Artist Spotlight: h. pruz

    h. pruz is the moniker of Queens singer-songwriter Hannah Pruzinsky, who also plays in the band Sister. and collaborates with Mutual Benefit and Told Slant. They released their gentle yet visceral debut EP, again, there, recorded with MJ Lenderman/Wednesday collaborator Colin Miller, in November 2022. The project touched on cycles of change and growth by relating recent experiences to shelved memories, a theme Pruzinsky gets to really home in on with her recently unveiled debut full-length, No Glory. Co-produced with Felix Walworth, also of Florist, the album was largely written and recorded in a small cabin in upstate New York, where Pruzinsky’s diaristic reflections come to life in vivid yet subdued fashion. You can hear the complex tangle of thoughts as they unfold in their mind, but you can also feel the atmosphere of the room and the people with which they take shape. It’s a solemn, stirring, and quietly profound record that holds space for darkness and uncertainty but reverberates, however achingly, with hope. “Hold a piece of fabric over what you see,” Pruzinsky sings at the very end. “There are details we might misread, that the all was everything/ But the all was everything.”

    We caught up with h. pruz for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about their earliest musical memories, the process behind No Glory, feeling powerless to change, and more.

    Do you mind sharing some of your earliest musical memories?

    My parents always say that I started to sing before I was talking a lot as a child. But the earliest stuff I remember is just how private music felt to me. I would only sing in a car alone to myself or in the shower, any place that was very private, and it was really something that I didn’t want to share. I think over the past 15 years or something, it’s just been a slow releasing of different pieces of that. I’ve sung in a lot of choirs, and communal things are easier, but I think having a singular voice and sharing that has always been a fully different situation for me. Even though I’ve released stuff in a band, this record feels like a fully different situation, to be alone and doing that. So much I hope comes across like you’re in a room alone, hearing these things in the same way they were largely made; a lot of it was just myself and Felix, my partner, recording the stuff.

    After playing in bands, what was it like to take your songwriting back to a context that was no longer entirely private, but still more personal?

    The first time I started to release music under this project, it just felt very anonymous and hidden. When I first released a single, I just threw it up onto Bandcamp myself. The moniker that I use was also in hopes to be a little more anonymous than my full name. But I think slowly, over time, it’s evolved in a way where, when I made my EP, the person, Colin [Miller], that I produced it with, was like, “People should hear this. This is interesting.” I think being able to make things with other people, even just in the realm of production or the other instrumentation on it, has helped me see that there’s worth in sharing it. For me, it feels like an important sentiment to share with this album, and that’s what makes it feel okay to let go of, although still a little nerve-racking. This album touches on guilt a lot, and hope within guilt, while still seeing the ugliness of things. That’s something that I want to convey, and I feel like I need to, to show that maybe a change that a lot of people have only seen what has come of it – there is a dark side to it.

    On ‘Useful’, the final song on the album, to what extent is the chorus also addressed to the listener? For you, is it important that the space you hold in a song is useful?

    I think in the moment, it wasn’t in the front of my mind, but I’m hoping that people will want to share that same space that I want to share, or pause in a space that I also want to pause in. I also think, with an album, if you’re deciding to listen to it, I’m kind of forcing you to do that, too. [laughs] When I’ve re-listened to it since finishing it, these new meanings come from the songs that are also directed towards me and towards someone that has no relationship to it at all. I think that’s really beautiful with how songs can evolve. I’d like for people to take from that whatever they want to, but in that moment, it was a mantra for myself, and also for a person very dear to me.

    On that song, you also sing, “I’m aware of how I shake things as they form.” Those things are explored throughout the album, but I’m curious how that line applies to your creative process, too – whether you’re conscious of a certain instinct to experiment with the form or sentiment of a song as it emerges.

    That’s a great question. I think it can apply to that. I don’t think the first thing that always comes or grows and merges is necessarily the right thing, but  I am trying to what comes with the disruption of ideas. I’m doing some writing now again after a long pause, and I’m feeling drawn to more dissonant things. But yeah, wanting to shake things up is something I resonate with. [laughs]

    When come back after a break from writing, do you usually feel like you’re approaching things from an entirely different place – not just emotionally, but in your songwriting?

    In the past, it has felt different. Like right now, as I’m approaching writing new things, it’s less of an obvious spilling out of me, which is interesting, and I’m having to pull at a lot more sticky areas of my brain. Also, when there’s not obvious turmoil in my life, it’s even more interesting, I think. Like, what are we sitting on as individuals? What are we not looking at if there’s not a crazy breakup or you quit your job or you’re moving? So now, I’m like, “Okay, I guess I need to maybe see even more uncomfortable truths?” But also see contentment, which is something that’s harder to see sometimes.

    When it comes to shaping the songs, I’m thinking of the song ‘Like Mist’, which is the longest on the album. Given that it’s about uncertainty in the early stages of a relationship, was letting it stretch on a way of feeling it out through the music?

    Yeah, definitely. That recording was also unaltered from the demo, other than the other elements added later on. I was just like, “Oh wow, I can like feel it in the way I’m singing this, the uncertainty and the anxiousness.” And I didn’t want to lose that in trying to reproduce it, because I really am dragging it out and searching for every detail of hope and solace in something that has no grounding. When I sing that song now, I’m like, “Wow, this is so long-winded, why am I going on so long?” But it is kind of a desperate feeling. When we were making the album and we listened back to the demos, I was like, “This is so sad, I can’t redo this,” because I don’t feel sad or uncertain in that same way. It’s a very brief moment in time, because it will truly just go one way or the other.

    The song feels like one way of making it last, and the way you contend with time on the album in general is interesting. On ‘Dawn’, you follow an extended instrumental passage with, “After we’ve had forever,” which I love. The sentiment reminds me of Adrianne Lenker’s ‘not a lot, just forever’. Was that final part planned out?

    Yes, it was in the demo, however the demo was very different. Felix really convinced me to finish that song. I think sharing the emotions of settling into at least the first stages of trusting someone – that’s a lot harder for me to want to share than these other things surrounding guilt and shame, which seemed a lot more familiar. That instrumental section really came to life by playing the song live with Felix. It’s the one song where they were playing the guitar part, because I always had such a hard time playing it and singing it at the same time while wanting to really feel space, so we were really just listening to each other in that. Because the line had always existed, and it does feel like something, at least when I wrote it, that I needed to add on. It was supposed to emulate the feeling of a breeze, of feeling overtaken by that. I wanted it to be like, “We have a little bit of grounding, and the grounding is all of forever.”

    You recorded ‘I Keep Changing’ in this attic above the cabin where you ended up recording the album, and even if you weren’t singing about running, there’s a real physicality to it. What was it like to revisit the song and hear that theme of change, so visceral and urgent in that moment, from a new perspective?

    It was very spooky to return to the same building to record most of this stuff. Kind of a stereotypical way to frame it, but I did feel like I was really going insane in this attic the summer before in the cabin. That’s another one where the demo became the roots of that song, because again, it feels correctly frenzied in a way that would be hard to reproduce, and I just became so tied to it. But it was interesting to revisit that – even the way I was singing that song was different than the way I typically choose to sing now or use my voice. It left me craving that same feeling of change and of urgency, like once things start happening, they just can’t stop. It was special being in the main room of the cabin revisiting it, to have drums added to it for the first time that felt almost like a freight train or something, like you’re just going to collapse. My friend James [Chrisman] also added that piano part. We were talking about this yesterday as we were practicing for these shows, he was like, “I remember that day, I had a massive Red Bull can and stayed up really late.” It was cool to have other people giving into their, like, hedonistic musical impulses in that song.

    How did the environment affect your headspace as you were making these songs?

    I had gone upstate in the summer for maybe two weeks, but it was right after this big breakup. So I was like, “I need time alone, and I’m gonna just write music.” My friends have this cabin, and it was also a time where I was largely not writing music, saying yes to many things in my life, and giving in to all my impulses. It was a very magical period. I was meeting a lot of people, but it felt very private in that so much of it was just me in the cabin, sweating in the heat of an attic, writing songs, running in these back roads, and then exploring new love and desire. It just felt really frenzied.

    You used the phrase “correctly frenzied” ealier to describe the kind of emotional accuracy of the recording. But it sounds like it was also “correct” in the sense that it had a positive impact on your life.

    Yeah, it was definitely positive. I was holding so much of my life in this very particular order and I had already determined so many ends, so it was nice to be like, “I have no idea how anything at all is going to go in my life now.” And it’s good that I don’t know that. I just remember feeling like I was just floating through so much of my life, which is a scary thing, and I think that’s why I was writing songs like ‘Like Mist’. ‘Worldfire’ was another one that I wrote in that week, but that was the polar opposite side of that positive frenzy state, when I would settle into, like, “Oh, there’s something happening here. [laughs] And it’s really sad, but also inevitable.”

    The album title, No Glory, comes from the lyrics in ‘Worldfire’, where it seems to be about leaving space for doubt. There’s different ways to look at it, but for you, what makes that phrase ultimately hopeful – in the context of the song, but also removing it from that?

    In the song itself, it does feel a lot more hopeful in the way that you just described it. The phrase was just this part of a goodbye, where no matter what you say, it’s always wrong. I think it was mainly trying to show that I’m not emerging from leaving something in a state of power or righteousness, necessarily, which I think can often be portrayed in some breakup music and art. But at the same time, there’s a solemness that doesn’t have to be all bad. I think the sentiment of that song encapsulates a lot of what I’m trying to get across with all of these themes – beyond heartbreak, with family dynamics and relationships that are rooted in cycles that feel never-ending. There’s no glory within that cycle, but in also deciding to leave it. But there’s hope. Even when I was writing that song, it felt like I wasn’t ready to see all of what it meant for me, so I still feel like I’m unpacking parts of that sentiment. But in terms of the whole album, I think it’s important to sit in the throes of change, the darker moments, and to feel them all, to learn grace within it. Learning it for myself was one of the hardest parts of it.

    I feel like it puts a positive spin on the idea of being powerless to change, which can also be what drives you toward it. It can mean being open to change, and the feeling of powerlessness at the end of a relationship can also be different from that same feeling at the start of something new.

    I love the way you phrased that, powerlessness to change. I think that’s really helpful, in new change, in the beginning. That was something I was learning, just being like, “I don’t need to know how all of these things will play out.” At the time, I remember talking a lot about certainty and how it feels like something that I want so much of, but at the same time, the beauty of these things that are forming, peeking through the surface – so much of that is reliant on uncertainty. You just can’t know, and that’s why you like so much of it. Now, coming from a place of seeming certainty in my life, it’s much more helpful for me to not just enjoy, but appreciate the things in my life when I see them from a perspective of uncertainty, than just being like, “I have this, it’s so good and not going away.” It’s obviously good to trust things, but I think it’s also good to not expect.

    How do you see that realization of an ending in ‘Worldfire’, in hindsight, from that place of seeming certainty?

    There are just aspects to the closing of a story that you just can’t know at that time. They sometimes require an addendum, and you sometimes just have to go back to it. I think I’m still trying to figure out how some of these events in my life end or continue or start. There’s real people involved, and it’s complicated. I’m just seeing that they needed that time, and that they just simply couldn’t have figured it all out in those moments. The imagery of being completely destroyed, but then being open to new growth, really resonates with me. Sometimes you need to have a structure completely dismantled in order to be like, “Oh, wow! It could have been so much better this way.”

    Another thing that fascinates me is the way you engage with the language of pain: you talk about wearing it out on ‘I Keep Changing’, but there’s also an implication throughout the record of the ways you wear it; this idea of pain as something so familiar it barely registers as a threat. Could you talk about reconciling those things? Accepting the pain you’ve internalized, but also allowing it to fade and wear out?

    My relationship to pain differs depending on the circumstance, but I think I’ve just seen it as something – not to be dramatic, but there are aspects of pain in everyone’s life that are constant, and we become really numb to them. I think in those ways, it’s unknowingly shaping us. But it’s these newer insults onto one’s body or emotional body – that’s the pain that is easier to learn from. With ‘I Keep Changing’, I was able to really see that and and be like, “This is touching me, and ultimately I’ll become better for it.” But in something like ‘Hurting’, it’s a pain that I’m so numb to that it’s harder to see what I’m already wearing and what I can do with that. It depends on the kind of pain, I think.

    What are you most proud of with No Glory?

    I feel really proud in a lot of the ways we made the album, ways that would have usually scared me in making music. Every take, as far as vocal takes, was a full take through, and there is no cutting of things, which is something I love to do to get things sounding exactly as I want, feeling that control that I like to have. Even the process of making it with Felix was another lesson to me of just trusting the feeling of a moment and capturing a moment. There are some vocal takes where I’m like, “I could have hit those notes better,” but I think the way it is is the way it has to be. More so than how it’s performed, it’s how it’s felt that I really feel proud of.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    h. pruz’s No Glory is out now via Mtn Laurel Recording Co.

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