Having started singing when she was a child and as a graduate of the esteemed Berklee College of Music, Hanna Barakat’s passion for music is unmistakable. Throughout her career, she has performed with artists including Burt Bacharach and earned herself praise from several critics as well as a growing following around the world. As she prepares to release her new album Siren next month, Hanna spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about her many artistic influences, her favourite tracks on Siren and her plans for the years ahead.
TITL: At what age did you first realize you wanted to make music a career, and were there any other career paths you considered before making your mark on this one?
Hanna Barakat: My parents can attest to the fact that I was practically born singing. I had no other activity I loved more than to sing, whether i was playing with my dolls, jumping on my trampoline, or horseback riding, I was always singing. I didn’t always understand to what capacity I would make my living as an artist, but I have always known music was my passion and my path. In the back of my mind, If I were not to pursue music, I planned to work with horses in some capacity but my father argues I would have been a fantastic sales manager of some kind.
TITL: What would you say is your unique selling point as an artist? What makes you stand out?
HB: My unique style and sound merges Arab-oriental influences, as well as hard rock, for powerful and genuine connections with my audience. Socially and politically charged, my passion-driven compositions and performances often add eastern ornamentation, as well as other musical influences to transcend language and borders to touch the heart. My aim is to connect with others both those displaced from their homelands, being influenced by multiple cultures around them, while simultaneously reaching mainstream audiences that appreciate writings of personal encounters, relationships, life issues, and, of course, love.
TITL: Which one band or artist might you say most influenced your love of music growing up and how, if at all, has that influence, changed or grown over the years?
HB: It was definitely the powerful voices of Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Amy Lee of Evanescence that made me want to be a rock artist. They were not your typical rock singers. They had such powerful voices that could pierce your emotional flesh, make you want to run 10 miles, all while delivering their performances with such exquisite precious fierce voices. It’s safe to say they are my long-standing heroes!
My musical heroes take their place in my life in waves, during my formative years, Whitney Houston, Sarah McLachlan, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey gave me something to sing along to! In times of struggle and heartache, like during all of my terrible years of middle school and high-school, bands like Linkin Park, Staind, Evanescence, A Perfect Circle, Incubus, System of A Down, Nickleback, POD, Disturbed, Breaking Benjamin, Chevelle, and the like were my lifeline. They were so influential on me both emotionally and musically. They tapped into my current state of being and pulled me through more difficult periods than I can count. Today, I am listening to In this Moment, Breaking Benjamin, and Nothing More on instant repeat!
TITL: You attended the renowned Berklee College Of Music. Looking back, how do you think that helped/encouraged you as you embarked on this journey into the music world? What one lesson/piece of advice that you were taught/given there do you tend to reflect on and find helpful?
HB: My acceptance into Berklee College of Music was a very validating and pivotal moment in my life and my trajectory. I knew I wanted to pursue music as my career, but I was still very young and had no clue what was in store for me. It only took my 18 year old self a few days to look around at the talented musicians walking the halls of Berklee to completely overwhelm me and fill me with self-doubt. It took quite a while for me to realize that, though there are hundreds and thousands of talented artists, ready to take the spotlight, I had to find my own voice, my own style, and my own path, in order to make a mark in the industry and be successful as a performer. There will always be different, better, other performers, singers, songwriters. The lesson I learned from this experience is that I must be myself, fully, and be confident in my direction as an artist. My experiences, performances, and musical community at Berklee left a phenomenal mark on me. It was a very strenuous time in my life, but it only drove me harder towards my ultimate goal of being a professional musician on the world stage.
TITL: You’ve also lived in various parts of the world, notably the US and Lebanon. How has being part of two very different cultures influenced the music you make and your ability to connect with audiences around the world?
HB: My background plays a significant role in my creative process, both musically and conceptually, because my background is me. My history and my family’s history shaped me. I’ve always been so intrigued by my heritage, from the culture, politics, customs, food, and most importantly the music. The situation in the middle-east is very tumultuous. After graduating in 2010, I moved to Lebanon to engross myself in the culture, gain understanding, study Arabic, and to just be emerged in it all. It was a wildly profound and life altering experience for me, both good and bad, and I could go on and on about it, but what I can say for sure is that I grew in so many ways while living there. My perspective on life changed entirely. I was also exposed to so many things that I have since been compelled to write about. It was always in my blood and now it’s under my tongue in many of my songs.
TITL: A lot of artists often find themselves compared to some of their artistic counterparts, so which band or artist are you most commonly finding yourself compared to and do you mind it?
HB: My voice is most commonly compared to Amy Lee of Evanescence, and I do not mind that at all. She was an inspiration and a teacher to me, and I have accepted the influence she and her music has had on me and my musical journey.
TITL: How easy do you find song-writing? Is it something that comes naturally to you or can it often depend on the circumstances/way you’re feeling at the time?
HB: I find song-writing to be very difficult. It depends entirely on the day as to what inspires me. It could be anything really. One of my song-writing mentors called song inspiration triggers, “gems”. Sometimes these gems peak my ears in conversation, sometimes they end up flowing out in a long essay of lyrical ideas, and most commonly I find inspiration in my day to day life. I am a very sensitive person, and as difficult circumstances, relationships, personal struggles, political situations and/or crises affect me, I feel compelled to process them the only way I know how – to write them into song. My songs are my catharsis.
TITL: What to you makes a song truly great?
HB: I think the marriage between melody and lyric makes or breaks a song and its impact on the listener. If a song has profound lyrics and a mismatched melody and vocal delivery, one can easily become disconnected from the message. As for the greatest song ever written, I could not possibly say! Each human interprets, absorbs, and appreciates music in a unique way, and I know what songs affect me most deeply, but those songs are for my therapy and not necessarily the masses as a whole.
TITL: You’ve just dropped your new single “Leave Your Light On.” Is there a story behind it?
HB: This song is my honest song of love and relationship. As a society, we like to spotlight the glamour and ease of love and romance and keep the realities of pairing lives with another soul, somewhat in the dark. It is not common to discuss the struggles and pains associated with relationships. This song means a lot to me, as I wrote it as a plea to my husband in a time of great struggles in our relationship. It was a tool of communication between us, and it was a wonderful tool at that. My husband loves to take credit for inspiring this song.
TITL: The song is taken from your new album ‘Siren’ which is out next month. Without giving too much away, what can you tell me about it?
HB: If I were to tell you my life story, I think you would agree that I’ve had a fairly unique upbringing. The chain of events leading up to this point in my life have definitely afforded me a strong sense of self, a ravenous curiosity towards the world around me, and a slightly weathered heart. It took me nearly 10 years to create this record, and it took me over a year to produce these ten precious songs with my incredible producer, John Moyer of Disturbed. Those 10 years’ history would take too long to explain, but in short, I had to live first. I had glimpses of my own music captured, over the years, but they were incomplete. They were not ready. I was not ready. It was a grueling process to get to the point where I am now with my record. My songs have gone through tremendous transformations and the ones that have made it through – well, they are a labor of love, a digital memory, my life story, my love.
I chose the title, Siren, for my debut record, after my producer, John Moyer, and I produced our final song together, which happened to be Siren. I was hesitant to even introduce this song to John, but after 4 days in my studio, production was completed, and it just blew our minds! The power of the music and the lyrics filled me with such fire. It motivated me and inspired me to take this next step in my journey with such confidence. Though the song references the mythical sirens of the sea, I loved the idea of a double meaning – An actual siren, warning call, alarm! The songs on this record were written over a span of 10 years. I can hardly believe it, but it’s the truth. These songs have been my comfort and my therapy, as I’ve journeyed this world, witnessed injustices, engrossed myself in my ancestral culture, grown within myself, literally travelled the globe, loved, lost, failed, loved again, and struggled to reach the place where I am today.
Some songs travel through the complexity of relationships, the balance of strengths, messy breakups that resolve with constantly falling back into old habits with ones significant others yet again. While other songs touch on anguishing socio-political situations that plague the world today. I want to bring awareness to these situations, not by forcing any political agenda, but by pushing for love, understanding, and acceptance of all the other humans walking this earth together. Throughout history, there have been unnatural walls physically erected, or socially accepted and perpetuated, in order to divide people. I want to tear those walls down. All of them. Through my music, with rock guitars, heavy drums, deep rhythmic bass lines, and my intricate vocal melodic lines and punchy harmony stacks, I have chosen to forge Arabic instruments like the oud, kanun, frame drum, riqq, into my sonic landscape, where I feel they so naturally and appropriately belong.
TITL: Do you have a favourite track on the album and if so, which is it and why?
HB: It honestly depends on my mood at the time. I will say, without fail, “Damage Done” and “Siren” are by far the most fun songs to perform live. They are very powerful for me, and allow me to channel my emotions, anger, strength, and power each time I perform them!
TITL: What did producer John Moyer bring to the creative/recording process and how did the two of you come to collaborate on the album?
HB: Well, if I let John tell the story, he makes it sound a little like I hunted him down, stalker style … and I guess I kind of did…? One of my musician friends met John at a local bar, by chance, exchanged numbers, and mentioned to me that John produced some select musicians. I had been on the search for a rock producer for quite some time, so this was very exciting for me, but I didn’t know how to proceed. I sent my friend a message to forward to John, asking how I could get in touch with him to discuss his production work, and within minutes of forwarding that message, John called me! And I was horrified. Not only because it was John Moyer, but I had completely lost my voice for the previous 3 weeks, and I couldn’t hardly make a sound. I was a squeaky mess. I sounded like a gremlin! And of course, I was telling him, “I’m a singer and a rock songwriter and so on…” and I sounded like a man who had a suitcase on his head, chewing on rocks… I mean, it was a disaster. But John was extremely easy to talk to and wanted to hear more about my music, so he invited me to come to the studio he was working out of that day, which was Orb Studios in Dripping Springs! It took me all of 3 seconds to hop in the car and head over to meet him, cough drops and tissues in every pocket! From there, it was an instant connection!
John is one of the most genuinely kind and gentle spirited people I have ever met in my life. He has so much passion and enthusiasm for music, and he showed this intense passion, care, and emotion towards my music. He has years of experience performing, recording, and producing the kind of music I love, write, perform, and live for. And the cherry on top of the cake, he offered to not only produce me but also record bass and some guitars on my songs, and that just blew my mind. His playing is beautiful, tasteful, and he has an ebb and flow in his performance that is like a dance. It’s beautiful to hear and to watch. John has definitely taken on a mentoring role in my life since the completion of this record.
We started out as producer and artist, formed a beautiful friendship along the way, and towards the end of the recording process, about a year into the record, when the time came to switch gears from production to album release, John assumed a mentoring role in my life. I send him ideas for album artwork and harass him while he’s on tour across the world, with requests for his preferred album order! He’s an incredible sounding board and a fierce supporter and encouraging force in my life and my career right now. He’s pretty awesome, and I’m grateful to have him on my team!
TITL: Will you be touring in support of the album and do you have any plans to head over this way/to Europe?
HB: I definitely have intentions of touring in support of this record, but I am still working on it! I will have to get back to you on it! As an independent artist, I have to work at a different pace than what is necessarily desired. We shall see what the future holds! For now, we are performing regionally, in and around Texas as we slowly expand our reach!
TITL: You’ve performed with/on tour with artists included New Kids On The Block, but if you could put together your own headline show with three of your favourite bands or artists, past or present, who would you choose and where would you play?
HB: My dream line-up would be performing and touring with Linkin Park, Evanescence, In this Moment, and System of A Down! I think it would be an absolutely ridiculous and amazing show! With that said, I wouldn’t care where we did it, as long as we were performing for people who wanted to hear us! Of course, I wouldn’t mind Madison Square Garden or a Rock Festival or a hundred.
TITL: To what extent do you use and believe in the power/pitfalls of social media? Do you think it’s a necessary tool for artists today or, like most things, do you feel it’s potentially dangerous if overused/used in the wrong way? Is it possible for artists to succeed without it?
HB: Unfortunately, In this day and age, it is absolutely essential to have some form of presence online. Social media is integral in the lives of so many people on this earth, so much so that, in many cases, exclusively how people interact, find music, find social circles, and perform business. I am trying to navigate the necessity of staying current with my social media accounts, while remaining authentic as a person. I have had numerous people tell me I need to do things differently because i do not have the appropriate amount of followers on one social platform or another, and I can honestly say, I will never be that girl who takes pictures while eating, I will not be changing my appearance to sexualize my image unnaturally, and I will not make statements that do not align with my values as a human being. I hope that I can hold to my convictions, and continue to grow my fan base, solely representing myself and my music, as naturally as I can.
TITL: Aside from your album release, what else does this year have in store for you, and have you started looking towards 2020 and beyond yet?
HB: I am most certainly a planner, and I am always looking ahead to my next goal, milestone, and ultimate goal. That being said, this year is a coin toss! As I mentioned, this record is almost a decade in the making, and it is finally ready to be shared with the world. That is a huge step for me. I will have to take a good long moment after this release to assess myself and decide on my next course of action, which will most certainly include more singles, some collaborations, and performing as far as I can reach across this world!
TITL: Finally then, where do you want to see yourself five years from now? What goals do you have for the years ahead and what ultimately, would make you want and be able to say “I feel like I’ve finally made it”?
HB: This is a tough one. Today, in my current state, I am seeking stability and consistency. I will always be pursuing music, there’s no getting around that! I don’t think I have a definitive “I’ve made it” moment in mind past the vision of me performing for hundreds of thousands of people who are there to experience my performance and music. That has always been my career goal, to make music my living, and reach the masses and enjoy the musical moment, together.
Check out Hanna’s latest single “Leave Your Light On” below and for more information on her, visit her website, give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. ‘Siren’ is out on August 16th.