the way they deserve. I grew in discovering not only was I not helping anyone else with my insecurity, I was also getting in my own way.
In 2013 I decided I would never follow any other compass than my truth. I made this record from that place and am committed and believe most in that for all things in my life and in my music. So, to be honest I’m not sure what an ideal direction looks like. I make lists and ideas of where I’d like it to go all the time. But I am most excited in opening my arms, following to see where it takes me. I want to genuinely sing and share music with people that want to genuinely sing and share music with me. If thats happening in my life, which I can’t ever see if not, I’m a happy girl :).
en: Is this Bandit Queen the story of a real woman in your life?
Hannah: Yes LOTS of women in my life actually -- or rather, EVERY woman. I am so inspired by the strength of women. All women have it, no matter how unassuming or apparent it may be. The Bandit Queen represents that part of us, that defined unapologetic characteristic that wether others see it as flawed or not, is inconsequential. For example, I’m a strong passionate woman. Because of that I’ve been told I’m intimidating and too dominate for them. I’ve had others try to dim my natural light in a lot of different ways, mostly because it ignites their insecurities, and sometimes I’ve unfortunately let them win. But I feel like my experiences in my 20s have helped me embrace and appreciate those parts of me and draw a line in the sand in a great way of who I am. Take it or leave it. I highly promote and support others, women or men, to do the same.
en: Are there any other influences on this record?
Hannah: TONS -- Sturgill Simpson, Lana Del Rey, Patty Griffin, Margo Price, Nikki Lane, The Dixie Chicks, Zella Day, Patty Loveless, Linda Rondstadt, Emmylou Harris, Jason Isbell, ZZ Ward, Brandi Carlille, Beyonce, Lindi Ortega, Kacey Chambers, Brandy Clark, I could literally go on forever…Thank God for music and the creative genius souls that make it.
en: Do you have a favorite track?
Hannah: Its so hard to answer this question! hahaha to be completely honest it changes all the time. But I have to say the two songs I personally want to hear most often these days are “If I Could Drink Time” and “Should’ve Been”.
en: Your ultimate cover song?
Hannah: For pure selfishness they are usually never commercial or commonly known. I grew up with a lot of 70’s singer/songwriter americana music in my house so songs that lend themselves in that direction always have my heart. I love singing “Trapeze” by Patti Griffin, “The Grass Is Blue” by Dolly Parton, “Orphan Girl” by Emmylou Harris (many others sing this song too like Tim and Mollie O’Brien). But I try to meet in the middle because I LOVE it when people sing along at shows- so I like to go for classic throwbacks that everyone knows that you can go “Oh yeah I forgot about this song! I LOVE THIS SONG!” and sing at the top of your lungs to. Like, Dwight Yoakam, The Judds, or Linda Rondstadt.
en: Your musical inspiration(s)?
Hannah: Anyone that makes art that is inspirational to them no matter what audience it captures. The people that create from their truth.
en: Any final thoughts you want to share with your fans?
Hannah: My fans waited 4 years for this record. They all message me and say it was worth it. Nothing could make me happier or make it feel more worth it to me than to hear those words. Thank you.
Where does Hannah like to hang around town? Check out some of her Nashville faves:
Place to grab a cocktail? The Crying Wolf, Table 3 or Eastland CafeDate night? Husk, The Farm House, or riding our bikes to Rosepepper for the best margarita in town
Breakfast joint? The Post East or Marche
Shopping? Vinnie and Louis, Kitty, Shops on Fatherland, UAL, Marti and Liz
New tunes? Loving Jillian Jacqueline’s new singles “Reasons” and “Hate Me” -- been a fan of her for a long time, Paramore’s new song is KILLER too, and Chris Stapleton’s new album in always playing in our house these days. “Either Way” was my favorite song on Lee Ann Wolmack’s Record “Call Me Crazy” and Stapleton of course kills it just as well.