A picture may be worth a thousand words, but for Hannah Noel, one specific picture was worth a song, which she delivered in the form of her newest single, “Don’t Ya James?”
What started out as an assignment in her songwriting program at Belmont University quickly became much more after Noel drew inspiration from a photo of herself and her brother, James, at a football game. Unfortunately, there’s a fraternity of people who have that “James” in their lives, and Noel eloquently speaks directly to them with the building emotion of the song.
We chatted with Noel all about “Don’t Ya James,” as well as her musical roots, her plans for new music, taking her music on the road and more!
Pro Country: Can you tell us some of your earliest musical influences who have had an impact on shaping your sound?
Hannah Noel: I grew up listening to southern rock bands like the Allman Brothers Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival. As I got older and branched out in my music taste on my own, aside from the influence of my family, I fell in love with Miranda Lambert’s music. I think I was drawn to her music because of the spunk and vulnerability she gives her audience in a variety of her songs. As a songwriter, I am extremely influenced by Jason Isbell and Brandi Carlile. They both do such a good job a putting the listener in the place of the writer, or whoever is telling the story. They use imagery that makes me feel like I am in the song, and I hope to do that for my audience as well.
PC: When did you realize you could/wanted to pursue music as a career?
HN: Pursuing music has been my plan for as long as I can remember. I was 12 years old when I first started documenting songs that I had written, and I never stopped. God and music are the backbone of my existence, and both have always been there for me. I remember writing papers on one day playing the Grand Ole Opry when I was in middle school. I asked my mom recently if I ever played with dolls as I kid, because I do not have any memories of that, and she told me no, everything was always a show. I was always making my little brother and sister put on shows with me for our parents or if we had company over. Performing has always been the plan, and it always will be.
PC: Your debut single, “Jackpot,” was released in 2020 and has since earned over 60,000 streams. What did the positive response and streaming numbers mean to you? Was it at all important to receive that praise from your debut release to build momentum moving forward?
HN: It still shocks me that the first song I ever released, a song I wrote at 17, is my biggest song to date. I remember going into the studio to cut my EP, and the plan was to only record “Jackpot” if we had extra time left over. We happened to have roughly 20 minutes left in the session, so we recorded “Jackpot” on the first take, and that is what you hear on the record. I always loved the song, but it truly came to life in the studio. The response I have received on “Jackpot” has blown me away and means more to me than I can describe. Putting music into the world is my passion, and for my passion to be received with love is more than I could ever ask for.
PC: Your 2021 single “Doin’ Just Fine” features a fuller, more 90s-country reminiscent sound. Was that sonic lane something that happened intentionally, or did it happen naturally with the song in the studio?
HN: The sound of “Doin’ Just Fine” happened naturally. I am big fan of having real drums on my records and all real instrumentation from the studio, and I think that played a large part in bringing the 90s country sound to life. Although the 90’s country style was never discussed, I definitely hear that influence in the song as well. I always want my music to have obvious traditional country roots, and I think 90s country has that as well.
PC: Why did you feel that your newest single, “Don’t Ya James?,” was the right follow up to “Doin’ Just Fine”?
HN: “Doin’ Just Fine” is a fun, upbeat song that covers a topic in a care free manner, and “Don’t Ya James?” is quite the opposite of that. I loved both of the songs and wanted to release them both, but I felt like giving my fans a fun summer song would be best considering it was being released mid-July, and it had been a year since I had last released music.
PC: “Don’t Ya James?,” is a reminiscent solo write. Can you take us in the room and talk about the inspiration behind the song?
HN: I wrote “Don’t Ya James?” alone in my living room, late at night shortly after I had just moved to Nashville. It was a school assignment for a songwriting class I was in at the time to write a song on an object that has meaning to you. The only picture I had in my room at the time, and still the only photo, is a framed photo of my brother, James, and I at a University of Georgia football game. This heavily inspired the line, “Our perfect picture, it’s a permanent fixture, left behind and brought with me all the same.” Not only is my brother’s name James, but it is also my Dad and grandfather’s name. When I sat down to write the song, I knew I was writing to them. I was missing them dearly, but also felt guilty that I was the happiest I had ever been in my life, but it was also the first time my Dad and brother weren’t by my side. As the song progresses, the more emotional it becomes, and I hope that others think of the “James’” in their lives.
PC: “Don’t Ya James” has earned well over 20,000 streams in just a few months since its release. How encouraging was it to come out of the gate strong with “Don’t Ya James”? What do you think it is about the song that has allowed it to connect with listeners?
HN: Extremely encouraging. When releasing music, I never expect a specific number or a certain amount of success. “Don’t Ya James?” is a conversational song, and I have found audiences connect with simplicity. There are still very poetic aspects to the song, however, I do not feel like the listener gets lost because of that. I think everyone has someone in their lives that has supported them, loved them for a long time and believed in them, even when we do not believe in ourselves, and “Don’t Ya James?” shines a light on that relationship.
PC: You’re currently enrolled in Belmont University’s Songwriting Program. What has the experience been like for you of being surrounded by so much collective talent and learning from people with so much experience?
HN: Belmont has been the most welcoming and accepting community I have ever been a part of. The songwriting program has strongly shaped me into the songwriter I am today. Every professor I have ever had has been willing to help me in whatever way they can, and I am extremely grateful. I could not speak highly enough of Belmont and their Songwriting Program. I have met some of my favorite co-writers through classes, including my lovely co-writer Kaitlyn Riley, who I wrote “Doin’ Just Fine” with.
PC: Your bio mentions that you’re continuously recording new music. What information, if any, can you give about any forthcoming releases? What can listeners expect to hear?
HN: I always like to have music “in the vault.” I have songs ready to release, and I am very excited for you to hear them soon! The listeners can expect fun, honky tonk summer songs and poetic, metaphorical ballads; I know those are quite different things, but done right, I think they can complement each other very well.
PC: Of the things you can control, what are your plans for 2022?
HN: My plans for 2022 are to play as many full band shows as possible, as many places as possible. I love playing around Nashville, but I would love to play more shows in other states! I am excited to write more songs than I have ever written and put them out into the world.
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
HN: Songwriting makes my world go round. Songwriters give people hope. We get to make people feel seen, heard and understood. Our creation gets the privilege of being someone’s comforter when there is no one else around. At the end of the day, all I want to do is love people the best I can, and I think by creating music, I am doing that. If I get to create a space for the listener to be sad or angry even, then I am happy to hold their hand through that. I hope that I can make people feel more deeply and authentically themselves, even if it is for 3 minutes and 30 seconds. I love being able to do what I love with people I love by my side, whether that’s my bands mates, friends, or even family always having my back all the way in south Georgia. Having the opportunity to be an artist is something that I will always be grateful for. Thank you for listening to my music and believing in a piece of me!
*Hannah’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*