Ferna marks a new chapter in the musical career of North Coast native Hannah McPhillimy.
This new sound has already paid dividends as she walked away with Single of the Year at the 2022 Northern Ireland Music Prize.
Hannah was kind enough to share some of her inspirations for writing and an insight into her award winning single ‘Wasting’.
Yes definitely, I think what I’m reading has a big influence what I’m writing, sometimes without me maybe even noticing it but my song Wasting was definitely directly inspired by the novel Milkman by Anna Burns.
It’s written in a kind of stream of consciousness style and no-one is referred to by their real name so it wasn’t an easy read, but what I loved was how the style forced you to feel how the character was feeling – disconnected and at a distance from everything and everyone.
I was moving back to Belfast at the time from the US so it kind of lined up with how I was feeling and lot of the atmosphere of that book is in that song.
My producer always keeps a packet of jaffa cakes in the studio for ‘slump time’ which is without fail at 3-4pm where I stop functioning like a regular human being. A handful of these can help me push through the wall.
I should really give M&S a credit in my album sleeve notes, as specifically their lemon & lime & dark chocolate really posh jaffas pretty much saw me through the whole process – I fear they have been discontinued but would like to use this opportunity to campaign they are brought back for the sake of musicians everywhere.
When I feel a song bubbling up, I definitely like to go to the nearest bit of nature and walk around there until I’ve hunted down the shape of it. At the moment that’s Ormeau Park but in the past has been the Lagan towpath, Victoria Park – I’m not too picky but ideally there is some sort of loop I can pace around (so I don’t have to think about where I’m going) and lots of trees (so I can pretend no one else is there)!
I think like a lot of people I find nature in general helps my brain wander but also be engaged at the same time, so it’s perfect for kickstarting a bit of creativity. Portstewart Strand and Mussenden – they are definitely some of my favourite spots on earth but I seem to write about them when I’m not in them!
Perhaps they are a little too beautiful & awe inspiring for me to think about my little songs when I’m in those places.
Jan Carson is my wonderful, talented novelist friend and could have equally have named her as my literary inspiration. I met Jan shortly after putting out my first EP and after that she asked if I would like to collaborate on a project with her where I wrote songs inspired by her novel Malcolm Orange Disappears.
That project and her encouragement really gave me confidence to say yes to things that scare me and have faith that the music will come. Would also like to give a shout out to my producer Stu Reid who never accepts my first draft of a song and always pushes me to make it better.
Wasting was the last song that I wrote for the album, which is strange to think about now as it was my first official release as ferna.
Stu (my aforementioned producer) felt we didn’t have anything that might work as a first single and wanted me to write something that would be immediate and instant for a listener to grab hold of. I wasn’t so keen on this idea as I am not a fan of writing for an audience) but it must have been swirling around in my subconscious somewhere.
Around the same time, I was moving back to NI after living in the US for sometime and decided to read Milkman to help me with my re-entry as it was set in Belfast and getting a lot of attention at the time. When I got home I related a lot to the emotions of that book – I felt really disorientated and flat, a bit removed from the scene here and very pessimistic about my future, particularly my music career. So I suppose when those two worlds’ coalesced, the words and the melody came about very quickly.
I took those bones to Stu in the studio, we messed with some of the shape of the song and built the rest of the arrangement up between the two of us over a few days. Really happy with where we ended up – don’t have any other tunes with just drums and bass and vocals & I enjoyed channelling that slightly punkish energy.
Ferna launches her debut album with a special show at the Empire Music Hall in Belfast on Thursday 4 May 2023. Tickets are available via the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival website.