Guitarist Hannah Wicklund Discusses Her New Album, Writing Process
Formed when their frontwoman was just nine years old and with a voice and guitar-driven swagger that instantly conjures up images of Janis Joplin and Susan Tedeschi, Hannah Wicklund and The Steppin Stones have consistently stood out as a young band on the rise.
The band’s self-titled, fifth album [produced by Sadler Valden and set for a January 26 release] draws from the guitarist’s classic rock influences, which range from Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck to Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty. The result is a fiery combination of blues-rock passion that pays homage to her musical roots while giving them modern, 21-century feel.
With her tasty fret work and tireless work ethic, Wicklund is a guitarist to watch for 2018.
Guitar World recently spoke with Wicklund about her new album, songwriting, gear and more.
How would you describe your style of music?
It’s raw but very authentic and genuine. It’s also a good representation of what the last year and a half of my life has been like. This new album is my most mature piece of work as far as sound goes, and an ode to my classic rock roots.
What’s your writing process like?
Honestly? It’s different every song. There have been songs that begin with a musical idea approach, where the riff comes first and is followed by forming a melody. Other songs could start from just a lyrical idea.
Something else I’ve been doing lately is taking a strong title and writing the song from there. “Shadow Boxes” is an example of a song I had originally written and then scrapped everything except for the title. Then there are songs like “Crushin”, which is more of a riff-based, bluesy song. I’d been playing that riff for a long time and developed it into a song.
Let’s discuss a few other tracks from the new album, beginning with “Bomb Through The Breeze.”
That’s a song that Sadler [Valden] and I co-wrote in one sitting. It started out with the riff and then we took cues from each other and built it from there. It’s a song about standing up for yourself.
That one was written after a break up. I’d been living and playing music with my old drummer, and we had been super inter-twined on the road and eventually moved to Nashville together. When we broke up and he moved out, I was completely alone in the house for a few months. I found myself being under twenty-one and living in a new town with limited resources. It was weird and cold and there were a bunch of reminders everywhere. “Ghost” was inspired by what the first week in that house was like.
I wrote that song three years ago. It’s a song about when people wait too long to come back around. When you know something’s not right or intended and you start wondering what’s going to happen after so much time has gone by. It’s taking the words of the wise.
“On The Road”?
That one is inspired by Jack Kerouac’s book, On the Road. It’s about being back in the good ol’ days and literally picking up and going anywhere at any time and not conforming to anything. Being free spirited in the most grand sense possible.
What can you tell me about your current tour plans?
I feel like I’ve been on the road for the last four years and next year will be no different. My brother has a killer band, The High Divers, and we’re going to be doing between 45-50 dates on our Sibling Rivalry Tour.
What’s your setup like these days?
I’ve been playing an Orange Rocker 30 for the past nine or ten years. I used to play the combo, but now I’ve got a head and closed-back cab. I also play Tom Anderson guitars. They’re my favorite guitars in the world. The thing I love most about them is their playability. The ones I play have the contoured back that fits me so well. They’re light and the necks are like butter.
Was having a career in music something you always aspired to do?
100%. My dad is my biggest inspiration and he and my mom got me started playing piano when I was three. I wound up learning about 60 Beatles songs and my first gig was playing in between sets for my brothers’ band. From that point on I knew I wanted to be a musician. Eventually, my dad bought me a guitar and I started playing. I think the longest I’ve gone without playing a show in the last eleven years was four weeks. I’ve pretty much played every show I was offered.
What’s the best bit of advice you can give as a guitarist?
Play live and make mistakes as much as possible. I say make mistakes because it makes you go home and want to do better. When you learn how to correct your mistakes then it becomes more about putting on a show. That’s what I’ve learned the most and why I’m so comfortable playing.
What excites you the most about the new album and this next phase of your career?
I’m so proud of this album and am excited for people to hear this new music. I’m also looking forward to playing on the road next year with my brother. He’s an amazing musician and a really great person to be around. Next year’s going to be awesome. I’m not sure what it will all entail but I’m excited to find out!
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.