Boston’s Hannah Felisa will be a superstar one day soon, and her new single proves it.
I keep playing Hannah Felisa’s music over and over, thinking there’s absolutely no way this voice comes from a 16 year old. Take her new single, “Cold In Hell,” which is about as perfect a late-summer ballad as you’ll find—it’s strength lies in rawness and a deep well of wisdom. She’s already played live shows around Cambridge. We recently asked Felisa about her musical sensibility, songwriting and where she goes from here. Well, except wowing Bostonians and the world quite soon.
You don't sing like a 16 year old. You sing with the soul of a 40-year-old woman who's seen some crazy, beautiful and life-changing things. Where do you suppose your soul for music and your overall sound come from?
Thank you, that’s probably one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. I sing and write songs because it allows me to channel my innermost thoughts and emotions. I feel so lucky to be living in Boston, where I’ve been surrounded by talented artists who’ve inspired me to pursue my dream.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been drawn to all types of musical styles, but especially love powerful and soulful singers. There’s just something inside me that ticks when I hear an artist sing about something meaningful whether it’s sad, happy or sometimes painful. I’m motivated by that extreme range of emotion. I sing because it makes me feel alive.
Where did the singing start, and how did you know you wanted to make a go of this with your voice?
I've always dreamed of being an artist. I'd even put on little concerts in my living room for my parents. Luckily, my voice has improved since then [laughter]. In all seriousness, I came to realize that at the core of me, I'm a songwriter. I'm an artist. This is what I was meant to do.
I want my music to create a safe space for people to explore their emotions and connect to them. Artists are in the unique and powerful position of being able to tell a story and share a message that resonates with people all over the world.
A great song can connect people from all walks of life and open their eyes to a world of possibilities. We are all connected in one way or the other. I love knowing that a song I wrote might be exactly what someone needs to hear that day. My biggest goal through my music is to allow people to know that they’re not alone. Now more than ever, I think we all need that kind of comfort.
Standard cliche question, but I must ask: Who are your musical influences, past and present? Who was the first person you heard singing that either changed your life or changed the way you LISTENED to the world and what it was saying?
Not an easy question, but it's a great one! I am always LISTENING to a wide range of music. My playlist is a mix of genres and new and old songs. One of the first people that really blew my mind was Whitney Houston. When I first heard the power of her voice I was mesmerized by her. Growing up, I was also inspired by Amy Winehouse.
My sound has definitely been influenced by artists such as Lana del Ray and Lorde, but also the honest lyrics from rappers like Tyler The Creator and Drake. Adele has also drawn me in to her melancholy and mysterious songs with her stunning voice. As an artist, I'm always striving to be better. To have the soul of Adele and perform like Beyonce. Now that's a concert I'd want to see! Better yet, that's a concert I'd want to be a part of. Can you imagine? That would be a dream come true. Hopefully one day it will happen. Adele, Beyonce, call me.
What's on your go-to Spotify playlist right now?
I listen to so many it will take up the whole page to name. So, here are some that I am inspired by—Daniel Caesar, Jhene Aiko, Finneas, Billie Eilish, Jorja Smith, Ashe, Lav, Gracie Abrahms, Lorde, Phoebe Bridges, Sabrina Claoudio, Lil Skies, Trippie Redd, Lewis Capaldi, Benee and Melanie Martinez.
You write your own music, yes? Where do you find the inspiration, and what is your songwriting process?
Whenever I have an idea or a thought, I write it in my notes on my phone and I let myself ride that feeling and let everything out. When a melody comes to my head, I sing it into my voice memos to remember it. The amount of notes and voice memos I have is insane; it has forced me to upgrade my iPhone storage plan multiple times. Apple basically owns me!
I get inspired after something happens to me or I hear a song that I end up loving for the first time. I also try to go to as many concerts as possible, because I absolutely feel like I can go crazy and be one with the crowd. That feeling when the artist blesses your ears and creates that intense emotion—you feel alive and feel a connection and forget about the world you’re in, which, in times like this, isn’t a bad thing.
Then there is hard work. How can my music resonate with people and make a better world? I go through my voice memos and work on the song that I am feeling at the moment and create a demo. I’m alway writing—in the car, on the way to school, on the T, outside, in my bed or spending hours at the piano.
Which instruments do you play? And how long have you been playing?
I’ve been playing the piano for about seven years. I use it to write out the melodies of my songs and come up with the chords that go with my lyrics. I also started playing the keytar about three years ago. I first saw a keytar when Lady Gaga ran onto stage at Fenway—she was the first female artist to headline at Fenway, by the way—and started shredding it. I thought it was so cool, and when I got home, I took my mini keyboard and strapped it onto myself sideways. Soon I came to learn that she wasn’t just using a keyboard sideways—it was a keytar.
Tell me about "Cold in Hell.” What do you want people to take away from this song?
I’ve reworked this song so many times. The song was pretty much spawned from a clever and ironic title, which led to creating imagery of being brought down into a miserable place—hell, of course—by another person. It’s a theme that so many people can probably relate to. Sometimes, it’s comforting to know that we all go through similar lows in life. I just want people to know that it's OK to feel the way that they do. It's possible to be in hell, but still feel cold.
OK, perfect-case scenario, how would you like to see your musical career progress?
Last week, I got my junior driving permit, so now I’m learning how to drive, so please, if you see me in Boston, be careful because I’m really not that good [laughter].
At the moment, my goal is to keep writing songs and release them, get experience and know myself more as a songwriter and singer. To learn to open ways to invite people to connect with my music. My dream would be to be signed by a record label… UMG or Merge Records and perform live in front of people and maybe also shred my keytar.
Photography by: Holy Smoke Photography and Lara Jade Photography