Hannah Jadagu has class in two hours. Chatting with NME from her East Village dorm room, the 20-year-old college student has on her agenda for the day: attending class, squeezing in some homework, and working on a big project she has coming up – her debut album, ‘Aperture’ (assignment due: May 19).
‘Aperture’ will arrive two years after her debut EP, ‘What Is Going On?’, which she released fresh out of high school. Jadagu recorded the EP entirely on her iPhone 7, laying down instrumentals on a guitar she bought off Amazon and listening to mixes through a pair of Beats headphones. “Everything about that EP was DIY to the core”, Jadagu recalls. “Young Hannah was having a moment!”
Jadagu is currently based in New York City for music and school, but she grew up in the Texan suburbs of Mesquite, 30 minutes outside of Dallas. Life in the suburbs was “chill”, but not without a tinge of alienation and longing. “I felt just a little bit different. Everyone around me went to church and was super religious. It wasn’t really normal for people to leave Texas – you grow up there, you stay there, you might become a teacher, you’ll start a family. And that’s OK, but it just wasn’t something that I wanted,” she says. “On a more aspirational sense, it wasn’t really lining up.”
Still, Jadagu grew up in the warm embrace of her family, who are also her most formative musical influences. Her house was filled with the sounds of R&B and the local K104 hip hop radio (“lots of Young Money artists”, like Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, she recalls), put on by her Zimbabwean parents. “They came over from Africa in the late 90s”, Jadagu says. “Arriving in this new country and living in a diverse area full of Black and Hispanic families, they connected to Houston through music – a form of ‘swag assimilation’.”
Her parents aside, Jadagu credits her “cool older sister” for introducing her to the world of indie music, where she found her calling, and for generally helping her to “get on a more swag level.” Jadagu recalls scrolling Spotify at age 15 and discovering the seismic 2010s dance hits of DJ Snake, Skrillex and Calvin Harris that injected EDM into the DNA of mainstream pop music, and falling in love with the power of melody. Her sister, listening to ‘Chocolate’ by The 1975 in the next room, weighed into Jadagu’s musical diet with an indie overlay, with the internet soon taking Jadagu down an indie rabbit hole. “I was online so much, finding things like Clairo’s ‘Pretty Girl’ and the music of Steve Lacy, who inspired me to start making music on my phone.”
That late 2010s internet that Jadagu describes was an inflection point, a time when music converged with Tumblr, internet fandom and curatorial self-expression, lifting cult favourite acts as HAIM and Vampire Weekend (whom Jadagu cites as constant influences) to the forefront of mainstream music. Jadagu’s online life became a gateway into the universe of indie music, and she soon began sharing original demos to Soundcloud. As college application season approached, Jadagu knew she wanted to land in music somehow. “My goal was that by the time I graduated, I could still be involved in the music industry – if not as an artist, then maybe as a music supervisor,” she says today. Jadagu moved to New York City to study music business, and signed with indie label Sub Pop just before freshman year.
As pandemic restrictions on live music finally eased, Jadagu took a year out of college to tour with indie acts Faye Webster, Wet and Frankie Cosmos. “I learned more from that year of touring than a whole year of college. Learning about the music business in real time gave me double exposure, in a way.” It was between these tours that Jadagu wrote most of ‘Aperture’, the periods of stillness in between life on the road prompting self-reflection and creativity. “I ended up writing an album about the transitional experience of coming into my early 20s. I had left the space I previously occupied for the space that I wanted to be in,” she explains.
The theme of “aperture” is an interesting one. Jadagu picked up the word from her college friend and album photographer Sterling Smith, who kept fixating on aperture during the photoshoot for her album cover. “He explained to me that aperture is a measure of how much light the lens lets into the camera. Something about that really stuck with me”, Jadagu says. “As a young person today, you have to know how to choose what to carry with you from your experiences and what to leave behind, what to close the light on.”
She sings of experiences like these on ‘Aperture’, the depths of her lyrical introspection amplified by the synthy, experimental soundscapes of French producer Max Robert Baby. Jadagu questions aspects of her religious upbringing on the hazy, distortive ‘Letter To Myself’, delivering observations like: “She said to put my hands together / Gave my life up to a man that I’ve never met”.
On the lightly psychedelic album closer ‘Your Thoughts Are Ur Biggest Obstacle’, Jadagu paints a picture of the anxiety and loneliness of being a young adult today: “Yesterday I called my friends all up again / They didn’t know but I was steadily caving in”. “I wrote that at the beginning of the pandemic”, Jadagu explains. “I had just lost my job working at the potato stand in the mall. I had so much anxiety. This is a song for the anxious baddies out there, and a reminder that your biggest hater is often yourself.”
One of Jadagu’s favourite album tracks, the slick and rhythmic ‘Admit It’, is a love letter to her older sister. “I will admit I want to be there for you / All of the times that you have helped me through”, Jadagu sings in her honour. The slow, sultry track reflects some of Jadagu’s key sonic influences for the album, including her “favourite indie pop girlies like Beabadoobee and Clairo”, with touches of sticky production a nod to “the PC music girls like Charli XCX and Caroline Polachek, who I am always inspired by.”
Harkening to the aperture theme, these songs are a potent blend of light and dark. Not quite sombre and gloomy, but never ecstatically happy either, the songs flit between uplifting lyrics and moody sonic textures, and vice versa. “The music reflects how much push and pull we have at this age”, says Jadagu. “You’ll be stressed at 3pm, then by 6pm, you’re ready to start drinking early. Some of the songs sound happy, but the lyrics reveal that you’re actually going through it.”
For now, Jadagu is continuing to get the best of both worlds (to quote famous fictional pop star and student, Hannah Montana). “I’m walking the fine line of having class at 12 and an interview at 2”, Jadagu jokes. Whether it’s light and dark, or finishing work on her debut album in Paris and being back in class the next day, it’s clear that for Jadagu, the beauty is all in the balance.
Hannah Jadagu’s debut album ‘Aperture’ will be released on May 19 via Sub Pop
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