Pop in Translation: Denny Hanson on Nomenclature, New Album, and Macon Music

The first time I saw Nomenclature was down in the basement of the sometimes notorious Riverview Ballroom back in the late aughts. Spread out on a makeshift stage and clad in print sundresses (was someone wearing a cape?), the band was cruisin’ through a rendition of the Velvet Underground’s “Beginning To See The Light”.

As time went by, the band itself would ebb and flow through members and styles, but ever-constant was Denny Hanson. Denny would go on to be a part of numerous Macon outfits while earning the reputation of a savvy instrumentalist and unique songwriter in bands like Hank Vegas, Atria, the Widow Pills, and HOWL. But always just around the corner or just behind the sun, Nomenclature remained.

There were times when the story could’ve ended horribly. An ongoing struggle with substance abuse strained relationships and threatened his life, but sobriety and a re-commitment to his muse led Denny to thrive in new ways both creative and personal. His spiritual adventure led him to Nashville and a sound engineer position at the Basement East– of course, a tornado and pandemic put that side of life on hold indefinitely. But Denny has managed to endure, and when he answers my phone call to discuss his latest project, he’s somewhere en route to Kansas City as part of Rumours ATL: A Fleetwood Mac Tribute.

Years and miles from those cinderblock walls under the Riverview, Denny’s set to play the stage at the Moody Theater in Austin on the same day he releases a new Nomenclature album. Floral Deposits will be available on all your favorite digital platforms on May 7th, 2021, and is tentatively scheduled for a double LP release this summer.

AI- Floral Deposits. Tell me somethin’, is this a Denny Hanson project or is this a Nomenclature project?

DH- Well, Nomenclature has always been me. To perform a lot of it live, obviously, I can’t do all of it. So over the years, it has been a rotating cast of characters, but I’ve been doin’ stuff under Nomenclature for over a decade now. I felt like I needed some kind of moniker or labeling system to put this stuff under, and I figured Nomenclature was probably the best way to go just because it is itself a labeling system (laughs)! Kinda my version of calling the band The Band!

So indeed, Floral Deposits will be under the Nomenclature banner when it’s released?

It will be. Yeah, it’s under Nomenclature, but I play everything on it. It’s all me with the exception of Mr. John Neff playin’ pedal steel!

I was wantin’ to know the answer to that! Because I know when you have recorded projects in the past, you have done all the instruments, but I heard that pedal steel come up on “Don’t Go Pickin’ Roses”, and I wondered had you taught yourself to play the pedal steel?

I wish, man!

But now knowin’ that’s Neff– that’s cool! Roses, rabbits, rats, birds, carnations… There is a pattern throughout the songs on this album. I don’t know what that pattern is, but there is a pattern. Tell me a little bit about that.

They’re all floral and animalistic images. They mean one thing to me, but I’m hoping that they’re universal enough images for the listener to get their own vibe or impression. To me, the floral aspect of it is life-giving. It’s fragrant, it’s sexual. It’s a lot of different things. But the animalistic side of it is the part that tends to get us removed from those things. So it’s this back and forth play between the floral being your higher self and the animalistic being your lower-minded self.

Is that how you see yourself– the rose and the rabbit?

Oh, I think that’s the eternal human struggle, my man! We’re constantly trying to define the balance between accepting our animalistic nature and reveling in our higher-minded selves or our more spiritual selves.

This last year, you had been based out of Nashville working at the Basement East when the tornado came through. We’re all very familiar with the fallout of that and then of course, hot on the heels, you had the pandemic. Knowing how creative you are, knowing that in your life, what you’ve gone through, and what you’ve been through, and your story of sobriety, how has that been for you?

I haven’t been doin’ any drugs if that’s the question! But there are addictive attributes that express themselves in way more ways than just doin’ drugs, you know? Trying to keep that in mind is a daily challenge, but I can say that I haven’t fallen off that wagon.

The songs on the album, there’s a great deal of Macon in some of them.

Oh yeah!

It would lead me to believe that you’ve had them for a while. But others, were some of these written during this interim year that you’ve had? Is that how you were filling the hours or was the recording process how you were filling the hours? When did all this get put together?

A good bit of these songs are definitely more recent. There’s one that is over 12 years old that I reworked, but once I got a good view of where the year was going, I just figured now’s the time to do this. Basically, once a month, I would go to Athens, Georgia for a week and work on this. And it was every bit of nine months to make this record! Some of the songs are definitely a result of having nothing but time to be introspective and reflective. The ones that are steeped in Macon probably seem a little homesick ’cause it’s true! I’d only had a year in Nashville to try to lay some roots– and that’s a hard thing to do when you can’t be around anybody!

You said you were going to Athens once a month. Where did you record the album at?

I recorded this at the Glow Recording Studio with Jesse Mangum. He and I actually co-produced this record. Jesse and I have a funny story. Initially, I was playing in a band called Atria with Savannah Cameron and Steve Ledbetter and Zach Farr. [Jesse] was really, really psyched on that band and wanted to record an EP with us. I was just playing bass in that band. I wasn’t writin’ any songs really or anything. He and I, we just vibed, man! So I ended up trackin’ an EP with him. I guess technically, it’s a record. It’s just a really short record. We’ve been best buds ever since! He knows where I want to go before I even have to tell him, and during the times where I’m not really sure where I want to go, he knows where to steer the ship a little bit. We got nothing but love for each other! I feel like he is my older brother that I never had and will probably continue making records with him as long as I keep making records.

Photo by Logan White

There’s a couple of songs I want to talk about on the album… “Rose Hill”, a song obviously with some Macon roots. Is that like the musical accompaniment for a morning stroll through the cemetery? Was that your consideration?

Oh yeah! Absolutely!

‘Cause I know that’s something you’ve spoken to when you and I have corresponded before– the feeling, the vibe that you get from being in that place at a certain time of day.

To me, that is one of the holiest places on earth. I’ve yet to travel out of the country, but I’ve been to just about every damn state in the continental US, minus a couple. There’s just something very, very special and spiritual about that place. I’m sure that may sound kind of morbid to the casual individual (laughs), but there is something very life-affirming about walking around Rose Hill. There’s an energy there that cannot be denied. But yeah, that’s the vibe of an early morning in April walkin’ around Rose Hill and trying to collect yourself and find the good things within yourself to carry on.

Another track that takes place in so many ways right around the corner, “Bank of Lost Romantics”. That one comes off as a total commentary on Macon and especially the Macon music scene. “The conversation’s stuck on music, but no one’s making a sound.” Who are you addressing in that song?

(Laughs) I’m not addressing anyone in particular. It’s more of the vibe, I guess, that I’m addressing. The “Bank of Lost Romantics” for me is a very real place. Me and Chris Nylund were living together right off of Walnut Street, and there was a period of time where we were havin’ rehearsals at our house four or five nights a week for three different bands. There was just a sense of camaraderie and brethren there that I hadn’t really experienced in a long time in Macon. I think that is where the commentary aspect of it steps in is that this idea of a scene or a solid music scene comes and goes in these waves.

I guess, to answer, what you’re asking, who am I addressing? Collectively, Macon. You’ve got people like yourself that are kind of clawing and scratching to preserve the historical aspects of it and keep that kind of fresh on the mind because the music that has come from Macon and in particular the musicians that have come from Macon, that’s such a contribution to the world. But there seems to be some kind of impasse between the musicians now that are still trying to make that a consistent reality, a present reality, and the actual level of support from the community itself.

I disagree with part of that statement. I spend the majority of my time talking to new artists and the people currently making music in Macon for Sound and Soul. And then I have the luxury of being able to play them on a local radio station, which back when I played music, I didn’t have that option. I appreciate the history as much as the next guy– hell, I do an old-school rockabilly show– but it’s what’s happening now and potentially going to happen, I think, that that dominates my interest as far as the Macon music scene.

I think you’re probably an exception in that scenario. I feel like there is a tinge of fetishizing the history aspect of it so much so that the present does get overlooked. For that, I am grateful for people like you that can be tempered and keep their foot in each world.

I wanna duck back to that sense of camaraderie that you were talking about, which to me is just one of the most amazing things about playing music– being able to be with other people. And sometimes that’s just as important as having people to listen as it is being on stage with someone. Knowing that you feel that way, why do everything yourself? Why not invite people to engage the songs with you for the recording process?

Well, I’m a little obsessive (laughs)…

No kiddin’? I think we can smell our own (laughs)!

(Laughs) A little bit of a control freak! I think of these songs as like a painting. There are other projects that I’ve been involved in where the collaborative aspect of it is what makes it and what really makes it for me. I still say to this day, my favorite band I’ve ever been in is Widow Pills. There was just that camaraderie, that brethren in that band that was some of the most magical I have ever experienced. There’s a shit ton of value in what happens when you get that many people on the same page. It’s like this psychic, telekinetic thing that I can’t even really verbalize. Again, just a very spiritual thing to me. But for tracking these songs, you know, I think of them like an architect and I plan and plot and design each aspect of this. I hate to say I don’t necessarily trust anybody to do what I want to happen, but I mean, if it’s in my head, then I feel like I have to be the one to execute it.

And that brings me to something else I wanted to ask you about. You’re out now with Rumours, the Fleetwood Mac tribute. I can certainly see the allure of the fun of goin’ off and doing that. As a musician, and even as a songwriter, I would not say that you adhere to any sort of structure. It seems like that could be at odds when you go to do something like Rumours.

Oh totally, man! I think that there’s some overlap. At the end of the day, I’m trying to write pop music. Whether that translates (laughs) or not that remains to be seen. But I think there is some overlap with the Fleetwood Mac stuff. I love a good melody. I love a good hook. John McVie’s bass playing is a really big influence on how I approach bass playing. But it is totally different in that they’re obviously way more straightforward in their approach to pop music– with the exception of the record Tusk, which, probably surprising to no one, is my favorite Fleetwood Mac record just ’cause it’s so weird and off the wall! But it’s helped me reel in some ideas on how to structure stuff and how to approach, specifically, storytelling.

I feel like Fleetwood Mac, they’re so on point– any of ’em, McVie, Buckingham, or Nicks– in the storytelling aspect of their writing, whereas my stuff has always been more impressionistic, stream of consciousness, psychedelic… So it’s shifted my perspective in the new batch of songs that I’ve been workin’ on and tryin’ to have a little more coherent point A to point B approach to songwriting.

The album comes out [May 7th]. I am guessing that this is gonna be a straight digital release?

A straight digital release for now. There is a physical release that will be happening at the end of the summer. I’m gonna guess probably August? Vinyl printing presses are so backed up right now.

You’re intending on doing vinyl? I reckon that’s gonna be a double LP! ‘Cause you got 19 songs on there, Denny!

Dude, if you’re gonna make a double record, you got to put it vinyl! Come on now! If you’re gonna do it, do it! It’ll be a short run. I’ve printed 500 copies. If I sell half of ’em, I’ll be happy. I’m hoping that being on the road with Rumours will give me more of an opportunity to move some units, but I won’t be super disappointed. This stuff for me, man, it’s always been a goal to make a living off of my creations, but at the end of the day, I’m gonna create either way. I just can’t not do it.

Listen to Floral Deposits now on all your favorite digital platforms!