What's on
News overview

King Hannah: exploring the depths of 'Big Swimmer'

2 June, 2024

King Hannah Sofa credit Katie Silvester CROP

In celebration of the new album 'Big Swimmer,' we sit down with King Hannah, the Liverpool indie rock duo consisting of Hannah Merrick and Craig Whittle, known for captivating audiences with their evocative sound. As we discuss the themes that permeate the album, we explore the depths of their lyrics, the balance between light and dark, and the experiences that have shaped their latest work.

The story behind Milk Boy

Your new album 'Big Swimmer' is heavily inspired by the tours that you've made. How has touring the United States influenced your band's creative vision?
: We just toured America two years ago and it really influenced the writing of this album, but I think in general we're very much influenced by American artists and bands, just because naturally that's who we listen to. That's not a conscious effort, so I think naturally it kind of creeps into the music, and how we play and write songs.

Some of the lyrics sound somewhat traumatic. What would you say was the most impactful moment you encountered on tour?
: America is obviously incredible and we saw some amazing things. But I think the traumatic things are the stuff that I personally remember the most and so that's why they end up on the album. I think the one that struck in our minds the most is 'Milk Boy'. We saw a guy with a hammer threatening a child. He didn't hit the child, but he was threatening him with it. He enjoyed it. We'd never seen anything like that before, ever. It was horrific, you know, and your heart bleeds for that child.

Is that why the song is called 'Milk Boy (I Love You)'? To give some kind of reassuring message to the child?
: Milk Boy was actually the venue at which we played that evening, in Philadelphia. But it fits so nicely, because little boys drink milk, don't they?
Craig: The 'I Love You' part actually came from our bass player for that tour, Oli. He'd made up this silly song earlier, called 'Milk Boy, I Love You' and he'd just sing it in the van. It has nothing to do with the final song. But when it came to naming it, because it was based in Philadelphia, it turned out to be so fitting. And obviously we do love that kid as well.

In what way have these experiences, such as Milk Boy, influenced your everyday life?
Hannah: That's a really good question. I think about it all the time. It was just so normal for him. That's what made it so horrific. For the child sitting on that step, it was his daily routine. And that's probably all he'll ever know.
Craig: I think you kind of feel guilty, right after it's happened. Because obviously we haven't done anything to intervene. We were watching it through our van window, and we were there for two minutes and then we went on to play that show.
Hannah: You just switch off. You realise your life is so fine, and that child's life is not fine. I don't know how it's influenced my everyday life, but I noticed when I see children not looking happy, it's a natural thing I'm drawn to, because a lot of the songs are actually influenced
by that.

Can you name another song that's been influenced in that way
Hannah: 'This Wasn't Intentional' is actually about the movie 'Aftersun'. There were scenes in that, where I felt sorry for the child. I don't know if anybody else would feel sorry for that child, but I did.

King Hannah

King Hannah

Big Swimmer

Accept the preferences cookies to view the video.

On floating, holding hands and tipping hats

What can you tell us about the recurring themes of floating and flying throughout the album?
Hannah: There was a phase where I felt like the album wasn't really going anywhere and the songs weren't good enough, and nothing was really happening. It felt like I hadn't written a song yet, where I was really singing, you know, like proper singing. It annoyed me and it felt like I was floating, not particularly doing anything. So that was what floating was referring to, not really getting anywhere.

Was there a certain moment or a song in particular where that turned around for you?
: I don't remember it turning around, but I guess after having a few songs where I'm really singing, like 'Suddenly Your Hand' which is quite sing-y, and Big Swimmer is sing-y. I needed a few of those.

Speaking of 'Suddenly Your Hand', what exactly does it mean for a hand to become a minor thing?

Craig: I do think it came from something real, but neither of us can remember what it was. I like that line though. I wish I could remember it.
Hannah: In the song I think of the holding of hands as something quite comforting, and it's a nice thing to do. Then suddenly something far greater has happened and that doesn't matter anymore. All of a sudden the song is much bigger than the hand on that. That song is actually about murder documentaries, and serial killers, and that's much bigger than holding hands.

Was there any reason for singer-songwriter Bill Callahan to be mentioned in the song about serial killers?
: Oh no! Oh my god.
Hannah: Didn’t think about that!

On the album you also mention John Prine, another American singer-songwriter. Did you discover them during your tour and have they influenced your music?
Craig: They've actually been in our lives for a while. In fact, if Bill Callahan didn't exist, then King Hannah would sound very different. We didn't intentionally set out to mention Bill Callahan or John Prine, but they're just kind of the people who we listen to all the time.
Hannah: Who we completely admire.
Craig: They just kind of pass by in the songs, and it's like a little nod to the people who are the reason that we’re sat down writing the song. It's like a nice little tip of the hat to these people.

King Hannah

King Hannah

John Prine on the Radio

Accept the preferences cookies to view the video.

"When I think of what King Hannah is, I think of it as being a balance between light and dark"

How would you describe the balance between lightness and darkness in your music, considering you use humor to deal with somber topics?
: When I think of what King Hannah is, I think of it as being a balance between light and dark, which is humor, and also Milk Boy, the kind of darker moments. But it's also the dynamics of soft and loud, of romantic and abrasive, or something. And we're very conscious of that when we're writing. We even visualised it on our wall, using sticky notes with all the songs on them, so we could see what way the album was leaning.
Hannah: We were a bit concerned at one point it was going too much one way, that's why we did that, so we could agree.

Did producing this album help you deal with some of the darker moments along the way?

: I guess so. I don't think of it that way, but it's nice to write, isn't it? I'd never just sit and write about Milk Boy in that way. So it must be, because it came out. So something was nudging for it to come out.
: And especially because you write a lot more when you're angry. So maybe rather than being angry, you'll write it. Writing something down maybe helps a little.

How do you see the future of your music and did making Big Swimmer influence its direction?
Hannah: We just want to make the best music we can, you know, and be better. And the songs to be better written songs, down the line. Just grow our fan base and be the best we can be.
Craig: We admire bands that show a certain longevity, who seem to do what they want to do and yet are always trying to push themselves and not stay static, and that's kind of what we want. We're only two albums in, but that's what we want to keep doing.

On Monday, September 9, 2024, King Hannah will perform a concert at Paradiso. This show is now sold out.

Text: Yvonne den Outer

Big Swimmer • King Hannah