'Aw Hell! It's Time For Some Morning Monkey Madness!'
When midwest native, Hannah Fairlight, moved to Raelyn Nelson's hometown of Nashville, TN, the people of the village kept confusing them for one another ... so they formed a band sometime in mid-December of 2016!
The pair have individually gained a lot of traction with their solo projects, but the universe pushed them together to form an acoustic duo that is “clever as the dickens” and “envelope pushing” (Nashville Arts Magazine).
Their “modern day Hee-Haw Show” has grabbed the attention of the Nashville music scene with features in the East Nashvillian’s Women in Music issue that claimed mmhmm was “the breakout duo of the year.”
With catchy melodies, pretty harmonies, Fairlight on acoustic guitar, Nelson on ukulele, both donned with chaps, it’s no wonder that the pair have been voted the “Cutest band around” by local publications.
So, just what makes the talented duo work so well? “There are no "no’s" in mmhmm,” Hannah says. “Mmhmm,", agrees Raelyn.
Exclusive Magazine recently caught up with the two lovely ladies for an indepth chat about everything from what other names the band might well have been called, that fateful night they met, their one and only fight, why they wear chaps, and, of course, penguins!
OK, getting to the bottom of this from the off, why name the band mmhmm ... and what other names were being thrown around at the time?
Hannah: "mmhmm happened the night of a Lukas Nelson POTR concert. I said it to a backup singer chick that showed up late and was being bossy, and Raelyn and I couldn’t let it go. The Jezzabells was a name suggested to us that we considered for a couple minutes. But once mmhmm was in the hat, nothing could trump it."
Raelyn: "mmhmm ... as soon as the idea for “mmhmm” being the band name came into the picture, there wasn’t anything else that could beat it!"
Your live shows, and subsequent debut album, has been described as a "modern day Hee-Haw show," but is that a genuine compliment to your musical craft?
Hannah: "We take the hee-haw reference as a compliment! Honestly, it was what we naturally started going for: a lighthearted music show with shtick comedy sprinkled in. We know we are musical people and so this show allows us to break away from our more serious solo projects and show a different side that is silly, spontaneous, and still strong and rockin'. We really just want to make people laugh and feel good."
Raelyn: "Even the name “hee-haw” is just a sound you make like “mmhmm”! I laughed when we first heard the comparison of us and the legendary comedy show. Our humor is definitely on par with those writers!"
All we know is that you guys met each other when Hannah had moved to Raelyn's hometown of Nashville, TN, forming a band in mid-December 2016. But, what we don't know is exactly how that initial meeting went. So, please set the scene for us.
Hannah: "Raelyn and I met in a crazy time for both of us. It was fall of 2013. Raelyn’s band was starting to take off and I was on a reality TV show based in Nashville, and lots of musicians were tuning in."
"Well, Raelyn saw me on it and tweeted out to me 😂 and eventually came to one of my shows. We clicked immediately. She was wearing bandanas and bell bottoms and was so cool. When I found out she had three children, I was shocked. How do you raise three kids and manage a band?, I asked her. “Weed and lots of strong coffee,” she answered. Instant breast friends."
Raelyn: "Hannah and I got close in 2016 when my house burned down New Year’s Day! I was relocated to a spot about a mile from her and we were together a lot. Not only that, she brought over half of her belongings to me because I had lost everything."
"She had her new born son in tow as she came over with three big garbage bags and suitcases full of stuff. We bonded a lot through that experience and started writing songs together."
There is simply no way that two young people living in such close confines of each other, writing together, journeying on the road together, won't have had a spat or two. So, with that in mind, what was your very first argumentative discussion about ... and who won?
Hannah: "There has been one major “spat” ... and we both won! It was a heated time as one of our songs went under fire and we had to pull it from the record. That following week we were on the road with Todd Snider and emotions were high over the song debacle. We had too many beers and late after the show we started yelling at each other."
"Ultimately, we were aggressively opening and closing my van door so much that we wound up pulling it off its hinge. It’s funny now since we resolved it but at the time kind of heartbreaking. I’d never want to lose my friend over some stupid argument having to do with our work. We both learned a lot and it’s important to know how your friends fight. 😂 We’re thinking about incorporating it into a music video."
Raelyn: "Bahahahahahhahahahahhaahha ..."
Looking at the front cover of the debut self-titled album, and given the fun associated with the recording of these tracks contained within it, why no smiles?
Hannah: "I guess we wanted people to see it and not know what they were getting. It’s just pretty straightforward, and we look similar, and I feel like the name and that will draw you in. And then you can be (hopefully pleasantly) caught off guard by what you hear and see inside. I feel like it’s a smirky underneath smile."
Raelyn: "I do, too. I can see the smiles in our expressions."
Being that it's self-titled, which is usually the go-to for album release number three, what other titles were so very close to being chosen?
Hannah: "Oof. The only alternates in the running were “Aw Hell” and Morning Monkey Madness (M.M.M.). But we thought that might be too confusing. And the second one isn’t true." 😂
Raelyn: "I think we thought of naming it Eclipse when we thought the album would come out right before the solar eclipse, but it was pushed back and mmhmm seemed the way to go after that. Mmhmm is a lifestyle, after all."
Listening to your album, and the intro's attached to most of them, and it's immediately obvious you had a fun time recording each track. In fact, they sound like first or second takes live in the studio, to be quite honest. Is that how they came to be or is there more to this story?
Hannah: "We approached the recording with a live feel. We wanted it to feel somewhat like a live show. We also didn’t want to dump any big production or instrumentation on it. We wanted to be able to play live essentially what was recorded."
"In fact, we had played the songs live so much by the point we started recording that we felt that was an integral sound to mmhmm. Our producer Brad Jones did a beautiful job of incorporating or suggesting certain instruments or parts without compromising the simple mmhmm sound. When we play live it’s just guitar, ukulele, stomp box, and tambourine. Mmmmhhhmmmmmmmmmmm."
Raelyn: "It was important to us that our first album gave the audience a little bit of what it’s like at a live show with the mmhmm gals."
Talking of these songs, I get the feeling that there were many more written (and maybe even recorded) that weren't chosen for album - so, what happens to those now?
Hannah: "We have several songs in the works for the next album. And we have a back log of silly songs that maybe we’ll put out on a B-side album someday."
Raelyn: "mmhmm album 2 is almost written!"
And, with that in mind, please tell us more about where these four songs originated:
'Aw Hell' - Hannah: "We were sitting on my back porch and it started to rain. We started writing a song about a break up and all the stuff that feels wrong, but somehow hopeful in the wake of that."
Raelyn: "'Aw Hell' is a song about all the feelings experienced the first few minutes after a break up. Trying to figure out how to accept it and move on while also freaking out emotionally. Aw hell."
'Up In Smoke (Don't It Have To Wait)' - Hannah: "This one is about a conglomerate of things we’ve had to be patient through. We both have had crazy things happen as we parent children and pursue our music careers. It’s about all that."
Raelyn: "This is the song about the true stories of life and having to wait and be patient."
'Mama's Little Yella Pils' - Hannah: "This is about a desperate mom going a little off the rails on beer."
Raelyn: "This song was inspired by a time in my life when I was drinking a lot of Mama’s Lil Yella Pills and the situations that were happening around that time."
'3am And Sake' - Hannah: "Sometimes artists write about debauchery, late nights, and love affairs, but that’s not what this song is about!"
Getting Personal with ... Not Hannah!
Being Willie's granddaughter, at what age did you figure out just how BIG a musical icon he truly was? Indeed, what moment was it that provided you with that eyes/mouth wide open gasp? "Hmmmmm, he’s always just been my grandpa and he’s always been on the road, “working.” My most surreal moment was when I heard his voice coming through on the Moon Song track for the first time. He was singing and playing MY song; I felt honored and special."
You also have the side project of the Raelyn Nelson Band which has just released a brand-new single, 'Mama Cry.' How does that band differ to this duo? "I get to be a little more free with Hannah in song writing. It’s way easier to sing about orgasms with your breast friend than with your band guys" 😏
That song was also co-written by your little sister, Scout, so just how easy is it for you to write catchy songs, whether solo, with Hannah or for the RNB? "I’m a melody girl. I’ve always been able to come up with a catchy melody. That and rhyming word patterns with the melodies are my favorite part of song writing and what I feel I’m best at. There’s a melody or two running through my head constantly."
Getting Personal with ... Not Raelyn!
You are not only a musician, but a TV personality (Crazy Hearts) and movie star (Pitch Perfect 3) too! So, how do you (or would you) prioritize them, when multiple offers come in and you are also trying to write/record music? "It’s a trapeze act. I swing from one thing to the next and hope I don’t fall. 😂 Seriously though, I don’t mind having too many offers. I’d rather that than not enough."
"And I’m interested in a lot of things. I have worked and still work behind the camera for years, so it has been refreshing and exciting to be in front. It’s also way less heavy than an audio mixing bag. 😂 I can say, my mind is constantly writing music about what’s happening around me."
"So regardless of what I’m working on or whether or not I’m working on a recording or writing a song actively, music for me is always in some state of being born. It can be frustrating to be on another job when I have a good song idea come down the pipes. But mama’s gotta bring home the bacon!"
"Whatever brings bacon usually becomes the priority. I grab the songs as they come and demo them when I can. My son is almost 3 so he’s a huge priority for me as well."
You've mentioned that you are David Bowie and Patti Smith-inspired, so have you ever met either one, or seen them perform live, perhaps? "Never gotten to see either of them live regrettably, and haven’t met either. I relate to both their stories a lot and have learned most of what I know from books and recordings. Through that I’ve found a comfortable home with how I create art."
"I’d just love to meet Patti. I know she was toying with doing Just Kids as a dramatic episodical and I’ve probably started writing her at least 10 times about wanting to be involved. I really admire her writing and approach to art, as I did the late David Bowie."
"Both their impacts on the music and art worlds are unmatchable. Such pure creative spirits. Also, so much integrity. I really admire Smith and Bowie so much and hope I can aspire to even one iota of their kind of legacy."
Your self-proclaimed mission is to make good art and to inspire young people to make their ideas heard, so I'm wondering (as it sounds like you might) if your love of "art" spreads to painting and sketching, perhaps? "I do so much believe in everyone having good ideas. Of course, we all do. And if we don’t share them then the earth and all of us on it will suffer, because your idea might change it for the better."
"Young people have strength and courage and are bursting with good ideas. I do have a love for art that spills over into visual arts. I’m always wrestling with or chewing on some idea. Sometimes it doesn’t want to come through as music, or I can’t put words to it. It’s kind of like choosing to go walk through the woods."
"If I put a paintbrush in my hand I won’t hesitate to get started on something. I’ve been exploring “process” art; a type of art my friend Meredith introduced me to where you lose yourself completely as you paint and try not to direct an image or idea directly. Just let colors and choices come to you."
"I usually get my shot at this when my son wants to paint or draw. I can let my childlike wonder flow for a while and see where it takes me. It’s extremely therapeutic to focus on doing something like this with your hands for a while. I enjoy fiddling in photoshop or drawing posters or logo ideas very much as well."
OK, hoppin' back on the duo Q&A express, what's the deal with wearing chaps most all the time?! They've gotta leave some wear and tear and be a little breezy for you both during your live sets, no?!
Hannah: "We are real cowgirls and therefore wear chaps 24/7! But seriously, it started when we weren’t sure what to wear to our first show. There were two pairs of Raelyn’s daddy’s old chaps hanging from some piping in her garage there, and we spotted em. And that was that. Breezy is good because playing makes you hot!"
Raelyn: "They’re my daddy’s chaps. It’s silly and fun and if he were around today, he’d love it."
You ended up recording, but have since removed 'Lookin' Like A Tranny Blues,' but was that due to you guys realizing it might be a little bit of a modern day "red button topic" in today's society? Or was it the big wigs with the money backing you who requested you pull it from the subsequent batch of repressing's, perhaps?
Hannah: "THE BIG WIGS MADE US DO IT. Just kidding, there are no big wigs. We are in charge. It’s the former; the word has become very “red button” as you put it, and we just didn’t know."
Raelyn: "We didn’t know it would offend people the way it has, and we never want to hurt anyone. We are about open mindedness, togetherness, and building each other up."
Are you still touring around in White Lightning: The Fenderless Wonder?!
Beret-Lyn Nelson: "Haha, yep!"
Hannah French Hat: "Oui! My grandfather gifted me this ‘97 Pontiac. He’s basically an angel. Raelyn and I have both had car woes and even though it’s an older vehicle it’s been kept in super excellent condition and only had 24,000 miles on it when I got it from him this year."
"It’s incredible. It’s just such a godsend for us to be able to tour with light. As in “lightening”. And yes - fender is missing, it was an ice-chunk mishap!"
Wasn't it at all tempting to have Willie perform on one of the songs on this debut album - or was that always a no-go area from the off?
Hannah: "You know, I don’t think it was off the table, but we didn’t really intend on having anyone on the album but ourselves. We wanted to make our statement loud and clear, just us two. Not that working with papa Willie wouldn’t be amazing of course. He has had nice things to say about our music and has encouraged us to stay true to ourselves in our process."
"He’s a very inspiring force. We’re totally open to working with other artists and hope to on the next record perhaps, but this one felt right with just us. Duo power."
Raelyn: "Yeah, we tossed around asking family to play on the album, but in the end we decided that we wanted this album to be just us!"
You mentioned earlier that you had begun recording songs for the follow-up album so what titles have you already discussed for your sophomore release?
Hannah: "We have about half an album’s worth in the works already. No titles have been discussed yet. I think we won’t know that till we’re closer to the goal. We’re still in debut mode at the moment, but we have our eyes on the next releases."
Will you ever come here to Detroit, the home of Motown, and perform for us one day, perhaps?
Hannah: "Yes! Yes, we absolutely will. We promise. I’ve been drawn to Detroit for years. We are plotting our next several months now and will give you a heads up when we come your way!"
Raelyn: "I’m looking online for places to play in Detroit right now!"
Finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins, so we were wondering if you ladies do also?
Hannah: "So, I’ve met Eddie Trunk a couple times. And I’ve never tried to stump him. But I did once make a long awkward Opus the Penguin reference to him. It started short, but he didn’t know what I was talking about. I’m pretty sure we were at a loud rock show in LA."
"Anyway, I explained and it went on and on and after all of it, Eddie Trunk calls me Opus now. It’s not very cool, but it exists. There, that’s my Penguin story!"
Raelyn: "Q: What do you call a cold penguin? ... A: A Brrr-d!"
Click To Watch mmhmm's Brand New Video for 'Ah Hell'
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