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Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers burst onto the UK music scene with vivaciousness to rival the cry of a newborn baby. This might seem like a rare and strange comparison, but once you check out their tunes, you might get a glimpse of what I mean. Hannah belts out her lyrics with incomparable emotion, and the band’s sound is unlike any other. Bursting with trumpet, saxophone, guitar, organ, bass and drums regularly, this septet is about to take the world by storm. If you haven’t heard them yet, check out their debut album, A Hill of Feathers. Oh, and read the interview below. It’ll keep you entertained long after you read it!


Serial Optimist: If you could introduce Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers in the most unique way possible, how would you do so?

Hannah Williams: A fired up, emotional, gut wrenching, heart breaking, dance floor shaking injection of all original, Raw Soul from the UK!!!!

SO: Fans of yours know that you were exposed to soulful music at a very tender age because of your dad’s occupation as a “musically gifted minister”. Was there a moment when it struck you to pursue music? A certain age when you realized it was kind of your thing?

Hannah: Well, I could actually read music before I could properly read words. Honestly!! At the age of 6 I kept begging my Mum to let me join the church choir. She said I could join it when I turned 7 if I promised to learn to read a book first… I was reading 6 weeks later!!! So that worked.

I have wanted to be a singer since my early childhood. It has always been my deepest passion and there was never another option in my head really (apart from perhaps becoming a chef…but that seemed like far too much hard work!! Ha ha!) I wanted to be an opera singer between the ages of about 9-13 and then I started writing my own music and found that I preferred singing folk, rock, pop etc. A career in opera kinda went out the window when I discovered partying, fags and booze too!! I do still sing a few arias from time to time though. Giving up smoking last December (2011) has improved my voice SOOOO much!! It’s great to have my soprano range back again.

SO: Every band has a unique backstory. How did Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers come to be?

Hillman Mondegreen: I led a ska/disco mongrel of a band at university, and we needed some backing singers to finish off an album that we’d cobbled together. Me and the drummer Jimi Needles, who plays in HWT as well, heard some gospel singing coming from the campus chapel and ducked in. We were hilariously out of place and as soon as we walked in, everyone looked at us. There was this nuts singer at the front leading the whole thing. It probably wasn’t, but my memory is a bit like that Blues Brothers scene… Anyway, we managed to chat to some girls who were intrigued about what we were doing there, and we convinced them to record with us. The next day I got an email from the leader asking why we hadn’t asked her. It was Hannah. So I was like YEAH! and she came down and rocked it so heavy. A few weeks later I let the band fold and told Hannah I’d written her a project. We recruited Doug because he was the only person with a bass that we knew. I got accused of stealing the band’s money once so I decided to appoint a treasurer. Doug was the only person who wanted to do it so he got that job too. He turned out to be brilliant at sorting out cash, and he’s still one of the best bass players in our band. 😉 The girls from the choir became the backing singers for the early days. Since then, we’ve been through a million backing singers and horn players, but we’re now quite settled with our current team. They’re a great bunch.

SO: Hannah, because your dad was a minister, do you ever feel compelled to restrict what you sing about, or does that have any bearing on your music at all?

Hannah: Both of my parents raised me in a rich world of music and I learned basically all I know about music through being in my Dad’s church choir. Most importantly, it taught me about the construction of harmony, delivery of emotion and how to blend sound. Outside of choir, back home, I was submerged in a whole host of different styles of music from Gregorian chant and traditional folk music right up to ska, pop, soul, rock and disco. My whole family has an eclectic taste in music. My elder brother is a wicked jazz pianist and trombonist.

Sadly, my father died when I was 14. I lost my faith, left the church and it took me a long time to be able to go back into any church. I kept on with my music though. It was a huge part of my healing and mourning process.

Anyway, Dad would never have dictated what type of music I got into. Both of my parents raised me to do what I’m passionate about and give it 100%. My mum was a singer and dancer too. She says she doesn’t sing now after a vocal injury, but she still has an ace low, sultry voice. She’s hugely supportive of my work with the Tastemakers. Couldn’t have got here without her or my Dad’s influence and teaching as a kid. RIP Dad x

SO: That’s amazing that you have such a rich and emotional background and connection to music. We love your new video for “I’m A Good Woman”. Did you always envision the video as such, or what was the creative process to get it to its current beauty?

Hillman: I came up with the video on a train during a phone meeting with my brother who directs a lot of our video media. It basically came out of the following scenario. The label had told me they wanted to release a different single to the one I’d just filmed half a video for in Italy. I had about a week to do it. We had no money, no time and no crew. So the idea was the split screen thing basically because we had no other ideas that would fit the parameters we found ourselves stuck with. We filmed it in about 5hours using a desk lamp to light the wall! Jimi was DJing in Australia so we got our good friend Fitz (lead singer of The Bombs) to play. The real quality video is the “Work It Out” single. I’m really pleased my gamble to do a rural English video as the breakout single for a deep soul band paid off.


Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers – “I’m A Good Woman”


SO: What is your favorite song to perform?

Hillman: A tune called “I’m Not Going Away.” I stupidly wrote myself a really hard guitar part so I always have to concentrate for that one, but it’s loads of fun and the song is pretty cheeky.

SO: What are some songs that you think are necessary on anyone’s playlist?

Hillman: Currently I’m into Ralph Vaughan Williams at the moment. I’m also maxing Alice Coltrane and traditional Guzheng music. But some great recent tunes are:

Menahan Street Band – “The Crossing”
Antibalas – “Sare Kon Kon”
Fur – “Ethio”
Ruby & The Vines – “The Worries”
The Bombs – “Overload”
Dojo Cuts – “Take From Me”
Cactus Channel – “The Colour of Don Don”
Shaolin Afronauts – “Wind Across Gayanamade”
Shawn Lee – “The Definition of Funk”
Kalakuta Millionaires – “Water No Get Enemy”
James Brown & 2Pac – “Unchained”
The Grits – “Strychnine”

SO: Your style rocks! Are there any specific icons you draw inspiration from, either lyrically or in dress?

Hannah: Well, Nic writes 95% of our lyrics so…he’s probably best to answer about that and he picks the TM’s outfits too.

Hillman: For my different projects, I tend to withhold certain creative inspirations. So for HWT music I really try to bring Etta James, Sharon Jones, James Brown, Syl Johnson, OV Wright, Sarah Vaughn & OV Wright together. For lyrics I always get myself down with gender politics. That’s what the project is really about. Non-creatively, though, my inspirations are huge and constant. My music is always about truth and some of these people show me the way – Malcolm X is the greatest human that ever lived and the album title is taken from a bit of his autobiography. James Brown’s work rate. Amy Goodman and the Democracy Now news team – they give me the best news for an hour everyday. That’s democracynow.org and you should watch it every day.

Hannah: For me Sharon Jones is an inspiration in many ways. I love her style. Voice, dress, moves, attitude, energy… everything. Alongside Sharon, I draw vocal performance inspiration from a whole host of artists. Etta James, James Brown, Minnie Ripperton, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Charles Bradley, Freddy Mercury,  Imogen Heap….the list goes on. As for what I wear……Hmmmm….my wardrobe is pretty random. I mostly go for stuff that swooshes about a bit and allows me to breathe…..and sweat!!!

SO: If you could give one piece of advice to our audience, what would it be?

Hillman: Wear sunscreen.

SO: Fair enough. Do you have a favorite kind of cheese? Mine is mild cheddar. If you are lactose intolerant, ignore this question. Or be shallow and base your answer on the aesthetics of the cheese. 

Hillman: I’m a fan of all cheeses, but if I had to choose one cheese to go to a desert island with, it would have to be Stilton. I don’t like pre-grated cheese because they put weird power on it to stop it sticking together. The best cheese I ever had was some fresh Mozzarella we had backstage at Alterfesta in Bari, Italy.

Hannah: It was Ricotta. I love cheese. I love stinky cheeses mostly! A chunk of Stilton with a fresh pear… MMMMMMM. Being pregnant right now, I am not allowed ANY soft or blue cheeses! It is quite a sacrifice! Christmas with no Stilton was quite a test!

Hillman: Ricotta yes how could I forget.

SO: Congratulations on the pregnancy, Hannah! Americans are always in awe of the expansive vocabulary of people from the UK. What is one word that you think everyone should include in their daily speech, and why?

Hillman: Flaneur! (Thanks Ed Wren!)

Hannah: Arcipluvian and Ostensibly are 2 of my current favourites! One of my nicknames at University was the Sleeping Thesaurus. 2 of my housemates were working in my room one night. One turned to the other and said, “How do I get this sentence to sound… good??” I apparently sat up in my sleep and recited a beautifully eloquent, reworded sentence then laid straight back down again!

Hillman: Yeah, ostensibly, that’s a good one when you’re arguing.

SO: Depends on how much you argue then, right? If you could choose any artist/act/talent to perform with, who would it be?

Hannah: We’ve supported Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings but I would LOVE to sing WITH her and the Dapettes! That’s musical pornography right there!!!

I would also love to duet with Adele! She’s just got such a unique tone and a seriously powerful set of pipes! I think we’d sound good together. How about it Adele????

SO: Are you cat or dog people? Substantiate your claim. Be careful. This could determine if we run your interview or not.

Hillman: Dogs all the way! I’m ok with cats but really I love how dogs are honest with their emotions. You know when you come home and the dog is happy to see you, there’s no faking. Humans should take a leaf out of their book on that one. Some of my best friends are dogs.

SO: I can see why! Tell us an interesting fact about each of your darling selves.

  • Chloe’s nickname is The Merc – She starred in an AA advert when she was a kid. She missed out on a big break in a Kellogg’s advert because some of the other children were screaming at Tony the Tiger, causing her mom to pull her from the casting.
  • James’ nickname is Fifty – He can recite the capital city of any country you can think of.
  • Jimi met Hillman when he lost to him in a battle of the bands competition. His student house was the pop up recording studio for a previous band’s album that he made with Hillman. One of Hannah’s first vocal sessions was as a backing singer on this album, and she recorded them in the kitchen next to a decaying pile of food. The hygiene situation was so poor in that house that they had to wash the dishes in the bath.
  • Doug doesn’t have a nickname but he does have a game named after him. This involves all the Tastemakers making as much noise as possible for as long as possible whilst shouting “Doug”.
    • Hannah: Doug totally DOES have a nickname!! He’s Captain Cash-tin! This title was bestowed upon him after he proved his worth as a treasurer!!!
      Hillman: Oh yeah he’s got loads actually now I think about it. Captain and also MVP.
    • Hillman can raise either eyebrow, waggle nostrils and ears and also has really stretchy skin. He also is completely unable to put on weight despite the best culinary efforts of many people’s mothers. He currently lives on a houseboat moored near Angel in London.
    • Sabrina met the band when they were on tour in Italy. She was playing in her hometown Cisternino as a support act (JoeYellow Mariano Groove Project) for The Tastemaker headline. After joking that she should join the band, the plan became serious and within a few weeks she had moved to London.
    • Hannah’s burps can perforate eardrums! She has been known to burp mid-note on stage!! She also has a remarkably malleable face and has been referred to as a cartoon many times.
      • Hillman: All of these words are true and I can provide evidence!

SO: Any plans to travel the US anytime soon? We are kind of craving a show out here!

Hannah: Hell yes! We would LOVE to hit the US. No firm plans yet but let’s hope a visit is not too far away! My brother, sister in law and baby nephew live in San Francisco and it would be awesome for them to see us live. It’s been a long time!!! I haven’t even had a cuddle with my nephew yet!!!


SO Note: Follow @HannahFWilliams to keep up with Hannah Williams And The Tastemakers!