Carlie Hanson breaks down new album Wisconsin, a gorgeous ode to the Midwest
Ever since her debut EP, Junk, in 2019, Carlie Hanson's star has been rising. The singer specializes in creating introspective songs that mine her coming-of-age experience in Onalaska, Wisconsin. Today, she's back with her sophomore record, Wisconsin, which is an enthralling ode to growing up in the Midwest and her journey to Los Angeles. You can hear the new songs live, too, as Hanson is also in the midst of her Home Is Where The Heart Is tour, where she's inviting local acts to open the run.
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Below, Hanson breaks down every track on her new album.
For a while, I wanted to make a song using vocoder, but nothing stuck. I sat down at a keyboard with my collaborator, Joe, and as he struck each chord, I sang a melody off the top of my head. Within one take, we had structured out “Hopelessness.” This one talks about the acceptance of growing up and the harsh reality of it. A perfect introduction to Wisconsin.
“608” was one of the first songs I wrote that really defined the sound I wanted to achieve with this project. My buddy, Dakota, came over to my apartment in Silverlake, and we chatted about home and the things and people we miss where we’re from. I remember reminiscing on the “bluffs” or “hills” in Wisconsin and how much I missed aimlessly driving around in my little Midwest hometown. Dakota played those beautiful guitar chords, and we started riffing some lyric ideas. We brought what we had to our friend, Pat Linehan, and sussed out the rest of the production. A lot of sonic inspiration we pulled from Bon Iver (also a Wisconsinite).
“LSE to LAX”
LSE is the name of the airport in my hometown, La Crosse, and of course, we all know what LAX is. (It’s actually not a nonstop flight, so technically I’m lying in this title.) This song touches on the feelings I experienced during and after a long-distance relationship. If anyone knows what being in a long-distance relationship is like, you know about the constant battle where you’re trying to make it work with the one you love, but you live so far away from each other that you’re constantly questioning if it’s worth it to be in so much pain all the time. The answer is yes, if it’s the right person. And it was for me.
Everybody knows this feeling. Whenever I’d go back home to Wisconsin after missing it for so long, within the next week, I’m ready to move on and get back to work. But then again, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my family and friends. It’s a constant battle. You can’t have your cake and eat it too type thing. You have to make sacrifices.
The day I wrote “Pretender,” I was so frustrated. I felt as if I barely knew myself anymore, and I felt like everybody I was surrounded by just didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand them. I was so ready to give up at this point. “Do you see yourself at all/Is your heart so out of touch?” is one of my favorite lyrics in this one. I love shouting this shit. I’m calling myself out and trying to bring myself back down to earth. This production was heavily inspired by Third Eye Blind and Tegan and Sara, two huge inspirations for me!
This is one of my favorite choruses I’ve ever written. “Illusion” is somewhat of a sad acceptance I had as I got a little older. I realized that not everything is going to go my way, not everything is going to feel like how I imagined it to be, and not everything is going to feel like how it’s shown in the movies. I felt so lost when I wrote this, but it’s helped me come out on the other side and realize that life is going to do whatever the F it wants, and you just have to just roll with it.
This song is inspired by a friend back home. One of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet, but unfortunately struggles with anxiety and depression, which has led to drinking and getting high to suppress these feelings. Drinking, especially, is a huge thing to pass time where we’re from, especially during the winter when there isn’t much else to do. What I’m trying to tell my friend in this song is I hope he gets out of this routine and find a healthier lifestyle, somewhere where he can breathe, move forward, and feel better.
“Window” has a special place in my heart. My buddies Joe Cecere and Brevin Kim were all sitting in Joe’s bedroom in Santa Monica, drinking IPAs and jamming. Joe started playing those guitar chords, and I sang all those melodies with pretty much all the final words in one take. It felt so natural, although I didn’t really know what I was saying at first. When I listened back, I really felt what I was singing about was Los Angeles. “Catch myself, standing on the balcony, I look over you, know that you get mad at me” really resonated as me singing to LA herself. Some songs just spew out of me without me knowing what it really is about yet. This one is so special to me. I love her.
This song is an ode to my soulmate, who made me try blueberry pancakes for the first time ever just a few years ago. This song is dedicated to her. The verse is inspired by her life and how it changed dramatically from living in Wisconsin to moving in with me here in LA. She is sweet like blueberry pancakes.
“Days Like This”
This song feels so nostalgic for me. I wrote this one reminiscing on the days when I’d just be sitting on my phone, in my childhood bedroom, it’s raining out, and everything feels so dull and all I wanted to do was leave. This first verse lyric “Said I’d leave it all behind and I’d never look back/You were everything I had once” is how I felt about my hometown and life as I knew it when I was younger, but the song progresses into how I feel now: “Yeah I used to look up and I hate it, but the rain, I look up and I miss it” and “Hope my family knows I never meant to leave them/Think about it every time I write my feelings.”
“Fish Out of Water”
In this song, I am telling the story of a girl I know. Her name is Samantha. She moved all the way from Wisconsin to Los Angeles to be with the one she loved. She sacrificed so much, moving all the way across the country, leaving everything she’s known behind, for love.
The funky guitar playing in the intro really reminds me of Sublime. I wanted “Wisconsin” to have the listener feel like they’re on a fishing boat on the river during the summertime. This is, like “608,” another love song to Wisconsin. “I could go anywhere and you’ll be right here/I could say anything and you’d wanna hear/After all this the place where I face my fears.” No matter what happens in my life, my home will always be there for me.