Hanson's back with a new CD

Singer-songwriter returns to Juneau with her most complex work yet

Posted: Friday, May 30, 2003

Songwriter Sarah C. Hanson moved away from Juneau in 2000, but she's coming back Friday, May 30, to sing songs about Fairbanks, her new home.

Hanson, 28, an acoustic guitarist, had no idea she would stay in Fairbanks when she visited in the summers of 1999 and 2000.

She lived in a tent that first summer and in a sauna the next. Hanson became friends with the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre company and moved into a cabin down the road. Her apartment is in the middle of a birch forest, sits above a costume shop and has no running water. She's lived there almost three years.

"I love it out here," Hanson said from Fairbanks. "I like to live to myself and to live in a variety of locations."

"Often what happens," she said, "is that wherever I go, I'll be there for a year, and I'll write songs about that place."

Her latest compact disc, "All I Can See," is her third release. Hanson will play a CD release show with Juneau bassist Albert McDonnell at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 30, at McPhetres Hall. Admission is $5.

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This will be Hanson's first Juneau concert in more than a year. Hanson was born in Nome and moved to Juneau with her family when she was 3.

"My music has grown with me as I've grown," Hanson said. "I started playing when I was 20. So my songwriting has changed, my music has grown and my recording style has gotten more complex."

"All I Can See" is her most detailed album. She spent a year and a half recording with Pat Fitzgerald and Robin Dale Ford at 10th Planet, a recording studio in Fairbanks, and took out a loan to finish the recording. The CD includes almost 20 guest musicians. Fairbanks jazz guitarist Ron Veliz helped with the production and the song "To You" includes a piano track imported from California pianist Dave Wallace.

"All I Can See" is also the first time Hanson has ever recorded to a "click track," a device that clicks and helps artists keep perfect time when they're recording on to tape.

"Before I always did my recording to my intuitive time, which was pretty crazy," Hanson said. "This process was a lot more time-consuming and a lot trickier. Over time, I did get better, and it's helped me get better as a musician in general. I'm better at playing with other people."

Hanson began playing guitar when she was 20. She was studying psychology and musical therapy at Western Washington University's Fairhaven College in Bellingham, Wash. She learned two chords at a party, grabbed her guitar when she visited Juneau for spring break and returned to Bellingham. During her first day back, she wrote her first song, using one chord.

"It's therapeutic to write a song," Hanson said. "I like working out emotional things through playing the guitar. Sometimes you can't really figure out what something is until you give it a name, and in songs, I can give it a name."

Hanson helps kids write songs at Fairbanks Montessori School. She's a classroom assistant and works with 3- to 6-year-olds. She also worked at the Juneau Montessori School on Douglas Island.

"Last summer there was a big storm, we went in the classroom and the lights even might have gone out," Hanson said. "We were sitting there, and we wrote a song about the storm together. I got a piece of paper and had everyone tell me about what they were hearing and thinking.

"The other thing that I'll do is I'll let them strum the guitar, and I'll make the chord changes," she said. "They can choose the song that they want to play, and I become the instrument. That's confidence building. Just being able to control anything for a 3- to 6-year-old is a pretty powerful thing."

Hanson released her first compact disc, "Something More Than Beautiful," in 1998. She recorded it in 2 1/2 hours at Soundings of the Planet, an artist-owned studio and label in Bellingham.

"I only brought in two different musicians that time to help me with the songs," Hanson said. "I would play a song, and I'd get done with it and I'd say, 'Let's move on to the next song.' I was heading off to Europe, and I didn't want to spend a lot of money. I just wanted a recording of the event.

"I sold a lot of that recording," Hanson said. "And some people say it's their favorite album of mine, because it was very innocent. It was really a special time of working things out."

"Something More Than Beautiful" was mostly about her experiences in Bellingham.

Her second compact disc, "Breaking Strings" came out in 2000 and was mostly about Fairbanks and Juneau. She spent a year recording at Skate Bottom Sound with McDonnell. That CD includes eight other artists. In a way, she said, it turned out to be a "goodbye" to Juneau.

"I didn't know that at the time, but it was," Hanson said.

"I guided the process as far as when I would come in, and it was fun," Hanson said. "Albert was a little nebulous, which I really needed at that time. When I listen to the album, I hear all the creative juice, and all that freedom and that joy we had putting a mike over a box of percussive instruments and me just tapping on whatever I wanted."

Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

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