Austin based alternative rock musician Hanna Barakat released her new album Siren on August 16th to critical praise. Born in Texas to a Lebanese father and American mother, her album is infused with a variety of musical influences that blend Arabic-Asian and rock sounds together. She discovered her love of singing at a young age, her passion leading her on great adventures as an adult. She attended Berklee College on Music where she was able to focus on Arabic music through her participation in the Middle Eastern Fusion Ensemble, a group she would later direct and perform with during the Berklee International Folk Festival. Upon graduation, Barakat moved to Beirut in order to immerse herself in Lebanese culture and pursue her love of the music and learning of the language. With the Arabic-Asian influences and Eastern instrumentation present in her music, she was well-received as she performed across the region. She has since traveled to and performed across the Middle East, Canada, Mexico and the US. Over the span of the past 10 years, Barakat has been writing the songs that make up Siren, a process that was a source of comfort and therapy for her in her travels. It is a deeply personal album that reflects her many different experiences as she traveled the world, experiences that led to her growth both personally and artistically through the many musicians she met and played with along the way. The album was produced by John Moyer, the bassist of acclaimed hard rock band Disturbed, was mixed by Martin Nessi (Michael Jackson Estate/Ariana Grande/Josh Groban/Celine Dion/Andrea Bocelli/Ricky Martin/Kelly Clarkson) and was mastered by Ted Jansen of Sterling Sound (Disturbed/Evanescence/Three Days Grace/Breaking Benjamin/Halestorm/Pat Metheny). You can follow Hanna Barakat and stay up-to-date with all upcoming band, music and tour news, as well as stream and purchase her music, via the following links.
iTunes/Apple Music- https://music.apple.
You recently released your debut album Siren. You have said that making the album has been your comfort and therapy as you’ve journeyed this world and grown as a person. What can you tell me about the journey that led to the album?
My background plays a significant role in my creative process, both musically and conceptually, because my background is me. My history and my family’s history shaped me. I’ve always been so intrigued by my heritage, from the culture, politics, customs, food, and most importantly the music. The situation in the middle east is very tumultuous. After graduating in 2010, I moved to Lebanon to engross myself in the culture, gain understanding, study Arabic, and just be in it all. It was a wildly profound and life altering experience for me, both good and bad, and i could go on and on about it, but what I can say for sure is that I grew in so many ways while living there. My perspective on life changed entirely. I was also exposed to so many things that I have since been compelled to write about. It was always in my blood and now it’s under my tongue in many of my songs. These songs have been my comfort and my therapy, as I’ve journeyed this world, witnessed injustices, engrossed myself in my ancestral culture, grown within myself, literally travelled the globe, loved, lost, failed, loved again, and struggled to reach the place where I am today. Some songs travel through the complexity of relationships, the balance of strengths, messy breakups that resolve with constantly falling back into old habits with ones significant others yet again. While other songs touch on anguishing sociopolitical situations that plague the world today. I want to bring awareness to these situations, not by forcing any political agenda, but by pushing for love, understanding, and acceptance of all the other humans walking this earth together. Throughout history, there have been unnatural walls physically erected, or socially accepted and perpetuated, in order to divide people. I want to tear those walls down. All of them.
You have said that it took you 10 years to create the record and over a year to produce the songs. Did you have a certain time frame or journey in mind when you set out to make the album? Was there a certain point you reached where you said “I’m ready to record these songs”?
Honestly, though I wish I could have sped up the process, each setback, struggle, breakthrough, victory, heartbreak, and personal breakthrough along the way has shaped my sound, my voice, and my musical path. The biggest hesitation when creating this record was not having a producer I felt could bring out the best in me to create this record. I feel like this record happened just when it was supposed to. I couldn’t have asked for a better producer or a more enthusiastic badass group of musicians to perform these songs. My journey took as long as it did to get me to exactly where I am today.
Your album was produced by John Moyer of Disturbed. How did you meet and come to work with him? What kind of influence do you feel he had on the making of the album and the songs themselves?
I met John Moyer through a mutual musician friend here in Austin, TX. It was a chance meeting, and my friend recommended i reach out to John because he had mentioned he produced rock bands in the area. I am ashamed to say it took me a few months to get the courage to reach out and ask for a meeting, but after that first introduction, I knew I had to work with him! He is an incredible musician, producer, mentor, friend, and supporter. Due to John’s hectic schedule with Disturbed, and my self funding this record, John and I worked on the record for a little over a year before sending it off to be mixed and mastered. In that year, we grew a lot, learned how to better extract creativity out of one another, and established a strong workflow and exchange of ideas. John can most certainly attest to the fact that I am strong willed and walk into a recording session, knowing my vision. Going into this recording process, I knew how I wanted to represent my songs. I knew the tempo and the grooves I wanted to produce to best illustrate each song. John was an integral force on this record. As I mentioned, he and I developed a workflow and an understanding that allowed both my “must haves” and his “must haves” to be included in each track. We learned how to arrange and create together, with ease, allowing us to respect the music and represent the songs to the best of our abilities.
What has it been like or you to finally see these songs and your journey as an artist out there for the world to hear? How has the response been?
At first, I have to say, it was horrifying. My first single, Wildfire, was released in April, and I was nearly sick to my stomach with anticipation and anxiety. I feel such a tremendous amount of pride, relief, and finally joy, now that these songs are out there! During the production, mixing, and mastering process, you lose touch with the music as pieces of art. You spend hours upon hours analyzing each sound, each instrument, each vocal line, to ensure they are in just the right place. I had to eventually take a couple months off from even hearing the tunes, so that I could separate myself from arranger, mixer, co-producer, work mode, and hear my music as music. There was such anticipation and build up leading up to this release, for me personally, that I now finally feel like I can enjoy and appreciate the songs, again. The reception has been spectacular so far. We have expanded our fan base, reached new people, and each and every time we perform these songs, we find new and extremely enthusiastic fans!
You attended Berklee College Of Music where you dove into Arabic Music through the Middle Eastern Fusion Ensemble. What was that experience like for you? Having Lebanese heritage, have you always had a special love for music from that region? What can you tell me about your use of Arabic instruments on your new album and combining those sounds with hard rock?
Since my early childhood in Dallas, TX, attending Lebanese festivals, I have been obsessed with Arabic music. I always knew I wanted to learn how to speak Arabic and sing middle eastern music, but I was never exposed to anyone who knew anything about it until I got to Berklee! The ensemble was tremendously challenging. We learned traditional and popular Turkish, Middle Eastern (Eqyptian, Lebanese), Bulgarian, and ancient Andalusian tunes. Some had lyrics, while others required vocal arrangements, and even singing instrumental lines, so the vocalists could be included in all the songs that the ensemble performed. I particularly excelled in learning how to sing instrumental lines, as this is where I gained my most inspiration from this music. This is also where I realized I could include this style and genre of music into my favorite style of writing, rock! I wanted to bring both worlds of music together in a way that I had never heard done before. Through my music, with rock guitars, heavy drums, deep rhythmic bass lines, and my intricate vocal melodic lines and punchy harmony stacks, I have chosen to forge Arabic instruments like the oud, kanun, frame drum, riqq, into my sonic landscape, where I feel they so naturally and appropriately belong.
After graduating from Berklee College of Music, you lived in Lebanon and engrossed yourself in the culture. What was that time like for you? What do you feel that you learned during your time there and what impact did it have on you?
Lebanon is wild country. It was a very tumultuous time for me, personally. I moved to Beirut only a couple months after graduating from Berklee and after turning 21 years old. I transplanted myself to a different world, with a different way of life, culture, political situation, and outlook and appreciation for life. I had to adapt quickly, which most certainly caused growing pains. But I gained so much inspiration from the culture, from the history, from the way people interact with one another. It’s hard to put into words how my time in Lebanon effected me. All I can say is that it changed my life, my trajectory, and my whole world, entirely, and forever.
Fun fact, I fell in love in Lebanon! That was unexpected! And not just any love, as I am currently married to that same love, Blue El Oud. I was a goner from the moment we met. Blue is my favorite color, and the oud is my favorite instrument! On our first official date, he gave me an oud, which we still have today.
In what ways do you feel the album allowed you to grow as an arranger, musician, player and assistant producer? Had you done any producing before this? Is producing something that you hope to do more of going forward?
This record challenged every single aspect of my creative being. Though I was a songwriter and I loved arranging, specifically vocal arrangement, I had next to no experience as an engineer or producer before John Moyer and I began production on Siren. John walked into my home studio, having never produced on the specific studio setup my husband, Blue, had built for me. It was a learning curve for John, which forced an initial work flow that allowed me to be a part of every single step in the process. I watched every command, every key stroke, and every trick up John’s sleeve! And he was eager to teach me as well. It took very little time for me to take up my role as acting co-pilot, so much so that I would work on arrangements, record vocals, and add instrumentation between sessions with John, so that the production pace was not hindered while John would be out with Disturbed on the road! I would bounce sessions and send them to John while he was backstage at an arena somewhere, and he would send me notes, and I would go back and work endlessly on the tunes. I developed a completely unexpected skillset working with John over the year it took to produce Siren. These skills will undoubtably aid me in creating my next record and beyond.
You lived abroad before moving to Austin and performed and worked with musicians in every city you lived in along the way. What influence did performing with such a wide and diverse group of musicians have on you personally and artistically? Did you learn any valuable lessons or receive any advice that have stuck with you from the experiences? What has it been like to be a part of the Austin music scene?
Each human has a unique background, unique prospective on life, they interpret everything uniquely, which includes music. That is the most exciting thing I found at Berklee and in my years of traveling and performing with different artists. Each musician I have ever played with has their own musical language. Sometimes you can understand it and other times, you just sit back and appreciate it without having the faintest clue as to what they are saying to you! I have picked up so many wonderful techniques, skills, and tricks along the way, all the while being exposed to so many different styles of music. I hope to never stop hearing new unique, new, old, traditional, and unusual music to entice my musical pallet to continue creating my own sound!
I was born in Texas, but I only ever lived here as a very small child, and then again as an adult. Austin has truly felt like home these past four years, and I am so grateful to have this supportive community here. I formed my band here, and we had our very first shows here. I have this beautiful and welcoming city to thank for introducing me to my bandmates!
What can you tell me about getting to open for New Kids On The Block on their Comeback Tour? How did that opportunity come about? It sounds like a fun experience!
That was such a wild experience. During my first year at Berklee, I was recommended to the musical director of the New Kids on the Block to be a backing vocalist for their comeback tour. I was past of a very small corral of singers involved. The first two nights of the tour were at the TD Banknorth Gardens in Boston, MA. They were sold out, at capacity, 37,000 people, each night. Natasha Beddingfield was opening for them, and that was my first time hearing her. I was absolutely in love from her first sound! We got to hang out with her back stage and enjoy the festivities each night. We later had Lady Gaga opening, which was pretty darn incredible as well. I’ve scoured the internet, searching for footage from that tour, but all I could find was one terrible flip phone video of us at the Gardens!
MTV/VH1, I know you aired the concerts on your channels! Send me the footage!
You will be performing your album release show on August 30th in Austin! What can your fans expect? Do you have anything special planned?
We will be performing the record, front to back. We have two amazing, female fronted, bands, Worhol (Houston) and Chasing After Alice (Austin) opening for us at the show. As for us, You can expect to see and hear us bear all. We give each and every performance our all. Each and every player on the stage adds their unique presence to the music, and I can assure you, I will deliver every note with intention, passion, rage, and the emotion that the songs deserve. We are strong, we are loud, and we will take you on a journey, each and every time.
You have some exciting shows coming up! What are you looking forward to in the coming months? What’s next for you?
We do have many regional shows planned in and around Texas for the next few months! This one nearly knocked my socks off: On 09/10/2019 We will be performing for the Breaking Benjamin, Chevelle, Three Days Grace, Diamante, and Dorothy Tour at the Dos Equis Pavilion, Live Nation VIP Lounge, and I have to tell you, I am completely ecstatic! Not only do I love each and every one of these bands, but this is just such an amazing opportunity to be invited to perform for the Live Nation VIP Lounge, in my hometown, Dallas! It’s going to be a party!
We most certainly plan on touring, though I do not have any announcements on that just yet! Let’s just say, the current band mission is to find a tour van!