Interview: Songwriting Prodigy Hana Vu Is Living Her Dream

Vu achieved her dream career in music so swiftly, she makes it look effortless.

Hana Vu Interview

Hana Vu graduated high school earlier this year, and now she’s touring the country with her band. It’s a dream come true for the young musician. “If I told myself a year ago what I’m doing right now,” she told me, “I’d pass out.”

Vu’s debut EP, How Many Times Have You Driven By, which arrived earlier this year, quickly garnered praise for its evocative mood and lyrical maturity. I met up with Hana at New York’s Bowery Ballroom for a conversation about her path to success, her love of the underdog, and much more.

Hana Vu Interview

Dan Redding: What are your impressions of New York City? Are you a fan, or does it rub you the wrong way?

Hana Vu: I’ve been here before; I have some family that live here. I’m from LA. … A lot of the New York vibe is unnecessarily aggressive. And you know, I’m chill.

I like it though – there’s kind of a workaholic spirit here. That’s how I interpret it.

Yeah, I guess that’s the grind in New York. But a lot of it just seems like wasted anger. You can just do the same thing and be chill about it.

That’s true. You’re on tour right now; is this your first tour?

Yeah, this is my first tour. We’re supporting SALES in the Midwest and the East Coast.

Is music a full-time job for you now?

Yes. Well, when you’re on tour, yeah, because it’s twenty-four hours a day, you don’t stop working. Work as a musician is weird because you have a lot of time off and then you have a lot of time on really hard continuously.

When did you graduate high school?

What month is it right now – September? I graduated in early June.

Will you consider college, or is this the life now?

I was gonna go to college – I applied and did all this stuff for it – but then I signed with Luminelle and put out my first EP. I decided that if I was gonna do something right now, I want to do it a hundred percent, versus do school and do music at the same time. School seems like something I can always go back to, while my career is starting now.

Is [your music career] the dream? Is this something that you’ve envisioned for a long time?

Yeah. If I told myself a year ago what I’m doing right now, I’d pass out. But it’s kinda like, you get to the dream, and the dream is being in the car for eight hours a day. [laughter] But yeah, it’s really cool.

Does that take adjustment – the realities of touring life?

It kinda just pushes you to the limit. You know what you can and cannot do.

How many instruments do you play?

I play a lot of different things, but not very well. Guitar, bass, keys… I used to play trumpet in high school. I played violin for a second. Sometimes I play harmonica or banjo.

You’re self-taught, right?


Was there a model for you in that sense? Did mom or dad play music, or did you know someone who was self-taught? Was there a model for learning how to play music?

No, neither of my parents are musicians. [I used] the internet, and also, when I was in high school, I joined the marching band without having any musical experience. I just kinda had to figure it out. So that’s what I did for two years.

Tell me something that keeps you and the band laughing on a day-to-day basis while you’re touring.

[Laughs] We listen to a lot of music. Today we played the whole Curious George soundtrack while stuck in traffic, and it kept us sane. We make fun of each other. That’s kinda it.

Are you the type of person to use humor as a survival mechanism or coping mechanism?

I think humor is like an art. It’s something that a lot of people don’t value as much as they should. I value it a lot when people are funny, or have a good sense of humor.

It seems to me that some bands have increased chances of survival if they have a good sense of affectionate humor that keeps them together.

Yeah. We can’t get anyone too sensitive [in my band], cuz then they can’t go on.

Do you have any daily creative habits?

I have a milkshake every day.

Do you write regularly?

No, I don’t write every day. There’s a lot of advice that’s like, you should write every day, or you should do some sort of something every day. But it’s hard to write on the road. It’s also hard to get yourself to write something when you’re not feeling it. It feels to me like you need to have that time where you’re not working, so that you can feel lethargic, in order to write something when you can.

Do you find that creative ideas come to you more when you’re looking for them or when you’re not looking for them?

I think when I’m not looking for them. My songwriting process is very spontaneous. It could be motivated by something I see during the day, or something that I remember. So, it’s nothing I reach for – either it’s there or it’s not.

Do you ever have writer’s block or creative block?

Yeah. Always. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have writer’s block.

I know some people who say that they don’t believe in it, or that it’s something to be actively worked against.

Oh. Well they’re pretentious.

[Laughter] You put out your first EP this year. What do you think of the format of the LP – is that important to you? Is it a big deal to you to think about making your first full-length album, or do you focus more on individual songs?

I’ve been writing since the beginning of high school, and middle school. I would write something, and I’d release an album-type thing at the end of the year. This new EP is actually ten tracks, which is pretty much the length of an LP. The reason for that was that I wrote an LP, and then the label wanted to release an EP – because I didn’t want to cut any of the songs. If I knew I was writing an EP, I would’ve written an EP. Writing an LP is so much different, because it all has to be cohesive, and there’s a lot more room to experiment.

In terms of the career of music, what’s the most important income stream for making a living? Is it touring?

I guess supposedly it’s touring. It just depends on your situation, and also what type of music you make. In indie music, it’s probably touring. Pop is probably streaming.

Do you see opportunities for having an entrepreneurial approach to your career?

Yeah. There’s lots of artists who expand on their personal brand, aside from music. Tyler the Creator has his clothing brand, there’s Kanye…

That approach seems to be more popular in hip hop.

Yeah. Hip hop is a cultural movement, too. It’s not just music.

But why can’t indie rock be like that?

Because indie rock is predominately Caucasian people. The field is so big in indie – and indie just technically means ‘independent.’ Not always. It’s the genre versus the support. Indie music can come from anywhere. I don’t know what I’m saying.

Tell me a concert that you attended that changed your life.

I dunno, I go to a lot of concerts… I saw TLC one time when I was like ten. It was pretty cool. They did ‘Waterfalls.’ I thought that was pretty dope.

Was there something about it – the showmanship, the music itself – what impressed you the most?

By the time I was ten, their music was probably already considered nostalgic music. So, I feel like nostalgic music … People would just go crazy for that song.

So there was probably a fervor in the audience.

Yeah. And I was ten, so it was really exciting.

Do you find that you look for that in the audience when you play? Obviously, you’re not TLC, but what’s it like getting a reaction from the crowd from night to night?

Well, when you’re the opening act, you gotta put your ego somewhere else. You gotta accept that you wanna put on your best show, because these people might have never heard you before – they’re seeing you for the first time. So you just wanna put on a good impression, not be too aggressive.

Do you ever feel competitive about performing?

Like, competing with who?

Either with yourself or with the headliner – just in general. Do you have that kind of personality?

No, I’m just grateful that they took us on as support. I’m really grateful for the chance to get to see the country and reach out.

What band do you think has a good band name?

I like the band Tennis, and I like how their band name is Tennis. SALES is the same sorta thing. You can’t really Google ‘Tennis’ and find them. Or SALES. I think that’s kinda cool. It makes them work hard to get their name known.

You’ve said that you empathize with the underdog. Who’s your favorite underdog in movies or music?

We talk a lot in the car about Spider-Man, and how he’s just some nerd, but he’s really cool. We just root for him. Especially being in New York, all they do is talk about Spider-Man. That’s what comes to mind.

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