Stepping out of stage school and into a record deal with 4AD isn’t the usual route for a BRIT School graduate, but Pixx isn’t your usual sort of recording artist…
You know those names that crop up every year and feature on every playlist under the sun? You hear people, you know the ones, those on a constant mission to prove they’re at the cutting edge, using those names like social currency. Maybe you catch them on Jools Holland or flip past an advert in a magazine, and you have a half-formed opinion before you’re even aware of it, but you probably couldn’t hum any of their songs because truth is you’ve not really given them any time.
Enter Surrey-raised Hannah Rodgers. As Pixx, she might just be on the periphery of your radar for those very reasons. So what does she do? Pop fodder maybe? Take a closer look. There’s no Top 40 banality here.
Hannah off starts with a confession – she’s got something of a hangover born from a midweek pub visit with mates gone askew. She then solidifies these pub credentials by admitting that a large portion of her downtime is spent in boozers playing pool and darts for hours on end. Without hearing a single note, you know she oozes a cool kind of cool.
Pixx stormed onto the scene in 2015. Fresh-faced from the BRIT School, she trumped her classmates with a record deal. She signed with 4AD, which is also not your usual path for a BRIT graduate, and her four-track ‘Fall In’ EP made for a classy entrance. With its understated Cocteau Twins shimmer, you could hear what the revered label heard.
Two years on and the 21-year-old’s debut album has landed. It’s called ‘The Age Of Anxiety’ and it sees her sound evolving dramatically. It’s punchy, it’s driven, and it’s direct. There’s also a confidence to Hannah’s voice that wasn’t as obvious before and an immediacy to tracks such as ‘I Bow Down’, which drives along with a motorik skip in its step. Elsewhere, she glides from the big pop hooks of ‘Waterslides’ to the runaway synths and bass rumbles of ‘A Big Cloud To Float Upon’ with considerable ease.
“With the album, I decided I wouldn’t get bogged down in trying to fit into any kind of genre,” she says. “So I kept the different elements that I liked and just accepted they don’t all match.”
Chatting with Hannah, her voice is deeper than her music would lead you to imagine. It rasps quite gloriously with the unmistakable huskiness that only cigarettes can cause – a vice which put a stop to another direction her life might have taken.
“I’ve got a brother and for the first nine years of my life I spent my Sundays watching him play football,” she explains. “It always really pissed me off, so I got all my girl mates together and we started a team of our own. We did that for a long time, which was great fun.”
As a defender, she admits that she enjoyed the mad dash back to her own team’s goal line when she was caught short further up the field a little too much. That (and the ciggies) meant the life of a professional footballer probably wasn’t meant to be. But she was inspired in other ways.
“Ever since I was very young, my dad played me lots of music,” she coos, fondly reminiscing. “He would go through a song with me and pick apart the lyrics, and try to teach me what the song was about, which is definitely where I got my love of words from. There was an old folk song about meeting Mother Nature at the top of a hill and speaking to her about the way mankind is destroying the planet, which is actually quite dark but, you know, I did have this deep love for Mother Nature.”
In fact, Hannah still does. Nature is a theme that comes up a lot as we chat and it’s something that informs ‘The Age Of Anxiety’. It rears its head in the books she’s been reading (‘The Metamorphosis’ by Franz Kafka) and what she likes to do for fun (going for muddy walks in raging winter storms with her pal Alice).
“I’ve recently started to think a lot about the fact that it’s hard to have a real connection with nature in this day and age, and hard to be alone with it,” she says. “People are never really on their own any more, you always have your phone, which is connecting you to
the rest of the world. I think it’s good for people to have an escape from that. It’s very important for me to keep that distance and try to go back to a natural way of life, where you are not connected to everything all the time. I think that can really affect people’s mind states and also be a distraction from what is truly valuable in the world, a distraction from being in the moment.”
She tells more stories of long childhood walks and mucking about in the woods near her family home, followed by five years at an all-girl convent-style school. It all sounds pretty charmed. So how does a nature-obsessed child end up at a place like the BRIT School?
“I was always writing songs when I’d get back from school,” she explains. “I’d be in my room playing guitar and writing constantly. When I was little, I used to love it when my parents had dinner parties. I used to go down and sing everybody a song. I mean, at the time I didn’t realise it, but they were probably all pissed.”
Hannah’s burning passion and a lot of encouragement from her family led her to the prestigious school’s gates.
It was an experience she loved, and she takes the time to pay tribute to the years she studied there for getting her to where she is now. She underwent a significant musical transition at the institution too.
“That was when my tastes definitely broadened and I became really close with somebody who was into jazz music,” she says. “I got very much into more jazzy chord shapes, which is where the guitar’s dissonant sound comes from.”
There was a brief period between the BRIT School and signing to 4AD when Hannah worked a nine-to-five job on Fleet Street, booking adverts into newspapers. She clung on to that job as long as she needed to, but that portion of her life came to an abrupt halt at a rather bizarre moment in time.
“I had really bad psoriasis all over my body,” she explains. “I had tried lots of different remedies, but then I decided that I would go to acupuncture to see what that might do. I went in and I was in a dream state for about an hour, and when I came out, I answered the phone to my manager. He told me that 4AD had offered me a record deal and I was like, ‘WHAT?!’.”
When asked about the experiences that have stuck in her mind since she signed to 4AD, another common theme that has heavily influenced Pixx emerges.
“I recently played at something called Festival Les Femmes in France, which is a really cool event,” she says. “They book female artists across venues in Paris.”
She explains that her expectations of it being a quiet affair were squashed when she walked out on stage to a massive audience.
“I just felt extremely happy to see so many people supporting a festival that is striving to help female musicians, because you know it’s kind of a male-dominated industry.”
We digress into a detailed discussion about feminism, which ends up taking us back to her childhood.
“I was quite an anxious child,” she notes. “It was a fucking hard time to grow up as a female. I mean, it always has been, but when I was younger I was quite confused about the way the world worked and how it’s so male-oriented. That definitely got me down”.
After gently probing for episodes that might have shaped this world view, one of the stories Hannah shares is about being 12 years old and allowed out unaccompanied to play with friends for the first time. When she caught the bus home, she was cornered in her seat by a group of older males who wouldn’t let her get off at her stop. The memory animates her voice, and you get the sense she wants to jump back in time so her adult self can step in to help.
She counters these incidents, however, with immense and sincere gratitude for having been surrounded her entire life by supportive men who abhorred that sort of behaviour.
“But as a girl, how many of us have had to deal with that shit?” she continues. “We’re living in 2017 and it’s still such a big thing. With someone like Donald Trump getting into power at the moment, it’s just fucking terrifying what kind of direction we’re going in.”
In the two years since her ‘Fall In’ EP, one of the most noticeable aspects of her career is the way that Pixx has comfortably evolved into a confident social commentator for her generation.
“For me, lyrics are a huge part of songwriting,” she says. “I feel like there’s a space we have in music to use our voices to get things out, to be open and to write about important things as much as possible. Not that I’ve written any crazy protest songs yet, but that’s something I’m definitely striving to do.”
What else does Hannah Rodgers hope to do in the future? Well, to start with, more Pixx shows. She explains that live performances used to be a big source of anxiety for her. Getting on a stage was one of her least favourite things about being a musician.
“I’ve found my feet a bit now, though,” she says, “In fact, the live performance is becoming one of my favourite parts.”
She also talks through her desire to write music with other women, something she’s not done before, and of her appetite for working with new artists in general.
“I’m just very excited to get on to writing the second album,” she says. “And I’ll be making sure that I’m writing about things I think are important and hopefully influencing people in a good way.”
‘The Age Of Anxiety’ is out on 4AD