University of Wisconsin alumna Hannah Busse released her debut album Underneath Our Surface Feb. 10, which focused on themes of realization, discovery and life transitions through tightened melodies and harmonies.
The 7-track album features an in-depth look into Busse’s own life experiences and the experiences of people she’s met through a folk/pop/alternative focus. The album was greatly inspired by folk and Americana bands like Nickel Creek, because of the genres’ emphasis on the voice and raw, earthy sounds.
“The album is called Underneath Our Surface, and it’s about kind of like when you look at a person, you only see their external, but there’s so much story beneath that surface,” Busse said. “So many memories or stories that they carry with them. So many past relationships and wounds, dreams and desires that they carry that you don’t see. So just realizing how all of that is beneath the surface of every person that you meet.”
The goal of Busse’s work is to tell stories through honesty, and she worked toward being confessional in this album. To do so, Busse opted for a more naturalistic, raw sound to avoid drawing focus away from the vocals and meaningful lyrics.
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“There’s nothing wrong with production, it’s just not my home base as much,” Busse said. “The vibe that I love is we’re sitting in a living room or we’re sitting in a coffee shop and telling stories. That’s what I’m trying to go for in this project.”
Some songs off the album feature the simplicity of just vocals and piano or guitar, but others experimented with cello, electric guitars, Hammond organs, bass, drums, layers of vocals and even accordion.
Busse recorded the album during the third trimester of her pregnancy with her youngest daughter, who is now 10 months old.
“I write music about kind of the stages of life, about people that I meet, people that I interact with, about culture,” Busse said. “I’m a parent to three little girls, and since I’ve become a parent, I’ve been writing lots of songs about parenting and about kids.”
Busse’s two other daughters have since showed signs that the love of music is blossoming in them as well. From the latest tracks from Disney’s Moana to silly jingles Busse wrote about changing diapers, Busse recalled her house is nearly always filled with singing.
Busse reminisced how she had a similar upbringing in a family of music lovers. Because of her family environment, singing and playing music became a big part of her identity from a young age.
“It’s always been a built-in part of my life,” Busse said. “It feels like home to me.”
It is unsurprising why Busse studied musical education at UW, because of her love for both music and interacting with others. In college, Busse mostly worked with classical music, through both her work in choral groups and through playing oboe for the orchestra. But this focus on classical music shifted as she discovered her own singer/songwriter sound.
“I’m so thankful for the bedrock of the classical training I’ve had, but it’s kind of moved since then and I’ve become more of this kind of composer, improviser,” Busse said.
Busse’s improvisation skill can be seen wholeheartedly in Underneath Our Surface through her use of multiple instruments and layers of harmonious sounds.
While Busse once believed she would be a music teacher, she took a different path and instead currently works in worship arts at the church she attended throughout college. In this position, Busse channels her faith and love of music and working with others perfectly through planning community events and working with volunteer musicians.
“I’m a person of faith and God and that influences me: That’s kind of not a compartmentalized part of my life, but it influences everything,” Busse said.
This faith can be seen throughout Underneath Our Surface, but especially in songs like “In Season” and “Sabbath.” “In Season” focuses on the way the world seems to be impatient to move on to the next season, but should instead bask in the joys of today, while “Sabbath” uses a play on the religious concept to encourage others to take a step back from things occasionally and rest.
“These themes of faith and the way that I feel like my faith influences my worldview kind of seeps into my songs,” Busse said. “I try not to be preachy or anything like that, but to be honest about the way that I’m processing things that are happening in life, things that are happening in our culture or world. And I think my faith really does influence that.”
Through this, Busse created an album that finds power in honesty and takes a more personal look at the stories hidden behind us all.
Busse has a number of gigs approaching, including one on April 7 at Tuvalu Coffee House in Verona, Wisconsin, and one on May 26 at Firefly Coffeehouse in Oregon, Wisconsin.