Looking back on Acre by Acre, her first professional recording, Hannah Kaminer is quick to admit that she didn’t know what she was doing. To craft the eight-song Americana collection in 2015, the Asheville-based singer-songwriter recruited friends whom she considers stronger musicians to help produce it, and she learned a lot in the process.
“I had a really positive experience, but it also felt like being under a microscope. Everything that I needed to work on kind of came to the surface, but also some good things came to the surface. I realized, ‘Oh, I can sing,’ which people had been telling me, but now I heard myself,” Kaminer says. “Realizing I really wanted to improve my guitar skills and my understanding of music theory, I kind of came out of that first process, thinking, ‘OK, I think I’m a little more ready to stand on my own, and I don’t know that I need to depend on other people to help me produce the album — and I need to get to work.’”
In approaching her full-length follow-up, Heavy Magnolias — launching Sunday, March 18, at The Grey Eagle — Kaminer volunteered and took classes through Warren Wilson College’s Swannanoa Gathering, where she met multi-instrumentalist Josh Goforth. She says she’s still processing the year of knowledge gained from Goforth’s lessons, but that his guidance has greatly helped the self-described “intuitive writer” regarding music theory. She also started taking upright bass lessons with Aubrey Eisenman from The Clydes.
“That really helped improve my guitar, oddly enough, because I was starting to understand the bass lines and a little bit more about rhythm and dynamics that I had kind of just not ever been aware of before, so it really opened up a whole world,” Kaminer says. “As an adult learner of music, sometimes it helps to go [with] an indirect method. You’re not able to be so analytical. You’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m just playing bass,’ and then you realize later, ‘No, actually, that made me better.’”
Prior to entering and winning the Brown Bag Songwriting Competition in 2013, Kaminer had never really performed. Through the aforementioned educational efforts and a growing number of gigs, she learned what works and doesn’t work onstage, all of which made a significant impact on her art. “I realized I want to write songs that have more energy to them and are more fun to perform, and learning upright bass played into that,” she says.
Acre by Acre was written after Kaminer’s parents’ divorce, when she had copious questions about home and family. Feeling more settled, she began writing one of the first songs for Heavy Magnolias right after the first album was completed, while also figuring out romantic relationships.
“I got some really hard answers about, like, sometimes people aren’t who you think they are. Or there’s so much shame and fear involved with being vulnerable and being willing to sign up for, ‘Yes, I will allow someone to know me.’” she says. “There’s a lot going on besides just boy meets girl or girl meets girl or whatever.”
By grasping the high risks involved in embarking upon a relationship, Kaminer realized she doesn’t blame people who “numb out” from a desire not to feel anymore. By asking, “Is this going to work?” she also found herself wondering, “Is there something beyond that?” as a response to feeling like modern culture is obsessed with everyone finding his or her one true love. The conclusion she came to is that there is definitely more to life, an epiphany that she addresses in the last two songs she wrote for Heavy Magnolias.
“‘Old Heart’ basically was me being like, ‘I don’t want to allow heartbreak to rule my life, to debilitate me for months at a time,’” she says. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m disappointed, but I’m going to keep going.’”
Album closer “Set a Table” came out of talking with a friend who was struggling with how she could contribute to society. The two got to speaking about hospitality and figuring out how to live with their neighbors, especially those with whom they disagree. Kaminer says she still has many questions about this difficult topic, but discussing the difference that can be made by opening one’s home and table to others led to what she calls the transcendent piece of the album.
“I think the unconditional welcome is something that I’m marveling at. I’ve experienced it before in my life where people open their home to me and that has been a really transformational force,” she says. “I’m really excited about writing things like that and not just broken-heart songs — but I have a lot of those, too.”
WHO: Hannah Kaminer and Heartbreak Highlight Reel with Doss Church
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave., thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Sunday, March 18, 8 p.m. $10 advance/$12 day of show