For her latest album, HANADRIEL, gamer, artist, producer and streamer HANA live-streamed her entire creative process on Twitch over four weeks of what were mostly 13+ hour days working in her home studio. This highly curated and expertly executed project was positioned at an intersection where art and technology meet community and gaming. At a time when global restrictions of interactions are fueling our need to connect and build community via technology, there’s much to be learned from how this artist has reimagined the landscape.
“I was trying to make music that I would want to be hearing when I was in, you know, a purple forest riding on my cloud dragon.” An avid gamer who you might find, “in World of Warcraft, running around the Night Elf world”, HANA initially started livestreaming her gaming sessions as a way to connect with her fan base and ease the guilt she felt about playing instead of working. Then, one day she got out her guitar and started playing some of her songs. The next day she opened up Live and made a beat. “People’s reactions were really shocking to me.”
From there, the idea to livestream the entire process of making HANADRIEL from start to finish was born. “I tried to think about every little aspect before I dove in because I really wanted it to be all encompassing. It was originally going to be three weeks, and I was initially thinking about working on the weekends too, but my friends and boyfriend talked me out of it.” Fully committed to the time and effort it would require to pull off this project, HANA was, “curious about what mindset I would get into and what I would make.”
As for the marathon-length streams and her inspiring work ethic, she cites her early music-making days as laying the groundwork. “I grew up in Montana. I made money by playing at farmers markets and coffee shops, and I would just go. I would just go for as long as the farmers market was, which was sometimes five to six hours. At the end of it I obviously am tired and ready to eat. Since I started doing that when I was about 13 or 14 it just became a part of me, where if I start then I'm just going until I don't feel like doing it anymore.”
Her working space played a major role, “Whenever I have a dedicated space for making music, I like things that inspire me all around. The lighting is super important to me. I replaced all the light bulbs to turn the studio purple, pink and blue ‘cause for some reason that really affects me. And you know, I put little art books around just to inspire. I was trying to fill the room for the aesthetic of the stream as well creating something for people to focus on while I'm on camera for 13 hours. I like to surround myself with things that make me feel comfortable and cozy. I had no idea how the whole album creation was going to go and I didn't know how comfortable I was going to be. So when I was setting up the room, I was like, well, I might as well just make it comfortable and cute and want to be in this room as much as possible.” Over 190+ hours of working and streaming later, HANADRIEL was complete and everyone got to watch.
In light of COVID-19, the reality of many people’s working conditions under quarantine, and how many artists have turned to platforms like Twitch in order to engage with their audiences, it’s eerie how applicable and current HANA’s approach to this project seems. Noting the amount of foresight she seems to have had, HANA replied, “I felt like this was what was going to happen inevitably just because of my experience with making music on Twitch, even before the album.” Even the overarching themes of her work, largely crowdsourced from her fan base, have tinges of today’s sentiments in yesterday's work.
“I mean, what’s interesting to me is that I was mentally forcing myself into a weird quarantine, which now everybody has to be in. It's bizarre because these songs that I wrote really apply to everything going on. The first day I sat down and said, ‘OK, everybody, we're here. I'm doing it. What have you always wanted to hear from me?’ and just started writing down what the chat said. At first I was taking audio requests... like, ‘do something with opera’, ‘use harps’, ‘we want to hear xylophone, but with heavy guitar’ or whatever. So I was writing it all down and then I was like, OK, now give me thematic ideas. A lot of people replied with, “anxiety”, and “climate change”. Mental health was a big theme that a lot of people brought up. That's kind of where I was wanting to go with the album anyway and so I ended up writing this album that’s about a lot of different things. It's about me growing up... I just turned 30 last year, and my experience with that, but also my experience with social anxiety or just political anxiety. And so in the end, I have this album that I feel like is really… It goes with the times right now. It's just very strange that I made this quarantine album, but six months ago.”
The road to becoming HANA and to the conception of HANADRIEL wasn’t a straight path. “I used to go by Hana Pestle… I would perform acoustically and I toured extensively for six years under that name.” But after a lot of soul searching she decided, “I just needed to start over and I took it all down... and it felt amazing, but now I'm kind of sad. I probably shouldn't have deleted it. I probably didn't need to scrub it from the internet. Something that I've learned in the last two years, or maybe even a year, is to be less judgmental of old music. I used to listen to old music and feel embarrassed or like, oh, this is so not me right now. But I've since realized, each song is an entry in a journal, a snapshot of that moment in time.”
After those six years of touring colleges around the United States she decided to take a break to make music and reconnect with her purpose. “That's when I actually first downloaded Ableton Live and things kind of exploded in my mind. Production had always seemed like this enigmatic thing that I had tried. There were a couple EPs that I produced myself before then, but I had made them in GarageBand, and then in Pro Tools. But it wasn't until I downloaded Live that I was like, oh my god, this is how I can make music I want to make that I'm super proud of.”
Today, you can tune in and watch her several times a week on Twitch, sometimes for 6+ hours of what consists of equal parts DJ set, vocal performance, video game world and solo dance party. You might even catch her washing her dog. Engaging with HANA is a potent mix of the genuine interaction people crave and the strangely entertaining pull of reality TV. The format is constantly evolving, and pushing the tech is a part of the show. You can even show up to the party yourself via Minecraft. “This last one, I was also running Minecraft. We built a club in Minecraft that was completely green and so then I greenscreened it out so it looks like the people that are in my Minecraft server were behind me in the DJ booth.”
Her stream is moderated by a group of people that she initially met from her subscriber group. They keep people in check and make sure no one is stepping out of line, which internet trolls are apt to do. “I feel like we've developed quite a friendship. We have our own separate little channel where we talk about everything that's going on in the stream. Now we’ve been talking like almost every day for a year and a half, so those feel like some substantial relationships.”
The experience you can now have with HANA took a lot of development and time in front of a camera. She says that at first, “I just had to try to ignore that the camera was there. I would sometimes cover up the chat and really force myself to get into that creative zone whenever I was producing or songwriting. I think after doing that for four weeks, I don't know, I don't really even think about it that much at all, it's just kind of second nature.”
“I feel like I've gotten so comfortable streaming that it doesn't really feel like a performance at all anymore. Sometimes I feel like I should treat it more as a performance, but I've become so comfortable with my viewers and subscribers that it's almost second nature to have the camera there. Especially after making the album just because it was such a vulnerable spot to be in...”
In addition to the content itself, perhaps the thing about HANA which creates the most pull is that it feels like she’s actually only doing things she’s genuinely interested in and loves to do. You can sense her enjoyment in the act of making music or gaming, and that enjoyment manages to travel from her side of the screen to yours. In a world of digital media where artists often feel like they're screaming into the abyss, HANA is reaching people by being herself and sharing that with the rest of us.
Text and interview: Erin Barra