Hannah Kaminer cultivates community on new album

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Hannah Kaminer, second from left, recruited members of her tightknit music community to play on her new album, "Heavy on the Vine." Also featured, starting left, Kevin Williams, Ross Montsinger, Jackson Dulaney and Melissa Hyman. Photo by John Dupre

Hannah Kaminer didn’t plan on taking six years between albums. But in a lot of ways, she appreciates the extra time — even if it meant restarting some hard-earned momentum.

The Asheville-based singer-songwriter’s Heavy on the Vine, released Jan. 5, finds her back in the groove she was in following her 2018 LP, Heavy Magnolias. In the interim, Kaminer weathered the numerous challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s her personal growth as an individual and artist that’s most evident on the new collection — including shedding parts of herself that had long seemed vital to her existence.

Conflict resolutions

Kaminer played as much as possible during the pandemic. And when touring again became a reality, she hit the road as the opener for Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters in spring 2022. Throughout, she kept writing while also freeing herself of student loan debt and a crisis of faith.

“I went through a big personal evolution of like, ‘I don’t think I’m a church person anymore. I think I need to figure out a different way to exist in the world.’ And that just took a lot of energy,” says Kaminer, who confronts religion directly on the track “Everlasting Arms.”

“The songs that ended up on the album span 2019-22,” she continues. “I was still writing at our first rehearsals and that was very uncomfortable. But it was good, too.”

The last-second additions encouraged the bracingly topical album opener “Asheville.” The song pays tribute to the area’s natural wonders and some of the quirky artists — including Abby “The Spoon Lady” Roach — and residents who give the city its distinct creative flavor. But Kaminer’s lyrics also bluntly criticize the forces that are threatening nature, pushing artists out of town and making it difficult to earn a living.

Despite these difficult times for local creatives, Kaminer believes that artists are going to make art regardless of circumstances. “We have to, or else we’ll go crazy,” she says. “It’s a vocation. You sort of feel like that’s what you can give the world.”

She’s also confident that there will always be people in Asheville who value art and do what they can to aid that community, be it cheaply renting out their basement to an artist in need or loaning out a spare car. However, she notes that such generosity isn’t a long-term solution.

“You can’t have a huge population of artists sustained on the kindness of a few people. And so I think in terms of working-class artists, we need to do something very quickly about affordable housing and on a very large scale. If we don’t, I don’t think that Asheville is going to retain its flavor,” she says.

Already, Kaminer feels that some of the city’s weirdness has been lost. “I still love it,” she says. “It’s still a beautiful place to live. I feel like I have the best artist community that I could have anywhere. But I think the amount of creativity that it takes to survive economically is pretty tremendous.”

We are family

Funding Heavy on the Vine involved a successful Kickstarter campaign. Kaminer also recruited some of her key supporters to flesh out her latest songs. Contributors include Kevin Williams (piano/keys), Melissa Hyman (bass), Jackson Grimm (banjo), Olivia Springer (fiddle), Jackson Dulaney (pedal steel guitar) and Ross Montsinger (drums).

“I took that feeling of wanting this to be a group effort … and took it into [rehearsals],” Kaminer says. “I basically said, ‘I want this to be haunting, because I have some grief that I want to write about. But I also want it to be fun and playful because I get to play with you guys.’ They’re some of the best around and they’re just funny, kind, interesting people, too.”

Such support emboldened Kaminer to take the leap and produce the record on her own. Returning to Echo Mountain Recording and reuniting with Julian Dreyer, who co-produced Heavy Magnolias with Kaminer and has engineered all three of her albums, she told him her thoughts about taking the reins. He said the decision made sense and that she was ready for that role.

“To hear that from him was awesome,” she says. “But I also knew that if I got over my head, I could go to him and say, ‘How do I learn this?’”

The results are another sonically rich Hannah Kaminer collection — as well as another album title that starts with the word “Heavy” and concerns flower references and metaphors. Kaminer says the title track from Heavy Magnolias is a literal nod to the beauty of that particular blossoming tree, inspired by her time at West Asheville’s community Peace Garden, where she contemplated her life beyond the church.

She says gardening nurtured her in ways other activities could not. She became transfixed by the need to cull ripening fruit and vegetables during summer in order to encourage a healthy fall harvest. That sense of impending seasonal change and its parallels with human relationships greatly informed the song “Heavy on the Vine.”

“Time keeps going, and there are these moments where you just really want to pause and stay there. I felt frustrated by that for a long time — they’re beautiful moments and you can’t stay there. And even if you did, it would go stale and there would be some kind of problem with it,” Kaminer says.

“I’m fascinated by that, and I think that the plant language is the easiest for me to reach for because I’m more in touch with it now, being more of a gardener. I’m not a great gardener, but I have fun with it.”

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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