Interview and photos by Yising Kao
Listen to "Take Me Back" by Hannah Leigh & Sam Stacy out now!
Since age four, Hannah Leigh has acted in various films and TV series such as Kickin’ It (Disney Channel), Mad Men (AMC), Six Windows (Independent), Evergreen (Independent), and S.W.A.T. (CBS). Not only is she an actor, but she is also a dancer who practices Ballet, Contemporary, and Jazz, an indie-pop artist, and a director, graduating from UCSB with a BA in Film and Television. In 2019, Leigh released her single “Take Me Back” with Sam Stacy, followed by a beautiful music video released last year. Leigh also released her EP, co-written by Jesse Daniel Edwards, called Moon and the Myth, and has played multiple shows. Her music captures ethereal and nostalgic emotions through her vivid lyrics, complimented by soothing harmonies that make you feel like you’re in a dream. I had the opportunity to interview Hannah Leigh about her various talents – stay tuned for her upcoming projects!
How did you get started with music?
I was always just singing as a kid so music always felt very natural as part of me. I grew up as an actor, so music was always there, it was just a hobby. I took singing lessons and I enjoyed it but acting was always what felt like a career. Then when I went to UCSB, I took a break from acting for those two years so I could focus on school and when I came back home to LA, I didn't know what to do with my career because I had taken those year off. coming back into acting after a break like that is just difficult so I turned to music as a creative outlet because it was something I could really control myself. You know, with acting, you’re kind of waiting for the phone to ring and waiting for that next audition, it’s kind of up to other people. With music I felt like it was a creative outlet that I could set myself up for success with on its own. I started writing music on my own, but I also started writing music with an old friend from summer camp, Jesse Edwards. We started a band together the summer I came home from college and made Moon and the Myth, which is the first EP I did. That was kind of my first introduction into what could be done with music. Jesse introduced me to a lot of the process. We also went on tour and did a whole Southern road trip and ended the tour at FloydFest in Virginia. So that was my realization that I could do this and be successful. After that, I went home and started working on my own stuff and that’s when I released “Same” and then more recently, I came out with another single called “Take Me Back” with my boyfriend Sam.
You directed your own music video for “Take Me Back” – I love how it features beautiful choreography and doodle graphics. What made you want to take this creative direction?
I also grew up as a dancer, so anytime I can incorporate dancing and acting into a music video for my music, it’s like my ultimate goal to have all the arts in one thing. When “Take Me Back” was coming out, I didn't just want to put myself in it and dance because it felt like Sam and I’s song, so it felt different than “Sincerely Yours” and “Same,” so my best friend Paige Nelson who is a beautiful dancer, was in town and she sent me a video of her just dancing to the song. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, if I don't put her in a music video for a song, it’d be a big regret.” So, we chose this beautiful outlook at my parents neighborhood on a hill. And we just said, "Ok Paige take whatever this song means to you and just put it into movement,” and she’s an incredible artist and did that but I also wanted the video to have another element to it. When she was dancing, Paige does such beautiful movements that just to me, look like shapes. So, her own improv inspired me to create a shape with her movements, so that’s when I hired Elena to do some of the graphic design. It just all came together so beautifully. I like dancing for “Take Me Back” because it kind of feels like a dream, very vibey. I just feel like Paige was part of the music, like the way she creates movement.
What inspired the theme and title of your EP “Moon and the Myth” and what was your experience like collaborating with Jesse Daniel Edwards on all the tracks?
I went to a summer camp every single year when I was a kid that had a music program and that’s where I learned a lot about how to write about music, it was called Pali Adventures. Jesse was a counselor in the music program so growing up, I would always sit down with him and write music with him and he would teach me; he was very much a mentor to me. So, after college, he reached out because he saw a couple of covers I had done, and he said, “Hey if you're ever in Nashville, we should write again like old times at camp.” So, having an adult relationship was a lot more normal ‘cause I wasn’t a kid anymore haha. I remember last time we went to Nashville we had a show at a restaurant called Puckett’s and I was just doing harmonies on his music. It was such a gift because it introduced me to live music. We started writing music through little trips like that. For the title of Moon and the Myth, we went back and forth so many times to figure out if we wanted to have a band name or just our names as a band name. I’ve always been obsessed with space and the moon and Jesse is a kind of a mysterious kind of guy, he’s really hard to figure out, I know it’s very artsy for me to say. So, we came up with the EP title Moon and the Myth. We really wanted it to match the dreamy feel the music had, so it captures the feel of the album. It was definitely interesting recording the EP because you have to find the right key for each of us to sing a verse in, because my voice is so much higher and his is lower, so it’s very technical I would say, just finding the perfect harmonies and stuff like that. But writing it was always very easy because Jesse’s a very open and emotional person, as well as I am. So anytime we would have an idea, like this song needs to be about long distance or something, we were just pulling from personal experiences and getting it down on paper. Jesse always had really beautiful metaphors and stuff like that that I’ve learned a lot from. Working together was super easy and honest, it was always vulnerable. On the technical side we had an amazing producer, Ron Blaire, who was the bassist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers when they were together. He has an at-home studio in San Diego so we recorded there and it just felt like the whole EP was coming to life with the surroundings, a very magical experience for sure.
That’s, awesome, it’s always great to find someone you can connect and collaborate with.
Yeah, definitely, right now, he’s doing stuff with his brother and he has a band. So, we’ve kind of gone our separate ways since Moon and the Myth, but I just love watching where he goes and what he does, it’s incredible.
Your lyrics are very descriptive and paint an amazing visual through each song. What’s your songwriting process like? Do you write poetry?
I grew up just writing what probably could be described as poetry, but I didn't really think about it like that because I didn't really have the tools to know what poetry really is. My journals were just full of these stories that had nothing to do with me. But now as an adult and having a songwriting process, I do ted to really have descriptors mixed with abstract thoughts that can be applied to a lot of experiences. A lot of people like writing songs that tell a very linear story and I'm working on that because I'm like on the opposite spectrum. So, I'm trying to grasp on the literal stuff but for me, listening to a song that Phoebe Bridgers writes, when I listen to music with so many metaphors and things like that, it just makes me think harder and I enjoy that, so I think that’s why I do that. For songs like “Take Me Back” that was very descriptive, we had the places and clear imagery which I really appreciate that Sam brings to the table, but we also threw in weird stuff, like background noise of us having a fake argument and little pieces of a GPS. Just little personal things I think are fun to throw into music.
I love that path of writing whatever comes to your mind and incorporating metaphors and things like that. I think that’s what makes songs super special.
Thanks, I think some people may say otherwise and there's a balance to all that. I think honestly art is so subjective and if you find passion in one thing, someone else will also like that so it’s just about doing what feels right.
In addition to being a musician, you also practice directing, acting, and dancing. How do you balance these passions?
I think they all have their own time. In 2019, I put out two songs, “Same” and “Take Me Back.” It was a very music heavy year because I really had the time to dive into that and it was a new passion as far as putting out music on my own. It’s all really about what you want to focus on and the energy you put in. in 2020, I focused more on acting, I shot a show and started my own coaching business, and I didn't really put out anything last year because we couldn’t leave our homes. But I think it’s all about paying attention to what you want to put the most focus into. Acting is always a continuous thing like when I get an audition then all my energy goes into acting but music is something that I can hold my own space for. So, when I don't have any auditions that’s when music can take the most energy. It really is a time management balance and intention kind of balance. Being intentional with music is where it doesn’t feel like it takes a priority, or it takes over acting. also, I’ve done acting since I was four and I’ve always had to balance school and ballet and singing lessons. I grew up knowing I had to multitask, and I had to balance it – I went to an audition in the morning then I went to school, then dance and set to shoot something. It was constantly my life, so as an adult I think I thrive off of having to balance things like that.
I feel like it’s hard as a creative, like I want to learn more about acting and songwriting, and society tells you that you have to pick on to make a living off of. But it’s like, you can try all of it!
Yeah, I really thought that’s what I had to do for so long because everyone says that. Then I grew up and started doing both and I was like, wait I could totally do these at the same time!
You star in the film, Evergreen, directed by Paul Goodman, which has been selected for various film festivals. What was your experience like filming and what drew you to this project?
Evergreen is a really special project to me. A friend of mine from college who’s also in Evergreen, Josh, he’s best friends with our director Paul. Paul was casting for a short called Six Windows and it was supposed to be about this girl who writes music and plays guitar and it’s like a love story. Josh was like “I know a girl who’s an actor and who can write an original song for this project,” so we met up and I just immediately clicked with Paul. Months later, we shot Six Windows and that’s why I wrote “Same” because Paul was like, “We can throw in any song for this character to write. I’d love it if you wrote a song for it.” So, I wrote the song, and filmed the short Six Windows with them and it was kind of an example of how Paul would do with a feature after getting funding and some interest. So, Evergreen was the baby that was born from Six Windows and Paul was kind enough to continue to include me as an actor in his movies. Evergreen is a really special movie, it’s a road trip movie so we started from Los Angeles and the entire crew and cast shot the movie driving up the coast of California to Oregon to Washington and eventually we took a ferry to Victoria, Canada. It was a really long process, and it was a shoot unlike any other shoot I’ve been a part of. We all became basically like family and I have never experienced acting in that way because it was so real. My costar Scott Takeda was so present in every scene and the story was also really important. Paul had written the script while he was going through chemotherapy. He had leukemia and the first time he went through it; He wrote Evergreen because all he wanted to do was travel since he was stuck in his hospital room. So, he wrote it as a way to escape, so it felt really important to tell Paul’s story of meeting to explore the world and explore yourself. It’s a very self-discovery kind of journey with my character and Scott’s as well. It was just a really important project and that’s what made me want to do it. It was beautiful in so many different ways, the scenery is beautiful, the writing is beautiful, but the intent behind the story and the family and the crew, that was beautiful too. I love them more than anything. Paul is currently going through his second fight with leukemia right now and we’re all ready to continue to do movies together. And that is something I want to hold onto for the rest of my life, is doing movies with them because it’s just the best crew ever.
What upcoming projects can your supporters look forward to?
Recently, in October I did an episode on S.W.A.T. and at the end of the month, I'm flying to Florida to shoot a horror film called Midnight Screams, so, spoiler alert, I totally get eaten by a demon animal. That’s going to be really fun and lighthearted in a scary way so I'm excited to do something fun like that. I'm just continuing to audition, and my plan is to release a couple singles this year. There's a song on Evergreen called “Drive,” in a montage sequence. I wrote it for Evergreen but it’s kind of this unfinished song, so that’s what I'm going to be releasing this year most likely.
A song you wish you wrote?
“And I Love Her” by Passenger.
Last show you binge-watched?
Evil on Netflix.
An artist you’d love to collab with?
What's a hobby you’ve recently picked up?
I think being a plant mom – I got a bunch of new plants during quarantine. I also started my private coaching business for actors so that was fun! Other than that, I'm always dancing and journaling.
Watch the "Take Me Back" video here!