About a year ago our small compilation featured the song “Summerland” by our favourite folkpop-duo Hannah and Samuel aka The Woodlands. Their sweetly hushed tunes have become quite famous since then. The music is spreading across the web via social communities like Last.FM or Myspace and is being supported by numerous US radio stations. We have sent them a few questions in order to get to know them better.
Sonic Reducer: First of all, how did you both meet each other and start making music together?
Samuel: We met at the beginning of an Idaho summer. We were smitten by each other instantaneously, but we disguised our intentions as a friendship until our declarations of grandeur came tumbling out. Sitting on the midnight rooftop of a house together, I listened to Hannah strum her guitar while she whispered her creation to the night, and I decided that I would teach myself to play guitar. Autumn crept in and we spent the next several months working and saving to travel. We lived in Australia for a few rambunctious months and returned to the US enamored with each other beyond repair. We began plotting and charting the rest of our lives together, and soon discovered that music would be an inextricable part of the adventure.
Hannah: The Woodlands came to be in somewhat of a roundabout and unintentional way at first. When Samuel and I first met, I had begun playing guitar a couple of years earlier and started writing some songs. Samuel was always musically minded, but didn’t actually pick up the guitar until the first year after we got married (about eight years ago). He just decided to teach himself guitar and poured himself into it. We started playing some of my really old songs together a couple of years after we got married–I would sing and play guitar and Samuel mostly messed around on the harmonica. Then on a few of the newer songs he just started writing some guitar parts to them and we felt a musical intertwining happening. Since then we began writing songs together, interchanging ideas and developing the songs.
Sonic Reducer: And how did you come up with the name “The Woodlands”?
Hannah: Samuel and I had been talking and deliberating about band names. We mentioned a lot of names that we liked for the most part, but that just seemed to be missing something. We wanted a name that represented beauty, mystery, wonder, the shifting between dark and light. One day it just appeared in my thoughts when I was least expecting it when I realized that those are things you feel when walking through the woods. I said The Woodlands to Samuel and we instantly knew it was the right name.
Sonic Reducer: A couple of years ago you´ve been travelling through some European countries. Could you tell us something about this tour?
Samuel: We have had the pleasure of traveling twice through Europe., and actually neither of them have been music tours. Both adventures happened before we really developed our music. The first time through Europe was actually for our honeymoon. We had been working random jobs to save up for our wedding and to start life together that way. We decided to have a really simple and affordable wedding so that we could use the money we had saved for a long trip through Europe, which would be the first time there for both of us. The wedding was fairly big and was so much fun, but we did it in a simple and non-extravagant way. Five weeks of adventure and experience in Europe seemed like a more appealing way to spend our savings that a lot of extras for just one wedding day. So we backpacked through western Europe in September and October, riding trains and staying in hostels. Such great memories.
The second time back to Europe was about three years ago. We had recently shifted directions in our life and decided that we wanted to make a serious go at music. So we saved up and did another trip to get inspired for the next season of life. Fortunately we had several friends to stay with in different parts of Europe along the way, so we were able to do a budget trip for a few weeks. We did bring our
guitars on this trip and ended up playing a few times at some open mic and impromptu house shows in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Berlin. Most of the time we just soaked up the adventure and creative stimulus of the experience of traveling.
Sonic Reducer: Do you have any favourite places in Europe?
Samuel: We really love Scotland. The cities are great, but one of our best memories was also renting a tiny car and driving up to the Isle of Skye. We got there late one night and set up our tent in the dark. One of the most intense rain storms we have ever seen descended upon us later that night and we got flooded and toppled in our tent. The next morning we discovered that we had set up our tent in the dark on the point of this precipice that was probably the absolute worst place to choose if we had wanted to avoid the rain and wind. Such a rugged island. We camped two more nights in the rain, but stayed dry because we found better shelter like in the corner of an old stone wall foundation of a barn that had fallen away hundreds of years before. Scotland holds some charm over us. Hannah: We also really love the bikes and canals of Amsterdam, the tapas and wine of San Sebastian, the looming mountains of Interlaaken, the footpaths of Cinque Terre, and the street art of Berlin. We have not been farther east than Germany, but next time around we would also love to explore eastern Europe.
Sonic Reducer: At this point you probably still have to work to make your living so what are your day jobs?
Samuel: Yeah, we still have to work part-time jobs to pay bills. I have been waiting tables and Hannah has been a nanny. We are shifting directions with those, however, as we continue to work more on music and on a couple of small business ideas.
Sonic Reducer: Can you describe the process of songwriting together? Is there anything like a division of labour or do you always sit together writing songs?
Hannah: It is definitely a combination of both aspects of writing together and apart. Sometimes one of us will write the framework of a song on our own and then come together to develop it more by re-working or writing more lyrics and playing with structure or arrangement of the song. Quite often, however, we will be hanging out together or playing guitars and a song will emerge in the moment, and we just try to listen to what is happening or asking to be written. Then we keep listening and writing and creating and refining together. Sometimes the whole song is done in that sitting and we have already imagined or written several layers to it with instruments and harmonies. Sometimes we just have a bare song that begins to develop in pieces slowly over time. Whichever way it happens, the songwriting process is probably our favorite part of creating music.
Sonic Reducer: Please tell us something about the recording of your first album. Where and how did you record it?
Hannah: After moving to Portland a little under two years ago, we began the process of planning to record at home. We set up a little studio in the corner of our bedroom with some equipment and a lot of blankets, pillows, sleeping mats and foam pieces built around us. We spent that year recording and writing and developing our songs as we went. We recorded everything in our apartment except for the piano, which we recorded at Samuel’s parent’s house when we went to visit them. It was challenging to record when we could find overlapping available time together, and when the neighbors weren’t running the vaccuum and when the lawn mowers weren’t screeching outside. We also tried to keep a balance of our time together to just enjoy each other apart from the setting of working on music together.
So after a lot of late nights and sitting huddled together with guitars and other instruments, we ended up with our album that we self-released several months ago. Since then we have been working like mad to get it out there as much as we can on our own.
Sonic Reducer: Your songs will be featured in that movie from Greenland. Have you seen the movie so far and how did it all come along? The trailer looks quite amazing.
Samuel: Yes, the film is called Nuummioq. We haven’t seen the film yet, but we had seen the trailer when considering licensing our music for the film. We were initially attracted to the stirring aesthetic and the resounding emotion that Nuummioq seemed to convey. The storyline contained elements of both the awe and the audacity of life, and we recognized in our music the way these various forms of the beauty of life shimmer. We sensed that our songs might be able to offer complimentary expressions to the way that the story in the film seemed to chronicle the voyage of a soul exposed.
It is scheduled for international premier at the Sundance Film Festival, then it will show at the Berlin International Film Festival and around to the rest of the film festival circuit. It looks like it will be a very beautiful film. It looks like it will be a very beautiful film, and we are excited to be a part of it.
Sonic Reducer: Do you have any plans to record new songs or maybe even a new record?
Hannah: We have been so busy working like mad promoting our self-released debut album. We wrote, recorded, produced and released our album on our own, and we have been pouring everything into what we have made. That has been such a primary focus, but these last couple months have seen a reemergence of new songwriting.
We are working on new songs! We have several new songs in the beginning phases of writing, and we plan on taking a couple of weeks of hibernation around the holidays to focus on writing the rest of some new songs that will form our next release. There are no definite details as to when we might start recording the next album or when it will be done, but we are excited to continue working towards it! We do, however have plans to release a new music video for Can We Stay in the next several weeks. We wrote the script and co-directed it with a filmmaker. We are editing now, which is a really fun process, and it should be a great video.
Sonic Reducer: What´is currently on your mp3 player?
Samuel: Currently three “Sea” bands are at the top of our favorite list: Seabear, Horse In The Sea, and Sea Wolf. We are also listening to a lot of: Florence+The Machine, Camera Obscura, MGMT, Au Revoir Simone, Folded Light, Shout Out Louds, Sufjan Stevens, Noah And The Whale, Arcade Fire, Blind Pilot, Andrew Bird, Laura Veirs, Gregory And The Hawk, Passion Pit.