Acoustic Duo HANN to Metal Solstice: “The magic is definitely working in an environment where I can test out my limits”

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Duo HANN—better known as Janica Lönn, Pyry Hanski, Lönn’s vocals, and two guitars—gained steam in 2021 and are on the verge of expanding their catalog, including both covers and new original music.

Their surprise late-2021 EP release included four acoustic Finnish metal covers. First up is Stam1na’s “Kannoin sinut läpi hiljaisen huoneen” which is pleasantly melodic and has garnered the most HANN Spotify streams. Insomnium’s “Valediction” comes before a hushed, expressive version of Amorphis’ perennially popular “House of Sleep”. The cover of Ghost Brigade’s “Secrets of the Earth” drips emotion, highlighting Lönn’s vocal talents and the pair’s aptitude for reinvention.

In their first-ever interview, HANN dished up details to Metal Solstice on their vision for the duo’s future, the feedback they’ve received from the bands whose work they’ve reimagined, and the creative compatibility that acoustically binds them.

Metal Solstice: Not much has been discussed about the formation of HANN, other than you were both involved in Black Sun Aeon. Can you discuss your origins, including how and why you came back together?

Janica Lönn: I think we’ve always had a connection through music, me and Pyry. Both of us are very open minded, and in some senses like-minded, when it comes to what music we like and how we think about music in general. We like similar solutions and soundscapes and our interpretations often overlap. I think this was something that connected us already while working with BSA.

I can’t really remember how it actually started other than that we had a practice acoustic duo before duo HANN, testing out our idea. For me personally it was about finding my way back to music again after years of putting it on the sideline.

Pyry Hanski: For me it was all about doing something else musically. I’ve been playing in various metal bands for over 10 years now, and I really wanted and needed to do something completely different. As Janica said, we’ve always had a very good connection through music, and she was the first and only person that came to my mind when I started to think that I want to form an acoustic duo.

Black Sun Aeon was the band where we got to know each other and to play together for the first time but we have actually played acoustic stuff together before HANN. Back in 2013 we did a few acoustic shows here in Finland with Before The Dawn and eventually recorded a whole album of acoustic versions of Before The Dawn’s, Black Sun Aeon’s and Dawn of Solace’s songs. Janica shared the singing duties on that with Mikko Heikkilä (known from Kaunis Kuolematon, Black Sun Aeon and Dawn of Solace) back then and I guess that’s when the idea of playing more acoustic stuff was planted in my brain.

MS: What are some of the challenges of acoustically reimagining Finnish metal, especially in two languages? Do you feel comfortable taking creative risks, and perhaps pushing far from the original?

Lönn: A fun challenge is finding the vocal melodies where there are none to be found in the original and that’s actually something that I’ve always done. My main instrument is my voice so I tend to listen to music with that as a priority. Since I don’t really growl but listen to a lot of metal in which they do, I have the tendency to sing on the growl parts and sort of make up my own melodies for them. Oftentimes there is a guitar lead or keys or something similar in the background that forms the melodies.

The most challenging is probably fitting the whole idea and soundworld of a song with a variety of different instruments, into two guitars and one voice without losing essential bits of the original. That is one reason for why I had to pick up the guitar, so we could expand our interpretations a bit.

When it comes to risks I guess we are quite comfortable. If we like something we do it, if we don’t then we don’t. We’ve become pretty good at trusting our own vision.

In making the Stam1na “Kannoin sinut läpi hiljaisen huoneen” cover we had to make up our own stuff to make it work. That one is probably pushed the farthest from the original in terms of musical solutions. Our version of Ghost Brigade’s “Secrets of the Earth” again is in my opinion the one that we pushed the furthest in terms of interpretation and feel. The original feels more like a bystander or outsider just looking at the passing world while our version feels more frustrated, like running out in the traffic and demanding action.

MS: How do you choose songs to arrange, and what is your process; are they personal favorites, and/or do you try out many until one fits? Is there a “dream” cover or arrangement you’d like to do someday?

Lönn: We’ve always gone with what we find interesting or with what we like. If one of us is inspired by the song it is usually worth a try. The process depends a bit from cover to cover, but it usually starts with me creating a loose interpretation of the song. Sometimes, if it is a song I’m already familiar with, we do it on the spot in practice, but if it is a song unfamiliar to me I usually need to listen to it a couple of times. Just enough to get a hang of the melodies and over all structure, but not so much that I learn the mannerisms of the original artist by heart. 

When I have a feel of it then take a hold of the guitar and try it out. Then I send Pyry a very homemade “it-could-be-something-like-this-version” and then he takes it from there. I seem to work very much from feel and I can’t really explain how I want it until I’ve tried it a couple of times to see how it comes naturally to me. For me it was a surprise when I listened to Ghost Brigade’s original after we made ours. I really hadn’t realized that our interpretation of it was so much more aggressive than the original.

Hanski: Yep, that’s how the process usually goes. Not sure about any “dream” cover but one good example of us being comfortable taking risks is that we have had some talks about making an acoustic version of Mayhem’s “Freezing Moon”. Let’s see what the future holds!

Duo HANN, 2021. Photo credit: Fredrik Lindberg.

MS: You quickly snuck out an EP release onto streaming platforms, followed by a live show in late 2021; the HANN wheels are in motion! What is currently in the works for the two of you?

Would you ever release your own original music as a duo?

Lönn: Right now I think we are at the point where we should start figuring out what happens next. We have talked about our own original material being the next logical step for us, so let’s see what we come up with. 

Hanski: Even though doing all these covers is great fun and I guess that will always be a part of HANN, it feels that both of us have really started to have this urge to try to compose our own material too. So yeah, writing our own songs is quite surely the next step for us.

MS: What comments have you received from the original artists on HANN’s music so far- Amorphis, Stam1na, Insomnium, former Ghost Brigade guys, etc.- who are effectively both colleagues and friends of yours?

Hanski: I’ve talked with some of the guys about our covers and they all have seemed to like our versions of their songs. Probably my favorite comment came from Stam1na’s Antti who said that our acoustic cover of “Kannoin sinut läpi hiljaisen huoneen” “…is a brave version of the song.” I’m still not entirely sure what he meant by that! [Laughs.]

Lönn: The guys from Insomnium really liked our cover, so much that they even shared it with their label, earning us even more praise from them. They also proceeded to post the video on their Facebook page showing us great support and really setting us off for a great start. 

MS: Why do Deep Noise Studios and Saku Moilanen continue to be the right home for recording, mixing, and mastering the HANN catalog so far?

Lönn: Saku is a great guy, very professional sound engineer and a friend of ours and since we both have been working with him before he was a very natural choice for us. But who knows where we end up in the future.

MS: Speaking of the recent EP for example, there were some subdued moments on “House of Sleep”, and in contrast you both really unleashed on “Secrets of the Earth”, testing the limits of one voice and two guitars. For you, what is the magic of being half of HANN? Similarly, can newcomers to your duo expect from a live performance?

Lönn: For me the magic is definitely working in an environment where I can test out my limits. What I’ve learned from my work as a photographer is that people often expect that when you start doing something creative every single idea should be mind-blowing, otherwise it’s not worth mentioning. As if the first idea always would be the best and most right idea. What I’ve found is that sometimes you need to try out a million stupid ideas and grab ahold of parts of someone else’s bad idea, to find the one that you feel like works for the specific case at hand. For me one of the best parts is the work environment that we’ve built together in which I feel that I can explore my ideas and my voice without judgment. 

Hanski: My taste in music has always been quite broad and that’s the reason why I play in so many different bands and projects. I just wouldn’t be completely satisfied if I would have to play only one type of music. One of the things I enjoy the most with HANN is that I get to play whichever song I feel like without being limited by genres in any way. And I can’t stress enough how privileged and lucky I am to get to do all this with such an amazing artist, singer and musician as Janica! I would say that one can expect from our live performance a large variety of different emotions. Our set list always consists of songs from gloomy tunes to killer party hits!

Listen to HANN on Spotify here:

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