The acoustic-pop songwriter from London explains how her latest single was inspired by a family rift and a friend’s poem
London-based independent artist Hannah Scott is fast cementing her place as one of the country’s most exciting new songwriters, with her emotive songs and striking voice. Shape, the first single from her forthcoming album, recounts how her maternal grandmother refused to accept her mother’s choice of husband, Hannah’s father, threatening never to speak to her again should she marry him.
Co-written and produced with long-standing creative partner Stefano Della Casa (Ultra Music Publishing), Shape combines organic, live elements with electronic sounds. The two artists have struck a perfect balance between Hannah’s traditional songwriting craft and Stefano’s unique cinematic production.
Here, Hannah explains in her own words how the song took shape…
Shape tells the story of my maternal grandmother and her refusal to accept my dad as a husband for her daughter. When my parents decided to get married, she told my mum she would never speak to her again if she married him. She stayed true to her word for 20 years, describing my birth as “not a matter for congratulation” and missing out on watching three granddaughters grow up.
My mum finally reconnected with her when I was in my late teens and although she does now have a relationship with her, I find it very difficult to forgive what she did to my family. I knew I would write a song about this one day and was reading some poetry written by a friend, Peter Naumann and one of his lines, “your words held their shape” from the poem Landfill, really struck me in connection with my grandmother’s actions.
I love taking inspiration from other art forms in my songs, be it music, poetry, film, books, art and I hope occasionally my work might go on to inspire others in the same way. The initial idea for the lyric came from Peter’s poem and I built the chorus up around that line. Lyrics are really important to me and I work hard on them.
It can take me days and weeks to get a lyric right but this one came out so quickly that I was almost not convinced by the last line, “now you’re twenty years too late”. My collaborator Stefano persuaded me to stick with it and I’m glad he did. Stefano and I actually wrote the music together first and I wrote the lyrics to the music.
When we got into the studio to demo it, we realised that we had quite a powerful chorus but the verse wasn’t strong enough. We rewrote the verse and I took the words away and rewrote them too. The result is more direct, both in terms of melody and lyric. I am particularly proud of the line, “How you let them go is how you keep them close”. Trying to hold onto your children as they grow will only push them away.
I told Stefano about my idea for the song and the very basic lyric idea for the chorus and we jammed around those words in his home studio until we nailed the chorus down. I think we both liked the simplicity of the melody and how that seemed to give it power. A very long time before, we’d written a verse which we both liked but had never turned into a song and we both thought it worked in front of the chorus we’d written.
The middle eight uses the same chords but is sung an octave higher. This ended up being the first draft of the song. We were in the studio one afternoon to record the vocals for a different song but my voice wasn’t feeling it, so Stefano suggested we open Shape up as he particularly thought we could do better with the verse. We spent the afternoon adjusting the melody (though the chords stayed the same) and the final version of the song is definitely more powerful.
In The Studio
We always say Stefano produces our songs, with a little hindrance from me (I like to think of it more as help but there you go!) We spend most of our studio time with Stefano working on the songs and experimenting with sounds while I listen, telling him when I think he’s found a sound that works or that I like a beat he’s designed, for example.
Once we had the final version of the song, we produced it over about four sessions, between his home studio and Tileyard Studios in London. We recorded the vocals in a makeshift vocal booth (picture bed sheets and coats draped around me to deaden the sound!) in his bedroom. Stefano plays everything you hear, including cellos. The only other musician to play on the track is violinist Paola Delucchi.
Stefano and I have been working together for about 10 years now and this is the first track of ours he has mixed. I think he’s done a great job. Jon Astley has done all our mastering over the last few years and he put the finishing touches to it.
Anyone who listens to and follows my music knows how personal my writing is. At the same time, I try to tell stories that people will connect with. A number of people have contacted me after hearing this song to say “same here!” or “this happened in my family too”. I think certain songs were always going to be written at some point, no matter how long it takes.
Shape is out now on all digital platforms. Find out more about Hannah and her music at hannahscott.co.uk/