Band To Watch: King Hannah

Katie Silvester

Band To Watch: King Hannah

Katie Silvester

All the best songwriting duos have a connection that produces something far greater than the sum of its parts, an alchemy that’s hard to define but impossible to ignore. This sense of destiny is abundantly true for Liverpool-based pair King Hannah — aka Hannah Merrick and Craig Whittle — and, suitably, their origin story also feels like something close to fate.

The pair first crossed paths when Whittle saw Merrick play an open mic set at Liverpool University, where she studied. The performance stuck in his brain for two years before they accidentally met again, when Hannah was tasked with teaching Whittle — a new staff member at the pub she worked at — how to lay tables properly. It reads something like a rom-com, but for finding your perfect musical partner.

“I was always going to do this,” Merrick says in late October at The Lexington, the London venue the band are about to play as part of their first ever tour. “It was never a case of, ‘Oh, I think I’ll try being a musician.’ It was always this, it was just a matter of how it happened and when.”

“For me, it’s a lot cooler than the stuff I was writing before,” Whittle says of what Merrick has brought to his own work. “We make each other cooler!”

The pair first emerged as King Hannah in mid-2019 with debut single “Crème Brûlée,” an entry point into their deliciously dark world. Self-released onto the internet, and given an immediate co-sign by Sharon Van Etten, City Slang then got in touch with a proposal to sign the band. “They asked for more music — which we didn’t have,” Merrick remembers, so they got to work on their debut EP Tell Me Your Mind And I’ll Tell You Mine, which came out via the Berlin-based label last year.

Bar “Crème Brûlée,” the six-track, half-hour EP was created from the ground up after the label got in touch. While many bands may piece together their first release from disparate tracks written across the course of their early time together, Tell Me Your Mind And I’ll Tell You Mine feels more like a debut album, with every element brilliantly considered and given an express purpose. Merrick’s voice is a smoky delight throughout, sounding profound and enticing even as she sings of the annoyance of finding a spider in the bath on “Meal Deal.” Her words are given weight and power by the stunning, bluesy canvases Whittle paints under them. Sometimes the music stretches out into post-rock expansiveness (“The Sea Has Stretch Marks”), while elsewhere it feels like Springsteen took a wrong turn down a dingy side-street from his highway to freedom (it wasn’t a surprise when the band covered Nebraska highlight “State Trooper,” one of the creepiest songs the Boss has ever put to tape, in 2020).

All this promise is furthered and realized on the band’s debut album, I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me, announced today alongside new single “All Being Fine.” The new track comes after the record was first previewed in September with the single “A Well-Made Woman,” which hinges around a menacing descending guitar line and Merrick’s words of self-validation.

While still maintaining the trademark gloomy fog that hovers above all of their music, “All Being Fine” is anchored by a bluesy strut. It also epitomizes the album’s lyrical openness, as Merrick sings of wetting the bed as a child with not an ounce of shame. “It’s just a song about family,” she says. “And when I was a kid I wet the bed. It’s not that deep to me.”

Across the new album and the EP that preceded it, Merrick has a knack for being bracingly unapologetic, referencing things with a shrug that others would shy away from. As such, I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me is the perfect title for the record. “The phrase makes sense,” she says. “This is us being us, and we’re not sorry for it. It makes you think as well: ‘What aren’t we sorry for?'”

Crucially, the album also provides levity from its darkness through the humor of Merrick, who adds funny twinges to dark subjects, and titles songs things like “Big Big Baby,” “Death Of The House Phone,” and “Go-Kart Kid (HELL NO!)” — the latter is inspired by a particularly fervent Instagram messenger to the band’s official account.

“His account has hundreds of videos of him wearing a priest collar talking to the camera very offensively,” Whittle, who does an impression of the man in the song, says. “He has this mad record collection, and got really offended when someone called him a collector, saying, ‘No, I’m an archivist.’ On the track, Merrick sings, “Craig does a nice impression of a man who messaged me, and it goes a little like this…” Right on cue, Whittle then puts on his best creepy American accent, saying “Don’t call me a collector!” before the track erupts into distortion-heavy chaos.

Across our conversation, King Hannah emphasize that their songs are fluid and never finished, and that their live shows allow them to break the finite constraints of the recorded version of the songs. A few hours later, it’s emphatically clear what they mean: Tracks from Tell Me Your Mind And I’ll Tell You Mine and I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me are played with heavier textures, often ending with a wigged-out Whittle guitar solo while Merrick softly strums her own instrument, looking nonplussed. While the band’s recordings can make the pair seem like the same organism, the duality in their make-up is accentuated in the live show, where the cogs in the machine that make King Hannah work become clear.

Reflecting on the moment that changed their lives in the album track “It’s Me And You, Kid,” Merrick sings, “I thank God the day we met in the gross bar.” “It’s lovely to be able to share the music with each other,” she says now. “We just complement each other, 100%, and we learn from each other. The songwriting is what it is because of us both. You can hear us individually on the tracks.” Looking to her bandmate, she adds, “It’s got you and I all over them.”

TRACKLIST:
01 “A Well-Made Woman”
02 “So Much Water So Close To Drone”
03 “All Being Fine”
04 “Big Big Baby”
05 “Ants Crawling On An Apple Stork”
06 “The Moods That I Get In”
07 “Foolius Caesar”
08 “Death Of The House Phone”
09 “Go-Kart Kid (HELL NO!)”
10 “I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me”
11 “Berenson”
12 “It’s Me And You, Kid”

TOUR DATES:
03/30/22 – Kortrijk, Belgium @ De Kreun
03/31/22 – Paris, France @ Pop Up du Label
04/01/22 – Langenberg, Germany @ KGB
04/02/22 – Berlin, Germany @ Badehaus
04/03/22 – Frankfurt, Germany @ Brotfabrik
04/04/22 – Köln, Germany @ Helios 37
04/05/22 – Hamburg, Germany @ Hebebühne
04/07/22 – Leipzig, Germany @ Neues Schauspiel
04/08/22 – Prague, CZ @ Meetfactory
04/09/22 – Vienna, Austria @ Chelsea
04/10/22 – Munich, Germany @ Heppel & Ettlich
04/12/22 – Milan, Italy @ Arci Bellezza
04/13/22 – Genova, Italy @ La Clacque (La Tosse Theatre)
04/14/22 – Aarau, CH @ KIFF
04/15/22 – Düdingen, CH @ Bad Bonn
04/17/22 – Amsterdam, NL @ Bitterzoet
04/18/22 – Antwerp, Belgium @ Trix
04/20/22 – London, UK @ Oslo
04/21/22 – Cardiff, UK @ Clwb Ifor Bach
04/22/22 – Nottingham, UK @ Rough Trade
04/23/22 – Liverpool, UK @ Zanzibar

I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me is out 2/25 on City Slang.

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