Letters Under Floorboards, the second album by Hannah Rose Platt, is a big departure for the UK country and Americana singer-songwriter.
Musically, it’s a major shift from her largely acoustic 2015 debut, Portraits – this time around she’s gone electric, but also brought in strings, keys and pedal steel, for a much bigger sound, and, lyrically, some of the songs deal with dark and very personal themes, which sees a marked change in her approach to writing, which, until now, has centered on telling stories.
However, Platt, who was born and raised in Liverpool, hasn’t completely abandoned the character-based songs that she’s known for, either.
It makes for an interesting and diverse record – we get life-affirming, jangly guitar pop (‘Illuminate’), moody country-noir (‘Chanel & Cigarettes’ – a sinister tale of infidelity), the emotional and honest, hard-edged and anthemic ‘Sculptor’, which is about an abusive relationship, the reflective ballad ‘Checkmate’, the twangy ‘When Audrey Came To Call’, inspired by one of the deadliest tropical cyclones in U.S. history, and the brooding and cinematic duet ‘I Will Tell You When’ – in which a father and daughter wait for an impending plague of locusts to descend on a prairie in the American Midwest.
In the sleeve notes of the album, Platt says that, at times, the record was very painful to make, but also an absolute joy.
Over a beer in a pub in central London, I ask her to elaborate:
“While I was writing the record, I was going through a massive transition in my personal life. I don’t mind being open about the fact that I was in an abusive relationship at the time – the extraction from that was very complicated,” she says.
“A few of the songs were written so I could do something else, rather than have to sit down and deal with the conflict. It was hard, but it was therapeutic and empowering. It was also a first for me to write personal, relationship songs about my own experiences, because I love writing stories and that’s what I’d done up until that point.”
SH: The new record is very different from your first one, Portraits
HRP: That was recorded in Nashville, but Letters Under Floorboards was recorded in the UK, it is harder and darker and has more depth and variety to it. It has a bigger sound – it’s more produced.
Did you have a definite idea about what you wanted this record to sound like?
This record sounds more like the music I listened to when I was growing up – and more like the music I listen to now. The first album was stripped-back – just me and my guitar. With this record, I wanted to have fun with the arrangements, to write different parts and to experiment. I wanted it to be grittier and darker – it’s more me.
It was definitely intentional – there were a lot more people involved and this was the record I actually wanted to make. The first album was a great snapshot of where I was at the time, but we had five days to get everything done – it was a very different process. This record took two and half years to make and everything was very carefully considered. I was writing as I was recording it – when I went in to do the first song, I didn’t have all the other songs written.
Given what was going on with my personal life at the time, it had to be really measured, but I’m glad that I took a while to do it because I feel so happy with the results. It took a long time to cook, but I’m pleased with the cake.
You worked with an impressive line-up of UK Americana
Yes. Joe Bennett (Bennett Wilson Poole, The Dreaming Spires) arranged the strings, Henry Steel (Danny and The Champions of the World) played pedal steel, and Danny Wilson (Danny and The Champions of the World, Bennett Wilson Poole) sang backing vocals. Tony Poole (Starry Eyed and Laughing, Bennett Wilson Poole) is also credited with ‘audio consultancy’…
It’s mostly Tom (Collison) and I playing the instruments – we had a lot of fun. Tony was really helpful – we had to run the record past someone else’s ears. He was a massive champion, very supportive and enthusiastic. Danny helped to link me up with the record company who released the album [CRS/Continental Records].
There’s also a guest appearance by Sid Griffin from US alt-country band The Long Ryders.
I met Sid at a gig a few years ago – the bass player on my first album had played on one of his solo albums and he introduced us. We got chatting and swapped details. I told my stepdad that I’d met Sid and he said, ‘wow’, but I didn’t realise that he was in The Long Ryders! I used to listen to them when I was little.
The song that he sings on was one that I co-wrote with my stepdad [Christopher Stevens] – he’s a musician, but we’d never written together before. We wrote three songs on the album and it was magic. He was happy to have one of his all-time heroes sing on one of his songs.
The song was inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie books – she experienced a plague of locusts when she was a child.
My stepdad wanted to write the song from the point of view of a farmer who has lost everything. For me, it had to be a conversation between a father and a daughter.
What I love about Sid’s performance on that song is that he characterised it perfectly. The lyric is about a daughter who is frightened and her father is trying to reassure her that it’s fine. As the song goes on, he becomes increasingly unconvincing because he’s absolutely terrified.