HomeC2CInterview: Hannah Ellis talks C2C, Opry debut and what's next in 2023

Interview: Hannah Ellis talks C2C, Opry debut and what’s next in 2023

She may be a relatively new name to many people, but Hannah Ellis has been around in the country scene for quite some time already.

The Kentucky native got her start in Nashville as a songwriter and vocalist, working with the likes of Russell Dickerson, Carly Pearce and Cassadee Pope, before striking out on her own with her debut EP back in 2017. She’s also toured with Gavin DeGraw, Dwight Yoakam and Devin Dawson, and was named as one of the CMT Next Women of Country. Now she’s crossing the pond to make her first appearance at C2C: Country to Country this week.

Ahead of her trip to the UK, I spoke to Hannah about what fans can expect from her C2C sets, making her Grand Ole Opry debut, her approach to her songwriting, what’s left on her bucket list – and the first time she heard her song on the radio…

How would you describe your music and your influences?

Yeah, I would say that my music is very much a compilation of the music I grew up on, and the music that’s out now. I’m a 90s country baby, so that’s just gonna come out in what I do. But I also grew up on a lot of like gospel and R&B. And so I think that those inflections find their way into what I do, musically. And as far as the personality of the songs, I’m a fun and bubbly person, and that always comes out in my songs like ‘Country Can’ and ‘Us’. It’s super positive. But I also do have this deeper side to me, this more… not introverted [laughs], but internal sides of me. And so that has a way of finding a way in my music as well.

You’re coming over to play at C2C this week. What can people that are coming to see you there expect from those sets?

You know, kind of what I was saying. I’m going to be having a good time, and I want them to join in that good time. We’re there to have fun. I think that’s something that country music is meant to do, is to take the edge off. But then at the same time, I’m gonna meet them in a couple of those more emotional moments and say, “you know, I’ve been where you are or I am where you are, and you’re not alone in these feelings”. But then always bring you back to having a good time [laughs].

Are there any songs that you’re particularly looking forward to playing live when you’re over here?

Yeah. There’s this fun song that is that is newer for me. I haven’t released it yet. It’s called ‘Wine Country’. It’s just way too fun. It’s a great little solo cup with your pinkie up kind of moment. So I like it [laughs].

It sounds good already! I also wanted to ask you about ‘Someone Else’s Heartbreak’, the song that you’ve just released. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Oh, man, that song is so special to me. I wrote it after my little sister – her boyfriend of two years had broken up with her and she called me that morning. I was walking into my write, and I was talking to my co-writers [Emily Falvey and Josh Kerr] about the fact that I really wanted to write her a song that was kind of like, “well, we didn’t really like that guy anyways”. [laughs] But then I remembered that that’s not exactly helpful in those moments and not what you want to hear. And so I put myself in her shoes and took myself back to that moment when I was on the receiving end of heartbreak. And so that song kind of flowed out. And that’s where it came from.

Thank you. And then the other song I wanted to ask about was ‘Country Can’, which I know you put out over the summer, so much more that kind of fun side…

Yeah, it does. And the thing about ‘Country Can’ that I’m excited about playing it in the UK is because I think it’s when I was writing it, that was one of the things that I mentioned. What’s amazing about country music is when you’re growing up in the South like I did, you think that “oh, it’s just this part of the country that listens to it”, and you’re so wrong. There’s people all over the world that love country music, which is why I can’t wait to come to C2C because I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about the country music fans in the UK. And so to get to share that song with them is gonna be a really special moment.

How do you approach your songwriting? Do you have a typical way that you write? Or is it just as the song takes you?

Yeah, I think that it’s different every day, which is what makes it so fun. Sometimes you walk in and you’re like, “oh, I have this idea”. Like with ‘Someone Else’s Heartbreak’. I went in, and I was like, “I have to write about these emotions. We have to write this type of song today”. But then other songs, it comes from a totally different space – like ‘Country Can’ was that we were like, “Okay, we need an anthem. We need something that the people can sing along to”. And they started throwing out titles and someone said, “Country Can” and it was like, “ooh, okay, there’s something special in that”. So then we started building out this idea of what country can do and what it meant to us. And I think it’s different every day, which is what makes each song unique, just like people.

Do you find that you ever get writer’s block? If so, what’s your way of dealing with that?

You know, it’s funny, because in Nashville, it’s very collaborative. Most of the time you’re writing with one to two other people. And so on those days, whenever you’re like, “I do not feel creative at all, I don’t know what I’m bringing to the table”, it’s incredible to have this community around you that we have – that they’re kind of like, “ooh, well, I have an idea” or, “I have something”. And so they can get your gears rolling back again. And that’s just a really, really special and unique thing about Nashville.

You started out started out in Nashville writing songs for other people and have written for loads of different artists. Is there anything that you learned from that experience that you’ve applied with your own music?

I would say that writing for other people really helped me figure out my own voice as a songwriter, and what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. Because as I would write all these other songs, every once in a while, I’d write one, and I would feel selfish about it. And I would be like, “no, no, no, this is my baby. I have to sing this because no one else would say it like me”. And I think that was what the writing for other people helped me to come to and find.

You also had a stint on ‘The Voice’ as well. How was that experience? And is there anything again from that that you’ve taken into what you’re doing now?

Yeah, I would say that my experience on ‘The Voice’ was kind of interesting, because about a week before my audition, while I was in LA, I got a call from a publisher in Nashville about possibly signing a publishing deal with them. And at the time, on ‘The Voice’, if you made it onto the show, you weren’t able to sign any other contracts for a set amount of time. And so I remember calling my dad and being like, “what happens if I get on and then… I don’t know, which is the better option?”. So when I didn’t make a team, although yes, I mean, pride would say it was heartbreaking, I was able to go back to Nashville with a lot more knowledge about myself as an artist, and knowing that I needed to speak up when things didn’t make me feel right or feel like they fit my artistry. And so I was able to come back to Nashville and sign a publishing deal and start writing a bunch of songs.

What have been your career highlights so far?

Oh, my gosh, so many huge moments. I would say one that I have to always bring up is playing the Opry [Hannah made her Opry debut in September 2021]. Playing at the Grand Ole Opry for the first time was wild. And I knew I would be emotional but I don’t think I even was prepared for the wave of emotions that would happen. That paired with the first time I ever heard my song on country radio. When I heard ‘Country Can’ playing on the radio in Nashville, while I was like in my pyjamas going to get lunch, was truly epic. Epic.

I love that! That’s the best ‘first time hearing your song on the radio’ I’ve heard in ages…

Oh, yeah! [laughs] I’m literally videoing myself. I’m like, “This is what I look like. Okay!” [laughs]

And then to follow on from that – is there anything that’s still left on the bucket list for you? In terms of people you’d want to work with, places you’d want to play etc?

Absolutely. I think there’s so many things. That’s what’s so beautiful about this career is there’s always more that we can reach for and try to accomplish. I mean, having a number one song would be huge, headlining a tour. I mean, playing with big artists like Old Dominion, Thomas Rhett, some of these incredible established bands. I think [that] would be really, really special. And those are some bucket list items I’m trying to check off.

What song do you wish you’d written?

Oh, gosh. I’m like, “Hold on, let me pull out my list”. [laughs] Oh, man. I think one of the first ones that comes to mind is ‘You Belong With Me by Taylor Swift. Because I remember being what would have been, like, 16 the first time I heard that song and I was like, “She wrote my diary. She wrote this song for me, how did she do it?” And I I would love to be able to write a song that so eloquently speaks and so plain speaks into the life of someone that they think that it was written for them, that it’s like a shock that anyone has ever experienced something like that or so similar to them. And that’s just one that will always be a special song for me.

What else do you have coming up in 2023?

Yeah, we have a lot of shows coming up, all over the country and obviously in other countries. But yeah, we have tonnes of shows coming up, and just a lot of travel, which I’m excited about and promoting ‘Country Can’.

And are there any plans for more new music at any point in the next year?

Absolutely. We have tonnes more music coming in the next couple of months and a full record coming at some point soon.

Can you give us a little hint of what that’s going to sound like? Is it going to be similar to what you’ve put out recently?
It is. It’s going to be a mix of the stuff that’s come out, but then also there’s a lot more depth in what I do then maybe what I’ve put out up to now. And I think I want people to continue to grow with me through this process.

And lastly – have you got any plans to come back to the UK after C2C?

I mean, they’re not on the schedule yet. But I cannot wait to come back [laughs].

Hannah Ellis’s latest single, ‘Someone Else’s Heartbreak’, is out now on Curb Records.

See Hannah at C2C: Country to Country at The O2, London this weekend:

Friday 10th March, 2 PM – Icon Stage (free to attend)
Friday 10th March, 3.20 PM – The Wayside (free to attend)
Saturday 11th March, 3.40 PM – Big Entrance (free to attend)
Sunday 12th March, 10 AM – The Bluebird Cafe, O2 Blueroom (with Jeff Cohen and Randall King) (separate ticket required)

Laura Cooney
Laura Cooney
Laura has been writing for Entertainment Focus since 2016, mainly covering music (particularly country and pop) and television, and is based in South West London.

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