Name: Shannon Hemmett aka Leathers
Occupation: Singer, musician, photographer, videomaker and graphic designer
Current release: Leathers' Reckless EP is out now on Artoffact. A full-length and a tour are in the making.
Recommendations: Leap of Faith; William Friedkin on The Exorcist (Documentary Film); Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch (Book)
If you enjoyed this interview with Shannon Hemmett, visit her offical homepage or the Leathers homepage for more information and recent updates. There is also a Leathers-, as well a Shannon Hemmett Instagram account.
For more information on Actors, visit the band's website.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Music has been part of my blueprint since the beginning, but songwriting is something I committed to in the last 5 years or so. For me, music has a dream-like, mysterious quality. I’m drawn to pop-like melodies and a dark-romantic atmosphere in my music. David Bowie, Depeche Mode, the Cocteau Twins, and Bauhaus are some of my greatest influences.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Finding my (singing) voice, has been a long, winding journey. Jason Corbett, my ACTORS bandmate and producer on the LEATHERS project, has always championed my singing. Practice, allowing for mistakes, touring, and immersing myself in countless -now-or-never- scenarios, helped break down my fears, and build confidence. Persisting through that has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I am intrigued by the contrasts I notice within myself and others; lightness/ darkness, feminine/masculine, fantasy/reality, creation/destruction. These seem to be reoccurring themes in my music.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Nerves, fearfulness, over-thinking, frustration, getting in my own way, self-sabotage. I try to be aware of these behaviours because they make creative work difficult. It’s better to be relaxed, and curious so the words/music/ images have a chance to flow through you. It’s also important to follow through. Be reliable and finish what you start.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Over the years I have experimented with almost every artistic medium and musical instrument. I especially loved to sing, but it was psychologically challenging for me. When I got shy or scared I would detour into other mediums for a while, but the desire to sing would always return.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Synthesizers play a large part in my writing process, I love the surprising textures and melodies they can create. The Notes and Audio Notes apps on my iPhone are quite useful for my workflow too. I can easily capture a lyric idea or melody anywhere, and then recall it when I’m back at the studio.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I collaborate the most with Jason, my producer. We accomplish a lot together. We’re both ambitious, get-shit-done type people and we have a library of skills that covers songwriting, production, business/marketing, and the visual arts.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Pre-COVID, my schedule was centred around touring: wake up, travel to the venue, soundcheck, dinner, play the show, pack up, get some sleep, and do it all again the next day. During COVID, I’ve been homebound, but I feel busier than ever making new music and artwork.
I’m not a morning person at all. I like to ease into the day, so I get up when I wake up, pet the cats, make coffee and breakfast, shower, and then get to work on my projects. Day to day I’m demo-ing song ideas, tattooing, making photographs, or designing album art.
The edges of my work life and free time often blur together but I enjoy the immersion. Rest is important too, so I recharge in the evening by watching movies or reading.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
We were on tour, ACTORS was playing an important show in Los Angeles, and I remember my singing felt especially strong that night. My bandmates noticed it too. I let some tension go that night, and it lead to a greater confidence ever since.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Meditation has become an important tool for creativity, and rest. I practice Transcendental Meditation, which is mantra based. Finding that flow state is a great feeling, the ideas come easily, and you feel energized and productive.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Sad songs are usually the best songs! They can make us ache but in that healing-balm kind of way. Emotional intelligence and authenticity is a good trait to have as an artist, but I’m also not opposed to music being purely entertainment based. Sometimes it can provide a little holiday from the things we’re experiencing in life.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
It is natural for artists to be inspired by symbols that may not come from their own cultural heritage. These fascinations can spark creativity and lead to interesting art. However, as an artist there is a responsibility to research and be considerate. We’re all learning, and communication is important too. If someone educates you on your usage, then it’s important to listen and have that dialog.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
The cross-over of music and visual art has always been inspiring to me. 4AD and Vaughn Oliver, David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, Factory Records and Peter Saville, Duran Duran and Patrick Nagel, Depeche Mode and Anton Corbijn are all great examples of this kind of collaboration.
By engaging the senses, you can create a more immersive aesthetic. Sometimes iconic cultural moments can arise from these collaborations too.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I’m a musician, but I’m still a fan at heart. Being a part of the music community is exciting, I love to hear/see what others are working on. In ACTORS and LEATHERS we enjoy showing our appreciation for other artists. That feedback loop is super cool, we can accomplish a lot by supporting one another and working together.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music is magic. Songs can affect us in profound ways. I don’t want to think about the ‘why’ too deeply. I don’t want to try to explain.