fanclubwallet is the project of Ottawa-based singer-songwriter Hannah Judge, who first picked up the guitar and ukulele in school but didn’t consider becoming a musician until she went to university in Montreal. There, she started volunteering at a music venue and began making lo-fi electronic music in her dorm room, gaining traction during the pandemic with the single ‘Car Crash in G Major’. Three days after releasing the track, however, Judge – who is also a visual artist – suffered a Crohn’s disease flare-up that left her bedridden in her childhood home for almost a year. She chronicled that experience on her debut EP, Hurt Is Boring, which she crafted between hospital visits with close friend and collaborator Michael Watson, who also helped produced her just-released debut full-length, You Have Got To Be Kidding Me.
When the 22-year-old started writing songs for the album two years ago, she had just gone through a break-up, dropped out of college, and moved back in with her parents. Judge deals with these personal experiences with an emotional directness that suits her introspective style of songwriting, but the record is also equal parts idiosyncratic, blissful, and playfully self-aware, delivering raw confessions with a winking sense of humour: “I deserve to be/With someone that hurts me/ So I’ll just spend/ All of my time with myself,” she sings on ‘Gr8! Timing’. As much as she keeps her songs understated, the production often bursts with colour, while her lyrics sometimes veer into abstract poeticism. You can only grow when things get hard, they suggest – and as aimless and excruciating as the process might feel, the music of fanclubwallet is no doubt a vibrant place to be.
We caught up with Hannah Judge for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her earliest musical memories, the making of her debut album, and more.
Are you happy with the response to the singles so far?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’ve read some really cool press stuff so far, which is awesome. I think what makes me the most excited is if my friends like it, especially my friends that don’t usually listen to the kind of music I make. If they’re like, “Oh, this one’s really up my alley,” I’m like, “Wow, that’s so cool. You liked it, and not just because we’re friends.”
Are you waiting for everyone to hear the album upon its release or have you shared it with any of your friends?
Yeah, I’ve sent it to a couple of friends. I’m so weird with that, I’ll send it to people and then I’ll be like, “They probably never listened to it.” And that’s okay. I’m like, “They probably hate me, but it’s fine.” [laughs] And then, my friend the other day was like, “I listen to your album all the time.” I was like, “Oh, that’s awesome.” But generally I’m kind of waiting on everyone else to hear it. I’ve only sent it to like two people.
Would that be people who are also in music?
I send it to my old band, usually. The first band I was in, Gullet. They’re like my best friends, so I trust their opinion. I’ll always send it to my friend from that band, too, because she’s also making music and I trust her opinion with my life.
How do you look back on that time when you first started playing music with them? Does it make you feel nostalgic?
Yeah, definitely. I think we’re all kind of nostalgic about it. We’re working on like one last song ever, one last Gullet song. But it was like my first time playing music and writing music with other people, and there was really no pressure. I feel like I wasn’t worried at all about, like, if my songwriting was bad or anything. I feel like I kind of knew some of it was sort of bad, but I was like, it’s cool anyways. And it’s really great being able to write with friends, too, to have a full band that you can bounce ideas off of. I definitely miss doing that.
Do you mind sharing some early memories that you have of enjoying music?
I feel like ever since I was super young, my favourite thing ever to do was to make people mix CDs. And I would do it for people I barely knew – I remember I made one for this girl in my math class just because she took the same bus as me. We had like two conversations ever. I asked her “What’s your favourite song?” and she told me and I made her a CD based off of that. And then we never talked again. Not for any reason, but I just loved giving like everyone I knew a CD. I just always thought that was a really great thing to do. I would sometimes make CDs, too, and I would leave them places, leave a tracklist. I’d be like, “You found this CD. Make your own mix CD and put it in this place.” It was very cheesy. Sometimes I’d make art for the CDs, and nothing felt better than showing up to school and my best friend being like, “Hey, I loved the mix CD you made me. I made you one, here you go.” And then I’d have to wait all day to get home and listen to it.
For you, was it more about the connection and trying to curate the mix depending on the person, or was it the challenge of making the art and choosing the songs based on a single one?
I think all of it’s great, but I definitely think that music is such an amazing way for people to connect. You can hear a song by an artist and relate to it so much, but you’ve never met the artist. It was definitely a good way for me to sort of get out of my shell, too. I was kind of shy, so I could be like, “Hey, I made you a mix CD. Want to be friends with me?”
When you think about yourself as a teenager, do you feel like there’s a part of yourself that has stayed more or less the same? Or do you feel like a completely different person?
I think a lot of me has definitely stayed the same. [laughs] I’m excited about a lot of the same things. I think I try to honour the stuff that I was really excited about doing and really proud of doing, still. I also make comics, and I find when I’m drawing in my sketchbook – I was thinking about this the other day – it’s the same kind of stuff that would come out when I was drawing in high school. I’m still being very angsty in my sketchbook and it’s kind of nice to be like, I’m just this giant child. I’m just a grown-up kid. But I think younger me would be super stoked to see that I’m in the music scene and still really excited about other people’s projects and helping out everyone and trying to get the music scene to connect. That’s really important to me, and it was definitely important to me as a teenager.
Do you think it’s a similar thing with the music you make now, or is there a bigger difference compared to your comics?
When I was younger, I wasn’t really writing anything that had lyrics. I used to make weird ambient electronic music. It was not very good. But I think the vibe still comes through a couple of times on the album. We even have an ambient track. Making that was kind of cool because I was like, this is kind of stuff that I used to make in high school. So definitely some of the more instrumental elements reflect stuff that I made when I was younger.
When you formed this project and started writing on your own more, was there something that you discovered about songwriting that hadn’t necessarily been an important part of the process for you before?
I used to be really worried about writing song lyrics. I thought you had to be like really straightforward in music, and I kind of realized now that you don’t have to be. When I make comics, they’re also a little bit vague as well. And I was like, I can just also do this in songwriting. Or I can be funny in a song, which is something I didn’t think about before.
I think the album is still kind of direct and straightforward in a way, but there’s also that humour and some more abstract moments.
I definitely think there are some songs that are a little more straightforward than others. And then there are some that I don’t even know what I’m talking about.
Do you have one in mind? I was thinking about ‘Toasted’.
I know what ‘Toasted’ means, but on ‘Fell Through’, that one is super vague. Who knows what I was thinking.
On the opening track, ‘Solid Ground’, you sing, “Sometimes the music’s different when you listen to it in your old bedroom.” Do you ever do that with your old music?
Yeah, sometimes I’ll listen to old stuff. I can’t actually listen to any of my music in my old high school bedroom because we don’t live there anymore. Which is sad, I wish I did. But I think I wrote that after I had been staying at different places. I was living with a friend and I was in Montreal, and I was kind of all over the place. I think I was in bed when I wrote that at my mom’s place. And I was just thinking about how it feels good to be at home, in a familiar place.
I think the idea of home and even the word “house” comes up quite a bit in your music.
For a lot of the songs too, I was stuck at home for so long, so many people were during the pandemic. But being stuck in my bedroom and being sick, you’re just thinking a lot about the room you’re in and the space that you’re in. I always tell people that my songs are either about a personal experience I’ve had with someone else or they’re just like about a house or a place that I’ve lived. I always find myself writing weird love songs about different houses I’ve lived in.
When you started working on the album, was it more that you felt ready for a bigger project, or was it a matter of being stuck at home and having more time?
That’s a good question. I was just writing songs, it was just happening. I think I wrote about five or six songs before I was like, “Oh, this sounds like an album. We should make the album now.” I went back to Montreal for the summer last summer and wrote ‘That I Won’t Do’ there. And I think as soon as ‘That I Won’t Do’ was done, I was like, “I’m ready. This is the vibe for me.”
You mentioned some of the things that were rattling around in your mind at the time, like places you’re in and relationships with other people. Were you surprised by any of the feelings that came up during the process?
Yeah, I was surprised to find that I was tackling my relationship with myself a lot. A lot more than I thought I was going to be. After putting myself out there for the first time in over a year, just being like, How do I seem to other people? How do I treat people? How do I treat myself? Do I like myself? Who am I? Just asking myself a lot of questions, having a lot of self-doubt.
Besides music and visual art, do you feel like you need another outlet, like journaling or writing, to process these feelings or explore these questions?
I think it mostly goes to music and art. I’d like to be the kind of person that journals and I did a little bit this year, but I’m pretty garbage at doing that stuff. I tend to like start that and then I’m like, I don’t know. [laughs] I can’t start any new hobbies or anything. My attention span is not good.
You mentioned ‘That I Won’t Do’, and I wanted to ask you about the vocal effects and production in the chorus of that song. Is there a story behind it?
I was listening to the song ‘Haunt Me’ by Teen Suicide. I loved that song in high school and I had just remembered that it existed and I listened to that whole album. I was, like, down bad, and so I was just listening to that over and over. And I was like, “I want to make a song that sounds like this.” Like, “I feel like this song feels right now, so I want to try to make something like that.” That song was made super all at once, too. I think it came out in like one day.
You recorded the album at Port William Sound in Ontario. How did being in a remote space affect how you went about tracking and refining the songs? Did being there make you see them in a new light?
I think that recording at Port William was the most positive part of the whole album journey. I was depressed for like the first half of making it, and then once we got Port William Sound, I felt very solidified that like, Whoa, I made this album, and this place we’re at is beautiful, and I feel like I can go back and track things on the songs and edit them. And maybe just add more positive elements that I wouldn’t have thought of before. We didn’t do a lot of new stuff there, but the title track for the album was made there. And that felt like really cathartic. It was like, “Okay, I’m done with this feeling. This is the last song for this album, it’s the title track.” And I got all my friends to call and leave me voicemails for the end of that song. And that just felt really nice, to have community on this song. Like, “Okay, it’s done.”
It’s funny that you say that, because I was wondering if some of the more relaxed or upbeat qualities of the album took shape during that time, even if it’s not a very specific thing that you can point to. I read that you’ve known your collaborator, Michael Watson, since third grade. How has your relationship evolved, especially in the past few years of working together through the pandemic? Do you feel like it’s changed at all?
That’s a good question. I think about the first song we made together versus the most recent song we made together, and I think a lot of the changes come from myself and my confidence and knowing what I want to do. At the beginning, I think it was a lot of me being like, “Here’s a song. It’s just guitar and vocals now, you do whatever you think is good with it.” And now it’s a lot of me being kind of bossy. I never have anything but positive things to say about working with Michael. They just make it so easy, to the point where I feel like I don’t even need to think about it. It’s like, we sit down and we make a song. I guess I don’t do a lot of thinking about how things have changed because it just feels super natural.
Maybe that’s another thing that makes the album sound more comforting, in addition to the physical space that you were in.
We’re like attached at the hip. I see them like every single day.
Could you talk about the story behind the album cover?
Yeah, my friend Meredith Smallwood made it. I actually went to high school with them. Meredith was in grade 12 when I was in grade nine. I just remember being in high school and being like, “Wow, their art is amazing.” I was super obsessed with it. And then when it came time to get album artwork made, one of the first things I thought of was, I bet Meredith would make the coolest thing ever. We went to the same school, our art had similar enough vibes that it would definitely work really well with the project. I didn’t really have much of an idea for what I wanted, I kind of just gave them the album title. And they immediately just totally knocked it out of the park. I didn’t even have to do any back and forth. What they sent me, immediately I was like, “This is perfect.”
You were talking before about how the way your collaborative relationship has changed is more about how you yourself have changed. When you look back on the making of the album, what’s something you’re proud of yourself for achieving?
I think I’m proud of myself for pulling myself out of that ridiculously bad depression spiral that I was in. I think I’m just really proud that I was able to end the album on a positive note and make something that I’m happy with. I’m proud that I was able to make something that felt really true to myself.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
fanclubwallet’s You Have Got To Be Kidding Me is out now via AWAL.