Photography by Gina Negrini
In her early twenties, Allie Hanlon relocated from her hometown of Ottawa, Canada to Los Angeles. She describes the move as “being thrown into a big, busy place”; getting to know a new city was exciting, but she was still apprehensive about leaving everything she knew behind. Growing up in Ottawa, she’d been surrounded by people she knew; in Los Angeles, she felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
Through that time of transition, one constant was Peach Kelli Pop, a pop project she’d begun in her bedroom in Ottawa. Over time and across borders, the project has evolved from a solo endeavor into a full-fledged rock band. The band’s new EP, Which Witch, is a departure from the upbeat, bright punk sound of previous releases, as it takes a more melancholy turn.
AdHoc spoke with Hanlon about moving to Los Angeles, how it feels when critics call her music “cute,” and touring Japan. You can catch Peach Kelli Pop at Alphaville on June 11. Which Witch is out April 20th via Mint Records.
AdHoc: You started Peach Kelli Pop band in 2009 as more of a bedroom pop project. How has the project evolved?
Allie Hanlon: Peach Kelli Pop has changed in a lot of different ways. It’s been nine years now since I started the project. In that time, I had to learn how to essentially play with a full band. On top of writing songs, and then learning different instruments, I had to teach these songs to whoever I was playing with. That really changed everything—it definitely became a bigger, more complicated venture.
Also, in the time since I started the band, I immigrated to the US from Canada. That really changed things, because I was in a new place where I didn’t know that many people. I had to get out there and make new friends and collaborate with people. I’m not really an extrovert, so it was out of my comfort zone. I think when you have a solo project and you don’t play shows, it’s really easy. But when you start to perform, and you have to train people, it becomes almost like a full-time job. It’s definitely taught me a lot of skills: social skills, and also teaching skills, which I didn’t realize was something I’d be learning. It’s been really cool, and I’ve learned a lot from it.
I read that the song “Los Angeles” is about your move from Canada to Los Angeles. What was that like for you?
I was born and raised in Ottawa. It’s a really amazing city. I was with my family, who are awesome, and the people I grew up with, who were my best friends and who knew me really well. And that’s something that I definitely took for granted, because I had never experienced anything else.
When I was in my early 20s, I was really eager to move, to try new things, to see the world and to be on my own. And I got to do that. When I moved, I was thrown into this big, busy place. It was really exhilarating, [but] after a few years, I realized that having a support system is really helpful. And I didn’t really have that [in LA]. While I do have close friends, it’s not really the same as your family or friends that have known you since you were a little kid, you know? Even though I’ve been here for five years now, I still feel kind of new. When you’re in a place like LA, you can feel isolated to the point of being unable to tap into the abundance of opportunities that a place like LA has to offer.
In Ottawa, there aren’t the same kind of opportunities. In LA, you can make a living off of music and art, which is really cool. But it’s not as easy when you don’t have a support system. But, you know, I think lots of people in LA aren’t from here. So I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels like that.
How do the music scenes in Ottawa and LA compare?
Ottawa is a pretty small city, and the scene I grew up in was small. I feel like there was a group of thirty people that played in different bands with each other. It was really fun, and it was like playing in bands with your best friends. I’d say the main difference is that people played music more as a hobby. And that took off a lot of pressure, which made the final product really good. I think people respond to music that is just bred out of pure joy, you know?
I was not accustomed to the music scene in LA for the first couple of years. I definitely did take [playing music] seriously, but I didn’t practice my guitar or singing every day. That was something i hadn’t really thought of doing. It took me awhile to realize that [making music] is not just all fun; you do have to treat it like a business. And it’s really competitive [in LA].
I think the whole reason why people make music very different in LA than in Ottawa, and that changes the experience. People in LA make music as their job, and so the passion behind it can be really different. I kind of prefer the “fun vibe” in Ottawa, but I love that you can make music your career here.
You tour Japan a lot. What’s that like?
Japan is great to play as a band for a lot of reasons, mainly because the audience is extremely enthusiastic and kind. As a performer, I think the best thing is when the audience is really into your music, and you can visibly see that. The audience feeds off of the band, and the band feeds off of the enthusiasm of the crowd, and it makes for a very positive, fun, experience.
And personally, I really enjoy being in Japan. It’s very safe. As a woman, I don’t feel worried in the same way that I do even in Ottawa, which is a relatively safe place. In Ottawa, I would get yelled at from cars when I would walk on the street; I always felt kind of on guard. And I realized that when I’m in Tokyo, I never feel unsafe. That’s kind of a freeing feeling, where you can exist and no one’s going to hassle you or be gross to you. And the level of crime is so low...it’s a very weird feeling to feel completely safe 24/7. [Japan] is the only place where I can completely let go of being worried about my surroundings.
I’m kind of like a grandma, but I love that even in a really busy place, people are extremely respectful. Everyone is respectful of everyone else’s personal space, and very mindful about how they’re affecting everyone else. Those are kind of crazy reasons, but that’s part of why I enjoy it. And then I’ve always loved the pop culture there, and I love the music there. Everyone is just so welcoming.
Your music often gets characterized with words “bubblegum,” “saccharine,” and “sparkly.” How does Which Witch challenge this?
I think people have short attention spans, and they hear the way my voice sounds, which is in a feminine tone. I think it’s easy for them to look at very surface-level things and only focus on an aesthetic that they perceive. And it drives me crazy, because a lot of my music is personal and I work very hard on it. When I see that we just get pigeonholed and are spoken about in exclusively feminine words—and then everything else about the songwriting, the production, the technical skill, and anything personal about the music isn’t mentioned—I get frustrated. I don’t really see that happening to bands with dudes in them, or even other bands that have girls in them. Anyways, I won’t get too much into it. Yeah, I get frustrated.
When I wrote Which Witch, I wasn’t really thinking about trying to challenge that. But I was curious to see if people would react in the same way to this EP, which is really different from anything I’ve ever written or put out. I’ve definitely complained on the Internet about that happening, so maybe people are starting to be more aware. I am hoping that they will organically listen to the music, and come up with a reaction that is deeper.
What inspired the new album?
I was going through a big shift in my personal life, [where] I felt out of place in the music scene and in my social life. I just turned 31, and I guess I was 30 when I was writing the EP. I was thinking about my long-term path, and if music something that I should be doing. I was just basically going through a really big shift, and I wasn’t sure whether music was fulfilling and something that could give me a comfortable, stable life. I didn’t really know whether I belonged in the music scene, or even if there was a place for me there.
But music is all I’ve ever done. I’ve been making music since I was 18, so the idea of completely starting over is hard. I do identify as a musician. To completely change my path would be kind of scary. But I actually still might try something else. Last winter, I was going to school for graphic design, and I really enjoyed it, so I think I’m going to keep doing that when we get back from tour.
What are your plans moving forward?
I’m excited to share [the new] music and to go on tour, which is ultimately kind of the biggest pay-off for all your hard work.