EXCLUSIVE: ‘Hard Hearted Woman’ Hannah Juanita Shows Her Softer Side With ‘Memory of You’
Despite long navigating the realm of hard-driving honky tonk that led to the name of her debut record, Hardliner, Hannah Juanita aims to open up and show a new side of herself with her latest single, “Memory of You.”
The 2023 Ameripolitan Award nominee for Honky Tonk Female of the Year describes the song, out tomorrow (March 31), as a sad and emotional ballad about the potential loss of a relationship that you’re not ready to end.
The track begins with her describing some of the simple pleasures they share, like waking up together to the smell of coffee and bacon sizzling and running their hands through one another’s hair before getting into how their emotions have become forever entangled, for better and worse. In the song, she describes this by comparing herself to a tree and her partner to a vine running up it, singing:
“My branches are long / My trunk is tall and lean / But your roots have taken hold / And I’m afraid / You’ll be the death of me.”
“The place I wrote the song from was from one looking back, but I realize now that really what I was doing was looking forward,” Juanita tells The Boot. “At the time, I was in a hard point in the relationship that I was in and was feeling afraid of losing them, so I was anticipating what that would feel like and putting it to song.”
Co-produced with her bandmate Mose Wilson (pictured above), the song is a far cry from her previous recordings in both sound and subject matter and marks an exciting new chapter in her musical evolution.
“It took me a minute to realize that I can put out whatever I want,” says Juanita. “My music and sound is allowed to evolve. [‘Memory of You’] is a happy medium between my new, softer sound and the traditional honky tonk heard on my first record.”
The marriage of that new, more vulnerable sound with the traditional influence in her music can be traced all the way back to Juanita’s childhood in nearby Chattanooga. She was raised on the emphatic and fiercely independent anthems of Shania Twain, the Chicks (then the Dixie Chicks), Martina McBride and other country superstars of the 90’s. The discovery and subsequent falling for that music was an experience she shared with her mother, who she’d listen to the radio and sing-along with regularly during rides in the car.
“My mom always said that she fell in love with country music when she was pregnant with me,” says Juanita. “She had Patsy Cline’s Her Legendary Recordings on tape that she’d listen to over and over again when she was carrying me around that I still have all these years later.”
That cassette sent Juanita down the rabbit hole of Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, George Jones and other country legends that have primarily informed her retro-leaning sound. This time of digging into the genre came as she was in a creative funk, years removed from singing in her local church band and yearning to recapture the feeling of being in a band again. As she struggled to find the music that resonated with her, it was honky-tonk music that helped to set her straight.
“I was getting bored with everything I was listening to,” says Juanita. “When I began digging in and finding old country music, it felt like what I’d been missing my whole life. That’s when I started writing songs and began to grow my singing.”
This epiphany took place while Juanita was living out west during the 2010s. While attending college at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and later Middle Tennessee State University, she had an itch to get out and explore the world.
She soon moved with a friend to Portland and quickly fell on hard times, working everywhere from pot farms to child care to get by. These odd jobs continued for the next few years before she went in with some friends to buy a plot of land at the foothills of Washington’s Mount Rainier in 2017.
However, the end of a long-term relationship while on the other side of the country from the music she loved left Juanita at a crossroads. It wouldn’t be easy, but a change was needed.
“There was a lot of questioning about what I was doing with my life,” says Juanita. “I had just bought this beautiful piece of land with my friends, but deep down, it didn’t feel like what I needed to be doing. It was scary because I had built this whole life out west that I was now leaving behind to completely change directions and gear my life around playing the music I love.”
Within a few months, her sights were set back east, but with no particular place in mind. While road-tripping back to Washington, Juanita traveled through Nashville, where she connected with an old college friend who introduced her to performer and stylist Bekah Raye Cope. The two hit it off that night during Honky Tonk Tuesdays at the American Legion, so much so that by the end of it, Juanita knew that the city would soon be her new home.
Since moving to Music City, USA, Juanita has become a regular not only at Honky Tonk Tuesdays but at places like Dee’s Lounge, Santa’s Pub and Bobby’s Idle Hour. Through these classic haunts, she has gotten to rub shoulders and befriend artists like Sierra Ferrell, Timbo Lo, Emily Nenni and Mose Wilson, helping her to grow as both an artist and a person as she works to realize her honky tonk dream.
“I felt like I had come home even though I’d never lived in Nashville before,” says Juanita. “I grew up only two hours away but was never drawn to Nashville or expected to live there. Everything just fell into place. Almost overnight, I became friends with all these amazing people and found a community through playing with them.”
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Through this community, Juanita began to hit her stride, recording and later releasing her debut album Hardliner in 2021 and playing live relentlessly, culminating with her nomination at the Ameripolitan Music Awards this past February in Memphis. With a follow-up record on the way later this year, Juanita credits music and the community she has found for helping to make her the hard-hearted woman she is today.
“In her song, ‘Maria,’ Lucinda Williams sings, ‘wherever you stay it wouldn’t really matter ’cause all those cities start to look the same,’” says Juanita. “That line has always resonated with me because when I found music, I stopped running from life and started going at it head-on. It’s taught me how to sit still and be present in the moment.”