Hannah was raised in Spanish Harlem, New York City, by parents who were interested and involved with visual art (her painter mom) and music (her composer/cellist dad). She was influenced equally by her mothers' Leonard Cohen records and the chaotic chamber music rehearsals that frequently took place in the living room. But she was perhaps most deeply affected by growing up alongside her autistic older sister Melissa. As she told one interviewer, "She allowed me to empathize with states of mind and sensory perspectives that defy generalization - that challenge one's sense of who one is, of what intelligence and morality are, of what love is.”
Hannah began her recording career after making a disorienting move to Northern California. She plunged into the San Francisco "sadcore" scene - a move catalyzed by hearing Mark Eitzel and American Music Club play in a parking lot. Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters was an early friend, supporter and collaborator. He helped her make her first demos and produced her 1995 debut album, River of Darkness.
Even after she got married and moved to LA for 5 years, Hannah still traveled to San Francisco to record, working with American Music Club drummer Tim Mooney and ex-Swans bassist Joe Goldring to create her 1998 album Faith Burns. (AP called Faith Burns a "moving opera of angst and renewal".) Tim and Joe also co-produced her Bar/None debut Black Hole Heaven, a chronicle of the frayed edges of her LA experience. Black Hole Heaven drew fierce praise from critics and interviewers...CMJ described it as:
" torchy daydreams.. .as consoling as they are feverishly moody...rich provocative stuff." Thom Jurek said in AMG: "Of all the alleged pop records released in the year 2000, none is more beguiling, lovely and confounding...a wonderfully perverse carnival ride... containing "one of the 10 best breakup songs ever"("Los Alamos").
Back in New York City now, Hannah has become very active on the music and literary scenes. She has begun to perform material from Desert Farmers live, both as a solo act and accompanied by various fellow artists. She also recently composed the music for Refrigerator Mothers, a documentary about the mothers of autistic children in the ‘60s that aired on PBS. (Information on the film as well as an article about the music can be found at www.pbs.org.) She and Rick Moody have collaborated on several projects, including Canon: for Fred Tomaselli for local National Public Radio station WNYC. Go to www.wnyc.org to hear the archived piece; a re-worked version appears on Desert Farmers as “Canon.” The pair also performs with guitarist David Grubbs (from Gastr Del Sol and The Red Crayola) as a trio called The Wingdale Community Singers.
Hannah Marcus follows a path seldom traveled since the earliest days of 20th Century punk, NYC –style. On Desert Farmers, she recalls the incantatory power of Patti Smith circa Horses and the mystery and carefully crafted foreboding of Nick Cave’s quieter moments or John Cale’s chillingly austere productions for Nico. Her music is as artful as it is iconoclastic and leaves plenty of room for poetry. Hannah is forward-thinking and fearless, emulating the spirit if not exactly the sound of her progenitors, and on her latest release she’s aided and abetted on much of it by the equally visionary members of Montreal band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Together they’ve created an album that’s transfixing and beautiful, startling and disturbing.
The enigmatic cult faves GYBE were already fans of Hannah when they invited her two years ago to open shows for them in Amsterdam and in Germany, where Hannah has long had a following. Touring in tandem led to their recording together; Desert Farmers was recorded and mixed in Montreal at Godspeed’s home base, the Hotel2Tango. Key players included GYBE guitarist Efrim Manuck and bassist Thierry Amar, as well as violinist Jessica Moss of the GYBE offshoot, A Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra.
On its own, Godspeed You! Black Emperor creates eerie, wordless soundscapes; combined with Hannah’s narratives and vocals, the tracks become all the more compelling. It’s haunting, riveting stuff, like a book that might be scaring the hell out of you but that you still can’t put down. There’s definitely a unique literary bent to Hannah’s work; lyrics for two of the tracks were adapted from the writing of another Hannah admirer, and now frequent collaborator, author Rick Moody (The Ice Storm, Purple America).
Referring to the slow, cinematic pace of her material, one critic declared Hannah “the Jim Jarmusch of indie rock.” Time Out magazine said of Hannah: "Many artists aspire to create and populate their own worlds, but Hannah Marcus actually succeeds." All one has to do is listen to the remarkable riff of “Hairdresser in Taos" that Hannah works into a drug fueled road trip with surreal results. Sympathetic playing by Thierry and Efrim (of GYBE) move the performance to a transcendent conclusion that picks up on the work Patti Smith abandoned after Horses. On "Desert Farmer" a simple plucked parched guitar sounds like drops of rain in the sand as Hannah sings "when you got clean you took your loot and sunk it into dragonfruit and now you have become a desert farmer." The guitar part gets more complex as the rain comes down and when the contrabass comes in the listener can feel the desert coming into full bloom.
Black Hole Heaven
"The landlord’s son is a drunken bum and he weed whacks weed whacks all the time. Once he got so bombed that he took out his scythe and he chopped down all the Birds Of Paradise behind Lot 309 He went wild... "
Lot 309 (track 1)
So begins the beautiful bittersweet Black Hole Heaven. For her forth album Hannah Marcus takes us on a Kafka-esque cook's tour of the new western front, from the psychotropical artist haunts of San Francisco and Los Angeles to the fluorescent sunsets of Los Alamos. It is an epic tale of love and chemicals. "I wanted to make a big 70’s rock concept album when I started" explains Hannah. "But then things went awry. I got divorced, and began staying up way too late at night." The net effect is a woman bouncing between the gods and he cockroaches, waxing turmoil with the wonder of it all. Some artists make albums that are a collection of snappy numbers to tap your toe to-- Hannah Marcus writes songs that will inhabit you.
Alone in her apartment she began recording songs on an ADAT - the basic tracks for "Los Alamos", "Crimson Bird", and the revivified "Osiris In Pieces", the humble yet hopeful "Tired Swan" and the wonderfully resigned "Darling How Are You". She gave them to Tim Mooney who was very excited about continuing with the project and encouraged her to go back in the studio. Tim co-produced the record, bringing in such musicians as guitar effects master Michael Belfer (Tuxedomoon, Black Lab), DJ Ill Media (from Most Chill Slackmob) and Joe Goldring returned to play and work on the mixes, (especially "Osiris In Pieces"). The album emerged like a lotus from the muck.
Hannah Marcus is a reporter back from the edge and Black Hole Heaven is her intra-galactic war chronicle of the heart - dark to be sure - but infused with lucid wonder and humor that transcends mere irony. Imagine that.