Hannah Shepherd is enroute to a Brisbane hospital when Cyclic catches her. She’s driving in her car, excited because she’s about to visit her ‘sort-of-half-sister’ and cuddle her new, pseudo-niece. By Shepherd’s tone it’s easy to tell that this ‘almost family’ member and their baby mean the world to her and visiting for the first time will surely elicit a very special moment and emotion. It’s a moment like this one that could easily become the focal point of a new song or lyric for the talented 26 year old singer, songwriter, who performs as Airling.
“I’m not a person who can write about things that I don’t feel directly and deeply. So a lot of my songs are about family members, friends, people who I’ve been in relationships with or people who have broken my heart… or places,” She says.
Places, including a month long stint in Brooklyn, New York during January. The opportunity to visit with her brother who is currently located there enabled Shepherd to explore and unleash her creativity through experience in the Big Apple.
“I did a lot of writing there, because I was so inspired,” she reflects.
“I was seeing all differents kinds of music every night and I was going for runs around Brooklyn and having these crazy adventures with all these different groups of people. And I managed to borrow a keyboard from someone that I knew and I had a microphone and so I had a little set up in my room there, I couldn’t have asked for anything more inspiring. So I wrote a few songs there.”
Thanks to Triple J’s Unearthed platform for homegrown and emerging artists, Airling burst solo onto the Australian airwaves in 2014 with her anthemic pop songs, centred on themes of love (and other catastrophes) with singles The Runner and Wasted Pilots. These gripped the millennial generation to which Shepherd belongs, hard. Perhaps because her lyrics, carefully chosen are heartfelt and illustrate her life and associated experiences through an empathetic lens. The gamut of emotions characterise the ballads she penns and from her initial beginnings, the EP Love Gracefully Shepherd has blossomed as one of the nation’s foremost emerging female vocal talents.
Shepherd cemented her musicianship early too, through fortunate pairings with producers and accomplished artists alike. These as relationships go, continue to stand the test of time – much like family. In 2015 Forces was released a track which evolved through the conscious coupling between fellow Unearthed stablemate – Gab Strum, aka Japanese Wallpaper – winner of Unearthed High in 2014.
It is one collaboration in particular with revered Melbourne musician and producer, Tom Iansek (Big Scary) that has culminated in numerous projects. He produced her debut EP and Airling returned in 2015 to lend her vocals to Iansek’s own solo offering for his No 1 Dad’s album. It’s no surprise, Iansek (along with Graham Ritchie from Holy Holy and Japanese Wallpaper’s live bands) and Shepherd have teamed up again for her upcoming release.
“I’ve been working on it all with him [Tom]. I think since we did my EP together we realised we had more to do together.”
Embarking this week on an east coast tour to highlight her latest single: Move Me, Shepherd will also play a brand new track with fellow collaborator, Xavier Dunn, released today.
She’s resolute about the organic nature of these musical pairings and how they eventuate.
“I tend to not overthink it. I have a pretty good instinct and intuition about people and tend to follow that and you know I mean, I think that people close they should inspire you, not just necessarily creatively, but just if you’re a good person. So you know my manager and label the Big Scary guys, they’re not just amazing musicians they’re really beautiful people and I respect them for a number of reasons and they’re also great friends.”
Shepherd is a measure of finding balance for life in 2016, with many strings to her bow. She’s akin to juggling her creativity between her day jobs (plural) and, if you can believe, she will be commencing a nursing degree in 2017. She’s adamant that there is not a single path for people to follow. Her chosen course reflective of the nurturing soul she is.
“Nursing – I always wanted to do something in health. She laughs.
“I really don’t believe that there is just one thing that everyone will do, and I’m just trying to figure out where it will all balance in eventually. Instinctively it felt like the right time to start filling my brain with all of that study and stuff.”
The album title, for now lives in Shepherd’s mind and is not yet ready for revelation to the masses but somewhat synergistically she shares that the album centres on these themes of being busy in everyday life but retaining focus of the bigger picture and goals.
“I just have so many different things going on, for different people and companies. Some days, I’m like ‘wait what am I doing today?’ Some days I’ve got to do promo work, and I do these interviews. I love being busy, I’ve always been like this my whole life.
Airling plays shows in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne until the end of October.
With special guests Xavier Dunn & Romeo Moon
Friday 21 October – Woolly Mammoth – Brisbane
Thursday 27 October – Plan B Small Club – Sydney
Friday 28 October – Howler – Melbourne
You can find more information on Airling here.