Oakland-based musical artist Tanukichan (real name Hannah van Loon) balances her life as a musician by working as a carpenter, which she considers less of an abstract undertaking than songwriting. Her musical journey began at an early age, leading her to learn the piano, violin and then guitar. She was a founding member of the Bay Area pop band Trails and Ways, but left in 2016 to pursue a career as a solo musician.
Tanukichan’s forthcoming debut solo album Sundays was produced by singer, songwriter and chillwave artist Toro y Moi (real name Chaz Bear). Lead single “Perfect” dropped late last month and the record is set for a July 13 release on Bear’s label, Company Records.
Northern Transmissions: What sort of headspace were you in when you wrote Sundays? What was inspiring you?
Hannah van Loon: I think a lot of the songs are me sort of, like, processing things I’m going through in my life — things that are maybe holding me down, things I’ve been thinking about that I want to move forward from or figure out. When I write songs, it helps me figure it out or let go a little bit. That’s a good part of how songwriting is for me, but there’s this more fun aspect that feels a little more silly to me. Just clever little things that make me say, ‘This is fun, this is cool, I want to keep doing this.’
NT: So songwriting is cathartic for you. Was there anything specific you were trying to work through?
HL: Some of it is relationships and stuff with significant others, friends and family. People stuff. Some of it also directed at myself. I have big, deep parts of me I want to change, but I also need to accept and somehow come to terms with them a little bit.
NT: You and Chaz Bear played all the instruments on the album. How did you divvy up instrumental duties?
HL: I did everything on the demos, had all the songs sketched out and recorded. Then we went in his studio and changed a lot of stuff. We got rid of a bunch of stuff and decided what to leave from the first session. I guess it was kind of two phases where I did a lot of initial writing and demoing, kind of finding the structure of the songs and lyrics and melodies, then he went in and changed things and pulled them together.
NT: There must have been some surprising results during that process. Did he tease out anything you weren’t expecting?
HL: Oh my gosh, yes. A lot of stuff changed in a cool way. Starting out, I didn’t really know how I wanted the album to sound. It was a little bit all over the place. We had this shoegaze thing in mind, but then it went in multiple directions. We kind of found the sound on one song — drum machines, drier, kind of more open — and then we pulled the other songs in that direction.
NT: I’m super digging the atmosphere on the single, “Perfect.” There are lots of cool guitar noises and the warm, lo-fi atmosphere reminds me of Toro y Moi. Am I hearing Bear’s influence?
HL: I think you’re right. He had more of a hand in making that all come together in the right way. There is kind of a lot going on, but maybe not as much as you’d think. There are a lot of doubled parts that are doing basically the same thing.
NT: You got started by playing classical music, right?
HL: I’ve played violin for a long time, like since elementary school, and I started playing piano when I was like three or something like that. I’ve always been around music, but it was definitely a transition going from classical music to rock.
NT: What compelled you to make the change?
HL: Growing up, I only listened to classical music. I was in my own little bubble. In high school, I started getting super into The Beatles. I was one of those crazy girl fans. My first concert was Paul McCartney. So, yeah, I just got super into them and it opened up a whole new world of music I hadn’t been exposed to. I started playing bluegrass and picked up guitar.
NT: Do you feel like your background in classical music informs what you’re doing now?
HL: I think it does. For me, because I played violin for so long, that’s a big part of how I express myself.
NT: What about your time in Trails and Ways? Does that influence your solo music?
HL: Yeah, that was the first time I was in a pop band. I played a lot of guitar and I started thinking about dream-pop and indie-rock, songwriting and arranging.
NT: What led you to get into shoegaze?
HL: A big part of it is Chaz and the sound he imagined. And I also think it just sounds good with my voice. I’m a quieter vocalist, and I think the big sounds and guitars and distortion kind of balances out the softness. It works.
NT: Do you find any similarities between carpentry and music?
HL: I like creating things that are beautiful and they both fulfill this creative itch I have. But carpentry is a good counterpart because it’s so concrete, whereas music can be so abstract — it’s like, ‘When is the song done? I don’t know.’ With carpentry, you do this and then this and then this, and it’s done. It’s built. You stand on it.
interview by Howard Hardee
6/13: Starline Social Club – Oakland, CA
7/11: Bootleg Theater – Los Angeles, CA
7/27: Union Pool – Brooklyn, NY