WPGM Interviews: Hannah Rodriguez – Making Relatable Music, Mexican Jazz And ‘A Final Toast’

Hannah Rodriguez is a singer, songwriter and self-taught producer from the Lake District, not far from Kendal. Since moving to London two years ago where she has been studying music, she has released an EP, collaborated and performed with hip-hop producers The Caravan Collective and house producers Confessionals, and played at venues such as the Roundhouse and Mahiki in Mayfair.

We meet at Highbury and Islington station, fifteen minutes from where Hannah Rodriguez lives in Archway. We do not spend too long in search of a café in which to conduct the interview, settling quite promptly for a Costa, which is almost entirely empty and playing inoffensive soul classics, albeit a little too loud.

She orders a Belgian Chocolate Frostino which makes me immediately regret my choice of an Americano on what has turned out to be a fairly hot day. Wearing a Havana Club t-shirt (it’s an XXL, she tells me, but has been cropped by her mum after she dragged her parents around Cuba in search of the perfect size) and occasionally slurping on her Frostino, Hannah gives off the relaxed air of somebody on holiday.

I ask her about the inspiration for “A Final Toast“, her most recent single, which tells the story of the break up of an exhausting, on-and-off relationship. She describes it as “lyrically angry” but hearing the opening few bars of the song conjures an entirely different mood: serene and tranquil.

When I mention this, she says that she intends it to be “kind of cringe but in a funny way, like elevator music”. It’s true, the jazz guitar sample and saxophone are reminiscent of the classic kitsch of 70s smooth Jazz. “I didn’t want it to sound too cheese”, she says through laughter, “but the music is a bit cringe, and it makes a bittersweet taking-the-piss song”.

I ask her if she is aiming for her music to be humorous and she takes a moment to think. “I just want my music to reflect who I am. I don’t want to put on any front. I take the piss a lot and so do my songs”. It’s true. Rodriguez’s laughter is infectious, and she is constantly looking for an opportunity to make a joke, a characteristic discernable even in our short email exchange arranging to meet up.

In my preliminary questions I wrote to her asking who, given the chance, she would collaborate with. Her response? Frank Sinatra, but only on one condition. The two of them must be singing their duet on an ornate marble staircase, whilst Hannah would be kitted out in a long, fancy, red dress.

From Frank Sinatra, who her parents played to her as a child, to Frank, Amy Winehouse’s debut album which she listened to frequently throughout secondary school and which taught her a lot about the fusion of genres, Rodriguez’s musical upbringing is distinctly jazzy. “My parents listened to Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Sinatra… They got me into modern jazz as well: Amy Winehouse, Jamie Cullum, Corinne Bailey Rae and Gregory Porter”.

These days, she says she feels most comfortable with Hip-Hop and Neo-Soul playing (Mahalia, Easy socks, SZA, Rejjie Snow) or even jazzier trip-hop/alternative hip-hop (Puma Blue, King Krule). She also admires Eryka Badu’s oozing confidence (“You can tell it’s genuine. There’s no facade – it’s all legit”) and Kali Uchis, who inspired her to start experimenting with samples.

She also tells me excitedly about a Spotify playlist she has recently discovered which has just 47 followers and she knows only as Mexican Jazz. “I listen to it all the time in the shower” she says, and her tone goes comically dark as she adds “If the person who made it knew how much this playlist means to me… I don’t know what I’d do if they deleted it”.

I ask if she has ever been to Mexico, where her Dad is from. She tells me she went last year. “I felt pretty at home in Mexico because they’re all different versions of my dad, friendly, open, warm and funny, just really funny”. As we talk, it isn’t hard to observe that these are all traits that she has inherited from her Dad and which come across in her music too.

Her songs are simultaneously honest and funny both lyrically and musically. Is this what Rodriguez aims for? “I just want my music to be relatable”, she says, and I think to myself that it is definitely a feat she achieves. “As a listener, if I listen to a track that lyrically, I get, then it makes me feel better because then I think, well it’s happening to other people: it’s alright, s**t happens“,

You can listen to Hannah Rodriguez’s music on Spotify and Soundcloud and you can catch her live when she will be playing at Ronnie Scott’s on the 24th of July so make sure to get your tickets here. Hannah is currently writing and recording a new single so watch out for it! Keep tabs on Hannah via Facebook and Instagram.

Words by Femi Oriogun-Williams

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