Q&A With Hania Rani: New Album Ghosts & Tour

Hania Rani, the mesmerizing 32-year-old Polish-born musician and performer’s third solo album Ghosts will be released on October 6th 2023, on Gondwana Records and in support of the new record she is going out on tour throughout Europe in October, and in Canada and the United States in November and early December.

Ghosts is a suite of 13 tracks that take us on a musical and emotional journey that is, in some ways, a departure for Rani, an exploration of different sounds, rhythms and forms in new songs and music. Starting with haunting synthesizers on Oltre Terra, the album is more synth-driven and features Rani increasingly comfortable using her voice to sing and vocalize. The album also presents several new songs created in collaboration with Patrick Watson, Ólafur Arnalds and Duncan Bellamy (from Portico Quartet) –each adding new elements to Rania’s repertoire.

Tracks like Hello lean towards popular electronica dance tracks, while Don’t break My Heart is a ballad. Whispering House is a subtle delicate work, Dancing with Ghosts (featuring Patrick Watson) is a hauntingly beautiful song, while The Boat is more deeply resonant and a return to piano-driven sound enhanced by synths. The album ends with Nostalgia, a quiet but resonant piano piece which completes the journey.

In advance of her tour and album release, I spoke with Rani via Zoom, from Krakow, Poland. We spoke in English and Rani’s words flowed with the same intensity as her music and her performances. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and concision.

Tom Teicholz: When you were in the Conservatory playing Chopin, what, what made you want to create your own compositions and perform them rather than following a classical path?

Hania Rani: It was a very long process. I was always very inspired (or distracted) by other genres, because music was very present in my home, [with] my family and [later] with my school friends. Also, our musical inspirations were oscillating around classical music but also different genres [such as] Electronic music, indie music [and] Jazz was very important as well… I was listening to so many different kinds of music, I probably felt this need to create something that interests me.

Classical music was something I took [to] very professionally. It was almost like a sacred area. And then the other kinds of music just made me happy. I was spending so much time practicing, sometimes eight or ten hours a day. [Composing my own music] was my way of entertaining myself.

There were two very important moments that motivated me to [perform] my own music. The first was when I was asked to prepare some arrangements for piano and cello of the songs of a very famous Polish rock band [Republika]. [Soon after,] my friend who was running a venue in Warsaw — a really nice venue where they presented a lot of new artists, said, ‘I want you to [be the opening act] for an Icelandic artist. And so, I just had to compose something <laugh>, And then I performed, and it went really well.

TT: How would you describe or categorize the music you play?

HR: Right now, I would say it’s chaos, <laugh> <laugh>. [because] we are presenting this set in Europe throughout the whole of October and, later we come to US and Canada… It’s very eclectic. There is so much electronic synth music [as well as] more old school synth music, like Jean-Michel Jarre and Pink Floyd. And then I have a couple of pianos on stage, and a double bass as well… For me, it’s very important to take listeners on a journey. It’s very intense.

TT: In your performance for Cercle at the Invalides in Paris (which can be viewed on YouTube), you had a whole band. Is that because of the difference between what you can do in the studio and what you can do live? Or is it because you want to play with a band now or both?

HR: Both. First, the organizers of the event wanted something different, something exceptional, because [the performance] was happening at the Place des Invalides, which is a legendary place for the French. Coincidentally, we had already tried out this setup for a performance a year earlier. [At the same time], I love to be alone on stage. As a performer, composer and producing myself, I feel very good just solo but I like, of course, to bring new colors and new emotions to [the performance]. And the most beautiful thing happens [when] people interact with each other – [in] the interactions between musicians and audience, and then between musicians with each other.

I am really keen to change [my stage lineup to have] this feeling of being like a big family, and to also perform solo and carry the narrative on my own. Right now, we are touring as a duo which is also very different and interesting. But I would love to be back with an even bigger ensemble. We are slowly working on it because my new album Ghosts is symphonic [in terms of the music’s] different colors and different instruments. I would love to perform it as a full album with everything that appears there. That would be fantastic.

TT: Tell me about the inspiration for Ghosts.

HR: With this album… I started to compose it in in a very remote place in Switzerland in the Swiss Mountains. I was working on a couple of film scores, and I had just instruments that I use — a couple of keyboards and synthesizers and, my Opera Piano and, obviously, my voice.

With this album, I often started with just a synthesizer, or just my voice [as opposed to] always starting by composing on the piano. Even these little choices made my composing process different. Later, the songs developed in a different way. I was just trying to choose different elements here and there, [perhaps] a different song structure or a different chord. If it felt too familiar, I changed an element. That’s why I’m quite happy [with Ghosts]

Once I captured the mood, I [needed] to find what I wanted to say <laugh>. This topic of Ghosts came [to me] and it was followed by topics such as life and death, and things that scare me.

Once I found [this concept which was] scary but also exciting… everything followed… But it took me a couple of years to find the topic. Usually, I use very simple words for my album titles. Like Home, this one is Ghosts. I like that it’s so common [and] familiar. Thanks to my touring, I meet with so many people, and I see how similar we are. What interests me is what we have in common, and how each culture, each nationality has a different perspective on ghosts, on life, on death or home, or the feeling of loneliness. All of this is extremely, extremely interesting to me.

TT: On Ghosts, you’re using your voice much more, and is some of the voice through a vocoder or processed?

HR: It is. A lot. This was also a very beautiful journey. When I was working on Home, I noticed that I really like to create this alter ego for my own voice and my personality. With this voice I can easily process, edit and add [a] different character or different personality. It really excites me because it’s like another instrument [that creates] new possibilities for me as well.

TT: And you have a lot of guest artists or collaborators on this album such as Patrick Watson, Olafur Arnalds, and Duncan Bellamy.

HR: That was also a decision from the very beginning. If I want to do new music, I need to bring in new people. I cannot do it on my own only. I need to see the other perspective. The people I invited [to collaborate with me] are some of my really favorite artists, and each of them is so different. I hope that I gave them [the] freedom to be themselves.

TT: The collaborations on Ghosts are wide-ranging. Your song Hello, I can almost imagine that being played at a rave in the summer in Ibiza, <laugh> , and Break My Heart is more of a ballad, and Whispering House is so delicate. It really is whispering and then some of the other tracks are more meditative or spiritual. There is a wide range of styles, and feelings from the tracks.

HR: There is a big range of, of feelings. [When I was with] my label manager, I said…I’m all of these little different things, and this is who I am. At the end of the whole album, there is a little piano song, and I thought, we need to keep it because this is me. I’m extreme. I’m a very intense person. That’s why [the album] is so long as well, <laugh>

TT: Tell me about the tour and what someone who goes to see you can expect?

HR: On stage, there’s just two of us, but for me <laugh>, that’s already a lot.

TT:<Laugh>. You could say that compared to performing solo, it’s twice as many people on stage.

HR: Exactly. Because I usually perform alone, surrounded by many keyboard instruments and grand piano, opera, piano and synthesizers, and I have vocals as well. And I have a wonderful friend who is paying double bass and MOOG Synthesizer which is a very important part of the album. We will be performing mostly tracks from the new album. Some people already know [these songs] because I’ve been performing them for a while now.

I will also be presenting some special new songs [along with]… beautiful lights and set design. It’s very exciting for us. I’m a bit scared but I also feel very grateful that I can bring this new album immediately after its premiere to [be performed live].

The live set is a living creature. You need to learn the energy [of the audience]. As for the tracks, you need to, to know what comes after, after another song, what is the tension, how you want to feel yourself . That takes time and you cannot learn it at home. You just need to go on tour <laugh>.

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