“I learned 60 Beatles songs by the time I was 7—I was obsessed,” says Wicklund. She did that on piano, but now the multitalented siren’s main instruments are guitar and her voice. Photo by John Van de Mergel
You incorporated some fingerpicking on the new album in “Shadow Boxes.” What does that song mean to you?
I cowrote “Shadow Boxes” with Lincoln Parish, who was the guitar player in Cage the Elephant. I cowrote two or three of the songs on the album with Sadler [Vaden], my producer, but this is the only song on the album that I cowrote with an “outsider,” and I’m super happy with the way that it turned out. It’s my version of a social commentary. I’m guilty, just like everybody else, of getting too sucked into social media. Everything is set up to be so perfect, and you start to notice the negative effect that it has on you after a while. I’m trying to say that everything isn’t perfect, and even my fingerpicking backing track wasn’t perfect—but that’s also the style I love. Music breathes and it’s not this perfect manufactured thing wrapped up in a little bow.
Is that the kind of energy you try to capture in the studio?
We’ve tracked live on every album I’ve ever recorded. We did the whole album in seven days. I’ve never really done the studio in a polished way where [everyone records their tracks individually]. It just seems really cold to me. We set up shop like a rock band and played through the songs until we felt like we had the take. When you’re only doing a handful of takes on each song, they’re not perfect, but they’re right.
As the lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, it looks like you supply the main source of power in the trio. What’s that like?
When you’re in a trio, everybody has to pull their weight a little more. But I feel like in the last year and a half, my confidence as a frontperson has developed much more. Going through changes over the last 10 months has heightened that side of it. Because I was playing with different people, I had to become the majority of the show in order for me to maintain a consistent show for people coming to see me every night. But it’s always been my band, I’ve always been the one pulling all the strings, and I was always the manager and booking agent and everything has always been ultimately my decision.
What are some of your favorite guitar parts on the album?
I love playing “Meet You Again.” I’m a sucker for dropped D. It’s really fun to play live—there’s something so ballsy about playing that guitar part even though it’s super simple. It’s just raw. But I think my favorite guitar solo and my favorite song overall is “Strawberry Moon,” that I wrote completely by myself. Within half an hour I’d written the whole song. It’s not the most flashy, and it’s not the most in-your-face on the album, but it’s the most personal, based on my ex and I’s relationship and how the first few months of the year had been going. That was also one of the first guitar solos that we tracked where as soon as we got done [recording], everyone was like “That was it!” That’s always a good feeling, when people have a strong reaction to something that you play in the studio. And that song was early on, so I feel like it helped set the tone for the rest of the album.
I noticed that was the only track on the album where you used slapback delay. What guided some of your production choices?
One of the reasons why I really wanted to work with Vaden on the album is because he’s a guitar player. He’s the first producer I’ve worked with who’s [a guitarist]. He helped me get a little more creative with guitar tones. I’m a fan of my long-hall delay—I really like the spacey sound, especially live. But on the album, that can muddy things up a lot. He helped me rein that in, and the slapback delay [on “Strawberry Moon”] was all him.
What were some of the guitars you played on the album?
I was using a lot of Tele tones on the album, which I love. But we also used some 12-strings subtly in there. On “Looking Glass,” we used a vintage 12-string, short-scale, black-and-white Rickenbacker [Tom Petty Limited Edition]. It was so sick. That’s the sound on that song at the end, where you hear that [sings the melody]. It reminded me of a troubadour [laughs]. That’s one of my favorite things that we added.
On “Shadow Boxes,” I was playing a really old small acoustic [1966 Gibson B-25]. It’s funny, because normally whenever I’m recording I try to fit in a Martin HD-28 or some huge acoustic, and this time I used a small, really clean-sounding acoustic—and it’s my favorite acoustic sound that I’ve had on any of my albums.
Which guitars do you bring on tour with you?
I play Tom Andersons live. I’ve been playing those since I was 8 or 9. The playability on those guitars is unmatched. I feel like I can play faster and cleaner on them. I don’t like a super chunky neck—a lot of their models have very slim, tapered necks, which I love. And I love the way they sound: Their bridge pickups and humbuckers are always very beefy and heavy and straightforward. They’re just amazing guitars.
What are your go-to effects?
I know some people dog on the pedalboard and some people are purists, but I like my pedals. I use the T-Rex tube reverb, which I bought in Boston years ago, and it’s my favorite reverb pedal. It’s warm, thanks to the tube, and it’s super reliable. I have that on always—I’m not a huge fan of dry guitar tone. The Keeley modified Blues Driver is my favorite overdrive pedal.
Did you play any other instruments in the studio?
We put a little bit of keys on a couple things. [Vaden] did the keys on “Ghost” and I did the organ sounds on “Crushin.” In the past, when I’ve had more of a say in the producer role, I’ve always been very nervous about adding any instrumentation that I can’t recreate live. For me, the album is more of a representation of what we are live. I’m just eager to play. The album has always been [an add-on] to the live show. With “On the Road” we threw in some congas, and even that was kind of a risk for me that I’m happy I took. But that’s about as crazy as we get instrumentation-wise.
If you could only make one more album, what would it be like?
I would be brutally honest about a lot of things—nothing held back. This album was more inward-looking, and if I could only have one more album, it would be more outward-looking. I would be writing songs about things that are going on in the world today, and about how people are being affected by so much chaos and negativity. Musically, it would sound much more on the side of “Meet You Again,” “Mama Said,” and “Strawberry Moon,” and I would like to write it with some badass musicians, where the music is taken on more of a ride. More in a Jeff Beck realm where the music is able to express more and isn’t just relying on lyrics. I’ve also been listening a lot to Jeff Buckley’s album Grace. That album is sick. I think that’s along the lines of what I’m thinking of right now.
If you could perform in a dream show with any musicians you could choose, who would they be?Me sitting in with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Stevie Nicks. I always felt like Tom and Stevie had this really cool musical connection and friendship. That’s something I’m on the hunt for in my own life—finding the musical equivalent of that relationship. They had this respect and admiration for each other. I would love to experience that onstage.
Armed with her Tom Anderson Top T, red stilettos, and bold, unshakeable force, Hannah Wicklund fronts her trio in the official music video for the lead single off her new self-titled album like a mythical creature warding off the enemy. Flanked by jungle foliage and a python resting easy at her feet, Wicklund digs into a wah-wah solo and exhibits the raw power she unleashes in every performance.