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To Make Friends, Hannah Kaminer Made Music. Now She's Among the Region's Bright Young Voices

courtesy of Hannah Kaminer

Like a lot of people fresh out of college, Hannah Kaminer found herself a little lost. So she left a life and teaching job in Waco, Tex. to return where she grew up. Her parents had divorced, so without a family home awaiting her in Black Mountain, she moved in with friends in Asheville.

“I mean, I loved teaching, but without community and connections, it’s really hard to live in a place,” Kaminer said.

Back in the North Carolina mountains, Kaminer fell in with a small group of people who unwittingly paved her future.

“They had this songwriting group and I really wanted to be friends with these people,” she recalled. “So I figured out I had to start writing songs to be friends with them.”

What started as a chase for a social life has turned into one of the emerging bright spots in Asheville’s Americana music scene.

Kaminer’s second album is called “Heavy Magnolias,” and it’s rife with the wants and insecurities a lot of women feel on the cusp of 30 -- songs of tenuous relationships, broken hope, rays of new hope and the security blanket of home. Kaminer and her band are marking the release of “Heavy Magnolias” with a show March 18 at the Grey Eagle in Asheville.

“I sorta consider myself a late bloomer with music and with relationships,” she said. “So I’m asking all these questions and I got some kind of hard answers, just that maybe people aren’t exactly who you think they are, or maybe I’m not who I think I am, that I’m not as good or consistent as I’d like to think I am.”

Kaminer is the second of four sisters who grew up around the sounds of bluegrass, Carole King, Emmylou Harris, James Taylor. But she didn’t feel any particular affinity with music. She went to college thinking she would become an engineer.

“At this point, a lot of things had gone wrong I didn’t think should be happening,” she said. “My parents had gotten divorced, a long-term relationship had broken up and I didn’t become an engineer, so I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing.”

Kaminer wrote a song about her mom, and with the encouragement of her songwriters’ group, she wrote more. But she never performed any of them publicly until entering Asheville’s Brown Bag Songwriting Competition. Kaminer wound up as the grand champion for the season, and that bought her some recording time at Echo Mountain Studios.

“The person who was running the competition that night basically said ‘Who you are is enough,’ and I kinda took that as ‘OK,’ and I just ran with it, and you know, ‘OK, I have something to give.’” she said. “I didn’t really realize that. I had no confidence before that.”

Credit courtesy of Hannah Kaminer
Hannah Kaminer

Kaminer began formally studying music theory, and she crafted her 2015 debut album from five years of songwriting. By contrast, Kaminer felt such pressure to satisfy her Kickstarter backers on the new record that when she broke her wrist and tailbone in a rollerblading fall, she saw the accident as a blessing for buying her six weeks of healing time to write more songs.

“I think I want to affirm the emotional experience, whether it’s high, whether it’s low. We’re all human; we all need to have our really strong feelings validated,” Kaminer said. “I want to be able to write what I feel, not just in lyrics but with music, or write what other people are feeling.”

Kaminer works by day in marketing and social media for a tech company, and she doesn’t foresee giving that up to focus solely on music -- at least not anytime soon.

“It’s not that I don’t want to be successful. I love what I do and I’d love for more people to listen,” she said. “I’m approaching it more as an entrepreneur than an artist, like ‘Can I make a business plan that works, so I can do this fulltime? I just need to keep going, in terms of making art.’”

Ultimately, Kaminer wants to deliver the musical version of NPR’s StoryCorps -- telling other people’s stories through song.

“I get bored if it doesn’t introduce any new element musically. I think there is sort of a tried-and-true three chords or four chords and the truth for country artists and folk,” she said. “You actually have to strike out for the frontier basically saying ‘I’m not going to do what my brain wants me to do and I’m going to try something different.’”

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.
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