Music, visas, scholarships, journals. Tamara Hansson on what it's like to be an Aussie ex-pat in New York
Tamara Hansson is a singer and songwriter who has lived in London and Ney York in pursuit of her musical career. While only spending six months in London, Tamara has created a wonderful life for herself in New York City having lived there now for six years.
As we discovered with Lucy Mason, life abroad as an artist is no mean feat, filled with dark and dreamy days and Music Love truly admires all of the musical ex-pats living overseas away from the comforts of home and the wonderful experience of a daily flat white that many of us take for granted. Tamara spoke with Music Love about her life in New York, what visas and scholarships she applied for and won, her upcoming US tour, and spending Christmas Day in LAX after some unfortunate flight cancellations.
What does music mean to you?
There is such a complex thought process to answer this question, and there are so many pieces to it. First of all though, I wish to say that music is for everybody. It’s for everybody - even if you’re not good at it, that doesn’t matter, if music brings you joy, or you love to sing, then it’s yours. I’ve learnt so much from music, it’s taught me how to feel, how to love, how to grieve… I read the Dick Clark quote at a very young age that “Music is the soundtrack of your life” it’s always resonated with me. And, the further back you go, the more you realize historically how great a part music played, from tribal days, through the development of various religions, and rituals, to the development of popular music over the last 120 years. It has the gift of memory, and mood and gets straight into your heart. To say it’s powerful is an understatement.
Musically speaking, was life like in Sydney before you made the move overseas?
I was born in Sydney and grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, and then onto the Gold Coast to study, and eventually in Brisbane to study some more. Growing up in Sydney, I was addicted to Rage and Video Hits, and would watch these shows religiously as a child, I just loved how music made me feel, I could be free to dance and sing and be in myself and some of my earliest memories are of watching Jenny Morris, or Michael Jackson or John Farnham(!!) as a child and dancing around my living room with my sister. As I got older, I played any instrument I could get my hands on, I played guitar, piano, tenor and alto saxophone, and eventually moving into singing and writing songs. I’m an eldest child and would keep myself busy with music, as I got older it just became what I was doing all the time, school musicals, school band, recording on the school album, and then eventually studying at university, playing in bands, more songwriting and recording. It was always a constant, while growing up that I never tired from. I made friends with other musicians and we’d write songs, play in each other bands, fill in for shows and support each other - I didn’t feel part of a music community until I got into my late teens and early 20s, there was a real strong community vibe as I got older which was reassuring.
Why did you move to London?
I needed a sea change - I’d been in the same place for a few years and needed out of Australia. I was always planning to go overseas and ended up with a scholarship to New York, but still wanted to do London. I was there was 6 months and had a blast teaching, and jamming with jazz bands. It was quite an introspective time and a perfect place to reset before moving to New York.
Practically speaking, what visa did you apply for to get there?
I had the Youth Mobility Visa that is offered to people under 30.
How long did you stay and what happened in your music career there?
I was only there for six months as I’d received a scholarship to go onto New York. I spent a lot of time there writing and reflecting, I bought a guitar and lived out of a suitcase. I found a bunch of musicians who were all expats, and we’d jam at this Jazz night every week, I’d sing or play keys. I got work in a learning difficulties department assisting children in class, and spent my free time in cafes writing. I made a handful of friends, some of whom I’m still in touch with, and then went onto New York.
When did you decide to go to New York?
In 2010, I’d heard about this scholarship being offered by New York Film Academy from a student of mine, and applied. I got it and there went my life in a direction I'd never through was possible. There was a big lead up to this move because it wasn’t a full ride so I held a fundraiser, and asked my students from the three schools I was teaching at to perform and I played a set with a band. My dad hosted, and my mum cooked for it, my friends sold tickets, and it was held at a cafe I used to work for. We raised money to cover part of my schooling and I applied for grants to help myself get set up - it was a process but well worth it, and I love living in this city - it has afforded me so much for me musically.
Practically speaking, what visa did you apply for to get there and what was that process like?
I went for the F1 student visa. It’s a lot of paperwork, but once you get it, you’re set.
Tell us about your American tour coming up this year.
In 2014 I was asked to support this tour that was coming through New York and met Andrew from Alli and I, we had stayed in touch and he came back to town on another tour. We talked a lot about what it’s like on the road and I asked him to connect me with his tour booker. His tour booker and I connected and he put together a proposal for a 40 date tour in the USA focusing on the North East, East Coast and through the south. Just about all the dates are booked and I’m in the stages of promoting and doing the PR stuff, there’s still a lot to organize, and I’m chipping away at it every day.
What else has been happening with your music in NYC?
I’m playing a lot of shows in the lead up to the tour to garner more press and support. I’m playing regular venues as well as people’s apartments which is what I did to promote my first EP. I also compose for various projects as well, and have been doing a lot of TV projects in the last year.
Have you met many Aussies in London and NYC?
Yes! We’re everywhere! I met a few in London and already knew a couple of friends which was helpful, and there are loads in New York City, it’s great. When I first moved here nearly six years ago, there were about 5,000 Australians and now there’s over 20,000. You hear the accent more often which is strange but nicely familiar.
Is it hard?
Yep. It’s hard, it’s like you track these little milestones. Three months here, ok, I’m ok. Then a year, wow, ok, I did it, then two years, and you realize how much turbulence you’ve experienced, how hard it is to be away from family, but how much you want to be in a city that you’ve really been able to ground yourself in, and that offers you so much. Now it’s nearly six and I still get that weird giddy feeling of like “Whoa, I’m in New York, what is this place?"
What practical and emotional advice would you give to people wanting to move to London or New York for music?
I think what’s really helped me is journaling, but that’s kind of the person I am. I feel more settled when I understand my feelings better and as a songwriter I have lots of feelings, and despite not really acknowledging my sensitivities until I got a little older, it’s been a learning curve to understand myself better, and especially if/when others are trying to cut you down. Also, being flexible in understanding that bad days are just that, just one rotten day, and not a permanent fixture, taking the good with the bad and showing gratitude for the opportunities you have. It’s a hard slog to pick up your life and move to a completely different culture, and despite the western similarities, there are still so many differences. I actually found, culturally speaking, that living in London was a lot hard than New York, but other people would say otherwise.
What musical friendships have you made overseas that you are grateful for?
I’ve met some fantastic people, Andrew from Alli and I , Axel Barragan who is a bilingual singer songwriter by way of Scotland and Columbia, and producer Ross from the band Of Clocks and Clouds. I’ve spent a lot of time with all these artists and stay in touch regularly. We all keep each other on track, share our ideas and jam, they’re all good dudes.
Who are your favourite Australian women in music?
There are so many legends, Sia, I’ve always been a huge fan, and sang one of her songs at my last recital back in Australia - she’s now full legend status here in the US. Kate Miller-Heidke is such a great songwriter and her live shows are always incredible. Missy Higgins was a huge influence when I was young and when she first hit the scene, her songs are so raw. I’ve always appreciated vulnerability in songwriting and all of those writers have hit my heart in one way or another. I’ve also gotta shout out to Janine Morcos who’s been in the Australian music industry since we were kids - she’s in PR and one of the hardest working people I know, we catch up when she gets to New York and is my most favorite Australian woman in music.
How was it being home for Christmas and some Australian sun?
I headed home for Christmas but due to flights delays instead of arriving Christmas day, I got home on Boxing Day. It was so depressing having Christmas at LAX, but eventually I got home and spent time with my family, met my new nephew, have some downtime, got to drink loads of flat whites, and planned for this year. Of course I loved being home with everyone, but then I got itchy and the city and this year are calling and I’m back now to hit the ground running.
What is your favourite Australian café or restaurant?
Can I say Little Collins in New York? I love that place, all the Aussies there are so chill and lovely people. And you can eat food that reminds you of home, plus have flat whites *drools* You really learn to appreciate good coffee when you step out of the comfort of Australian coffee.
What is your favourite place in Australia?
Probably the lookout at Moffat Beach, Caloundra, and especially if there’s a storm rolling in.
Who is your favourite Australian non-musical artist?
Ohh I love the designer Alice McCall - I’d have her style my entire tour wardrobe if I could!