Mmhmm: An Interview With Hannah Fairlight And Raelyn Nelson

Mmhmm are a duo out of Nashville Tennessee consisting of Raelyn Nelson, a ukulele rockin’ machine that’s continuing her grandfather’s legacy,( the legendary Willie Nelson’s) with the Raelyn Nelson Band, and multi-talented musician and actress Hannah Fairlight of The Hannah Fairlight Group. The duo recently talked with me about their self-titled debut release, (check out our review here.) as well as the scene in Nashville, their songwriting process, and what their future plans are.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your other projects before joining forces?

Raelyn: Well, I have a band called Raelyn Nelson band, it’s a hybrid of country and garage rock, and I have been doing it since about 2012. And Hannah also has her own group.

Hannah: Yep. I’ve been doing that for about 12 years, and it’s been all over the place. It started in New York City and I have traveled a lot via wanderlust and work pursuits with music, film, and television. Always been sort of entertainment driven but I’ve always sort of lived in a few different places and continued to do music. I came back to the states and realized I haven’t lived an adult life in any other city except in New York City.

I’m originally from small town in Iowa, and decided to move to Nashville, and while I was there, I was involved with the reality show, and Raelyns band was kickin, while I was just getting started. It was sort of like starting over in a new town, and then we met, and a lot of our friends thought we looked alike. They also thought our personalities were a lot alike, and we kept hearing “you need to meet so and so.”

Then we were just best friends, I think literally the thing that I said to Raelyn the night that I met her in person was “how do you do that?” Because I had found out that she had three kids. It’s just insane and awesome, and I’m so impressed that she can be a mother and do music in which she said it was “a lot of coffee and a lot of weed.” So then I was like “you’re my best friend!”

: It’s more like really strong coffee!

Hannah: Really, really, really strong coffee.

Hannah, you moved to Nashville what was it, like a few years ago?

Hannah: Five years ago. It was September 2013.

How long had you two been hearing about each other before you had finally met?

Hannah: oh, not that long.

Raelyn: I knew Hannah because we all heard about this reality show that was happening, that was involved around the music business, so we knew it was coming, and so when the trailer came out online, I watched it and Hannah was in the first trailer. From the first scene of the first trailer, I was like “I’m team Hannah!” I watched the show for a while, and then I was hanging out with a mutual friend of ours, she started talking about her friend Hannah Fairlight and I was like “Oh my God, I’m a huge Hannah Fairlight fan, please Tweet out to her that we should be friends.”

So she did and then we started following each other on social media then Hannah had a show in town that I went to and met her and then,… well… she was already kind of dating Jeremy Asbrock who the guys in my band knew, and I knew through the scene in Nashville. So now everybody that knew her now kinda knew me too, and were saying “you guys look just alike, I keep thinking Raelyns there but it’s Hannah, or I keep thinking Hannah’s there and it’s Raelyn.”

We decided to make that one of the benchmarks of our project…

Raelyn: Oh yeah. It’s, I’m not Hannah Fairlight.

Hannah: And I’m not Raelyn Nelson.

Raelyn: We are…

Hannah: / Raelyn: Mmhmm!

Ok, that’s a pretty awesome.

Hannah: Thank you, Thank you! The music happened much later, I feel like we bonded over life. We bonded a lot because we both were working on our own projects so intensely. I was really focused at the time because I had just moved here and wanted to build it together and try and figure out a new band, possibly you know, take on some of my environment and sort of shape my sound and stuff.

So I was in that journey, and I went to see Raelyn play so much and was super inspired by her genre, her performance, her movement for like original music, and we started to bond over our missions for original music. We had what we call the bad decision summer. We both have kids, and we respectfully call it the bad decision summer just for our own sakes, but we were like let’s just be crazy, let’s get a lot of sun, let’s drink a lot of beer…

Raelyn: Lets write a lot of songs, lets smoke a lot of weed!

Hannah: We started to write during that time…

Raelyn: Hannah had a baby, what year was he born?

Hannah: 2015. So my husband and I were recording my second EP in Nashville and I found out the second day of that recording that (my boyfriend at the time, now husband,) were pregnant. So we were really excited about that and I told Raelyn before anybody because we had become really close friends, but it was kind of shocking.

It was shocking in the way that having a baby can change what you’re doing with your business and because we run our own businesses, it was kind of crazy, Like “ok, here we go.” Sort of…

Raelyn: We had to re-examine how we do it now.

Hannah: It wasn’t until after he was born that Raelyn started to write a lot.

Raelyn: Yeah, I had a fire at my house January 1, 2016, and the next day Hannah brought me half of her wardrobe. Because I didn’t have anything, and so I was about the same size as Hannah, and she brought some stuff for my sister and I to wear. We ended up moving like a mile away to a rental house I was using while our new house was being built, and we became really close.

We would watch each other’s kids, and ended up hanging out a lot, so when songwriters hang out, they writing songs.

Then a gig fell into our lap at the end of that year which was a Christmas show, toys for tots. We had a handful songs and learned a couple of covers, and then it was so much fun going into the gig, people liked it and we just kept going from there.

So you were writing music long before this first gig, right?

Hannah: Yeah, a few months.

Raelyn: Summer of 2016 is when we really started laying songs out. They were all things based about life so they were easy to write.

Hannah: Lots of sitting on porches and writing. We didn’t really know or have a direction or have a shape of what the project was, we didn’t have a name. It just started to sort of all come together, and when it came time to define it as something to people, we started to think about that and there’s a lot of stuff that sorta played into it like weaving in real life situations to whatever Mmhmm is going through as individuals.

It sort of becomes part of it. Like for example, were sitting in the garage like “oh my gosh our gig is two days or whatever, what are we going to wear?” And Raelyns father passed down these pants through time to her.

Raelyn: Chaps!

Hannah: They’re chaps. They were really big, they are men’s chaps, and there were two pairs of them sitting on this rod in the garage, and I just looked over there and I asked, “what are those?” And she says “Those are my Dads old chaps.” So now those chaps have just kind of become our thing. And we go by this thing called “there are no nos in mmhmm,” but it literally just means we consider every idea that comes up, and we usually try it even if it’s harebrained, just because that’s our MO. We just want to try all of our ideas keep it fun and keep it light.

Raelyn: Yeah this is the project that we can try things, base it around comedy and fun.

Hannah: We don’t really do this same stuff with their own projects.

Raelyn: It’s just taking the piss out of ourselves.

The music of course is the centerpiece, but I think the way you present yourself is also important. For example the chaps, the banter, the Paul Stanley standee,…or the Paul Standee if you will..

Raelyn: Well you know that just came about because we played a show at Middle Tennessee state university, during the eclipse last summer, we went out there really early in the morning.

Hannah: We had to play a kid friendly set so…

Raelyn: We were playing like “Aw Yeah” instead of “Aw Hell” as well as with other songs, we literally had to change a lot of lyrics around to make it kid friendly.

Not Paul Stanley – Merch model, Mmhmm mascot.
Hannah: And while we were sound checking for that gig, we were in the green room sorta practicing and getting ready that was used by the news/media section of MTSU. It was like this green screened walled room, and there was a cutout of Ron Burgundy. So we videoed us playing to him as our warm-up for the show, which sort of kicked off another one of our series like that chaps-my ass, and the “How do you say Mmhmm” videos.

We were like, let’s sing to these cardboard cutouts and make like wacky green screened videos behind them sort of like, to accompany it. But our lawyer and ex manager dissuaded us from doing it because of copyright, but we still want to do it. Paul Stanley comes with us on the road all the time now for like our merch.

Raelyn: He’s our mascot!

So even if you do like a world tour, you can bring him with you right?

Raelyn: Yeah!

We can’t just not bring him, it just feels weird and we have to have him with us.

So he’s essentially the third member of Mmhmm then.

Raelyn: He is! And Gene Simmons actually wanted to be a part of the band, but we wouldn’t let him in.

Hannah: We turned him down, but we did get him saying “Mmhmm” on video.

That’s from the compilation videos on YouTube, right?

Yes, my husband and Raelyns boyfriend plays in the Gene Simmons band so our connections with the rock world are way more than any average person could hope for.

Going back to the name for a moment, which I think is the greatest branding since Prince turned himself into a symbol, and I know it’s cliché to ask, but how did that come about?

Raelyn: We actually have a video about it on our YouTube channel, and we had this weird conversation with a very drunk girl, and we’ve all been the drunk girl before but this literally happened. She said something that was kind of narcissistic and all about herself, and Hannah in response went “Mmhmm”

We were going to see Lucas Nelson and Promise of the Real…

Raelyn: Which is my uncle.

At marathon music works and they invited Raelyn to come and I tagged along as did our friend Rebecca. So we were all invited backstage to hang out, and then we were invited to sing backup vocals but there were two other girls that they had met either earlier in the day, or previously that they had enlisted for backup vocals.

One of them is there, and is super respectful and we did a rehearsal in which we are all present, and a lot of time had passed and then when it was right before showtime the other chick showed up and she was a little drunk, pretty unprofessional and she basically, and inappropriately manhandled the band into doing a whole ’nother rehearsal, even though she missed the boat.

Raelyn: Spotlighting her vocals by the way.

Hannah: And she was fine, she’s a fine singer but she was doing all these runs making it a big deal, and it wasn’t all that difficult of the vocal part that he wanted. It was over the top and we were all looking at each other like “this chick is……really pushing it,” and it’s not okay.

It was close to showtime and everyone was looking uncomfortable like “okay are we done rehearsing now?” And she wanted to run it again, so she turned to us and said “Hey you think my part is good right, you think we should run it again right?” And I was like “mmmmhmmmm.” I said it bitchy and I really didn’t mean to, I feel like I’m so careful with stuff like that but it was so exhausting…

Raelyn: And that’s the thing, it was a sweet “mmhmm” but it was obvious it was more like a “I’m just trying to get out of this” kind of “mmhmm.”

Hannah: And I turned away and Raelyn was dying and laughing bashing me on the shoulder asking “did you just say that?” I didn’t even hear myself say that, but I guess I was like yeah, kind of a bitch. But it was just so obvious, you just have to take social cues. It’s their band, they can decide when rehearsals are done. Don’t tell them what to do miss Christina Aguilera vocals.

Oh so she was doing that over the top kind of going from 1 to 14 octaives?

Raelyn: Yeah and if somebody’s gonna do that just leave it to Christina. She nailed it, no one can nail it as better as she can. But anyway, Hannah and I started saying that to each other for a really long time over and over and over again.

Hannah: We started to think of any other kind of band name that would make sense, and that started to sneak in as a possible band name and nothing could top it.

Raelyn: And everyone says it differently, it makes me laugh to hear people talk about it in conversation.

Hannah: It causes people to talk about it and the like “wait, what?” So it sort of great because branding wise it just makes you talk about it, and all the ways you can interpret it and that makes it stick in your head.

Raelyn: Plus, there’s very few words that you can’t say with your mouth open.

Hannah: But it doesn’t make for very good advertisement when you’re trying to tell people about your band in a very loud venue. But it’s been going well with us for the most part.

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