interview: Introducing Sano Hill, ‘If Not Now, When?’

"Music and songwriting to me have always been a means of making sense of what has been going in my life and the album reflects that"
6 December 2023

If Not Now, When? is a brand new album released by Irish singer-songwriter Sano Hill. Living in Galway, Hill has plenty of inspiration to draw on from within the city and its’ lively indie music scene. He seamlessly incorporates the vibrancy of Galway City into his musical style, and through a blend of his captivating singing voice and masterful songwriting, Hill evokes profound emotions with his sincere, carefree charisma, forming the heart and soul of the entire record. 

The album unfolds piece by piece, led by Hill as he guides us through a deeply relatable tale of a love that doesn’t last. The record kicks off with Time Out, an acoustic, sun-soaked track that radiates optimism and serves as a musical reflection of sunlight breaking through the clouds, shaking off the stresses of life, and relishing in the simple things. Beginning with some gentle acoustic chords and the warm quality of Hill’s voice, the track erupts into a full band arrangement, an explosion of sound as Hill takes us along with him for the ride on a walk through the vibrant cityscape of Galway. He gives voice to his ambitions and aspirations as an independent musician just trying to make a living doing what he loves.

With mellower, more soulful tunes like Dancer, listeners are immersed in the enchanting sensation of falling in love, being consumed by another person, and the whirlwind of emotions that come with it, set against a backdrop of acoustic guitar and bright, hopeful string arrangements. Hill shows he isn’t afraid to venture outside his usual style with Love Story, a fiery track supported by the hypnotic sounds of the Iranian Doudouk and Greek bouzouki. Here, Hill documents the first cracks that often appear in new relationships; communication breakdowns that lead to feelings of pain and confusion, and the chaos of these early conflicts is enhanced by the mesmerising instrumentals.

CircleWalk is undeniably one of the standout tracks on the album, with lyrics that detail a desperate plea for honesty and deeper connection with a partner who’s already drifting out of reach. Here, Hill shows off his knack for turning his anguish into an upbeat indie bop, with bright blasts of brass instruments to amplify the weight of his emotions. 

Finally, Hill leaves us with Sing Out Loud, an ode to a newfound inner inspiration, and the sensation of awakening with a fresh burst of creativity. It’s a track full of that unabashed sunny disposition that Hill exudes. Framed within the landscape of our world today, still recovering from the pandemic, the song serves as a celebration of reconnecting with both the world and each other. 

If Not Now, When? is a cohesive album that tells a story from beginning to end, told masterfully by Hill. His salt-of-the-earth persona permeates every facet of the album, forging a deep connection between listener and artist. It’s an album full to the brim with soul, unfiltered passion and genuine, authentic craftsmanship. Hill pours his heart and soul into this record and his words are sure to strike a chord with anyone who’s experienced the bitter sting of heartbreak. With his music, Hill embodies a charming, down-to-earth quality that makes his music hard to resist, especially for those who may recognise the feeling of being compelled to follow their creative calling and be swept up into the uncertain flow of creativity.

We got a chance to talk with Sano Hill about the album, check out the full interview below:

Music and songwriting to me have always been a means of making sense of what has been going in my life and the album reflects that

The album If Not Now, When? takes the listener on a journey through various stages of a relationship. Is there anything else you can tell me about the inspiration behind this thematic approach?

Firstly thanks for the opportunity to discuss my music with your fantastic publication. So the album has evolved over quite a period of time, with some songs taking different shapes at different points (on the bandcamp release of the album (available at sanohill.bandcamp.com) there are some bonus tracks that capture 3 songs at different stages of development).

I suppose above all life experience, my own and those close to me, was the main inspiration and with time there was a maturing in understanding and perspective, whether as a singer-songwriter or in terms of my understanding of relationships I have had. The album charts both narratives, and tries to bring some coherence to aspects of life that don’t necessarily follow clear or coherent paths.

Music and songwriting to me have always been a means of making sense of what has been going in my life and the album reflects that – some songs are from quite a few years ago, others much more recent, but they have all evolved over time, and I always had the idea that if I was going to release an album it would have to have an overall narrative and thematic coherence and hopefully I’ve achieved that here. Saying all that, I do hope that there is enough space and ambiguity in the songs that they provide the opportunity for listeners to bring their own life experience to what they hear.

CircleWalk and Starting Over explore the breakdown and traumatic ending of a relationship. Can you discuss the inspiration behind these tracks and how you conveyed those emotions in both the lyrics and the music?

I don’t want to personalise this too much but I think most people have experienced challenges in relationships, and I certainly have. Sometimes there are difficulties communicating, or perhaps a breakdown entirely in communication and a real struggle to rebuild trust and a space where a couple can connect again. CircleWalk is about that frustration when two people have a huge amount they want or may need to say but can’t find the right words to say it, and keep walking around in circles without connecting. And sometimes they just can’t reconnect and then it’s perhaps time to move on and that’s where Starting Over comes in. That song is about starting again, agreeing to part, realising that life goes on, and moving on. I try to capture that as something potentially positive in the music and the lyric.

Feel Love addresses the power of love to connect and overcome challenges. What prompted you to create a song with a positive and unifying message in the current global landscape?

So I wanted to bring the album towards a close on a positive note, connecting with what is one of the most important aspects of who we are as human beings, our ability to love, to feel compassion, and from that basis we can find the means to address the various challenges we face in the world today. Not from fear, not from resentment, or anger. If we genuinely want to address climate change, global poverty, war – we need to start from a realisation of what connects us all, and what is more important and defining to us as human beings, our ability to love.

The final track, Sing Out Loud, explores themes of reconnecting with the world and celebrating the joy of living. What is the significance of the phrase ‘If Not Now, When?’ in this context?

So that phrase is there at the centre of that track and actually across the album. The refrain ‘ can you be here now’ on ‘Sing Out Loud’ speaks directly to that theme – the album took a loooong time to finally bring together and that song kind of speaks to the reason why in terms of the fears and insecurities about whether the material was good enough, ready, would anyone want to hear it etc. And the pandemic gave me the space but also the motivation – the reminder that if I didn’t actually do this now, it might never happen. And there is also a bit of eastern spiritualism there which I was reading around that time when writing the song about the importance of living in the moment, of really being present for whatever is going on in your life – that a focus either on the past or the potential future can really disrupt and hamper creativity and productivity.

Working with acclaimed producer Larry Hogan and engineer/producer Braddon Williams, how did their expertise contribute to the overall sound and production of If Not Now, When? Can you share any memorable moments from the recording process?

Larry Hogan has this incredible initiative in Dublin called Dublin Studio Hub where he helps singer songwriters realise their ideas and vision for their music, connecting them with both producers and musicians. He was critical to the realisation of the full-band sound on the album.As well as being a top producer he’s a superb multi-instrumentalist and brought in ideas that really helped bring the music to another level. Braddon I encountered through the New Artist spotlight community – a supportive community of indie artists from all over the world – he’s a fantastic engineer and producer who previously worked with Sony and some of the top acts in the world and he brought the tracks on that bit further again – having the input of both Larry and Braddon was crucial to the realisation of the final sound on the album.

​How does Galway affect the sound of your music and how do you try to capture the city’s essence in your songwriting?

I’m actually from Cavan originally, which is a small county in Ulster though south of the Border (so in the Republic of Ireland) – in fact Sano Hill is the name of a hill behind the house I grew up in in Cavan. As regards Galway, the city is often called the cultural capital of Ireland due to its rich creative culture of which music is an important aspect. Galway has hugely informed my music both in lyric (and parts of the city are mentioned in songs) but also I think in the sound which is influenced by the indie scene in the city and also the importance of acoustic driven folk rock in the region, which was a big influence on my sound.

Who would your 3 most played artists on Spotify be?

Difficult question – I listen a lot to upcoming indie artists I’ve connected with in the New Artist Spotlight (NAS) community – there is a fantastic English folk singer there Emily Gray I listen to quite a bit. Also Eleanor Collides, another English singer-songwriter I admire hugely – and then of more established acts probably Nick Cave or Jeff Buckley.

What changes would you like to see happen in the music industry?

That all artists receive a fair and equitable return from their music through streaming. Right now unless you are a very established artist, it is very difficult to build a career or make an income from original music – and if anything it seems to be getting even harder!

Who would you most like to collaborate with?

Any of the artists mentioned above – one other artist that had a huge influence on me as a developing songwriter was Van Morrison and that would be incredible if I ever had the opportunity to collaborate with Van the Man.

Where have you performed? What are your favourite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?

So I’ve played gigs in the US and Ireland both solo and with bands. I spent a summer in Milwaukee at one point and played bars/coffee shops across the city and also a major Irish festival (Irish Fest) that’s held in the city every August. I love performing my songs, particularly when I can do so to an audience who are receptive and interested in new original music (this is not always the case unfortunately!).

There are few experiences more powerful and affecting than connecting with an audience in song, particularly when it is a song you wrote yourself. Trying to pick a favourite venue is difficult – there have been many down the years.

Two Galway venues I have had some incredible shows in would be Monroe’s Live and Róisín Dubh so those are two favourites. In terms of upcoming gigs, I’m currently working on confirming gigs in the New Year – I’ll be playing a gig in the Ol 55 Bar, Prospect Hill, Galway city on February 11 and again on April 14, and all upcoming gigs will be confirmed shortly on my website here:

linktr.ee/SanoHill

instagram.com/sanohillsongs