In 2010 vocalist Durand Barnarr released an EP entitled “8ight: The Stepson of Erykah Badu,” which featured him singing a compilation of Badu’s songs. Barnarr also noticed at the time that there were a lot of other artists influenced by Badu’s melodic, jazzy, lyrical voice that was uniquely Badu. Barnarr tagged these new artists as “Badu Babies” or those mimicking her style of her singing.
Grand Rapids singer, songwriter and musician Hannah Laine could be put into that category. Erykah Badu has played a major influence on her own life – musically and spiritually.
“I found her music at a peak point of my development as an artist and my autonomy as an artist,” Laine says. “She really spoke to me. Her songs are so empowering. She is a free spirit and expressive and that is everything I wanted as an artist. I became a super fan. As we listen to the artist we like, we tend to mimic some of the things they do. Along that path too, I’ve had to make sure that I’m not just trying to be her. She’s incredible. I love her.”
The talented singer, who grew up in Rockford, started performing and singing at an early age as her dad was a performer, and she would join him on stage at times. After graduating from Michigan State University in 2016, Laine jumped into the music scene pretty quickly when finding a “big girl” job didn’t really work out. Instead, she joined a cover band and worked at a coffee shop to make ends meet. It was a leap of faith.
“I was honest with myself in one moment getting frustrated that I wasn’t getting any leads on jobs and realized I wasn’t really passionate about any of these jobs that I was applying for and really just saw that my passion was in music,” says Laine. “Life is short. I realized that. And I realized I didn’t want to spend my life doing something I wasn’t ecstatic to do and share. I came to see that my passions were really important to me and that if I didn’t follow them, I would have regrets.”
Mimicking different sounds becomes an instrument
Laine’s singing style is melodic, and it changes beats and pitches within one song line, hitting high notes, then lower ones, using shorter sounds then longer ones. Laine sees her voice as just another instrument. Badu’s influence is apparent, but Laine’s sound also comes from mimicking noises and using sounds from her background with meditation.
“It comes from allowing myself to explore and explore sounds that can come from mimicry too. Mimicking sounds that you hear in the world like birds or animals or horns or traffic. Mimicking sounds that you hear in jazz music too. Hearing a singer do a really cool vocal and mimicking that. Trying anything and everything. That and also some meditation too – doing sound meditation, chanting and toning and holding and playing with vowels and listening to the different harmonics that are brought out as you change vowels and hold a pitch. I think this space of exploration has brought about whatever sounds I make.”
Laine has brought this sound to her solo music but also to the Grand Rapids band Earth Radio, a popular group of eclectic musicians. Her lyricism has been a great fit with the band, who just released a new EP on March 17 called “Mosaic.” Earth Radio, a “future-soul” band, started playing together in 2017. Members Justin Avdek (bass, vocals), Laine (keys, vocals), Dutcher Snedeker (keys, synthesizer), and David Ward (drums, percussion) put out a dream-like, keyboard-heavy sound that combines unique elements of jazz, funk, soul and other genres. Laine has really loved being a part of the band.
“I love that anything goes musically in this band, and we have our own style and sound and everyone is open to weird and different ideas,” says Laine. “It is a cool collaborative process. How we’ve written in the past is that one of us will bring a song to the group and we’ll just morph it and see where it takes us from there. I’ve really enjoyed that. We do like to improvise and draw out sections and go with what feels right and not be too constrained to a form. That has allowed me to explore my instrument vocally.”
Handling the hustle of being a professional musician
Although she has no regrets in making music her life, Laine admits that being a full-time singer/performer is a constant hustle. Besides her solo work and Earth Radio, she has a number of different projects she is a part of to keep moving forward. Last year she opened up a new vocal studio called “Seed Sound Studios” where she creates her work and also does some vocal coaching for other singers, supporting them in finding their own voices. Also, she is playing with Max Lockwood and Eric O’Daly, both of whom have their own bands and she is collaborating with musician Lauren Johnson. And Laine has her own Patreon page where subscribers can get a glimpse of her creative process along with hearing her original sound loops of her voice, piano and beats. It has been a great platform for her to share all of her creative endeavors with her fans.
Earth Radio Courtesy Loren Johnson
“It’s been lovely to have a space where I can share unpolished work openly with people who really want to see it, and I’m excited to see what blossoms out of this,” says Laine. “[I’m] trying to make this a career. I don’t think that money should be the main focus when making art but when you have to make a living as an artist, you have to try to promote it and try to grow in a financial way too and that can be a tricky and frustrating thing to navigate. That hustle can be a little strenuous. I’m trying to make things work in the best way that I can.”
And to help focus her mind and keep a balance when things get stressful is Laine’s other passion in her life: yoga and meditation.
“There is so much depth and wisdom and knowledge, but I feel that when I practice,” says Laine. “I feel I am coming closer to myself. My mind quiets and I feel myself living and being, and I just become more aware of the interconnectedness of everything in the universe and that helps me step out of my monkey mind. I just feel peace.”
You can check out Hannah Laine’s solo singing, collaboration with Earth Radio, and other creative endeavors on her website
Bill Lee is a journalist and freelance writer who lives in Lowell, Michigan. He enjoys sharing his fiction, family humor columns and stories about real people. You can contact him at [email protected] or find more of his writing at https://medium.com/@bisbeelee
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