Under the Radar is Highsnobiety’s celebration of upcoming talent. Each week, we’re spotlighting a rising artist who is bringing something new to the world of music and is capturing our hearts and minds (and ears). This week we’re featuring Tanukichan, an artist who deftly mixes shoegaze with sunny, hazy, feel-good vibes.
Right now, it feels like everyone in the industry is looking toward the Bay as a new breeding ground for fresh artists on the rise. The latest music act to emerge from the area is Tanukichan, the solo project of Hannah Van Loon. As of late, shoegaze has become synonymous with California because of its dreamy, sun-soaked pop qualities, fuzzy and distorted vocals, and psychedelic guitars that crash on you like a wave in the ocean. While growing up in San Francisco exposed Van Loon to this sort of laidback environment, her path to the genre has been a long and winding road.
Van Loon was fortunate enough to have been involved with music since she was a child with classical training on the piano, violin, and viola. Given that upbringing, she labels herself as a sheltered child. It wasn’t until she started listening to The Beatles that she realized that rock was calling her name though.
“I played a lot of classical and bluegrass then so they were like a transition for me,” she said. “They got me really into songwriting and rock. Plus, all the music that they make spanned so many different genres.”
Watching anime also piqued Van Loon’s interest in the high energy of Japanese rock and naturally she started teaching herself guitar and bass. Eventually, she would move to the East Bay to study at UC Berkeley while also forming the indie pop band Trails and Ways. In 2016, she parted ways with the four-piece and rebranded under the moniker Tanukichan. Last week, Van Loon released her debut solo album Sundays on Company Records, the label founded by Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bear, who also co-wrote and produced the project.
Scroll down and learn more about Tanukichan in the interview below.
Could you tell me a little bit about your music background? I read that you started off doing classical.
I played classical for a long time. I played piano and violin and also played viola as well. At a certain point I started playing guitar a little bit and then playing bluegrass and that kind of felt – it felt really good to just, to be able to create my own music and improvising and things like that. Yeah it just sort of led me to want to be a little bit more creative in that way. Then I started playing in some bands, playing fiddle, and started realizing that I couldn’t, I don’t know, I couldn’t really play violin in a band. I started this band Trails and Ways that I was, I actually started out on violin then we switched to guitar after the first show and I was like “This is great.” That’s kind of when I started going for that a little more.
When I think about shoegaze music for whatever reason I always assume the artists are from California and then I find out half of them are not.
That’s like one thing that I can think of to say, there’s a psychedelic tradition in California and San Francisco and Berkeley and all that. I think that kind of sound and mentality sort of has affected my music a lot.
How did you come up with your band name?
So Tanuki is Japanese, it looks like a raccoon but it’s kind of more like a dog. It’s like a different animal. Then -chan is like this affectionate ending that you kind of add on names, especially for little girls. When I was growing up I was Hannah-chan. You just add -chan to people’s names, it’s kind of like an affectionate thing to do. So yeah, I was like “Tanukichan.” It’s cute but it’s also like this animal. There is kind of this mythology around the Tanuki where it’s a shape shifter and kind of like a trickster and has like these enormous balls. It’s always drinking sake and getting up to no good and I think I just kind of connected to it. I’ve always sort of been a tomboy and the things that I was into were sort of tended to be male dominated. I just felt like I resonated with it, I was like “This feels right.”
What is the story behind the album title is and why you decided to call it Sundays?
I wanted to call it Sundays because it felt like it captured the vibe of the whole album to me. It feels kind of sunny and reflective and maybe a little bit like blurry, kind of getting ready for the next thing but you’re still in this zone.
Sunday is my favorite day of the week. I always find it to be really bittersweet because it’s like the one day where I have it all to myself to run errands and of do solo activities, but then Monday is right around the corner and I’m always so bummed out.
Yeah, the last person I talked to was like, “Sunday is my least favorite day.” He was like, “I think its kind of like the day where you have like a mental breakdown too.” I like Sundays too.
What are some of the messages that you’re trying to communicate in the songs that are on this record?
I don’t know if I would say I’m like try—well maybe like acceptance. Acceptance of just like everything. I think that might be the overall thing actually because the songs are full of a lot of different things like relationships, or attitudes, or yeah. It’s kind of coming from a place of just accepting and going with it. Yeah.
How did you end up linking up with Chaz [Bear] and then why did you decide to sign on his label?
We have mutual friends because he’s been living in the Bay for a while so I had met him through mutual friends and then I was kind of just getting this project of the ground, actually. Like I was just starting to play shows and things. He came out to a show and I think he was kind of like looking to work with musicians at the time. So he went to a show and liked the music and was kind of like, “Hey, maybe we can work together, I could like produce it or something.” And I was like, “Yes! That would be great.” It just kind of started like that and we just did kind of like an EP first. The last EP. And I think we both liked how it turned out a lot. He had decided to do a full length.
What is the experience like working with him?
It’s cool. It was really like, I don’t know, like low-key and sort of just organic, you know? Just kind of going with it and seeing what sounds we ended up with and you know? It was nice we kind of got to take our time and just let the music develop a little bit.
When did you start working on the album? What was the timeline from writing the songs, recording and then the final production?
Well I guess it’s been done for like a little while now because yeah you have to have everything all wrapped up before starting to put stuff out. Before that, I started writing shortly after putting out the EP. I wrote a bunch of songs, recorded a bunch of demos, and played some shows. You know, testing out some new stuff. Then I kind of hunkered down and I had a batch of songs that I thought were going to be the album and started working with Chaz. It was kind of like, “Oh whoa. These are like a little bit all over the place.”
So we just started working on those songs but then over maybe a span of three months or four, half a year or something, I ended up scrapping some and writing new songs that I felt like fleshed out the feel or completed what we had that I liked about the album. I feel like I was writing for probably like a year or something.
What is one of the most valuable things you’ve learned from Chaz?
I feel like he has a really good mindset, just work ethic and mentality toward making music. He’s just kind of like “We will work really hard but also be like really present.”
How did you decide on the image for the cover?
It’s in front of my house that I live in and I’m posed on my truck that I use for work. I wanted it to be a little bit ironic, but also kind of true to my sort of emo side. So yeah, it felt like it could be a mash-up of these things. Like the truck, it’s work and masculine and things, but then also kind of feminine and cute. Just a little too bright.
What kind of truck do you have?
It’s a Mazda, it’s like a 2002 or 2000.
Do you name your cars or anything?
I share the truck with this guy that I work with and he named it Goldilocks.
What kind of impression are you hoping to make with your music?
I want people to connect with it in their own way. You know? I want to make music that maybe feels like … I don’t know, captures emotions that I feel and maybe allows people to sort of go to a similar place but for themselves.
For more from our Under the Radar series, check out our interview with British-Nigerian artist Obongjayar.