Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Hannah peel huge sept16

Track By Track: Hannah Peel on Awake But Always Dreaming

23 September 2016, 16:30

Experimental pop artist Hannah Peel writes in depth about new record Awake But Always Dreaming in our new Track By Track guide.

All That Matters

This song started completely differently in early production. Despite being the first song on the album it was actually completed as one of the last. It began as a bittersweet slow piano ballad but was always a mantra for someone close to me. Naturally I ended up wanting it to be a more empowering track, something that felt joyful or hopeful. Basically without much thought I starting playing the piano chords with this arpeggiated bubbling synth line on my Dave Smith and then it instantly all just fell together in about an hour. Even the lyric started to feel much more potent. Adding layers of simple 4/4 beats with an energetic string line rather than having layers off-kilter rhythms and counterpoint melody felt really refreshing and instantaneous. It was a lesson in simplicity for me and a good reminder of how to say something really important but with a lightness of touch. The song is supposed to echo the passion and brightness of youthfulness before the music takes you deeper into the rabbit hole of the mind. It’s a smile and welcome and a reminder that despite the heavy subject matter of the record, life isn’t all complex, forbidding and tragic. Being cared for and caring for others is a simple thing really.

Standing On The Roof Of The World

I love the idea of standing on the edge of a great city height, looking at the architecture, the whirr of the lights, traffic, and life below ready to get involved or take a step back with a detached perspective. When you are young anything seems possible, there is less fear, more hope, a passion with the bright lights of perceived success all twinkling in the city but there is always an underbelly to any city pulling you in. In the production the distorted synths and electric guitars mix with misleading found sounds and echo the lyrics of “come follow me”. I love Micachu’s score to the film Under The Skin and the beginning here and in "Don’t Take It Out On Me" is a small nod to Jonathan Glazer’s view from the outsider’s world. As I get older, things become a little more distorted, memories are discarded like old skin but new ones grow like tree roots under the pavement.

Hope Lasts

This is supposed to be a fun and lighthearted song and the only one on the record with no hidden undercurrent or tragedy! It’s hard not to write a miserable song, you know…

It was written quickly on a trip to my homeland of Donegal, Ireland, a place I love to visit and see family. The people and place are full of memories for me, old and new and with each time I go back. I wanted the lyrics to reveal an ease and happiness, seeing over and beyond any troubles. When I’m back in London, I imagine looking at the tawny hills that speak volumes with their past… these are moments of pure joy and optimism in life for me to treasure and keep safe. When I think of my granny Joyce, these are the moments I can’t help but imagine she kept safe too. The synth lines are simple and the flow of the production I wanted to keep natural and organic like the countryside, the melody is sung like the skyline on the road trip as we made our way down to the coast and the middle section even sees me panting like a dog on the mic… yup, rightly or wrongly I figured Kate Bush would have done that..


I spend a lot of time driving late at night after shows and rehearsals, often on my own through traffic, in and out of cities, and London in particular. There is a lot more time for me to reflect at night and to see what is happening all around. Many ideas and inspiration comes from those journeys and it's always quite surreal to imagine in every darkened room passed, people are sleeping, in a different world, whilst life drives by them and the radio still plays hits into the nighttime. I’m really fond of the rhythms and score on this one. I chopped up samples of traffic recordings to make the beats and wanted lush string lines to give the dreamy and melancholy sense of past and present tense.

Don’t Take it Out on Me

I love the Golden Age of cinema and the scores, from Morricone to Herrmann and there is supposed to be an ominous, Hitchcock-type orchestral sample at the start here. It was actually taken from a show I was working on at Sadler’s Wells; during rehearsals I recorded it on my phone, but I pitched it down so it steps and sounds strange, almost circuit bent. It marks a change in the album and the start of a change in the brain. Words are repeated and so is the woodwind’s hypnotic refrain. To me it feels like the mind is starting to jolt and drop memories while the fragility of memory is echoed with each breath. Darker memories can creep in to replace positive ones and I’m afraid to be seen as getting older and more vulnerable. The unblinking emotion of the mind feels like stone but starts to flow and erupt towards the end of the song. I often wonder if domestic or abusive memories are replaced by more positive ones as we get older or whether the mind treats them both as equal. I like to think the more positive ones remain and provide the comfort needed.

Awake But Always Dreaming is out now via My Own Pleasure.


Invisible City

In between the release of my first album in 2011 I did a number of EPs, but I spent hours writing a song for each of the 55 prose poems in Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities. It became a bit of an unhealthy obsession, and one I had no idea why - until the song "Conversations" was written. I suppose looking back now, I was in denial to what was happening to my grandmother with her dementia and seeking ways to understand where she had gone. The pure escapism in Calvino’s tales of unknown dreamworlds gave me comfort, and I thought deeply of her own imagination. I loved thinking deeply about the maps of her mind, what each segment of her memories was. The imagery of certain shops or street corners she could stroll through and the everyday travel like us. She was inside her own world remembering the routes to work, the journeys, and daily routine patterns. It felt healthy and made me research deeper and further.

Memory keeps us safe, it gives us an idea of self and knowing our way about. It is essential for daily life. Memory in this song, it is the arms of someone you love holding you close, like the walls of the city we all build around us. How terrifying and tragic it must be to realize it is leaving you after years of building a perceived, secure life.

"I built this city around my body, these walls they hold me like you once did, like you once did..."


This is a fully instrumental piece, a composition scored with analogue synths and doubled by clarinets and a bass clarinet. "Octavia" marks the half waypoint of my album. It’s the degrading of the brain and the life it once knew. Again, it’s inspired by the Italo Calvino fictional city Octavia where the foundations of the city are a spider’s web, a net that is suspended over a deep ravine in which the inhabitants live upon. Memory is teetering on the brink of forgetfulness and time is ticking, so when the net breaks, all the inhabitants of the city fall into the abyss. To me this was symbolic of the brain as it fights with a decaying disease.

Awake But Always Dreaming

Here manipulated voices represent the disorientation of the dementia sufferer and the lines between reality and dream becoming blurred. There is lyrical trance-like voice, becoming a fading last call for help over the intense sub bass and overlapping beats. Found sounds with different time signatures and rhythms cross over each other like interference, white and pink noise with all the spectrums of sound blend to become intense. It’s supposed to feel clubby and take you into a dream world. It’s the firing and cracks of brain neurons and the road is no longer a straight one. It’s become a mysterious hinterland of shadowy detours, hidey-holes, and strange places. Memory falls away and time drifts.


This was written directly after a conversation with my grandmother. It was that same one done every time I visit to explain who my family and I are. I went away in tears and my throat choking each time. For me, as I lived further away, I would visit less frequently which would mean that I could see the degenerative effects of dementia much more acutely with each visit. It was beyond painful and something I’ll never forget but it has equipped me with a mechanism for coping, that’s why I wrote it. More should be done to help other people dealing with the caring side of this illness, just how to cope and understand better, it’s not just getting old. My father deserves a knighthood for his patience and understanding. I hope in some small way this record burns the spotlight brighter and in my own modest way, it helps someone else. Even listening to this song is hard for me, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to perform it live.


This is a song of two halves. I wanted the disembodied vocals here to float in mid-air among cold synthesized winds that howl and scuttle beneath a relentless multi-rhythm track, driving it forward. There is a loss of connection, loss of speech, a loss of who we are in dementia. What was once seen and what was once done is hidden but not forgotten. Sufferers tell those around them they love them, but they don’t actually know who they are. Their world must race around them as they try to get to top of each new challenge. It must be like climbing to the top of Mount Everest but by way of metaphor, the ruthlessness of life, business, humans pushing to succeed, no longer really matters when everything is fading away.

Cars In The Garden

I’m a big fan of the Blue Nile - A Walk Across The Rooftops in particular, both the songs and production. This is a cover of Paul Buchanan’s song from his Mid Air album (2012) and nothing else perfectly sums up to me what it says about us as we grow old and leave this world. Our bones and skin becoming one with the dust of the earth, like the cars in the garden, we rust, become forgotten and nature just takes over.

I used my signature music box and each hand punched note and crank of the handle echoes a return to childhood, which I believe dementia heartbreakingly leads us to in the end. During one of the last days with Erland Cooper in the studio together, Hayden Thorpe (Wild Beasts) was passing my room to make a tea and not feeling like the album was finished, we asked if he would be up for singing on the song. It turned out he was another huge fan of Paul Buchanan and so said yes immediately. His ‘one take’ dulcet tones were perfect and I’m so thankful. It now echoes and feels like a poignant companion leaving behind the other who cares so deeply but it keeps us in the hearts and memory until the end.

​Awake But Always Dreaming is out now via My Own Pleasure.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next