Mainland fiddler not in the mainstream

Culture Music

The first time I saw violin-looping sorceress Hannah Epperson, I was in awe. Where did the girl making all this new, wonderful noise come from? Turns out she has been making ethereal sonic dreamscapes for a few years now. However, her path didn’t start with such lofty musical ideals. “I started playing violin when I was five, and around age nine I met this cow girl who was also an amazing fiddler,” says Epperson, speaking to me from Vancouver on a rare day off. “She started teaching me fiddle songs by ear. That world was so interesting because all of the songs she taught me came with stories and history and folklore. That was very invigorating and exciting for me.”

It wasn’t long before rock music and hormones forced Epperson’s path to change a bit. “The first album I ever bought was the Cranberries’ No Need to Argue. I was obsessed with the singer. I remember cutting my hair really short in elementary school. I just thought she was such a badass!” says Epperson with a laugh. “Then came adolescence, trying to chase boys up trees. I ended up playing in this kind of crappy boy band in high school. Pretty classic, right?” But that couldn’t last forever; Epperson started to find her own unique voice in an already crowded musical world.

“The solo thing has really taken off in a very organic way since I graduated from UBC last year. I’d just been playing a lot of solo gigs at local cafés and stuff,” says Epperson. “Slowly my name kept getting passed around, and I feel like it’s happened very slowly—calling myself a musician. I’m still a little uncomfortable admitting it, but I haven’t had a full-time job since I graduated. I think it’s time for me to take ownership and responsibility for that title.”

It’s hard not to take notice of the acclaim she’s been receiving for her inventive, thoughtful music. She’s spent the better part of the last year careening around the country, playing intimate, emotional shows for ever-increasing audiences, including recent highlights: accompanying poet Shane Koyczan at a TED conference, and a personal landmark show at the Dawson City Music Festival this past summer.

“I had the most intensely visceral performance of my life in the Palace Grande, this incredible old theatre, in Dawson City. It’s probably the coolest venue I’ve ever played in,” says Epperson. “I had an insane physical and emotional experience playing that show. I felt like—for the first time in my life I felt like I was attached to my music and that I wasn’t just a vessel, this passing-through point, which is often how I feel. After that show I went backstage and just started sobbing. I felt like I was puking. I have no idea why. It was crazy. It was a really, really incredible experience.”

The experience is a testament to the deeply personal and involved way Epperson creates and presents her music.  Epperson says, “If you expect people to engage and be moved by the things that you’re producing and offering up, I think it should be a finished product at the end of a very long process of brainstorming, editing, re-imagining, editing again. I think it is really important, if you want people to listen to what you have to say, to actually have something to say. To offer a kernel for people to think about, I think that’s the point of any art.”