Optical Atlas Interview with Hannah Jones

My interview with Hannah Jones of The New Sound of Numbers was first posted on Optical Atlas September 9, 2006. The band was releasing its first album, Liberty Seeds, on Cloud Recordings.


Hannah Jones is the percussionist for Circulatory System, a visual artist whose work adorned the cover of the Will Cullen Hart album Circuits, the key engineer of the experimental recording project Lorkakar, and is now fronting the post-punk band The New Sound of Numbers, whose debut album, Liberty Seeds, will be released on October 10 from Cloud Recordings.

How long were you working on these songs before you brought in other musicians to expand on them, and what was it they were able to bring to the recordings?

The roots of some of the songs are three or four years old, so they had been forming for quite a while. But I seriously recorded most of the album during the summer of 2005, laying down drums, guitar, vocals, and percussion bits and pieces. I was having fun arranging the sounds for quite a while, but eventually I was craving some fresh input. And I knew that the songs were definitely not finished yet. Kathryn Refi and I had started playing together, just the two of us for quite a while. She naturally began singing parts with me during practice, which was really fun, so we began recording her vocal tracks. That was the first outside input the album had had, and it introduced the freshness of having other peoples’ ideas. It was so nice to hear a voice other than my own. Then Heather McIntosh also began putting down vocals and afterwards bass guitar. And Bill Doss put a great bass line on “Tuning the Air” one day while he was stopping by the house.

The bass parts really added new life and energy that quite a few of the songs were lacking. John Fernandes put down a lot of amazing violin and clarinet tracks which in my mind really transformed a lot of the songs – my favorite transformation being the song “is is was was” which had already taken a new direction from a crazy fuzz bass line that Heather had added. Will Hart had recorded some of John’s violin through effects, and I had a lot of fun inserting those parts into the song.

“is is was was” is definitely one of the album’s highlights. It gets very, very thickly layered by the end. You mention Bill dropping by “the house”–where was most of this recording done?

All of the recording was done at 660 Reese Street, affectionately called “The Landfill” because of its history of dilapidated style. Kelly Ruberto, who also lives here, recently bought the house and has been fixing it up really nicely, so now we like to call it “The Deluxe Landfill.” I have a studio room downstairs where I have all of my recording equipment.

What’s been the process like to bring these sounds to a live performance format, or is it a natural fit?

I think that the more we play, the better the sounds become incorporated, but I would like to introduce more elements of sampler sounds to the set. Josh Skinner has been able to introduce a lot of the percussion elements that were missing at first.

Who’s Josh Skinner?

Josh Skinner is a super-great guy who lives in town and plays all of the intown shows and did the last tour with us. I’m hoping to have him continue touring.

Is there an official live lineup to TNSON now?

The live line-up consists of:

Hannah Jones–12-string guitar and vocals
Kathryn Refi–drums and vocals
John Fernandes–violin and clarinet
Heather McIntosh–bass guitar
Josh Skinner–percussion and sampler
Will Hart (on occasion)–second guitar and percussion

Occasionally we have to do some shifting of players depending on whether someone is working on another project, but I feel lucky that we are able to do that.

You recently performed as Lorkakar for the AUX event at Athica. Exactly how do you perform that live?

To be honest, that was my first time performing any of the Lorkakar material live, and I was a little nervous about it. I used two samplers,and programmed a lot of different sounds into the the sampler pads. Then I ran one sampler to the left monitor and one to the right and played the samplers off of one another, fading various sounds in and out. And I included a few live bell sounds along with the sampler sounds. Each performer at the event was supposed to have a 15-minute slot, so there wasn’t time to set up anything too elaborate. Given the chance to do a longer set, I would like to set up more live bells through effects along with the pre-recorded electronic sounds. And possibly add some live vocals through effects.

Since you’re a visual artist as well, have you considered adding a visual element to the shows?

Sure, I’m definitely a fan of adding visual elements to shows. For The New Sound of Numbers I painted a few panels that we display at shows and can be seen in the band photos. I would like to take the visual element further though. I always enjoy when other people present a complete experience.

How did you first become involved with the Athens scene?

Its pretty hard to live in Athens and not become involved with the music scene in some way. I originally came to Athens to go to art school at UGA, which I did, and eventually you find that the group of people that are artists and musicians in town are very interconnected. In the end everyone knows everyone in one way or another. So it happened fairly naturally.

Where did you grow up? Is Georgia a drastic change in environment?

I did grow up in Georgia, but I’m actually a British citizen. My parents moved over here when I was 2 years old. My mom’s English and my dad’s Welsh. So I have a strange Southern U.S./European combination, and to be honest it makes for a feeling of displacement.

The town we grew up in (Sandersville, Georgia) was an extremely small town environment. My family wasn’t exactly the norm there. But Athens is a great town to live in in the South, and I’ve been here for eleven years now. The biggest thing that bothers me about Georgia is the summer heat, which I never have gotten used to. I’m more of a cold climate person even though I grew up here so I can’t say I’m going to stay here forever. I’m really excited about fall coming.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am beginning to record the songs “Complete” and “Connections” which we have performed live but are not on the Liberty Seeds album. I’ve also been transferring a lot of older 4-track material onto my computer to possibly collage into new songs. And I’m also trying to make time to get over to my painting studio. We are currently booking a The New Sound of Numbers/The Instruments tour for mid to late October up the East Coast.

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New Sound of Numbers Playlist from the 2007 Athens Popfest (August 8, 2007)
New Sound of Numbers Playlist from the 2007 Athens Popfest (August 8, 2007)