Band To Watch: Hannah’s Little Sister
On first introduction, Hannah’s Little Sister resemble a handmade tchotchke from childhood. The Liverpool-based quartet write tongue-in-cheek art-rock with the abundant energy of theater kids, and every visual they roll out is giddy enough to match. The music video for their first single looks like warped home footage from a 14-year-old’s birthday party. Their debut EP — the MediaFire-friendly EP.mp3, due out November 20th on Heist Or Hit — flaunts a Photoshop 101 job that’s charming in its cut-and-paste simplicity. And then, of course, there’s their moniker, a literal nod to childhood and the expectation of not amounting to much when you hit adulthood. (According to lead singer Meg Grooters, she committed the phrase to memory as a kid when her real-life older sister, Hannah, said it was all anyone would ever know her as, and therefore would make for a perfect band name someday.)
Take a closer glance, however, and the band looks a lot more impressive. All four members of Hannah’s Little Sister have the type of non-pretentious musical dexterity that most bands trying to fashionably wig out wish they had. Grooters, who also plays guitar and keyboard in the band, first learned how to play music at age six through local piano lessons. Drummer Will Brown signed up with the same piano teacher at the same age — though he and Grooters crossed paths, they didn’t become close friends until college. Meanwhile, guitarist Ashley Snook picked up a bass as an 11-year-old and bassist Nina Himmelreich tried her hand at one around the same age. They all honed their craft over the years, joining other bands in college or getting gigs in musical theater on the side, but never pursued music full-time.
Obviously learning an instrument when you’re young isn’t remarkable in and of itself, but it’s integral in understanding just how tight Hannah’s Little Sister sound in their songs when, for them, they’re just goofing off. Citing influences like Guerilla Toss and yacht rock, they frolic through deconstructed riffs and percussive trills with ease. The result is a loose, propulsive, almost improvisational approach that sounds like IAN SWEET singing over unreleased Weaves tracks.
After months of sitting on their music stockpile, Hannah’s Little Sister finally decided to release their first single, “20,” in 2018. It’s an agitated slow-burner where Grooters hollers about the dark inevitabilities of young adulthood. There’s a trippy pedal effect, guitars that vibrate in a dreary rattle, and a sense that the band is coming down from a dozen shots of espresso. To their surprise, it landed them a deal with a manager. He worked his magic to push “20” onto tastemaker playlists and scored the band coverage on Line Of Best Fit and Clash.
This is normally the part of the story where a rush of hype earns the band press opportunities and tour slots. That didn’t happen. Instead, Hannah’s Little Sister parted ways with the manager when he attempted to mold them into something they didn’t want to be. They were 22 years old at the time and brave enough to trust their gut instinct — the one telling them to look out for themselves, preserve their wants and needs, and refuse to sacrifice their identity expression for profit, ease, or popularity. Then they went radio silent for nearly two years.
“It was our first instance of working with a professional and we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” says Snook. “He seemed nice at the start. But the playlist thing, which we appreciated, felt unnatural in a way. And then he started to fuck about with stuff like PR and press. He didn’t listen to us or what we wanted, and he had his own big ideas of what we should be. I remember him saying that he didn’t like ‘Bin Mouth’ and thought we should cut it, and I was like, ‘Well, no, you’re wrong.'”
To be fair, that manager couldn’t have chosen a worse time to suggest that Hannah’s Little Sister devolve. In the surrounding months, the band ran into a string of troubling changes that prompted an identity crisis. Their longtime rehearsal space, an “impossibly cheap” creative utopia for artists, was purchased by hotel developers and torn down. A handful of friendships fell apart. On top of it all, they got “lost in the work circle” of post-graduation and couldn’t save enough money to live comfortably.
“Our band was being molded in a way we didn’t want it to be,” recalls Grooters. “For me, if I’m going to take on something where I feel like I’m compromising, then I may as well be in a different field entirely. The one thing I love about our band is that it’s creative, we all have such a say in it, and it has no firm boundaries. I wouldn’t want to turn it into something that goes against what we’re trying to create. The experience was difficult at the time and left us in a weird place — clearly, since it took us two years to come back — but at least it made us all realize that.”
Upon returning, Hannah’s Little Sister started making the moves they felt comfortable with on their own time. They signed to British independent label Heist Or Hit. They linked up with producer Saam Jafarzadeh (Her’s/Brad Stank) to re-record their songs with a newfound, polished confidence. It paid off. EP.mp3 sounds like the work of a seasoned band that’s outgrown the traditional constraints of indie rock. “Gum” pairs loopy synth hooks with Brown’s breakneck drumming and Grooters’ hiccuping falsettos. On closer “Anywhere,” they vault over alternating tempos, often bursting into a refrain that recalls the wobbly, psych-rock drips of Crumb.
Hannah’s Little Sister are at their most impassioned on “Payday Junkie,” a slow-motion jolt of rock that offers lyrical uppercuts like, “All these rules in suits/ I’m just like them but with way less money.” Like the rest of their songs, Grooters sells it by giving it her all. She sings with the lung capacity and pitch range of a trained musician, but delivers it with the sporadic intensity of a private emotional breakdown. That’s because “Payday Junkie” is about being an underpaid 14-year-old hotel worker making £3 an hour, never getting breaks, and putting up with sexual harassment. It’s as justified a rant as any — and the first of multiple on EP.mp3.
If they wanted to, Hannah’s Little Sister could brand themselves as the weird art-rockers who diffuse palpable rage into raucous fun. Lead single “Bin Mouth” is a freak-funk attack on everyone who spews hatred and lies: Donald Trump, Katie Hopkins, Rudy Guiliani, and the dozens of other high-profile assholes who worm their way into positions of power. Later, on “Gum,” they tackle consumerism and its larger role as a societal diversion from mobilization to conciliation. “I think I’ve got loads of hidden inner rage or something because they’re all rants, but I make it poetry. It was something I noticed after looking at a couple tunes, like oh, I’m a bit pissed off now, aren’t I? Is this who I am now?” Grooters laughs.
For her, it’s not the lyric or songwriting process that’s the hard part; it’s realizing that her weirdest songs are worth bringing to her bandmates. Grooters almost scrapped “Bin Mouth” before the rest of the band convinced her it was worth workshopping. “It was me feeling insecure about my writing and veering away from it. What was cool was that everyone in the band told me, yeah, that’s the point. You’re allowed to explore other avenues,” she says. “I was definitely privy to taking myself too seriously, and they helped a lot with that. This band has torn it all apart.”
Tying everything together is Hannah’s Little Sister’s DIY approach to their artwork and music videos. There’s no attempt to position their songs as uncool in a trendy way or their outfits as ironic thrifting. They simply commit to having fun at every corner without pretension. It’s refreshing and endearing, especially when it’s evident just how much joy it brings them. Tapping into British children’s comedy series like ZZZap! and The Story Of Tracy Beaker (which are roughly akin to American shows like KaBlam! and Lizzie McGuire, respectively), they film each other sprinting through grocery aisles in color-coded costumes, Photoshop themselves doing cartwheels on the moon, and stage promo photos to look like high-school sleepovers. In the video for “Bin Mouth,” they even recreate a Japanese-style game show gone wrong complete with manipulated Simlish, handmade outfits, and a giant trash barrel come to life that chases them across the city. It’s the type of pure sentiment in practice that makes rooting for a band like Hannah’s Little Sister so easy.
“If we’re embracing the DIY attitude and going into all of this with the acceptance that it won’t be perfect, then it breeds more creativity,” says Snook. “It’s a direct extension of who we are and what we’re doing: just friends trying to have fun.”
EP.mp3 is out 11/20 via Heist Or Hit.