You might say it took a little while for Hannah Busse to get to the point where she felt comfortable recording and sharing her music. The local singer-songwriter and UW-Madison grad has been writing songs since her teenage days, but it was only last month that she finally released Underneath the Surface, a seven-song EP of achingly beautiful piano arrangements that showcase her pure and pretty voice.
“I finally got impatient enough with myself,” says Busse, taking a brief break from caring for her three daughters, all under the age of 5. “Being a perfectionist, I was afraid to take that step. It argues the question of who you are and what kind of music you want to do. Finally releasing the album takes the question mark away.”
She needn’t have worried about the answer. Underneath is packed with thoughtful ballads about relationships, from “Good Old Days,” a song that recalls a close friendship lost to the wiles of time, to the catchy la-di-dah chorus of “To the Robin,” a song about the relationships between animals and their habitats that’s really about motherhood.
The album cover features a set of thick, branching tree roots reaching upward, a metaphor that conveys a double meaning. Part of it, says Busse, has to do with the facades we don and the feelings we hide beneath. One of the album’s best tracks, “Walking Wounded,” tackles this notion head- and heart-on. But Busse’s music also looks at the ways roots connect us to a location, for better and worse.
“Roots can also be hard sometimes,” says Busse, who recorded the album in the third trimester of her third pregnancy. “We all have that wanderlust, but roots can keep you from exploring that. Even motherhood has been that — it limits me in a lot of ways. At the same time, the kids give me so much music to write about.”
Not unlike Regina Spektor, one of her musical heroes, Busse’s a lot less contemplative and melancholic when she plays live — in fact, there’s a playfulness in her music that’s largely absent on the album. (To wit: She’s got a song called “Mama Brain Blues,” one of several that touch on the quirky side of parenting.)
“There are moments when I’m playing live where people are just laughing,” she notes. “There’s a playfulness I just love with music.”
The demands of motherhood don’t currently allow for much playing out, but you can catch one of her rare appearances at a songwriter’s showcase on April 7 at the Tuvalu Coffeehouse & Gallery in Verona. She also just landed on the docket at the Shitty Barn in Spring Green (June 14).