Photo by Jacob Romero
Tanuki are charming beings. Otherwise known as Japanese racoon dogs, these foxlike canines have been the subject of Japanese myths and folklore for centuries. Often depicted as magical shapeshifters and carousing little tricksters, Tanuki are easy to love: so much so, that Hannah van Loon decided to name her solo-project after them.
“They’re super fun,” she tells me over the phone. “[A tanuki] is always down to party, and has these really big balls,” she says, laughing. This lightheartedness makes its way into her music: Tanukichan delivers gentle melodies that lull her listeners into a carefree reverie.
On her debut full-length, Sundays, the Oakland-based songwriter luxuriates in this dreamy mood. Co-written and produced by shoegaze mastermind Chaz Bear of Toro y Moi, the record largely feels like taking a sun-drenched nap in a field of daisies, with Hannah’s voice flowing over you like a soft breeze. But sometimes, Sundays’ sleepiness feels restless—like on “Hunned Bandz,” where grungy, distorted guitars soak the track and cloud her vocals, adding a note of uncertainty to her indiscernible lyrics.
We connected with Hannah to talk more about this emotional ambiguity, her unexpected side hustle as a carpenter, and her penchant for lyrical simplicity. Catch Tanukichan this Friday, July 27 at Union Pool, with support by Airhead DC.
What was growing up in San Francisco like? Were you heavily involved in music as a kid?
Hannah van Loon: San Francisco was great. I was kind of sheltered growing up, so I wasn’t out on the town in San Francisco really, but the location was great. Being by the ocean and Golden Gate Park has a certain vibe and a feel, you know?
And, yeah! I played a lot of classical music growing up, like all through high school. I was always surrounded by music.
Who were some of the artists you listened to?
Because I really mostly listened to classical, I really liked Bach and Ravel, but then in high school I started branching out a little bit. I got really into the Beatles; they were probably the first band that I was super into.
Classic! Having grown up playing music, did you always know you wanted to be a musician?
I don’t know—I always just connected with it. I never really thought that I would be a musician, but I always really wanted to do it and I just kept doing it. But I had no idea that I would sing or write songs or be in a band. It kind of feels really random, but also totally makes sense [Laughs].
So did you go down a different career path at first?
I studied math in college, and then I was like, “I don’t know what I want to do with this.” I kind of was like, “I don’t think I could be a mathematician, it’s a little bit too intense.” But that’s when I started [playing music professionally.] When I graduated, I started playing in random bands and just having a lot of fun doing that, so I never really had a full-time job. I was always just working part-time. Now I’ve been playing for a long time and working— and I’m actually a carpenter now.
Really? How did you get into that field?
I started doing that [because] it was a really great, flexible part-time thing that I enjoy and could do while I also play music. And I’ve always liked building things. [It started when] I moved into this house that was under construction, and the landlord was really chill and nice. I just started working for him and it kind of took off. It’s so great; it’s freelance and I just make my own schedule and it’s pretty in demand now. There are always a lot of projects. It’s kind of the best!
But it is kind of funny: Everywhere I go, people are always surprised. They only see men [in the industry.] So sometimes they’re like, “Wait, are you doing this? Did you carry all those things?” And I’m just like, “Yeah!”
It feels great! I wasn’t really expecting it— I don’t think I was expecting anything, really. But at the same time, I had a good feeling about it, where I was like, I think this record sounds really good! I just liked it. But getting coverage, and people talking about it—it all also kind of feels unreal. It’s pretty cool.
How was working on this album different from working on your 2016 EP, Radiolove?
That EP was written in a different time; it’s a different group of songs. I was playing a lot of them live before I recorded [Radiolove.] And with these songs [on Sundays]—some of them I was playing live, but a lot of them I just kind of wrote and figured out on my own. I think maybe that’s a big difference. And I think also knowing that I was going to be working with Chaz [of Toro y Moi] on it beforehand.
I know you two have also collaborated in the past. How did you guys start working together?
It started with the EP; that was the first thing that we did [together]. It was pretty cool, I just met him through some friends. I think at one point he wanted to start working with other people and he came out to a show [of mine] and was like, “I like your music. I wanna produce this!” and I was like, “Uh yeah, cool!”
His production really brings a shoegaze-feel to your music. I wanted to talk a little bit about that mood. A lot of outlets talk about Sundays in terms of its dreaminess. But is there anything else that you want listeners to understand about the album? Something else you feel like it might be doing for listeners?
That’s a good question—I mean I think there’s always more, you know? But I guess kind of the point [of the album] is that it’s intentionally a little vague. Because it feels personal to me and I feel like the vagueness allows me to do a personal thing without putting myself out there too much. And I think that also makes it so people can connect to it in their own personal way. There’s definitely more—but I like leaving it unsaid [Laughs].
That makes a lot of sense—something I noticed on the album is its simplicity and ambiguity, which does exactly that: It allows listeners to make what they will of it. Have you ever tried songwriting from a place of specificity, though? Does that backfire for you?
Yeah, I think in the past I’ve tried—it doesn’t work as well. I guess going back to what I was saying before, I never imagined that I would be a singer. So I think lyrics are always really difficult for me. They’re kind of the last thing that I do and they don’t come very naturally [to me]. I think now [they do] maybe more and more, but I feel like I don’t always have a lot of words. I just feel like the way I talk is simple, so it just works for me to say simple things.