Indie pop duo Inanna, consisting of guitarist Hank Dorsey and vocalist Hannah Stewart, ditched their days job and took to the road to write their debut EP, What Is Living Above The Light.
Out May 3, the album blends thoughtful lyrics pieced together on long car journeys with Dorsey’s shoegazed-influenced guitars and Stewart’s enchanting vocals. As dreamy and reflective as a night spent under a clear sky, What Is Living Above The Light is an ethereal experience set to launch Inanna into a similar stratosphere as Beach House and Alvvays.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge chatted to the duo to find out more about their journey together and what went into the album.
Q: You both studied at the University of California. What eventually brought you together?
Hank: Mother Nature baby.
Hannah: Hank’s a year older so I didn’t know him my freshman year. But sophomore year, my guy friends from the dorm rented the B unit of a house which Hank and some of his friends were in the A unit of. They’re all really good, outgoing guys and got along immediately.
Isla Vista (the college town adjacent to campus) is the kind of place where everyone leaves their doors open during the day, and the guys would be going back and forth between the units all the time, people would be dropping in, and I was there most days too, so we all got really close and had a really fun time. And we started dating my senior year and life has been blissful ever since!
Q: What spurred your decision to quit your jobs and head off on a road trip?
Hank: I had been climbing the ladder at a mid sized company for about three years and was running a small lab when Hannah and I started playing music together, and I think we both realised really quickly that we had something important on our hands.
One day I was thinking about my life and its direction and I realised that the music we had been making in those few short weeks was more important than the three years of work I’d put in at my job. I wanted to share that feeling and make others see what I see in the music we’ve created.
Hannah: It was a combination of things. Experiencing loss and this sense of “if not now, when?” Trying a few different jobs, all of which paid well, had great bosses and work environments, and realising that we didn’t just want more, we wanted different.
That, combined with the less morbid desire to see the country and spend a bunch of time outdoors in our National Parks made a summer road trip just feel like such a classic, American thing to do to gain perspective and inspiration for this lifestyle change. And it was!
Q: Your debut EP, ‘What Is Living Above The Light’, came together on the road. How did your sound and connection evolve during the trip?
Hank: I feel like the sound got more of a singer-songwriter/folk sound to it while we were on the road. We would take turns driving, and Hannah would write while I drove and I would play while she drove. We’d make up stupid songs about drivers on the road.
Every night we’d get to our camp, make a fire and some food, and then play until we stopped seeing lights from the other fires. I think that campfire vibe definitely bled into the music a little bit, whereas the music we’d play before had been more straightforward indie-pop, the EP’s sound is less jangly and focuses more on the atmosphere of the songs.
Hannah: That’s a good answer. I would add that I have an extensive musical background and Hank is newer to the scene so playing together for hours on the road was a critical time for music theory discussions, and also for us to sort of develop our rhythm, and just get a good, solid feel for each other’s style.
Q: What is your standout memory of the trip?
Hannah: So this was a very loosely structured road trip. One of the only concretes we had was my friend’s engagement party on the east coast. I read the invite once, added the date to my calendar, and thought I remembered it being in New Hampshire. In the back of my mind, I was aware that I wasn’t 100% sure that’s where it was months ahead of time but for some reason I didn’t actually pull out the invite to check until we were six days out and in South Dakota.
We had been planning on just tracing the US clockwise until we ended up in New Hampshire on time, but I checked the invite at that point and the party was actually in Virginia. Trying to mitigate my making such a stupid mistake, I told Hank it would be awesome if we could just teleport to Georgia overnight, because that’s the perfect amount of time to see everything we want south of Virginia, and jokingly suggested we drive there overnight. And we did it. And for those who don’t know, that’s 1700 miles from where we were to Savannah.
But going from the dry, hot, fossilized badlands, through pitch-darkness punctuated by the Gateway Arch, to finally getting out of the Corolla 22 hours later and it’s still hot, but it’s wet, and the cicadas are loud, and everything’s covered in this spooky, beautiful, Spanish moss. Savannah is amazing and it was an incredible, dramatic way to start the deep south leg of the trip. Montreal is also just the best.
Hank: I’ve always wanted to go to White Sands National Monument ever since I saw it in one of those little pictures they put on the side of your textbook in 6th grade earth science class.
When we got there we secured a backcountry pass and hiked our gear a mile or two into the dunes and set up shop. September is New Mexico’s monsoon season and as the sun was setting we saw a thunderstorm roll over the hills and split to either side of us, which was lucky because we’d seen all these warning signs about how dangerous the lightning was here. Then the winds changed in a big way and the storm came right at us and began to blow away our tent with all of the gear still in it. We packed up as quick as we could and started running through the sand dunes to get back to the car-
Hannah: I’d like to quickly go on record as saying this was probably not the correct/safe thing to do.
Hank: -and pretty soon the storm was all around us with tons of lightning and heavy rain. The sun was still setting so all the lightning was lit up the pink/purple colour of a sunset and the wind was howling over the dunes. It was exhausting and a little scary but I’ll never forget the rain, the wind, and the pink lightning lighting up the brilliant white dunes.
Q: I had a good feeling I’d like your sound as soon as I read the comparisons to Alvvays and Beach House, but you guys exceeded even those expectations. What do you listen to?
Hannah: I love when sensory experiences are tied to memories, so I definitely let myself get a little tunnel vision album-wise. Like I have really strong memories tied to Santogold, Electra Heart, Hummingbird, Ex Military, and Art Angels, to name a few.
My current playlist is new Grimes, The Weeknd, ABBA (we saw Mamma Mia recently), Enya, Kanye, Gesaffelstein, Shania Twain, Travis Scott, Maren Morris, Everything Everything, Best Coast, Todd Terje, Diplo, Tame Impala, Panda Bear, you get it… it’s all over the place. But if it has a sick beat or amazing vocals or powerful instrumentation or is just otherwise awesome, I’m here for it.
I guess that’s the thesis statement of what I like. I also love older stuff like La Vie En Rose, Heartbreak Hotel, California Dreamin’, all of the Beatles, Hank showed me Cruel Summer. And Sia has the sickest voice and I’ve been meaning to listen to Sigrid’s album. Ok I’m done.
Hank: I listen to Burial, Animal Collective, MGMT, Elephant Six stuff, Death Grips, Ariel Pink, anything Daniel Lopatin touches, Jamie xx, a lot of Pitchfork-core in general, Nicolas Jaar, and then stuff from a couple of my favourite blogs. I like Smiling-C’s stuff and Pinchy and Friends.
In the past I had a couple really stand out phases. In college it was shoegaze and post college it was vaporwave and for a brief, very intense week it was Lana Del Rey. I also really love 60’s and 70’s girl groups. Hannah’s taste is alright.
Q: What are your hopes for the debut EP? Any further ambitions or plans to share with us?
Hank: The EP is great. Listen to it, blast it out of your car, your PA system at work, use it as an alarm. I think the EP will do really well and I’m really excited about it, but I’m even more excited about what we’re going to put out next.
We definitely learned a lot about production and mastering as this was entirely DIY and I’m really excited to get back to it and start playing with those things on new material we’ve already got brewing. It’s just such a fun process I wanna just keep making more music!
Hannah: I just want to get it in as many ears as possible. We both learned so much making this EP. We weren’t in a recording studio, and everything that could go wrong, did, tech-wise. But I just kept having moments of, if I am not a perfectionist about this, then, what will I ever care enough about?
I think somewhere along the way of working a 9-5 previously I just sort of stopped giving things 100% and started doing, not the bare minimum, but definitely not the best effort I could muster. And I think this is a common experience. So my future ambition is to keep it 100 because I’m doing what I love now.
What Is Living Above The Light comes out May 3