Sleepy Existence

An Interview with Thomas Hannah.

I was born & raised in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. It really was the standard suburban upbringing. You could skate and hang out on the street until late with your mates without too much heat from your parents. Like most people, I look back on this time of my life with great fondness. There's a quiet before adulthood creeps in, but I digress. As I got older, the city lights became more tantalising. By the time I was 18, I was out at every spare moment, checking out some dive bar or seedy club (this is before Sydney had introduced its tough 'lock out laws'). The city had a real pulse of excitement, a hint of danger. 

Now I live up towards Byron Bay, living much more of a sleepy existence. You could say I've traded the city lights for the hillside, the kind of place where nobody locks their doors. Here you see all manner of fruit and vegetables sold on the side of the road in an unmanned box. You just put your money in and take what you've paid for. You can't walk anywhere from my house, and there’s no public transport or Uber. If you haven't got a car, you're just about f**ked. Just getting to my place involves a cobweb of winding roads through bushland, which is great for me and my motorcycle. If I start to get a bit 'shining' (cooped up for too long), I'll ride down to Byron Bay. It’s a beachside hub of pubs, restaurants and shopping. It’s a mecca for backpackers and free spirits. Lots of crystals, lots of WEED (if that's your thing).

All in all, a lot of sunsets, a lot of silence.

After the most tumultuous year of my life, things have started to settle down. I rely almost exclusively on art and the creative release it brings for solace, spending as much time as I can creating. If I spend too long not doing it, I become deflated and find life discouraging. I'm constantly searching for content and it's in the act of searching through creativity that I get the next closest thing. 

My day to day is largely based on routine. If i'm not working, I'm either on my bike listening to music, writing while listening to music, painting while listening to music, taking photos while listening to music or boxing while listening to music. And as I’ve already mentioned, from time to time I'll ride down to Byron and spend a weekend blowing off some steam.

But it’s the night that I look forward to most. It's at this point in the day that I feel most comfortable creatively & physically. It’s when I can quiet my mind at my desk and have a little holiday from myself.

I grew up in a very music orientated household. My dad was always explaining the lyrics of a song on long car rides and my mother would always say that my twin brother and I knew Australian bands like 'INXS' from the womb. Music for me was always my first love. I was absolutely obsessed with it and would lay in bed listening for hours of a night. I loved the escapism of it. I often romanced over the artists.

I never pieced literature and  my love for music together until my mother practically forced 'The Doors Greatest Hits' CD and the Jim Morrison biography 'Nobody Here Gets Out Alive' by Danny Sugerman into my hands. I was around 18 or 19 years old. After reading the book and listening to the CD on rotation, I was totally enthralled. The inspiration and excuse to write (very badly) took hold of me without any social self hatred.

Jump a few years ahead. I was singing in a punk band called 'The Daughter's Agenda', purely writing song lyrics. Once the band dissolved, my twin brother (and drummer) Joel put it to me to try and write poetry. 

It was a total breath of fresh air. I wasn't confined by beats or syllables. I could sit down and have a finished product before I stood up again. It was something I could do all on my own that was very liberating.

When looking back at my poetry as a whole, I'm sure it has overarching themes such as self and societal deconstruction. But because of the form, my stuff is very in the moment and spontaneous. One piece on Monday might be light years away from the next on Tuesday. 

What I can say is that I almost never come up with something off the top of my head in a fictitious sense; I'm most comfortable holding a mirror to myself and my experiences, or to people and society around me, and then writing about that. 

Music has been and is my primary love and influence. I've always been particularly drawn to words and understanding their meaning. When it comes to my biggest influence lyrically, obviously first it was Jim Morrison of 'The Doors'. But over the years, it’s become a vast list, containing the likes of Cedric Bixler Zavala from 'At the Drive In' and 'The Mars Volta', Gareth Liddiard from 'The Drones' and 'Tropical Fuck Storm', Annie Clark, Elliott Smith, Patti Smith; great jazz and blues singers like Billie Holiday and Howling Wolf. I could go on forever.

When it comes to literature that's really turned me on, I can't go past 'Catcher in the Rye' & 'The Diary of a Young Girl'. Both of these really knocked the wind out of me. When it comes to poetry, my single biggest influence was a video my brother showed me of Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen performing on The Steve Allen Show. It was potent. There is also a scene in the Bob Dylan movie 'I'm Not There' featuring the song 'I Want You' which was very influential to me with its use of voice over, visual & sound. 

Aside from all the sublime art we have in the world, I find trying to understand the daily and general interaction we have with ourselves and the ones around us as my deepest wellspring of inspiration

People generally motivate me, whether it’s what they've created with a legacy or a piece of art, or maybe they're just fascinating. I'm interested in biographies and the arc of peoples’ lives. Again, it's all about trying to understand other people, and in doing so, you learn who you are & how you fit into our shared world. 

When it comes to the formula of creation, music to me is a quintessential part. Without it, I wouldn't be creating in the first place. If i hadn't heard 'The Doors' at 18/19 or INXS throughout my formative years, I would be a totally different person.

Some songs that have shaped me creativity have to be the poetics of 'The End' and the desperation of 'Hyacinth House' by 'The Doors', The poetry break in 'Smells like Teen Spirit' by Patti Smith, the attack of 'Shark Fin Blues' and 'Jezebel" by 'The Drones', and all of 'Blonde on Blonde' by Bob Dylan. There's many more like 'Son Et Luminere' by 'The Mars Volta', 'Smokestack Lightning' by Howling Wolf, 'Nights in White Satin' and 'Go Now' from 'The Moody Blues', 'Hell Broke Luce' and 'Heartattack & Vine' by Tom Waits, 'Strange Fruit' by Billie Holiday, all of 'Exile on Main Street' from the Stones & many, many, MANY more!

But there are those times when writer’s block sets in. Usually I know when I'm writing or painting or whatever it is, and it just  isn't happening. It's a strange, unsettling feeling that I can't really explain, but if it happens, I walk away. I've spent too many hours retching out bad art because I try & fight through it. It always comes back. 

There have been many times in my life when I've been reminded how powerful creative work is. Songs and words have gotten me and many of us through hard times, serving as the soundtracks to our lives. In saying that, if someone gets some joy or satisfaction out of anything that I do creatively, I'm terribly proud and thoroughly insecure. And if they don't, that's okay too.

In the end, i'd be happy if the people who knew me looked back on my life and myself fondly.

I get a great sense of comfort that no matter what, I have a pile of words for my loved ones to remember me by and maybe get some comfort from them.

My name is Thomas Hannah. I’m an Australian artist who works in the forms of poetry, photography, videography & paint. My work strives to hold a mirror to myself & the world around me.

©Alchemy & Elegy