Hannah Diamond The PC Music star talks art, avatars, and A. G. Cook

Photo: Hannah Diamond

Six years from “Pink and Blue,” the single that brought her to the world’s attention, Hannah Diamond is set to release her long-awaited debut album. It’s titled Reflections, and it’s out November 22 on PC Music.

In the early days, when dawn was still breaking on the PC Music sound, Hannah’s music brought a touch of overt warmth and humanity, a yearning indie sensibility to the hyper-perfect hi-gloss production associated with the label. While her music is often noted for its 90s sensibilities, the 80s bedroom pop of groups like Strawberry Switchblade doesn’t seem too long a bow to draw.

Speaking with her down a surprisingly clear Skype line, there are a few things Hannah Diamond wants us to be clear about: “Hannah Diamond” is not a simulation, she’s putting off further plotting (at least for the time being), and, most importantly, she’d pick Britney over Girls Aloud.

You’ve been on the scene for quite some time, but this is your first album. When you started out, did you expect that the PC Music sound and your own music would get so big?

No, I didn’t — I had no idea! When I put out “Pink and Blue,” the first place I posted it was on my Facebook page and I was, like, “maybe some friends might think this is fun.” It went a lot further than I expected or initially intended it to — but I’m happy about it!

In terms of your art, you’ve created the PC Music visual aesthetic, and you have your own music project as well. Historically, artists have usually been seen as having one primary form they work in — but in this day and age, that isn’t necessarily the case. How do you understand that connection between a set of sonics and a visual identity, and do you see one of those as your primary form?

I feel like visuals and music run in parallel. Although it doesn’t always work like that, because I do commercial photography work as well, and I make images for lots of other music artists. So, it doesn’t always go hand-in-hand. I may be working on those really intensely. But especially with my own personal output, for me the two things are so interconnected and interwoven that one couldn’t exist without the other now.

Regarding forging of identities — you’ve described your music before as a simulation of pop. On the album, there’s a mix of more poppy with more experimental sounds. Do you feel like that simulation aspect is still there?

I don’t necessarily mean it in the sense of imitating pop or synthesizing pop — because “simulation” is a tricky word. It could refer to a lot of things — avatars, for example. I don’t mean it in that sense. I know people have regarded me this way in the past, but I definitely don’t see myself or what I’m projecting with my music project as an avatar or an alter ego. It’s just me and what I’m putting out.

With the sound [itself] — it’s a tricky one for me! I’ve always been a really huge fan of pop music and feel naturally inclined to that kind of music as what I want to make. But with this album, for example, I’ve worked predominantly with A. G. Cook, whose style is very experimental and fun. So it’s always about challenging things and putting a twist on it, which I’m really into. That’s why I wanted to make my whole album with him and also EASYFUN. He did some production as well and played a pretty vital part.

So, as you mention, you’re not an artist who does 100% of your work solo — you work closely with other musicians — but at the same time, you’ve said that your work and particularly this album is deeply autobiographical. Could you say something about how that works in terms of your songwriting and your production process? Is there any tension between those poles?

It’s definitely not a tension. The people that I worked with on this album are some of my closest friends. So, for me, a lot of the things that I was singing about and writing about were things that those friends had first-hand experience of, because they were seeing me go through it or I was asking them for advice on what I should do.

Especially with Alex [Cook] — we’ve been close friends for ages. He really knows the ins and outs of my life without me having to spell it out. So it was really easy writing with him, because I could go in with lyrics and he would help me make them better or fit them to a melody better — but in a way where they didn’t lose the meaning, because he fully understood what I needed to say, which was a really special thing.

I’m working on new music and have worked on lots of sessions with other people, and I’m learning that that’s a really rare thing — to find someone where you’ve got that instant unspoken understanding of each other and what each person might sound like, what they’re thinking. I think that’s why this album is really important to me as well.

Speaking of other artists — outside of PC Music circles, who is inspiring you at the moment in terms of music or art?

I really love what Kim Petras is doing. She’s smashing it in terms of pop stuff. Everything she’s been putting out is super, super on point. I can’t wait to see where she goes and what she does next, because I’m fully here for it.

In terms of what you admire and your influences, there are a lot of 90s signifiers in your look and your sound, which I guess would have been the era that you were a kid and developing your tastes. Would you say that that’s an accurate reading?

Sure! I think that really forms a part of you as a person — especially the age when you’re going to high school and just about to become a teenager. When I was 10 or 11, that was the turn of the millennium, early 2000s — everything felt super futuristic.

I was super into all of the music videos that were out at that time — Hype Williams, Aaliyah, Missy Elliott. I used to watch the hits when I got home from school obsessively, just for the music videos.

Also I was really into UK garage when I was a kid, and trance. Both of those things have influenced my music in the sense that I feel like a lot of trance music has this euphoric soaring thing; it’s super highly emotional and quite often quite sad. I feel like that’s like really influenced my music.

It was a form that for a while was dismissed as cheesy…

Definitely — when I was into it, it wasn’t cool to like it, I don’t think.

Speaking of the past, your sound and a lot of the sounds of your fellow PC Music artists fit in an interesting place between signifiers that relate to the past and an extreme feeling of futurism, or of the future of music. Is that a characterization that rings true for you?

I find it hard to grasp, to be honest, because I think when you’re making something, you’re not really [thinking about those questions]. It’s difficult to comprehend that perspective, because I’m so deep into making it. I almost find it quite hard to form an opinion about it anymore.

So it’s kind of tricky. For me, the sound that makes up my music, and especially the album, is an amalgamation of all the things that I like, all the music I listen to, all the music that Alex [Cook] knows that I really like. It’s made up of little signifiers of my favorite parts from all of those genres, but then also a lot of the production has a lot of Alex’s influences. I think it’s a sort of coincidental mashup of the right people.

I definitely was never trying to make something futuristic. When we first started out, a lot of people were really mind-blown because of how cut-up the vocals were, but at the time, we didn’t have a proper recording studio. So we had to cut the vocals quite heavily, just to cut out excess noise.

That’s one thing that’s really good about having to compromise or try to make something out of nothing, or make something really great on a low budget. Sometimes it can force you to make a style, because you have rules that you have to stick to. It’s not like anything is possible. You have strict rules in order to make things OK or acceptable. Then you build on those, and without realizing it, you’ve made a style.

Limitations that allow you to explore your creativity further…

And I feel exactly the same about my image work! Only in the past three or four years have I really got access to the resources that I need in order to make the kind of images that I want to make. Whereas there was a prolonged period of time, especially when we first started out with PC Music, where I was doing a lot of the photoshoots and making a lot of the images in my home — very DIY and low budget.

Some of the style I developed was because I wanted to make something really extra and really fantastical, but I had to push it quite far in order to get there, because of the limited resources available. And that forced me into a style — well, not forced me, because obviously I was interested in that style anyway, but it made me push that further and really explore it.

Hannah Diamond’s artwork for Klein’s Tommy (Hyperdub)

How do you find the pressures of working across different media? You’ve got your career in visuals and photography, and then also the music. Do you wish there were more hours in the day, or are you happily balancing those things?

It really depends how much I’ve got on. The past few weeks I’ve definitely wished there were more hours in the day, but I think that’s because we’re leading up to the album release, and a lot of the work that I’m doing is my own.

With your own work, it never feels finished. When you’re the one in control, or you’re the only one telling yourself when it’s done, it’s hard to say, “OK, enough.” I always feel like I could do a little bit more. There’s always something I wish I could have tweaked or done differently.

So, sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day, but there are also times where there’s not so much going on, and I’ll spend a few weeks doing photography. But after I’ve done that, I’ll spend a few weeks in the studio recording and writing, so they work hand in hand.

And it’s pretty great, because I’ve met a lot of people through music that I’ve then spent the entire night taking images of — and then also the other way around, people I’ve worked with photography-wise and then started collaborating with musically as well, which is really fun.

Speaking of what’s around you, you’re based in London — do you feel like the environment shapes you? The physical environment of the immediate part of the city you’re in or the broader political context?

Not so much. The thing that really shapes my work is the people that I surround myself with. And the connections that I make and how meaningful and powerful they are. I always find I’m making my best work when I’m around really motivated and driven people that really trust themselves.

That’s when you start making really exciting work, when you have lots of people you can bounce ideas off — or even just having exciting parties to go to! Things like that keep you energized and keep you hungry for information and wanting to do something more.

I understand you didn’t grow up in London — when did you move there?

I grew up in a place called Norwich. I moved to London for university when I was 19.

Still on the environment, on place and people, do you feel there’s any sense of any specific kind of Englishness to your work?

In the sense that I’m English! [laughs] The thing that a lot of people point out is my accent, but that’s just my accent. That never seems too weird to me, but then to hear very Anglicized pop songs is maybe semi-unusual. But I don’t really think about it too much.

The girl group sound has influenced you, true? Spice Girls or Girls Aloud, for example, there was a English Invasion kind of quality to that era.

As a kid, I was always way more into pop stars like Britney than I was ever into Girls Aloud. But I was a big Spice Girls fan.

In your music, there’s obviously a personal element, related to relationships. Pop often goes two ways — either it’s hypersexualized, which is often the tendency today, and it’s really amazing that women feel free to address those topics in ways that in the past would have been seen as shameful. But in your music, there’s a real sense of innocence related to the topic, and that’s also refreshing. Is that a conscious choice?

Not necessarily — I feel like I’m just making music about how I feel at the moment. Maybe there’ll be a coming-of-age — who knows? I just make music about how I feel and what I’m going through.

I think it’s sometimes equally empowering to talk about things that have hurt you or made you feel sad. And, for me, this album has made me feel super powerful, because I channelled quite a lot of negative energy or negative feelings, but I’ve turned them into something that I’m really proud of, something really beautiful. And I also learned a hell of a lot about myself and how I relate to things and to the world, the patterns that I have recurring in my life. For me, this album was a really empowering journey of learning to love myself and learning to trust myself and my decisions.

You’re about to embark on your headliner tour — for those of us overseas, what’s the Hannah Diamond concert experience like? A visual extravaganza?

Fully! Super visual, highly emotional, highly euphoric. Some extreme highs, some extreme lows. Lots of good outfits.

I’m really excited for the shows I’ve got coming up. My best friend Roma has become my tour DJ. I’ve been training her up for a while. I’m really excited about that. Her DJ name is CD-ROMS! I think it’s going to be really important to have a really good friend come along on this tour with me, but also it’s going to make it so fun. We have a really good time together. I’ve been rehearsing quite a lot. I’m excited to perform all these new songs that I haven’t performed before.

What’s next for you? You have the tour, and as well as the album release, and you mentioned you’re making new music at the moment. Are you making work in the same vein, or is it going to be different?

I’m writing and recording as much as possible. I’m just enjoying it. I haven’t even put out my first album yet. So I need to do that, and do that right!

And then once I’ve done that and I’ve been on tour and I’ve had a few weeks off — I haven’t had any time off for months on end, not even a day. Once I’ve done that and had a little time to plot, then I’ll come up with my next move.

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