There’s strong and then there’s country strong. Whether it’s Loretta Lynn threatening to send a man-stealing rival to ‘Fist City’, or Miranda Lambert wanting to help her friend enact revenge but realizing they’re ‘Way Too Pretty for Prison’, the genre is home to tough-talking women.
With the release of her debut album Hardliner, singer/songwriter Hannah Juanita aims to be one of them. As her album title suggests, she delivers an uncompromising attitude that peppers the traditional country and western music she uses to frame her vintage vocals.
Juanita knows a thing or two about hard choices, the kind that develop character and strength. The Tennessee native moved to Washington state in 2018, to live with her then-boyfriend. The experience wasn’t a happy one. Juanita turned to music as a creative outlet, writing songs she thought about selling but ultimately wanted to sing. In 2019, she up and left her partner, relocated to Nashville and began working on what would become her debut.
Hardliner is filled with heartbreak — that Juanita herself instigates. More than a few of her songs stem from the relationship she left behind and the thick skin she developed in order to pursue her creative dream. She refuses to settle on the twirling honky-tonk of ‘I’m Gonna Leave You’. “I won’t say goodbye/ But I know you’ll know why”, she sings with a cheeky wink. A similar sentiment arises on ‘Ramblin’ Gal’ and ‘Hard Hearted Woman’.
But there’s also a ripple of vulnerability on Hardliner. Juanita’s desire to find a great, sweeping love contrasts the jaunty Tejano sound on ‘Love Like Yours’, while she sings about a particularly magnetic connection she had with a woman on ‘Green Eyes’. With her personality and swagger, Juanita has the chops to update the traditions that shape her sound, stretching what tough women sing about.
Juanita spoke with Holler about Hardliner, leaving behind a man for music and how she first got into country.
How do you see yourself fitting into the tradition of tough country singers?
Hopefully, I’ll slide right in there. I find that it’s a part of my personality and I think that comes out in my writing. It goes along with my hardliner theme — that’s the name of my band, Hannah Juanita and the Hardliners, and that’s the name of my album. I think Loretta Lynn is a hardliner; I definitely appreciate [‘Fist City’], especially coming from a woman.
What attracted you to a more traditional country sound? Your voice slots so well into that style.
I was raised on ‘90s country, which involved country-rock and country-pop, but my mom told me that she didn’t start listening to country music until she got pregnant with me. She listened to George Jones and Patsy Cline; she had this one Patsy Cline cassette tape that she listened to over and over again. I actually have that very cassette tape. Patsy Cline was one of the first I started listening to. I was like, ‘Who is this woman?’ Her voice won me over. I was very intrigued, and over time got more into classic country.
You had this epiphany in Washington that you needed to leave your entire life behind and pursue music. Can you take me back to that moment and that decision?
It took me a long time to make the final decision. It was definitely a culmination of moments that led up to that decision. I kind of knew it wasn’t right before going into it, but I’d already done it and I wanted it to be right. I wanted to leave the whole time I was on the land, and I was only there for about a year. I remember the specific moment — it was an argument with my ex - I started laughing in the middle of it and was like, ‘Yeah, I’m done. This is over and I’m leaving. I’ve gotta go do my own thing’.
I love the Tex-Mex traditions you incorporate into ‘Love Like Yours’. How did that song come to be?
I wrote that more in a traditional honky-tonk vibe, but when we cut it in the studio, my guitarist Mose Wilson laid down a solo on a gut string guitar. The flavor of it and the way he played it really reminded both of us of Tejano music. We were driving around one day and we started playing around with the melody. COVID had just hit, so the record was on pause. We decided to change it. I hired Tejano players out of San Antonio to play the trumpet and accordion, so it would have that authentic flavor to it.
Speaking of Hardliner, how long did that take to pull together?
I started writing those songs in 2018, but started recording a few months before the pandemic hit. I was feeling pretty ready to start releasing and then the pandemic hit, so I sat on it the whole year and worked on it slowly. I changed things.
Where did that patience come from?
I was going crazy. It was not a fun, easy process. I had to accept it. I had all this time to marinate on what I’d done. I was listening to [the record] a lot and had the opportunity to change it, so that’s what it was supposed to be.
Tell me about ‘Hard-Hearted Woman’. It’s such an honest song; you don’t hear that sentiment coming from a lot of women songwriters.
There are maybe three or four songs on the album that relate back to leaving Washington and the home I built there. I think that’s definitely one of them. That’s how I felt coming out of [the relationship] and moving back home by myself and starting fresh. Really feeling this inwardness and needing to be alone to do my own thing. It’s a good thing. It sounds really sad in the song, but it’s not.
If you have a creative passion, it can be equally fulfilling as romantic love.
In the last few years before I moved to Nashville, I had not been following my heart and doing what I really wanted to do. When I got here and started pursuing music, I thought, “This is what I’m doing. I’m doing me. Back off everybody”.
Hannah Juanita’s debut album Hardliner is out now. Watch the video for her song 'Our Love Is Done' below.
Hannah is the featured artist on Holler’s New Country Artist playlist. Subscribe and listen below.