Tune Tools Transcript: Episode Three


Krysta Rayford (00:11):

Welcome. You are listening to Tune Tools, a podcast made possible by Project Amplify and MacPhail Center for Music. I am your host, Krysta Rayford, and I’m really happy that you’re here for this week’s episode. See, every week we feature a multi-talented artist that incorporates electronic music recording arts, EMRA, into their music, their production, their craft, their profession. The list continues. This especially includes live music, so I’m very excited to share our special guest for episode three.

Holly Hansen really needs no introduction, so when I started to compile the many titles that she’s had, my bullet points started to resemble a grocery list, to be honest. See, she’s a native of Cokato, Minnesota. Holly is a musician. She’s a songwriter, producer, and engineer who continues to evolve in her sound and in her talents. It’s super inspiring, and her versatility continues to stretch from solo to collaborative, from creating the band Zoo Animal to her very introspective sound as an electronic artist.

So, we decided to sit down and discuss her blended world as a grounded and self-aware artist who really, truly understands the importance of EMRA. Well, Holly, I appreciate you. I think just to start off, when you meet people as an artist and they ask you, you know, “Holly, who are you and what do you do,” what is kind of your response, or how would you describe yourself to people who are meeting you for the first time?

Holly Hansen (01:57):

I’m an artist, but I’m an artist because I love people. I think there are people that approach music and art in a way like an athlete, maybe. Which I guess athletics are also team sports, but I think I come to music not just from, like… Like, if all I was doing was, was in my basement, like, playing my guitar, I think that wouldn’t satisfy me. I need the connection, and I think that’s what draws me to music. Even if I am listening to a record alone in my home, I feel connected to the world, and that’s what draws me to music.

So, I think I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been a recording engineer. I’m a guitarist. I’m a singer. I’m a songwriter, I’ve hosted events. And I think that all just connects back to, like, the fact that for me, music is my… It’s the way I’ve felt the most connected to the world, and so I just can’t get myself to go away from it.

Krysta Rayford (02:56):

Do you remember when… Maybe it was as a child, maybe it was older, but do you remember a moment in your life when music struck a chord for you, you know, figuratively and literally, where it was like, “Ooh, here’s a light bulb going off. This might be something I want to lean into”?

Holly Hansen (03:12):

Earliest memory of music connecting people, it’s, like, my sisters and I,  my grandma would love when we would sing the song I Cast All My Cares and Around. And we thought it was so cool that we could do it. And, like, to have my grandma sit there and feel like she’s connected to, like, her faith while her granddaughters sing, and I’m hanging out with my sisters, and it’s like this whole thing, I think that’s probably one of the earliest, like, communal, like, moments.

And then for sure, I also remember m- like, singing-wise when Lion King came out, and, like, being able to sing Oh, I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, like, that was so fun to sing. You know? And it was like, “Oh wow. It’s not just communal. It’s, like, this interesting way to almost commune with yourself.” Like, not like that was some amazing, you know, (laughs) visceral, like, whatever, but, like, exploring an instrument that you have that’s just, like, on you, and you don’t have to go pick it up. Like, that immediately made me interested in singing.

Yeah. And then, I mean, my family, (laughs) when we would clean on Saturdays, we’d listen to, like, Enya and Yanni and stuff like that. That also, I think, was pretty, like, wow, this music can really create an environment. And, and so, like, I think, in a way, that, those three things are kind of, like, very defining because, like, my ambient music that I love, which is, like, I’d say, you know, over 50% of the time when I’m listening to music, it doesn’t have words. And the singing part and then the communal part, like, those three things all mixed together is, like, why I do what I do.

Krysta Rayford (04:59):

Do you feel that, you know, instrumental, especially for you as a vocalist, but having that background, has there been a balance for you kind of having that exposure and that, that inspiration to your production, too, of, like, instrumental music or just ambient music?

Holly Hansen (05:15):

I definitely think every single thing feeds into everything else and informs everything else. And in a way, that’s why I wouldn’t call myself, like, a virtuoso at any of them, um, but there’s a reason people still hire me, and I think that’s because I have this informed idea of, like, each element. So as an engineer, a lot of vocalists have worked with engineers who aren’t singers themselves, and so to be able to speak to a singer as a singer is, like, one of the things I value in myself as an engineer, like, more than a lot of things.

Even my approach to singing, like, I, how I learned to sing a lot was when I first got GarageBand and I would, you know, record myself singing. And then I almost would be listening to my vocal track like I would an ambient record in a way, because it wasn’t just that I hit the notes, it’s like, what mood is this setting? Like, I’m listening to it as a sonic element, not just a way to deliver words. Which I mean, I think most singers do that, but I definitely feel like in that way, and even in instrumental music, I’m trying to do the emotional connection thing that usually comes from the vocal part. They all feed into each other, and I think if you took any part of my little interest away, my other interests would, lack in some way.

Krysta Rayford (06:43):

For you, too, Holly, was there ever a moment, because you wear so many different hats, where you realized, like, “Oh. I am in all these different variations of music as an engineer, as a producer, as a vocalist,” or did it just really happen organically, and you just kind of look back and go, “Oh”? Like, was it just something for you where you just felt like trying on these different hats and being in these different roles as a musician and a producer and an engineer? Did that just kind of happen, or was it something that, that you planned to do?

Holly  Hansen (07:13):

Well, it’s interesting.  I don’t know if it was… It wasn’t planned in the beginning. So it was like, when I was young, you know, I, I wanted to be a producer and a, and a, like a band leader or whatever. And I did, like, some fun producing as, like, a 19-year-old, you know, um, working on my little GarageBand setup. And then I went to school and I got a sound art degree.

 And then, you know, sometimes in the world of art, you kind of go the path of least resistance, and as… You know, it’s funny because I don’t even always like talking about the experience of being a woman in the music industry because it is a huge part, but in a way, you almost, like… Like, especially for me, before I was, like, 25, I didn’t even realize that things were happening, so it wasn’t really even part of my conscious experience.

But as I look back, I realize, like, the easiest way to picture me for the world was as a band leader, and so I… And I, I did still do live sound, but, like, the, the recording engineer and producer part of me sort of got shut out, and it was like I just sort of ignored it for a while. And I have, like, this very distinct memory. I went to do a vocal session at Pachyderm down in Cannon Falls, and I remember sitting on the couch waiting for my turn to sing, and I was looking around the room going, “I know how to do all this.”

Like, “I can, I could, I could run this session.” And this is, like, a world-class, crazy amazing studio. And I was like, “There’s nothing about this room that confuses me.” And it was like in that moment I was like, “I’m an engineer, and I need to stop ignoring that,” because it actually is a huge passion of mine. And I had a lot of experiences in the studio, even, where I felt like I couldn’t… It wasn’t just that someone wasn’t letting me speak, it was that I, like, doubted myself.

It was like this wide-open world when I realized, like, if I don’t start calling myself an engineer, no one else is. Like, I’m the one who has to claim that. And so it felt really good to finally do that. And then as I did, it was, like, weirdly not… There also was no resistance, ’cause really, the world was just waiting for me to claim it.

Krysta Rayford (09:26):

People always want to talk about imposter syndrome, but looking at that within the scope of being a multi-faceted artist musician, for you, Holly, do you think that that’s a huge part of stamina as well as an artist, is just giving yourself that confidence, that belief within yourself, that secret ingredient?

Holly  Hansen (09:49):

I think it’s huge. And I think especially being multi-faceted and, like, you know… I don’t even like the phrase jack of all trades, master of none, because the thing is, everyone’s a master of what they do. If you have passion, you know, you may not be drilling down into guitar or drilling down into music theory, but you are drilling down into the thing you do, and no one else can do that.

You are the only person with your voice, you’re the only person with your experience, you’re the only person with your taste, you’re aesthetic, and I think that’s something that in the last few years, I’ve really had to… Because I have had so much imposter syndrome. I mean, even just how much language… With music theory and in audio engineering, there, there’s, you know, all these terms and vocab and stuff like that, that people use almost to gate keep, I think.

Like, not that… I mean, it’s okay to have language and a culture of, you know, technology, but I think sometimes it’s like, just say mic cable instead of XLR when you’re around people who don’t know what that is. Like, it’s not really that important. Um, not that you don’t want to, like… You don’t want to, like, disrespect the, the trade or something, but I guess it’s like, when you’re standing in a room full of egos, you either have to decide that you have an ego, or you have to decide that that’s not really relevant.

You know? And, like, vision and, um, passion is more important than, like, competition and, you know, the, the rubric that other people are using to determine if you’re good at something. It really doesn’t matter what rubric other people are using, you know? It’s really about what you want to do in your life and how you want to, like, serve your community. And I think that’s something that I had to come to terms with, because I did, for a long time, try to keep up with, like, you know, or try to drill down. I tried to make myself be one thing, you know? Like, I’m only gonna be an engineer now.

And it’s like, that’s not who I am. And so I’m, I need to stop trying to do that, because it’s my life. And also, I am going to… If I think that way, I’m actually doing a disservice to my clients, because part of why they hire me is because of who I am. You know? And not even my… It’s not always your skillset, even. It’s just like, “You’re you, and I want you part of this.” And that is, that is just as valid as, “You’re the best guitar player I’ve ever heard.”

Krysta Rayford (12:13):

For you, were there certain people or mentors that helped to instill that within you, or was this something that, in all fairness, that you really just kind of had to, uh, grow that confidence within yourself? Like, you talk about, like, sometimes there’s that access to mentorship or having those, those people, but sometimes there isn’t. Pave your own way in certain aspects. Have you felt that way, or was it a blend for both for you? How w- how has your experience been?

Holly Hansen (12:41):

Yeah. I think it’s a blend, for sure. I’ve even tried to, like, work through this. I’ve had, like, almost this resentfulness that I haven’t had the mentor I wanted, and realized, like, that’s not a real thing. And I, I have started to value so much so the type of mentors I have had. And, you know, in a way, too, with the authenticity thing, too my parents were involved in theater growing up, and they’re both, like, very… Like, my dad, he does a lot of outdoor theater, and I remember him… Like, he would wear… You know, he, they were in the Renaissance festival and stuff like that.

And there’s, like, this work ethic part of it that’s, like  relentless to the, the product of whatever he’s making, and then also connecting with people. And, like, so he’d be outside, you know, in 90 degree weather in his costume. And he’s also determined in street theater that somebody is gonna find this interesting enough to stop and watch this play that they weren’t planning on watching. I definitely feel like that was a huge part for me of, like, I don’t need to… You know, in a way, you, you kind of can’t wait for someone to ask you to do something. (laughs)

You kind of have to just start doing it and then see if someone will stop and watch. And I think in that way, like, that’s instilled in me, like, I don’t need to be disappointed when people aren’t listening. That’s k- that seems kind of an aside, but, like, my dad and my mom were definitely mentors in that way for, like, what performing is. You know? And then there’s been mentors along the way, even… One of my best mentors who has been quite important to me is a mastering engineer named Huntley Miller who, you know… One of the best things someone can do for you is treat you like a colleague.

And he’s, like, a world-renowned mastering engineer, and I can call him and ask him questions, and he treats me like I do what I do, and I’m the… You know, like, “Holly does what she does, and she’s good at it.” And he doesn’t treat me like I don’t have skills. Do you know what I mean? And I think in a way, a mentor is someone who simply speaks to you like you, you, you know what you’re doing. Because partly, like we have said, like, with the imposter syndrome, is you almost just need to be, like, welcomed into that circle, and then you just naturally feel like you’re doing the right thing.

Certain bands… I, like, I, when I was young, the first thing I did when I got my license was drive up to Duluth and watch Low. And I think watching a band like Low play… Like, I’ve seen them play more than anyone else, and now I have the pleasure of knowing Alan a little bit. Watching them play was a huge impact on me. Um, I also, you know, played in churches, and I used to play drums every Sunday night for two hours for this, like, crazy youth thing, and I learned a lot about dynamics from that.

I mean, my goodness. When you’re playing drums while someone’s praying, (laughs) that’s an intense experience. So all of those things, you know, they just rolled up into a ball, and I’d say, like, those are my mentors. Those are my influence. That’s why I perform the way I do. That’s why I produce the way I do. That’s why I have a hard time working on things I don’t care about.

Krysta Rayford (16:12):

Why, why music? Why has this been so important not only to your career but to your life?

Holly  Hansen (16:17):

You know, in a certain way, I feel like it’s not a… I can’t explain it in a way, because it’s just, like, a note that my body resonates at. Like, this is the thing that makes me feel connected to the world. This is… And I, I’m somewhat… It, I think people are surprised to hear this, but  I’m pretty much an introvert, and I feel like music is how I’ve found my way to not being isolated.

It’s, it’s also the way I commune with myself. I mean, that’s why in the morning, you know, th- I have, like, these three or four records I go in rotation that it’s like, these are the things that, this is how I welcome myself to my day. Yeah. And I feel like it’s almost inexplicable. I just, I just can’t help myself. It’s just the language that my being wants to use to connect with the world.

Krysta Rayford (17:10):

Do you find an importance in using pseudonyms or stage names, or what significance do they have to you?

Holly Hansen (17:17):

I think I have a love-hate relationship with them. Even, like, my band Zoo Animal at the beginning kept getting pegged as a Christian band, and I, I didn’t necessarily want it to be that way, but it was just what happened. And then even as I changed, that’s just still out there, and it’s like anything. But in a way, I’m grateful because that’s, that’s connected to that, and Holly Hansen sort of means a lot of things to a lot of people.

So I think… Like, I, I’ve, I, I don’t know why I want to use the word threatened, but it’s like I’ve threatened to release music under my name. (laughs) But I think I’m scared to do that because I don’t, I don’t want to be defined. And so I think that’s why I like to use pseudonyms. Like, I, I have one called Body Dork. That’s how I release a lot of my electronic music. And I do feel like especially when I perform on stage, people… Especially with, like, the name Body Dork, like, it gives me permission to do things that are pretty weird.

And so I guess they’re, I guess they are important to me, but they’re also, sometimes I’m like, I do kind of want to just be one person, but I feel like I can’t be. But you know what? I am all the same person and that, so I guess I do feel like they’re pretty important. And, and even just for the audience. You know, sometimes I think, you know, a fan of Zoo Animal might absolutely hate my electronic music, so I don’t want to set people up for, like, to be like, “Oh, why did I do this?” You know? Like, I, I don’t want to… In a way, I want to blindside people in a way that’s, like, engaging and fun, but I don’t want to blindside people like, “I tricked you.” (laughs) So yeah, I guess they are kind of important to me, even just to give focus as I write.

Krysta Rayford (19:12):

For a lot of people, it’s been very different, or maybe it’s an introduction, but for you, you know, when you think of electronic music recording arts, what does that mean to you, or how do you utilize recording arts in your own life as an artist?

Holly Hansen (19:26):

The recording part for me of electronic music is the palette. You know? As much as, you know, electronic music means synthesis and stuff like that, in my recordings, it’s often samples. And, um, I do use some synthesis, but I feel like it’s the manipulation of recordings that is where my heart lies. So, uh, and obviously you have to… Even with something synthesized, you’re still gonna record it. But it’s, it really is a landscape.

And, and, you know, when I write songy songs, you know, it feels more like a narrative, and it’s not that there’s not alway- there’s, like… There’s still, like, a climax to the songs, but if, if I think of the term electronic music recording arts, it looks like a, like a, a, a painter’s palette or like a landscape I’m gonna walk through. More so than songwriting, with electronic music, I can accidentally spend like eight hours and forget to eat. You know? It’s like a world that I walk into.

And, and even in that way, when you talk about routine, you can’t just… For me, I can’t just jump right into that. I have to prep myself to get into, like, a mental state that’s almost like you’re in a zone. You’re, you’re just, you know… Like, w- I keep talking about resonating, but that really, with that kind of music, it, it’s like I don’t feel like I’m in charge. You know?

Krysta Rayford (21:12):

One of the other questions I wanted to ask you, too, is because, you know, being someone who’s, you know, multiple instrumentals, but also different vocals, when you look at performing versus recording, and you look at yourself as a performing artist versus a recording artist, do you have a preference? Is there a preference? Or do you kind of have a unique relationship with both?

Holly Hansen (21:35):

I would have used to say that I was a performing artist, um, but I think that’s because I didn’t have the right experience in the studio. And now that I’ve become intimate with the studio, um, I’m not as angry with it. (laughs) So I think it’s both, but, you know, I think it’s always performance, it’s always connecting to people, but I… There is nothing like being on a stage for me. Like, that is… My sisters and I were just talking about… We were saying, “Where, what are you doing when you’re at your best? Like, what is it you’re doing?”

My sister, actually, was like, “I do feel like it’s when you’re on stage.” And I was like, “You know what? I kind of agree, except that I w- I do like to have a dialogue a little more, you know, like, center of attention.” Obviously you are, like, having a dialogue kind of with the audience, but I think… Because I also like to banter and goof off on stage, and I think that’s one thing about performing, is, like, being able to connect emotionally with people and go to these deep places, and then, like, you come up for air.

And then you’re all doing that together. It’s like you’re all going deep sea diving and, like, you know, together. And I love… I, I guess in a way, I love to lead that journey, you know? Like, that’s something I, I feel comfortable doing, and I find it e- exhilarating, and I feel very connected to, like, humanity when I do it.

Krysta Rayford (23:04):

Have you felt like in terms of your place as an artist in the community, what does that mean for you, too, in terms of using your art, um, and your resources? What does community look like to you?

Holly  Hansen (23:16):

Man, it’s so crazy to answer that question during this time, because I think it, I’ve been confused, even. You know? Like, even I used to host a weekly event at the [inaudible[MB1]  00:23:27] Club in Minneapolis, and I definitely… And, and I used to host, like, you know, have some people to the studio and teach them how to use some of the equipment. And, like, in-person stuff was important to me. And even, like, um, trying to be a mentor as much as I can, but also realizing I’ve b- I’ve had so much more patience for that, not having a fairy godmother mentor, because I’ve realized how much it takes to be a mentor and how, um, as much as I want to sometimes, I just simply don’t have the time, or the resources, in a way.

And so, I have, like, so much more patience for, like, the people who I wished would have mentored me and didn’t. It’s like, well, I get it now. Like, it’s really… It’s kind of got to click, you know? It’s got to be the right time, the right blah, blah, blah. So, I guess for me… And in a way, you know, as you get older and you’re not out as much, there, there has been a, somewhat of an identity, uh, confusion for me in that, because I also know so much of the music community starts from the young people. (laughs)

And there’s a certain kind of ambition you have when you’re younger that helps propel you into a place of importance, almost. And so, I guess in a weird way, um, I feel that my place in this community has somewhat shrunk, and I don’t even know if that’s a bad thing, because I also think there’s a time to sort of sit back and, like, you know, notice more because you’re not as active. And so I, I think I’m, in a way, kind of enjoying, like, seeing other people’s work and not always pushing for the things I want to happen.

Um, and, and I’m, I think I’m kind of coming back around to, like, trying to understand where I’m useful in the community right now, especially being that I’m not really a performer in this moment, ’cause I’m also immunocompromised, so I’m a little bit more, uh, safe on the COVID stuff. So, like, and I also don’t want to just exist on the internet, so it’s like I, I kind of feel, actually, kind of at a loss for where my place is. But I, it’s not really a… I’m not scared of it. I’m just trying to make good choices about how to show up, because I also know that I can be a big presence, and if, if that means that the right person isn’t taking up space, then I shouldn’t be there.

You know? So, I guess I’m just trying to be more, um, conscious about where I’m doing that. I feel at this moment, we’re, instead of just doing the work that comes to me, I think I want to start taking a more active role in the work I do, and not just simply responding. And, but al- you know, it’s funny ’cause I was just saying I don’t want to push, but this is, like, a different style of pushing where it’s more like, it’s m- it’s a considered moment where if I’m going to do something, I’m gonna know why I’m doing it, and it’s not simply ’cause I was asked to do it.

Krysta Rayford (26:53):

Do you have any suggestions or, or advice for entering the world of recording arts and, and how people can navigate it without feeling-

Holly Hansen (27:03):


Krysta Rayford (27:03):

… so, anxious or it being daunting to approach?

Holly Hansen (27:07):

Number one, the best thing about recording is it’s a playground, and it’s okay to approach it as a playground and not a set of rules. Number two, there are fundamentals, and it’s scary to learn fundamentals, but once you know them, it’s, it’s interesting how if you under- for instance, I’ll say the term gain staging. If you understand gain staging, that’s half the battle, if not more than that. So like, it’s a, you know, these concepts that are confusing, just work through them, and don’t be scared that they confuse you at first.

Also, if anyone ever makes you feel stupid for asking a question, they’re the wrong person to be talking to, and just ignore them. Because .. I just think asking questions like crazy is a good thing. And if you’re worried people won’t respect you because you don’t know something, (laughs) it’s, it’s not a big deal. The other thing… I say this a lot to women who play guitar who come into my studio, who oftentimes are saying, you know, “The sound guy always messes with my amp settings,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

And I’m like, “Number one, don’t let them do that, or say, ‘What is it that you’re hearing you don’t like,’ so that you learn why they’re doing it instead of letting people take control.” And I think that’s another thing. If anyone tries to touch your stuff, (laughs) ask them, “What is it you’re hearing that you don’t like?” Because it could be the thing they’re hearing that they don’t like is the thing you’re trying to do, which, like, for me, with my guitar tone that’s happened quite a bit, ’cause I like my guitar to sound like a Rhodes, and so people are always like, “It’s too muddy.”

I’m like, “I don’t actually want to cut through the mix and pierce people’s ears.” I’m, like, kind of trying to be like a little muddy thing underneath.  So, like, trust, trust your taste, because your taste is yours alone, and no one else will bring that. And if, if you’re not willing… Like, you need to get people to understand that you are the only one with your taste. And maybe, maybe you accidentally clipped when you were recording your guitar. That’s okay.  You can learn how to have that not happen.

But you’re the only one who’s gonna play your guitar like that. You’re the only one who can sing like you. You’re the only one who’s gonna put elements together the way that you do. And so, like, as much as you can remember that it’s a playground and no one plays like you do, then the joy of it can stay there. And the more you know the fundamentals, the less frustrated you’ll get.

Krysta Rayford (29:41):

For people who want to find your music, what are the best ways for them to listen to what you’ve put out into the world?

Holly  Hansen (29:48):

Sure. Zoo Animals, pretty much anywhere you listen to music. And then Body Dork exists on Bandcamp and SoundCloud, and that’s literally, like, the word Body, space, Dork. They’re very different. (laughs) Yeah, and then in… the work I’ve done recording other people can, you can find that at salonsonics.com, which is my studio’s website.

Krysta Rayford (30:19):

You’re listening to Tune Tools, made possible by MacPhail Center for Music and Project Amplify.


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