The sound of the wind
Hannah Mayree returns home with folk music inspired by freewheeling travels
While hitchhiking across the Southwest, Hannah Mayree tried something new on a whim: The musician drove a semi. A trucker hauling tomatoes from Mexico to New York had picked up Mayree, and he was already exhausted.
“I didn’t know how to drive stick shift, so we just switched seats while the truck was driving,” Mayree says. With a hammy smile, the musician mimes climbing over the trucker’s body, then behind the wheel. “It was pretty hilarious.”
The thrill-seeking local singer has hitchhiked across the United States—Mayree struggles to name uncharted territory in the country where they (Mayree’s preferred pronoun) haven’t been. In the multi-instrumentalist’s debut album released in February, Thoughts of the Night, Mayree has captured the breeze of the freeway in sprightly whistles and the South’s atmospheric rumblings in percussive banjo strumming. The artist’s double-tracked vocals accumulate layers of harmonies, a choir of breathy voices that sound effortlessly rich.
Though these stylings seem offhand, Mayree’s clawhammer style of banjo strumming is deliberate. The instrument might call to mind the fingerpicking heard in (often white) bluegrass music, but it was originally played by black communities in Appalachia with a more rhythmic technique.
“The banjo itself is an inspiration,” the musician says. “I feel like I’m reclaiming the banjo as a black woman, as a black person in general.”
In Mayree’s hands, the twangy strings root into the ground with lower, fuller tones. Those calming vibrations, along with the singer’s alto voice, lay an earthy foundation for the twinkling of a vintage Rhodes electric piano, glockenspiel bells and a vibraphone.
To Mayree, the songs off the debut restore the strength to struggle toward justice.
“My music is, it’s a mixture between therapy and introspection,” the artist says. “If we’re all trying to do so much in our lives, not only trying to survive but to, like, better the world, then we need to have healing.”
Mayree’s ongoing activism—protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock Indian Reservation, playing a set at the Women’s March on Chico—has been inspired by escapades like driving a truckload of tomatoes.
“Everything that I see right now came here on a truck,” the musician says. “We’re the ones that are the cogs in the wheel making it turn. So how do we want our role to be?”
Mayree foreshadowed their own role in the lighthearted lyrics of “Nose Bleeds”: “First I think about moving around / then the thought might occur to settle down / then I think about it for a little while and I stare at the ground.” That period of staring at the ground has ended. After traveling for years, the singer has posted up in Sacramento—for now.
“Backpacks are heavy,” Mayree explains.
The artist is building a community of mutually supportive musicians at home. Mayree also started a free, public singing circle to teach laypeople how to harmonize and find their own voices.
One inspiration for this pay-it-forward kindness came from hitchhiking. When Mayree and a few friends were traveling through Oregon, a stranger hired a limo to drive them straight across the state.
“He had daughters kind of our age, and he would occasionally blow a bunch of money on people hitchhiking,” Mayree marvels. “I definitely aspire to be [like] that one day.”