There is no denying that Ann Arbor, and the University that calls it home, is special and transformative. The unique energy of the city undoubtedly leaves a lasting impression on those students and residents lucky enough to tread these cultured streets.
This is the feeling that University alum and up-and-coming musician Hannah Elizabeth has.
“I am obsessed with (the University of) Michigan; it’s really where music started for me,” Elizabeth said in an interview with The Michigan Daily.
Elizabeth grew up in West Bloomfield, Mich., a familiar town for many University students. Because of her suburban upbringing, Elizabeth felt it wasn’t until she was in college that she was truly free to express her art.
“I was too afraid to perform until people at school found a video of me and they just blew it up and told me I needed to perform around Ann Arbor,” she said. “It gave me the confidence, courage and support team to actually go about doing it, whereas in West Bloomfield I really did not perform much.”
Growing up, Elizabeth was shy about her interest in the music industry — so shy, in fact, that she wouldn’t even sing in front of her parents. Eventually, in middle school she began letting her parents in on her passion, asking them for guitar lessons and voice lessons. When she landed the lead in her school musical, Hannah’s parents realized their daughter’s talent and have been supportive ever since. Though making her musical talent did not come until later, Hannah’s love of music and drive to be a musician was present all her life.
“I’ve known early on that this is what I want to do,” Elizabeth said. “I would always be singing, I would be very attentive to the music, my dad showed me a bunch at a young age.”
Once Elizabeth was able to embrace her musicality, with the support of her friends and family, she began playing gigs all around town. Potbelly, the first place Elizabeth played in Ann Arbor, would often host open-mic nights. When the young singer-songwriter asked a manager about performing, he set her up with her own private show.
“I would do a Potbelly show every year. I did a huge set, it was so fun,” Elizabeth said. “That’s really when I found my love for performing live.”
The songstress also performed at many of the University clubs and events, including Relay For Life, an annual event that raises money for cancer research and honors survivors.
“Survivors and people who were affected by cancer would speak and I was able to sing at that. It was definitely the most special performance I have ever done,” Elizabeth said. “People would tell these stories about loved ones passing from cancer and then I had to get up and sing. I would be bawling and then go on stage and sing. It was intense but I loved it.”
As a member of Greek life, she had access to a large network of students, other organizations and local charities, which she used to make her music known. During her time at school, she performed at Kappa Kappa Gamma’s Concert on the Lawn.
“I would utilize the Greek Life system to kind of make my own concert,” she said. “We started this Kappa concert thing on the lawn and we would raise money for charities. I would do stuff with Kappa that really helped.”
As far as Elizabeth’s musical tendencies, her music is poppy and radio-friendly, with a dark, emotive current running through it. The young artist doesn’t shy away from being associated with the mainstream, as she wants her art to be easily accessible to as many people possible. Even though she follows pop conventions, Elizabeth made it clear that her work is not a cookie-cutter copy of other popular icons.
“I would say that my music is under the pop umbrella, but it definitely has a more alternative, darker side,” she said. “I define myself as pop because I do want my music to be mainstream – whereas that’s not something that a regular indie artist would say. I want it to reach as many people as possible and if its gonna be mainstream, its gonna be mainstream. Obviously I want it to have my own personal touch to it, I don’t want it to be like any other pop artist.”
Elizabeth listens to any and all music, especially those female artists who share affinity for under the surface, brooding content. As a lyricist herself, she especially appreciates artists who share her passion for words and crafting lyrics.
“I pull from all different artists, all different genres. A lot of the artists that I really appreciate happen to be songwriters as well – Ryan Tedder of One Republic, he’s amazing and just whips out hit songs for so many other artists, and Sia is another person who just writes for everyone,” Elizabeth said. “I love Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus (even though she’s insane). I think they’re very talented and it’s really inspiring to see people my age doing what I want to do.”
Following her passions post-graduation, Elizabeth teamed up with the Artist Refinery, a start-up company based in Arizona. The goal of the Artist Refinery is to help blossoming artists define their sound, become better songwriters and to learn what it is like to be in the music industry – they help get up-and-coming musicians signed with a major record label.
“Basically, I went through this boot camp (in Phoenix), day-in-the-life of what it takes to be an artist,” Elizabeth said. “I woke up at 5 a.m. to workout then I had three hours of choreography, voice lessons, and interview coach and studio time. It’s very small, it’s a start-up. I work with a team of producers, writers, I write for myself, they have a full on team.”
While working with the professionals at the Artist Refinery, Elizabeth pulled heavily from her background as an English major. Initially, Elizabeth did not see herself as a lyricist, but rather as someone with a literature focus. It was not until she was able to work with a song-writing team that she realized how beneficial her academic background would be in her art.
“I read all the time,” she said. “I think that the way that I was able to write was by finding my voice through these creative writing classes at Michigan. Getting the English degree was the best decision, cause I could just take my stories, basically like journal entries, and I could take those and form them into lyrics.”
In true English major fashion, Elizabeth draws inspiration from the words of others — poet Lang Leav, E.E. Cummings, Oscar Wilde, the list goes on.
“She’s like the Taylor Swift of poets; it’s just so relatable,” Elizabeth said of Leav.
The Refinery helped Elizabeth to flesh out the image of who she wants to be as an artist, all the while maintaining her personal voice. She feels strongly about the place that women hold in not only the music industry, but in society as a whole.
“The campaign that Demi Lovato is doing is very personal to me,” she said. “I really think that the whole body image, and people struggling with depression or emotional issues — I want that to be a topic of discussion. And I love how Demi really reps it and lets people know that its normal. Today’s beauty standards are absurd and that would definitely be my message.”
Going forward, Elizabeth looks forward to more live performances, the continued release of her music and, her main goal, getting signed to a major record label. Her latest single, “No Good,” was recently released and has a music video set to release on her YouTube page Oct. 8 for this latest track.
“I love performing live, I definitely see touring as the future. I don’t want to be another hopeful, starving artist. I want to get signed. I want people to hear this song. I want people to hear my music. I’m very determined.”
Check out Hannah Elizabeth’s music on her Soundcloud.