Austrian singer Hanna Kristall crowdfunded her debut album and got a Grammy Award winning director to produce it

I met two Austrian musicians last week that talked more than any other Austrian I’ve ever met. For me, as an interviewer, it was great as I just sat back and let them talk about what they wanted to talk about. Because, you know, when you do that, you often learn about things you may not otherwise.

The interview with the first musician, guitarist Severin Trogbacher, will go up on Leo Sigh tomorrow.

Today’s is with Austrian singer songwriter, Hanna Kristall. An artist who came across my radar two years ago when I had just moved to Vienna, and someone I know donated to a crowd funding campaign for her debut album and then sent me the link.

Since then, Hanna Kristall has been on my list of artists to talk to because she was talented, obviously a go-getter when it comes to her music career and interesting. Interesting, especially, as she had crowd funded her album so she could record it in the United States with a famous music producer. Something few Austrian artists would do.

Then, last month, a musician I know also sent me her information, and I knew it was time to talk to Hanna about her now-released debut album Lady Mechanic, and her upcoming new single ‘Shout‘, which will be releasing on June 8th.

So I arranged to meet Hanna Kristall at Landstraßer Hauptstraße, and three things that were different about her struck me immediately.

First, she was late, and Austrians rarely are. (Not her fault, her tram didn’t arrive!)

Second, she came at me talking a mile a minute. (Not something you get from most Austrians who, as a nationality, aren’t great at small talk — not a criticism, an observation, and, yes, most of them know they are).

And third, she was laughing and smiling the minute I saw her. (Something you don’t see much in grumpy Vienna — and don’t get me wrong, I love it here and I love the people — but the grump does take some getting used to!)

And, within a minute, I knew I liked her. Because she was smart, funny, incredibly friendly, had a fabulous fashion sense (check out that cool yellow jacket on the photo above), a great sense of humor and was honest, open and nice.

Leo Sigh: Who is Hanna Kristall? Where were you born?

Hanna Kristall: I was born in Salzburg. But my father is Polish and my mother is Mexican.

When did you move to Vienna, and why?

My studies. I moved here years ago. Because Salzburg, it’s even more beautiful than Vienna I would say. And I love going there now because it’s beautiful, and everything that’s beautiful inspires you somehow. But I was rebellious when I was young so, of course, I hated being there and wanted to leave.

And Salzburg is conservative, right? I mean, I love Austria, but it’s conservative…

Yes, of course. Although, I’m in my own bubble and I have my own circle of friends, which are mostly international, so it’s different for me. But I’m always asking people I meet, my students (she teaches German), people older than me what they think about things. And some are very conservative.

But look at politics in Austria right now. I mean this speaks for itself. And, sure, it’s happening internationally, because look at Trump – and yes, we do have Van der Bellen but, realistically, what do we have?

A far-right wing party that doesn’t make Austria look very good?

To some extent. But I am still hopeful, because I do think my generation is different. I think many of the negative things will just vanish, but they are still here right now.

When did you first start singing?

I’ve always been singing really. I started seriously when I was 11 years old. I started writing songs when I was 11 too. I had a couple of years before that playing the violin, but it was not my instrument. Then I had my first band at school, which lasted for about three years. Then I moved to Ireland.

You moved to Ireland? Why did you go there?

I just loved the idea of Ireland. I had this thing in my head when I was 13 or so, and I loved Irish literature and music and the feeling of Ireland. And I love isles. So I just went. And I loved it. It’s beautiful. I lived in Galway, with all those shades of green. And people are nice. So nice. Surprisingly nice.

I sang there too. A lot of karaoke, but I also sang on the streets like everybody did. I decided “If you want to go out, you sing on the streets until you can afford to”. So I sang and then, whenever I had enough, I could afford to go for a Guinness or whatever.

What did you do when you came back to Vienna? Did you immediately get into music?

I studied for a while, then I had a period of working with DJs, then with sound artists and producers. So I was singing on stage plus improvising with them.

Sometimes they would call me and say “I’ve got a Saturday night gig at the Volksgarten, do you want to come?”, and I’d go and sing. Sometimes I’d have songs all ready, other times I’d improvise. So I was experimenting a lot, trying everything. Also trying to find my own way of working – because my songwriting has changed so much over the last six years.

I used to only write by myself. When I write songs, it’s mostly on rhythm. And rhythm is in your head. Or I compose on the piano.

So you write the melody first, and then you write the lyrics?

Yes. That’s how I’ve always done it.

Then four years ago, I started working with my guitarist, Carina, and it’s the first time I’ve included a fixed person into the songwriting. and now the music gets better — richer in a sense. And it’s difficult to find someone who understands you but, with her, this functions so well for me. Because everything happens so fast with her. We get melody in minutes, then I also find the lyrics very fast. So fast.

And now most of the songs on the album, the arrangements etc, she has done it. So that’s great.

Now what made you decide to do crowd funding for your album? Because you did incredibly well on that, and that’s not an easy thing in Austria where, I think, people are not as aware of crowd funding yet as they are in, say, the U.S.

Woah. I mean that was a helluva lot of work. I hated it, because it’s work. And it’s so difficult. I mean, you have to sell stuff that doesn’t even exist yet. It was crazy! But it went so well.

How it started though, Stacey Lamont Sydnor (Grammy Award winning music director/producer/drummer) — you know the American drummer – we met here in Vienna.

He was touring with Beyonce’s bass player Divinity Roxx. So we went to see her at Porgy and Bess, and we were right up front dancing like crazy. But I was amazed by Lamont. I couldn’t stop staring at him.

Then, when the concert ended, he came from back stage and said “Hey, you girls. You rock”. And we started talking. He and Divinity Roxx needed tips for where to print more copies of her CD, as she had sold out, so we exchanged email addresses, helped them with the CD, and then later we sent him a song – ‘Shout’. The demo version.

And he responded, “Hey, cool. I’ll do that one for you”. I didn’t even know what he meant. “Do that for you?”

But then Divinity Roxx got interested too, so I sent her a song ‘Shiver’, and she responded the same way “I love that. I’ll send you the bass line”. And I couldn’t believe it. A bass player that famous doing a bass line for one of my songs! But she sent me the music file for the bass line.

Later we sent Lamont another song, ‘Just A Minute’ and he recorded the drum track for it. And when he sent it to me he also sent a message, “By the way, me and my engineer, we love this song!”

Then my guitarist and I decided we were going to record an album anyway, and we told Lamont about it and he just responded “Hey, you have to record it with us. Come to the USA”.

So that’s when you setting up the crowd funding came in?

Yes. That was when we had to start crowd funding to raise the money to go to L.A., and for all the costs recording the album. Because I was like “This is my only chance to raise the money”.

Hanna then worked like crazy to set up a crowd funding campaign, shot a video asking potential backers for financial support, contacted everyone she knew telling them she was crowd funding, and kicked off her campaign.

Running the crowd funding campaign was hard, but doing the social media attached to it was even harder. Because I had to do it all myself, and had to be very disciplined to do everything.

But I finally got everything set up, then kicked off the fund one day at 6pm. Then I had a month to raise the $10,000 we needed.

My first aim was to get a prize from Bank Austria. Which was, if you raise the first third of a crowd funding campaign within a certain time period, they give you one third. So I was so stressed, because Bank Austria had a pot and the money was running out. And I needed that money.

Then we had a concert in Madrid, and I had to go, so I couldn’t work on the crowd funding. And we needed the money to get to that 33 percent for Bank Austria, and I was on the plane saying “I’m losing so much time”. But between leaving Austria and getting to Madrid, we raised the 33 percent. I was SCREAMING in the airport, I was so happy”.

(And yes, Bank Austria gave her a third of the money she was raising. At the end of her crowd funding campaign, she had raised a little more than the $10,000 she originally asked for. Amazing for an Austrian artist who didn’t have an album out yet).

Two weeks later. We had the flights to Los Angeles.

How long did it take you to record the album?

We were in L.A for three weeks, and recorded the whole album in 10 days. And, of course, we did a lot of things wrong. Like, we did vocals at the end in just two sessions. We were running out of time, so I was stressed and we couldn’t do any corrections. Normally, you take your time for the vocals, and you do it in stress-free extra sessions, doubling voicing, adding this and that. So I still think they’re not as good as they should have been. But, okay…next time!

(And I’ll add my note here — because even without the time she really needed to get the vocals the way she wanted them, they are still fabulous!)

Plus, we were dealing with people who are so professional, and work so quickly. And here we were in the middle trying to control the whole thing. On my first album! And sometimes I felt like they understood my music better than I did. Then other times it was like, “That’s not how it goes”. So it was an incredible situation of pressure, and stress.

But the whole thing was a great experience too!

I even got to go to rehearsals Tito Jackson, Michael Jackson’s brother, was doing while I was there and then talk to him afterwards, and I’m a huge Michael Jackson fan, so that was probably the most inspiring moment of my life so far.

Hanna with Tito Jackson in Los Angeles

Where did you do the post-production?

We did the post-production here in Vienna. Then we were invited back to Los Angeles for the first release – to The Viper Room. And we had a band too.

(And, just in case you don’t know, The Viper Room is one of America’s most iconic music venues, so, yep, as a former L.A. resident, I was damned impressed that Hanna had her American release of her debut album there).

And that was wild because Lamont, the guy we first saw at Porgy and Bess, he was my drummer! Can you imagine?

Then, a couple of months later, we had the Austria release here in Vienna at Local. Also with great musicians, so that was super good.

What are your plans from here on out? Are you staying in Vienna, or back to the States?

This year is the promotion year for me. We’re releasing two singles and two music videos, one now and one in the Autumn – the first video is the one for ‘Shout’.

And now I want to focus a little bit more on Austria, so I’m working with a promoter. I want to tour Austria a bit first – Salzburg, Graz, and other towns. Then I’d also like to get out to Germany.

But for me, I’m totally pop, and it’s difficult to enter the pop scene here. You have to find a way in. That’s what I’m working on now.

Hanna Kristall’s debut album — Lady Mechanic

Hanna Kristall’s debut album is called Lady Mechanic, and it is a wide mix of songs from dance tunes and upbeat pop songs, to those that are more mellow and thoughtful.

Live Without Your Love‘ is one of my personal favorites as, in it, Kristall is far more open and more vulnerable than she is in her more pop ventures like ‘Shout‘ and ‘Lately‘. ‘Shout‘ too is a winner, as it’s one of those songs that sticks in your head as well as being incredibly radio-friendly.

But every track on the album is a strong one, especially to say this is Hanna Kristall’s debut. Listening to it, you can also feel what working with a Grammy Award winning producer does, as the entire offering is rich and polished. Both in sound and in feel.

In fact, Lady Mechanic is one of those albums that, without listening to it, you could mistakenly guess is probably a typical pop album from a first-time releaser. But listen and you will quickly see it is much more sophisticated than that. Besides, Hanna’s superb voice alone will make you sit up and pay attention.

Hanna’s single release party for her latest single ‘Shout‘ is on June 8th at Local here in Vienna, with supporting act Laura Heily kicking it all off at 9pm. Tickets are 10€.

You can listen to Lady Mechanic on Spotify in the widget below, and in the YouTube video below that and, of course, buy the album on iTunes.

And, to keep updated on what is going on with Hanna Kristall in the next few months, follow her on Facebook. My guess is she will have a lot going on, as this incredibly talented singer is definitely going far.

About Michelle Topham

Brit-American journalist based in Austria, former radio DJ at 97X WOXY, and Founder/CEO of Leo Sigh. I've covered K-drama, K-pop, J-pop and music news for over a decade.