Hannah Rodgers is scared and suffering. "I've got a wisdom tooth coming through, and I'm scared the dentist is gonna have to pull it out tomorrow!" she explains. Freshly dosed up on co-codamol, there's nothing quite like an in-depth interview with Dork about her stupendous upcoming new record to make her forget all about the pain. Well, that's what we tell her anyway.
Known better as Pixx, Hannah first appeared on the folktronica-tinged ‘Fall In' EP back in 2015 before her debut proper ‘The Age Of Anxiety'. As the title suggests, it was a dive into the debilitating anxiety that she suffered from for many years and highlighted her as one of the most interesting members of the new generation of pop. And then, it went quiet. No live performances for nearly a year, Hannah rooted herself back in the studio with her newly-formed band and co-producers Simon Byrt and Dan Carey. The outcome is sensational.
Built around a series of explorations of love, relationships and everything in between, ‘Small Mercies' is a sprawling, adventurous and powerful statement. Anyone mistaking this for a concept album about hearts and romance can forget it though. This is much darker, and much less obvious, than that. Veering between the sun-drenched Anderson.Paak-esque ‘Andean Condor', through the savage grunge of ‘Bitch' into the soaring synthpop of ‘Disgrace', this is a record that knows no bounds. And that's just the opening three songs...
Thank God for small mercies. A common enough saying, but when Hannah's mum said it in conversation, it sparked something. "I'd never heard anyone say it before, but it just stayed in my head, and I loved it. It just fitted with these thoughts that I'd been exploring of looking for the little things that make life worthwhile," explains Hannah. "Small mercies are just quite beautiful, and it's what keeps me going."
As her writing progressed into themes of challenging her religious education, it all clicked into place. Having already written ‘Duck Out', a tale of how the world would rather bury its head in the sand rather than face up to the really important stuff like, y'know, the planet becoming an uninhabitable wasteland, everything began to slide into place. But if anything is absolute, then it is the fact that Hannah will do anything but duck out when it comes to tackling the biggest of topics.
Even for the non-religious, God and the church is still a weighty and daunting subject matter to explore. But working through a trilogy of songs, ‘Disgrace', ‘Funsize' and ‘Eruption 24', Hannah took it all apart to shine a magnifying glass on its inner workings. It is the perfect example of how she can ask the most profound of questions on what is, on the surface of things, a bright and frothy indie pop banger-fest. "When I was younger, I never even questioned the existence of God. But then I came back to it and started thinking about it more."
Raised in a Catholic all-girls convent school, it was not an easy time for her. Describing the process of writing 'Disgrace' as the release of untold pent-up anger, it was something that needed to be addressed.
"Seeing stuff that happened to old school friends, it's properly affected them all too. For years I was putting myself in powerless positions, and I don't know whether that's that the way the Catholic upbringing influenced me, but that moment of realising that we are all in control of ourselves after years believing that you're not was a really important realisation to have."
Exploring other religious tangents in a similarly unique fashion, ‘Funsize' is from the perspective of a Jesus figurine suffering an emotional crisis, watching the world go by without it. "I wanted to get into a different headspace for it, to almost make it more human if you know what I mean? The idea that this character could have a crisis when he's supposed to be worshipped and so important."
Meanwhile, completing the set, ‘Eruption 24', a message to humanity from God in which only taunts and dismissals are offered rather than love and warmth. "It was always terrifying rather than spiritual to me. It always felt like God was on some big power trip, evil almost."
Hannah's ability to craft pure pop bangers around the heaviest of subject matters like a trojan horse reaches its peak with ‘Hysterical'. With lines like "We all know by now you weren't invited into her bed… You gave what you wanted and enjoyed the blow," it is a painfully raw and brutally honest song relating to situations that are becoming increasingly familiar over the last couple of years. Slowly, Hannah reveals more.
"It comes from my own experiences, and many conversations that I've had with other women. It's quite scary to talk about and put on a record, but I've felt more bold about it over the last few years because women are finally speaking out."
Seemingly arriving out of the blue on ‘Small Mercies', it is a breathtaking moment. "I think allowing yourself to be vulnerable is an important thing. If you're going to be an artist who helps people get through their own lives, then you've got to be ready to be vulnerable too."
Her anger may be an energy, but Hannah sees the record as a welcome release. "It's healthy for me to get that stuff out, and it kind of helps me understand myself a bit more too. Because a lot of the themes between the songs, it's more about that longing that we seem to have for something to accept us. Unconditional love or whatever, be it for the planet, or for God, or for another person."
A self-confessed hopeless romantic, ("I fall in love quite easily," she laughs), love runs through every aspect of ‘Small Mercies'. The title-track itself was inspired by Blondie's ‘Hanging On The Telephone', a song that has long influenced Hannah. "I always loved that song, and how Debbie Harry is a lot of the time. When she's singing about love, it's very obsessive and almost demented, and that's what ‘Small Mercies' is supposed to be like."
As well as Blondie, there is a strong retro feel to many of the synth-sounds running through the record. Joking that she only worked with Carey so that she could be let loose on all of his synths, there is an open admiration for both him and Byrt (the producer of her EP and debut), two producers who restored her faith after a testing start in music. "I was quite often working with these older men in the studio, and then I was also quite introverted and nervous at the same time."
Things improved when she met Byrt, however. "He was the first guy I ever actually loved being in the studio with, we are so comfortable around each other we can delve into really intense sessions, and it's a really similar thing with Dan too."
With the addition of a permanent band being added to the mix too, it has all allowed Hannah to fall back in love again with her guitar. "With the first album, I fell out of touch with my guitar. I was feeling quite pre-occupied, and in a bit of a whirlwind, and out of my depth too, I guess. But writing songs on guitar is basically all that I do with my spare time; it's the best thing I can think of."
That rekindled passion brings with it some of the album highlights. ‘Bitch' and ‘Mary Magdalene' bristle with attitude, alive with a new grungey, heavier sound. Markedly different from anything we have heard from Pixx before, they seem to herald another potential new direction, the band adding a whole new texture to what was already there waiting to be let loose. "I'm definitely going to take that direction at some point in the future. I find it too boring to get bogged down in one sound or one style."
With work already beginning on album number three, it seems that the eclectic nature of Pixx' output to date will not be changing any time soon.
But with thoughts returning to the short-term, it seems that Hannah has found some resolution through this entire process. "The energy that I feel on stage when I'm performing this record is like nothing other that I've ever felt. I guess that writing these songs also helped me to get out of myself in a way," she reflects.
There is a confidence and assurance about this record that shows a supremely talented artist finding her voice in the world. Modernity may seem to be failing us, but Pixx is exactly the sort of small mercy that will keep us all going in the meantime.
Taken from the July issue of Dork. Pixx's album 'Small Mercies' is out now.
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