Classically trained multi-instrumentalist queer pop star Jamie Hannah has collaborated with his friend Boy George, performed at the iconic Royal Albert Hall with Kylie Minogue and is currently making his mark as a solo artist on both sides of the Atlantic. During lockdown, the 24 year-old Brit has been entertaining his London neighbours with a weekly outdoor concert, earning him a nomination in The Telegraph‘s Lockdown Awards. Last month saw the release of his latest single, the uplifting summer anthem Magic, along with a stunning music video shot at Joshua Tree and Malibu, California. Back in February he released the hauntingly beautiful Secret Paradise, written before he’d come out and will release an EP later in the year.
The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann recently caught up with Jamie Hannah to talk about the inspiration behind his recent singles, shooting the video for Magic, his favourite LGBTQ novel and TV series, Kylie’s Your Disco Needs You and collaborating with Boy George.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: How are you getting on in this time of self-isolation and lockdown, are you finding ways to be creative, and also taking the time to do some things you wouldn’t ordinarily get a chance to do?
“So far I’m doing good! When the lockdown started, I tried to stay really busy by working on some of my new music. At first there were challenges, as I had to get to grips with recording by myself using the equipment that I’ve got at home. I also had to adapt to writing my music with my producer via zoom calls! Now that we’re past week six I’m getting into a productive groove, though as the weeks go by I decided to reclaim a bit more of this lockdown-time for myself. I’ve been watching some old classic movies for nostalgia and cooking some of my mums recipes from when I was a child. I’m isolating by myself so with all of this extra free time, I think it’s important to practice self-love and also do things that make me happy, to remind me of family life.”
I’ve heard that you’ve been doing some concerts for your lucky neighbours. How did that come about and what’s that been like for you?
“Yes, I’ve been doing concerts for my neighbors. It all started when one day when I was singing from my balcony and a neighbor from a close by apartment poked his head out of his window, saying ‘Hey, why don’t you do some performances for us in the courtyard?’ So I did! And from then on, every Thursday, after we’ve clapped for the amazing NHS at 8pm, I set up my sound system and perform to everyone in the building. It’s such an amazing feeling, everyone peering out their windows of our 10 story apartment block, all looking down into the courtyard, clapping along and requesting songs. It’s important, especially in these challenging times, that we all come together; and this is why I love music so much, purely because that’s exactly what music does.”
When did you first start getting serious about music and why are you drawn to it as a creative medium?
“From a young age I have always wanted to be a singer and was performing at home to my family. It’s just something I did. I started getting really serious about music after I finished secondary school and started studying classical singing at the Royal College of Music. Then after a couple of years at RCM, I decided to go my own way, taking my classical skills with me to develop my own unique singing style.”
How does your classical training inform your work and approach to your craft?
“Classical training makes you learn skills that in the pop world aren’t especially necessary, but can really add value to your sound and performance. Things such as a solid vocal technique make sure I don’t damage my voice when performing full concerts; and just keeping my voice nice and healthy. Classical training has helped me to create music that is more interesting, using complicated harmonies and also some orchestration in songs.”
You’ve been a backing singer for Kylie Minogue at the Albert Hall, what was that like?
“Kylie is incredible and performing on stage with her was such an honor! I was a backing singer for her Christmas concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The music was so happy and cheerful, I mean who doesn’t love a good Christmas song; especially when it’s sung by Kylie. That show was a big turning point in my career because I had a taste of what I wanted: to be performing my own show at the Royal Albert Hall. My favorite song we performed was Your Disco Needs You, purely because of how fabulously camp it was. Kylie was carried out onto the stage by around 6 statuesquely hunky men on a chaise lounge, what more can you ask for?!”
How did you get to know Boy George and what kind of impact has your collaboration and friendship with the icon had on you personally and professionally?
“George and I met through a producer I was working with at the time. It was a fantastic creative journey for me and I loved his mentoring. The collaboration not only brought an incredible song, House of Truth, but just watching him at work taught me so much. I was so lucky to work with him and as well as that I made a friend from the collaboration.”
What or who are the major musical influences on you? Who do you most admire in pop music today and why?
“I have an eclectic taste in music, stretching from Handel and Monteverdi operas to the phenomenal album Lemonade by Beyoncé.”
We loved Secret Paradise. How did that song come about, what inspired it? What kind of vibe did you want to create with it? Who did you collaborate with on it?
“I’m so glad you liked Secret Paradise. I wrote the lyrics with a friend before I had come out. I wanted to switch the narrative around, celebrating that regardless of their gender you can love who you want. At the time when I wrote the song I was in love with a person, but because I wasn’t out it was my secret paradise. I hope that some may identify with the words and be inspired to love who they want.”
Would you mind telling us a bit about what coming out was like for you. Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking of coming out at the moment and maybe struggling with it?
“My coming out story is fairly nice. My parents are extremely liberal and supportive, so when I was ready to, I told them. There were struggles along the way, but they were mainly to do with me coming to grips with who I am and finding the confidence to come out. My advice for anyone who is thinking about coming out is do it when you feel ready to, but most importantly love yourself, be true to yourself even though it may seem difficult right now, but it will get easier.”
Thank you for sharing that. Great advice. Tell us about Magic, what was on your mind as this song came together ? For those who haven’t heard it yet, how would you describe the sound?
“My single Magic is about the power of positivity. In the lyrics I talk about acknowledging your weaknesses and the lows of life, how altering those perceptions and finding the silver lining, in order to find something good out of it, or magical. It’s such a summery anthem, perfect for a lockdown boogie.”
The music video for Magic is really striking, what was your vision and who did you collaborate with to bring it about? The locations are stunning, where was it shot?
“For the music video, I partnered with the emerging creative director Sarah Jane. I knew it was a perfect collaboration, as we hit it off straight away when chatting over a bottle of sauvignon blanc, basking in the hot LA sun. The music video was shot in LA, because we wanted a location in a desert with an ocean close by for the other scenes. In the music video we focused on the four elements; earth, wind, fire and water. For earth, wind and fire we shot in the stunning desert locations of Joshua Tree Park and for the water, that was shot on the Malibu coast.
Where can people hear your music and follow you on social media?
“If you would like to follow me, I’m on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook under @justjamiehannah and across all musical platforms it’s Jamie Hannah. If you’d like to watch my live shows you can catch them on my Instagram every week on Thursdays, after 8pm BST.”
Which LGBTQ+ film, TV series, play, book, artwork, music or person has resonated with you the most over the years and why? Or you could pick something current, or both!
“An LGBTQ+ book that I fully recommend is Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave. It’s an extremely touching memoir on his life, from going through catholic school, right up until the end of his life. He touches on his personal struggles of being gay and his adult life with his partner. My favorite TV show is of course POSE, it’s one of my favorite shows period! POSE is so incredible, with its sassy yet heartfelt storyline, I’m obsessed. It also gives representation on the screen to transgender, non-binary and queer artists, something that is massively underrepresented. I can’t wait for season three to come out, when hopefully I can have a viewing party and watch it with a crisp glass of rose with my friends.”
By James Kleinmann