Music

Middle Kids’ Hannah Joy: “I Like To Go And Live, Connect And Experience People”

the band the middle kids putting their faces in the sun

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Hannah Joy is a woman who has a lot going on in her life right now. 

As she logs onto Zoom to speak with me about the third Middle Kids album, Faith Crisis Pt 1, the band’s guitarist and vocalist is preparing to celebrate her son’s fourth birthday. She is also preparing for the birth of her second child — and at the time of the interview, the release of the record is just a few weeks away. All things considered, the musician and songwriter is in good spirits; slightly ironic given the state of mind the album title indicates.

“I’m feeling pretty good, which is awesome!” she says. “I’m having a baby next week and usually I’d probably feel like curling up in a hole… I probably will at some point but for right now, I’m going to ride it out.”

Breaking down an album like Faith Crisis Pt 1 opens a songwriter like Hannah up to embracing reflections on her process as an artist, her creative partnership with bandmate and husband Tim Fitz, and the evolution of Middle Kids as a band. Some reflections haven’t been easy to digest, yet the clarity found throughout the journey has mirrored the core themes of the album itself. “It was a big challenge, but looking back on it, there was a lot of growth,” she says. “I’m very thankful for it, but I don’t want to go through it again!”

As with many (if not all artists) during the initial onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality of life as a touring musician changed abruptly. For Middle Kids, who had become one of Australia’s most successful and beloved touring groups, this period of time forced them to confront how they wanted to create new music. 

Newfound parenthood for two thirds of the band helped make this “season” of time, as Hannah describes it, a unique beast. During this time, she learned more about her relationship to her craft and artistic journey; more importantly, Hannah realised how she adapted to get through such uncertain times.

“I think that I’m starting to see more and more that I’m quite an extroverted artist,” she explains. “I like to go and live, connect and experience people, the world and their stories, then come back and reflect. I work with a lot of external stimuli. I found it very confronting during COVID, because I didn’t have any of that for a long time. And not just because of COVID, but through early stages of new motherhood for me too. These were two things that were very vacuum-like experiences.” 

“It was disturbing at first, because I didn’t want to just look inside; that didn’t feel compelling to me at all. I can reflect and look, but I like to do it amongst the energy of life and be wrestling with things.” 

In immersing yourself in Faith Crisis Pt 1, you can feel the tension and discomfort that comes with such moments of self-doubt and pessimism (‘Petition’, ‘The Blessings’). Yet, in a song like ‘Dramamine’, there are glimmers of light and chemistry that can only have been brought from the artists finding a spark and creative pleasure in untrodden territory.

This track was a touchstone moment of Faith Crisis Pt 1, with Hannah and Tim writing the song from the ground up. Though their creative relationship has produced three beloved Middle Kids albums to date, she admits that this partnership is one that she finds hard to tap into with confidence.

“That’s a very special song, because we had nothing, it was cool to go on that journey together,” Hannah says. “It is very funny, even though we’re married, that space is very fraught with insecurity. A lot of that is my issue more than his, probably. It’s always been such a solitary experience for me, it’s really hard for me to go there with someone else. It was very cool. We’re just so much more aware of our gifts and what we bring to the table.”

Adding New Ingredients To A Well-Defined Recipe

Who am I, as an artist? It’s a question Hannah asked herself during the making of Faith Crisis Pt 1

As Middle Kids worked their way through the creation of their third record, a successor to 2021’s vibrant Today We’re The Greatest, the band found new grounding in refreshing their approach to their dynamic as a group. “Sometimes I think I’m a fraud, in that I’ll think, ‘This is my job, I should be working at my craft all the time,’” Hannah says. 

“Even being so close to Tim and watching how he makes things, being in such awe of that… he can just make things all the time, and they’re beautiful, whereas I have to wait for the muse to strike me. I feel very out of control all of the time.”

“Tim, he is one of those artists… it seems to me, and he’d probably say the same thing, that he has infinite resources inside. He could not see anyone for a month and was very happy about that.” 

“His mind is a very interesting place, he’s got a beautiful imagination; he could mine that forever! For me, I feel like I just don’t have that same way of thinking. It took me a while to start finding some of these songs again, because I felt very uncomfortable being like, ‘You’ve just got to find it within!’ I’m a head-led person, I like to go through life and just keep going. Often, I’ll write a song randomly and I’ll be like, ‘Oh shit, that surprises me!’ It’s a way for me to check in on myself.”

Working with British producer Jonathan Gilmore (Nothing But Thieves, Rina Sawayama), Middle Kids found themselves involving an external perspective and influence more than ever. For Hannah, such changes made the end result more fulfilling and rejuvenated the album-making process.

“I’m realising that so many of my most inspired moments are from when I’m actually just trying to be really present in my life,” she admits. “When I can do that, then that flows into my writing — that’s an exciting place for me to create out of. He’s [Tim] learning how to be more patient with me. Once we started making these songs, there was a beautiful ease because we knew how to give each other more space; I’m a lot better at letting Tim come and wrangle some of the songs I write.” 

Life: “A Cycle Of Learning And Forming Of A Belief, To Have It Shatter, Change, Or Shift” 

As a whole, Faith Crisis Pt 1 is an album that has its protagonist navigating their way through a myriad of emotions to ultimately arrive at a space of peace and satisfaction. At least, for now. In describing the themes of the record, Hannah has noted that she is allowing for the possibility of a Faith Crisis Pt 2, even a Faith Crisis Pt 3

These moments of angst and restlessness are ones that we all experience as humans. For right now though, Faith Crisis Pt 1 is a moment for Middle Kids to embrace the unknown and face the harsh beauty of life. 

“I’m a very existentially angsty person,” Hannah says. “I’m always hoping to arrive at this place where I’m like, ‘Oh I’ve solved it. Life is this big riddle to be solved and I’ve worked out the rules of life and this is why we’re here,’ and I just can’t get there.” 

“I think that now, moving through what I’ve been moving through, you realise that you can get little moments of revelation and clarity, but that’s also not to say it won’t be shattered again. You get just enough to be able to do that day or that season, but I feel more and more, it’s this constant cycle of learning and forming of a belief, to have it shatter, change or shift. And actually, it’s totally okay. There’s a beautiful freedom and hope in that. It’s almost relaxing.”

With the release of a new album, the birth of a new child, and the anticipation of a brand new chapter for Middle Kids upon her, there is a definite sense of calm that Hannah exudes. Perhaps it’s the sense of adventure that awaits her as she stands on the precipice of new territory with her bandmates — with her family. Or maybe it’s in the peace found in realising that it’s okay to experience ups and downs in life. As she and Middle Kids have discovered, that’s what makes the journey interesting.

“We’re never going to know it all, we’re going to get crushed. It doesn’t make it hurt any less, but it’s not a sign that there’s something fundamentally wrong; this is just life,” she says. “I feel more thankful for music’s role in my life than ever. 2023 felt like a special year where everything we could do around music felt really special. We were so thankful to be able to keep on doing it.” 

“Music itself is such an anchor, a teacher. A profound power in our lives, and it’s really hard to explain. I used to trivialise it. I’m coming to realise that it’s real, it’s something that has been so special for all of us in helping us find out how to navigate life.”

Middle Kids’ new album Faith Crisis Pt 1 is out now.

Sosefina Fuamoli is an award-winning Samoan-Australian music writer and radio broadcaster, based in Melbourne. 

Image: Pooneh Ghana