Songwriter and guitarist Hannah Wicklund has been performing, recording, and releasing music for more than a decade, and she’s only 22 years old. Her band Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones officially released their Sadler Vaden-produced debut album last year, but Hannah herself has already made several albums that you can only hear if you find an old CD lying around. Her story goes back to when she was a kid in Hilton Head, SC, growing up in a musical family with her brother Luke Mitchell, a name you might recognize as the frontman of Charleston band The High Divers.
“Luke and I were doomed,” Hannah says. “There is literally nothing else that we could ever do, because we both fell in love with music early on and have had the most supportive parents in the world. It’s been both a blessing and a curse, because you can’t do anything else, but you’ll also like, live out of your car to make it work.”
Hannah remembers being six years old, spending her Friday nights in the bars in Hilton Head watching her thirteen year old brother Luke play shows with his band The Gnomes, which also included current High Divers bassist Kevin Early. “Like, I would be knitting in the booth while Luke and Kevin would be up there doing Zeppelin and shit,” Hannah laughs.
At the same time, the young Hannah Wicklund was learning how to play music herself. She started out by learning some classical music and Beatles songs on piano, and over time picked up the guitar and began writing her own songs. At eight she played her first gig, and by twelve she had released her first EP, which Luke recorded in their family garage. Playing music with her family is what spurred Hannah to grow into the guitar-picking frontwoman of Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones that we know today, who recently kicked off a tour that started at Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta.
“My family pretty much revolves around music,” Hannah explains. “I wish that Luke and I and my Dad had done even more jammin’ than we did, but one of my favorite jam sessions that I will remember forever was actually right after School of Rock came out. We went and saw it in the theater, and as soon as it was over we went back to the house, and it was me and my Dad, and Kevin from the High Divers, and my brother, and we all jammed ‘It’s a Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)’. I remember that was the first time that I ever did whatever I wanted on the piano while I was playing with other people. That I think is where the bug set in.”
Hannah continued to chase that bug all through her childhood, playing as many gigs as she possibly could that mixed her originals between classic rock covers, the whole time recording and releasing CDs to sell at her shows. When she graduated high school at the age of sixteen, she started booking the band on tours, and made the transition from playing mostly 3-hour cover gigs to playing more traditional 45-90 minute sets consisting of all original music. None of the CDs she made while growing up received an official release, though. Hannah says they were more of a tool for her live performance, and a way to give people a portion of the live show to take home with them. It wasn’t until she linked up with Sadler Vaden (aka #1 Dadler) to record Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones that she felt ready to actually release an record.
“I had never worked with a producer that really took the role seriously, because when I was younger they were just the guys that came with the studio who heard the songs when we got to the studio, you know,” Hannah explains. “Sadler was the first person that really dug into the songs with me. This record, my guitar playing is a little bit more pieced together than I normally play live, and that’s where Sadler’s guitar playing and Sadler’s producing shines the most. He helps to translate my songs into a good recorded package. My live show is definitely super jammy, and I love changing it up and playing loosey goosey and shit.”
As for her older albums, Hannah says that she does still like the songs, and actually re-worked a few of them to be played and recorded today. “Looking Glass” and “Mama Said” off the self-titled debut originally appeared in an earlier form on her first and second albums that were recorded years ago. “I think my previous four or five records were getting me ready to start the actual process releasing records, and you know, doin’ the thing,” Hannah says.
“I like listening to them, but I was like 15 and 16 and 12. I’m really happy that those aren’t out in the atmosphere right now, to be honest. That’s why I want to re-do some of the songs, because I like the songs and if they had a producer, you know. If we went in and kind of jazzed them up and made them a little bit better then I would play the songs, but, I don’t want people hearing my voice,” Hannah laughs. “But it’s good, because then you see growth. You can go back and revisit your younger self and be proud of how far you’ve come. That’s also a valuable tool.”
According to Hannah, she spent the last few months writing and currently has enough material for a new record, and plans to go into the studio at the end of the year. She is hoping the next album will be released with the support of a label, and is in the process of working out the details on that front. She has moved her home base from Nashville to Los Angeles, and mentioned being excited to get back out on the road after taking a much-needed breather for the past six months.
Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones bring their brand of blues rock to The Royal American on Wednesday, May 22nd, where they’ll be joined by Charleston’s Jordan Igoe. Hannah couldn’t confirm nor deny whether there will be any surprise guests in attendance, but if the High Divers are in town I’d be willing to bet on some family jam sessions that night. Tickets are $8 at the door.
Listen to Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones below.