Hannah Joy of Middle Kids navigates a faith crisis

Hannah Joy, singer for Sydney, Australia based trio Middle Kids, is on the cusp of having her second child. And I mean, right on the cusp – her due date is less than two weeks away. By the time you’re reading this article, she will likely have already delivered. So naturally, from one parent to another, I had to establish something very important right off the bat:

“Oh, dude, we’re huge Bluey fans!” Hannah announces with glee, passing my ‘test’ with flying colours. And with that, we’re off to the races.

Upon hearing ‘Mistake’ back in 2018, Middle Kids quickly became my favourite ‘band you need to know.’ They exploded onto my radar with one of the catchiest songs and most thoughtful debut records I’d heard in ages, so when they followed it up in 2021 with Today We’re the Greatest, my excitement was high. All expectations were surpassed, and it became my most played record of the year.

Fast forward to 2024, and Hannah – along with drummer Harry Day and bassist/husband Tim Fitz – are about to release album number three: Faith Crisis, Pt. 1. Despite outdoing themselves yet again (and I can’t emphasise that enough), it apparently didn’t come easy. 

“Making this record almost killed us,” Hannah admits. “It was so intense, but the vision was always pretty clear. I feel really lucky in a lot of ways that even though I felt like it was a real fight to get the songs, once we got them, there was a great energy in terms of then bringing it all together.”

This time around, the band flew to England to work with producer John Gilmore, who they brought on in hopes of having more outside input on their songs than ever before. The collaboration resulted in a record that combines all the best elements of Middle Kids with a revitalised sense of purpose – a factor that came out of an internal struggle most songwriters can undoubtedly relate to.

“I felt a lot of pressure making the songs,” Hannah recalls. “But once I got them and we started working on them together, there was an ease with which we were able to build the songs up and find the sound and place for each of them.”

Songs like ‘Dramamine’ and ‘Highlands’ are immediately recognisable as Middle Kids, upbeat in nature with anthemic melodies abound. Other songs, like ‘Bootleg Firecracker’ and ‘Your Side, Forever,’ sound simultaneously bigger and more intimate than ever before. To that extent, Faith Crisis Pt. 1 may very well be the new quintessential Middle Kids record. 

“I’m kind of an extroverted songwriter,” Hannah recognises. “I like to go out and experience life and connect with people. Then I come back, reflect and write upon that. But for a while, I felt like I had this big vacuum and, when I looked inside, I did not like what was in there. That was a challenge for me because most songs I write on my own, and then bring them to Tim to work on. For a while, we couldn’t do anything because I had [no material]. That was very confronting for me; songwriting has usually been quite natural.”

With that in mind, the aforementioned ‘Dramamine’ was a particularly unique experience for Hannah, collaborating directly with her husband on the song from the ground up as opposed to her normal writing environment of “in private, at nighttime after a few glasses of wine.” The co-write ended up being one of the album’s lead singles – a true highlight in a consistently strong track listing.

Another single is the raw and emotionally rife ‘Bend,’ which Hannah cites as one of the most difficult songs she’s ever crafted. It builds upon itself as it progresses, erupting with an ending that features Hannah shredding her vocal chords with such rawness, you can almost feel the pain in your own throat.

“I remember doing that take, and then needing to sit down,” she laughs. “I wrote [‘Bend’] a couple weeks before we flew to England and it’s a lot more raw and vulnerable than most of the stuff we’ve made before. I feel comfortable to do vulnerability as long as I can make it a bit clever or interesting, whereas this song is just ‘blah’. I felt very uncomfortable about that. It almost didn’t make the record – it was on the burner for ages. But I’m glad we left it now because I think it is an important moment.”

The lyric ‘Maybe you’ve got to break me to see what I’m made of…’ is also a perfect thesis statement for the record. Sure, Faith Crisis Pt. 1 may be a bit of a misnomer on the surface: Hannah assures me there are (currently) no plans to make a musical sequel. Thematically however, she is quick to acknowledge the likely potential for more crises of faith to come.

“I’ve always found it very easy and natural to believe in God or some sort of creative being that’s involved and invested in our experience of life,” Hannah admits. “For the first time, I found myself thinking ‘maybe everything’s just chaos, and we’re all just hanging on to survive’. A lot of that was obviously because of Covid but then our [first] kid got quite sick and we were in and out of hospital. Even though there have been a lot of hard, chaotic times in my life, this was the first time that I felt some of those fundamental beliefs being shook. As I was moving through it, I realised that everyone is having these things all the time in their own unique ways, whether it’s spiritual or circumstantial or relational. These big columns of truth or stability get rocked, and then you have to rebuild.” 

These so-called crises of faith are ubiquitous at this point in time. Hannah and I agree there’s not an abundance of hope in the air, culturally. Emotions of fear and anxiety are at an all-time high, and throughout the record, Middle Kids appear to be on a quest to find hope amidst the chaos.

The beautiful closer, ‘All in My Head’, brings this all together, overtly asking the pertinent question, ‘Is it all in my head?’ in the chorus. Joining Hannah for the otherwise sparse arrangement is Dave Le’aupepe of fellow Aussie-indie rock band, Gang of Youths.

“[Dave]’s a really beautiful friend of ours, particularly of Tim’s. He is actually one of the main instigators of our career,” Hannah recalls. “His voice is truly remarkable, and he’s got such a beautiful spirit. To have him sing on [the record] is such an honour. 

“It was Tim’s idea to get someone to sing that song with me, and I was hesitant because it’s a very singular song. I was like, ‘this is my song!’ But he felt like Dave could sing so beautifully on it. It’s so cool now in hindsight because he really brought that song a whole new meaning for me, which is a very cool experience as a songwriter.”

In more ways than one, Middle Kids is a family, navigating the crises – both existential and otherwise – together as a unit. With a new little one in the mix, Hannah and Tim are growing that family by one. Unsurprisingly, balancing the family and the music continues to be at the forefront of their minds.

“Life is very different once you have kids. I felt like I had to find my songs again because the energy of songwriting and creating is very different to parenting. One is very reactive, just moment to moment meeting needs, whereas to write music, you need space and to kind of go on a journey. I slowly figured out how to get into that zone – I’d shack up along the east coast of Australia, and just go away for one or two nights by myself to fish for these songs. It took me a while to find that, but it’s been a really cool journey.” 

On a personal level, having Hannah relay her experience as both a mother and a musician is an inspiring thing. Constantly navigating the ping-pong game of parent and musician can honestly be a mental crisis in and of itself. Some days, you’re questioning whether you’re present enough at home. Other days, you’re questioning whether you’re devoting enough of yourself to your craft. On the worst days, you’re fighting both at once.

“When I was younger, I always saw these two distinct paths I could take,” Hannah recalls. “One was being a dysfunctional musician, and the other a nice mum. But I’ve realised there is actually space for both. Even though it pushes you and pulls you apart in a lot of ways, your capacity grows and you can fight for the things that are really important for you. 

“For Tim and I, music is so important to us, and now family is too; you don’t even realise how important family is until you have one. It is so mind-blowingly beautiful and brings so much meaning and purpose. But, because we’re both in the band, we have to both be willing to work at it and try and balance everything out. I feel like sometimes I get in a flow and it’s amazing. Then sometimes, I feel like I’m not being a great mum or a great artist, and it’s just this kind of constant thing we’re working on. 

“With Middle Kids, we’ve always believed the most important thing is each other. We never want to jeopardise the relationships or people for the career. So, as long as we can keep doing both, then we will, and we’re willing to schlep around the world to do it. It’s very intense, but we love it and feel so thankful to do it.”

Faith Crisis Pt. 1, the phenomenal new record from Middle Kids, is out today on all major streaming platforms. Listen and pick up a copy for yourself right HERE.

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