What does breaking from the fundamentalist Christian church and forging your own identify and sense of sanctuary look like? Hannah Aldridge’s story paints a picture.
Hannah Aldridge’s music has been described as “dark country”. She grew up in a musical family. Her dad worked as a musician in Fame Studios, a recording studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where some of the most well-known singers of our time cut records, including the Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin. Hannah grew up running around in that studio. She also grew up in a family that was fundamentalist Christian. In her early twenties, she started playing music on stages close to home. After she broke from the church, she started playing on stages all around the world. Her songs strike a delicate balance between rebellion and self-discovery. This episode is the first story on our show where we will weave a woman’s story with her own, original music. You’ll hear snippets of Hannah’s music throughout. Hannah came-of-age in the South but she’s spent a lifetime trying to create an identity outside of it.
Hannah Aldridge’s forthcoming album ‘Dream of America’ will be released in early 2023.
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Produced by Jamie Yuenger and Piet Hurkmans. Our show’s musical intro and outro is taken from the track “Thursday” by the independent artist Nick Takénobu Ogawa. You can listen and support his music on bandcamp here.
Other music in this episode is by Hannah Aldridge, with her permission.
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Host Jamie: Hello, I'm Jamie Yuenger. I'm the host of this show 'If You Knew Me'. I'm also the co-founder along with my husband, Piet, of the If you Knew Me initiative. I wanna welcome you to the podcast and I also wanna take a moment to introduce you to the If You Knew Me nonprofit, the Media Initiative Behind this show. We have a single mission to improve women's wellbeing through the power of story. We do that with this podcast and also through books and films. You can join us and support this growing international movement for women's wellbeing. I invite you to become a patron of the podcast. There are six levels you can choose from or make a donation in honor of someone.
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On this show If You Knew Me we share powerful stories from the inner lives of women, however they identify. This is a home for vulnerability and courage, a safe and brave space. We highlight first person stories about topics that women rarely share, even with their closest friends. This week we hear a story from Hannah Aldridge.
Hannah Aldridge is a professional touring musician. Her music is dark, haunting, and sometimes hilarious. Her music has been described as dark country. Hannah grew up in a musical family. Her dad worked as a musician in Fame Studios, a recording studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama were some of the most well-known singers of our time cut records, including the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon.
Hannah grew up running around in that studio and she also grew up in a family that was fundamentalist Christian. In her early twenties she started playing music on stages close to home, and after she broke from the church, she started playing on stages all around the world. Her songs strike a delicate balance between rebellion and self-discovery.
This episode is the first story on our show where we will weave a woman's story with her own original music. You'll hear snippets of Hannah's music throughout. Hannah came of age in the South, but she spent a lifetime trying to create an identity outside of it.
This episode is entitled 'Unbeliever'.
for me as a person outside of being a musician or an artist, or a storyteller, I like a lot of artists have, a bit of a, you know, traumatic upbringing and story and all of that, but I feel like that's something that, um, a lot of people have to find within themselves, how to deal with and move forward with that.
Hannah: And for me, um, I have found it to be a great strength and something that was very much a muse and cathartic for me to be able to sort of take these things in my life and, uh, make them into something that not only were maybe relatable for other people, but also I could, put a little bit of humor around it.
So the dark stor part of my story and my songs and all that in some kind of way is, um, is a little bit tongue in cheek, you know, I mean, I'm not maybe quite as dark as I, Proposed myself to be, but I do have a real affinity for that. And I think a lot of that is because it was so withheld from me
as a kid, I was raised really, really fundamentalist Christian.
And then there were a lot of things that were just absolutely not an option. And I think, for some people that can be really good to have these very clear and defined rules and boundaries in life. And for me, even from day one, I was like, okay, there's the line and here's all the ways that you can cross it.
I really struggled to fit into that fundamentalist Christian. Life. I didn't know as a kid why that would be, but you know, for me, like as I got older and have grown into myself and my beliefs and being an adult, there's lot of clarity that comes with that, which I can obviously get a little bit more into.
Hannah: but starting with kind of the seed of where the comes from, I think it really comes from that being so withheld from me to even be able to say the word devil or darkness or explore what that even means, you know? And so, as I got older, I, started to really be intrigued by it. You know, I remember as a kid seeing the Exorcist for the first time and thinking, Oh my gosh, what is this?
What is demonn possession? Is this a real thing? Is that something that can actually happen to me?
this is not something I've ever been told about, and apparently it's in the Bible, you know?
Hannah: I think looking back on it, I just translated, uh, these, these things that I was being taught in such a different way than even like, maybe my sister did, or my cousins certainly, or people around me. you know I, I created my own little Disney world with it. And, that ended up being my music and my artist persona and gave me an outlet to be able to explore those things in a way that.
I felt safe doing that,
So I was raised Church of Christ, A very small percentage of, even people in America practice that religion. But I always joke and say it's, kind of like Amish, but with electricity.
And, my grandfather was a Church of Christ preacher and a very small church. And, my whole family is very conservative, fundamentalist, Christians and. I've been surrounded by that my whole life.
I went to Church of Christ schools, so, you know, I would go to church, on Wednesday nights. I'd go to church on Sunday mornings, on Sunday nights. And then as well, we did chapel every single day at school. And then obviously our whole, , curriculum was based around the Church of Christ's narrative.
there's not a whole lot of wiggle room when you, put that on a plate for a kid and say, this is what you have. You don't have other options. Don't look to the right. Don't look to the left, don't look behind you. Don't look in front of you. This is what it is.
Hannah: This is the truth. for me, I was like, wait a minute, hold on.
Hannah: But what about this? You know? I think growing up I got in a lot of trouble because I just, you know, I could not, manage to abide by those rules. they didn't make sense to me. They didn't fit in with who I was. I always wanted to go to Nashville School of the Arts here in Nashville.
and I wanted to, study music and I wanted to study ballet because I loved ballet. And that was never an option for me because it wasn't a Church of Christ School.
I think all of those things of suppressing who I was and being told that I wasn't allowed to be that person led to me sort of blooming into this artist For me, I was able to take those things that were instilled in me and and challenge them as an adult, that it really required a lot of space and time because it is almost impossible to unlearn things that you're taught growing up.
Hannah: I have a song that's called The Irony of Love that is all about how, it's very ironic that the same people that are preaching love to you. and are preaching all of these things to you are the same people that can be very damaging and, and are not showing love in that true way. the very first line of that song is: "The first things that we learn are the last things we forget."
when you teach a person something from day one, whether it be a language or whether it be abuse or love or hate or whatever it is, it's very difficult to ever remove that from their brain. So, For me, that will always be a part of me being in some kind of way, very reverent of the idea that there is a God and that there is a hell, and being fearful of that.
you know, all of those things will never completely disappear. That can't happen, you know?
I have given myself space to explore what that means as an adult what is the truth for me and how does that actually apply to my belief or my lack of belief, know, at this point in my life.
From day one, I was very sort of dancing to the beat of my own drum, you know, and, that was obvious even as a little child, you know?
I was constantly, walking around, singing and making songs, I was just a very weird kid, honestly. And, there was a lot going on in my home life um, just different dynamics around me.
Hannah: There was a lot that, that was hard to process as a little kid. So Ikind of, Went internally and figured out how to, become myself and be creative. And, I was really lucky that my mom, , saw that in me as a kid and put me in art classes and put me in dancing and singing because it made me, explore that.
you know, I grew up in a church where there was no music allowed. It was only acapella singing. So, , it taught me a really, really great ear for harmonies and melodies and, I was studying classical piano my whole life, so that taught me music theory. But nobody was willing to nurture that musical side in me as a kid and say, she's really talented.
Maybe we ought to help her explore how to be an artist. that was never given to me as an option to be, really excessively creative.
That was not really a thing. So within the confines of it being, a respectable thing to do, I was able to explore music in a very classical sense or in, doing talent shows. I could go and do a talent show.
I would be doing these talent shows at church of Christ Schools. You know, that's a pretty narrow field. And sure there was some extremely talented kids,
Hannah: it was one of those things where it was like, those kids are the musical kids, you know, everybody knows they're the musical kids. And then I would come every year out of left field and just play a song and sing And everyone would be like, we didn't even know she could sing, you know?
And I would win. at that point, like when I consistently kept winning these talent shows I think they maybe became a little aware that maybe I was not abnormally interested in music and gifted at it.
But it was still, even at that point, very, suppressed in me. Like that was not an option to pursue that. And I think, had it been, I could have probably found better outlets than I did, growing up, I think I felt really trapped and really, Really didn't know what to do with all of the questions I had and the, creative, uh, mind that I had.
And so that turned into me getting into a lot of trouble, a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, a lot of doing everything that I could do, that, would allow me to sort of explore the alternate world, but maybe my parents didn't know about it. So I feel like I spent my entire existence grounded High School, cuz I mean, I did awful stuff.
And so it turned into that, it turned into a lot of rebellion. It turned into a lot of, me just pushing as hard as I could against the system and my parents.
I ended up getting kicked out of my, church of Christ School in my 11th year . So I went for one year to a public school, and, that was more like a punishment, you know?
interestingly, after doing all those talent shows and all that, I had like some sort of like little idea that I might wanna do music, but again, it was not something that ever really seemed like a real option to me.
I was never told like, you're really talented at this. You should try to pursue it. there was a school in Nashville called Hillsborough that had, at that point an audio recording program.
And so I applied for this audio engineering program and I ended up taking these classes and being like, wow, this is really cool. I really enjoy making music, So I thought, well, maybe I'll go to college for that. And so I enrolled at MTSU once I graduated high school, which is like a basic state school. And I think my parents were really hoping, like I would just, by the time it got to the actual degree of getting a music degree, that I would be like, ah, I've actually decided I wanna be a nurse.
Hannah: You know, . And so I enrolled at MTSU and my first semester of college, I found out during the winter break that I was pregnant with my son Jackson.
So, you know, you've got this kid that's really wild and you've sent her off to college and then she ends up getting pregnant. Her, freshman year of college.
nobody was particularly happy about that information, you know,So when I found out I was pregnant, I was beyond shocked. I finally mustered up the courage to tell my mom, and she cried, of course, But I mean, she certainly was not pleased. , and my dad, he had cancer and I mean, they're in the middle of this nasty divorce, so it. washed over everybody.
I mean, they were not happy about it. My family kept it a secret for as long as they could, and when we did tell our extended family about it, I think that was the breaking point for a lot of my extended family to just be like, well, she's a total heathen. Like we, we kind of thought she might be a heathen before, but now we know she's going to hell, so let's just break away from her.
the whole family was a train wreck at that point in various ways. so it was hard for anybody to really respond even to the fact that I was pregnant.
Hannah: I think at that point, when I found out that I was pregnant with Jackson, my forethought was not, oh, I'm going to hell for this. Because at that point, I had already done everything that you could possibly do. But this was one of those things that I thought everybody around me is gonna be so disappointed.
Now we have a situation where these people trying to still pretend to our whole family that we're all a very devout church of Christ, you know? and now I've got to explain to them that I'm pregnant, this was something that was very shameful for me not only is it hard whenever you're young anyways and you get pregnant and you've gotta like tell your friends about it and stuff like that.
you know, I, I was in college, I had to figure out what to do. I didn't know what to do really. And I had no support really on what to do with that, so I was 100% on my own on this.
so I had Jackson on September 4th, And I swear to God when I tell you that I did not feel a single thing in that entire process. And the nurses at the hospital were like, I have literally never seen anything like this. How in the world can you not feel that you're having contractions? how is this even possible that you're in labor and you're having this baby and you're not having any pain? And I had 'em. And you know, from that moment it was like, I knew I didn't need anybody to help me. I And so for me, like I knew from that moment that this is my journey and this is my opportunity to move forward and build a better way for myself
Hannah: at that time in my life, it was so difficult as a 19, 20 year old to have a kid and be like all my other friends be out and doing all this stuff.
That was really hard for me. But I also was blessed with that because I was able to focus so much earlier than the rest of the people around me to be very driven and mature about understanding that I have to, have a place for this child to live.
I have to have structure. I have to be a good parent to this kid. And I think it was, you know, of course in hindsight, like exactly what I needed at that moment, but it felt absolutely devastating. . But I can't imagine anything else having taught me the things that I have learned than having a kid in those circumstances at 19 years old there's literally nothing I could have done at that moment.
I decided in that moment that I thought initially when I Jackson I thought I'm gonna take 'em to the church and, do what the right thing is and, try to raise them in the church
Hannah: And Jackson's father, he and his family were Church of Christ. We all went to the same church. So we decided like okay, this is the right thing to do. And I took him to church. And the very first reaction, the very first day that we went, you know, two 19 year old kids, bring in a baby.
and they start getting emails that they're offended and that they don't want us there, and that we need to come forward and confess our sins And I started to really broadly be able to step back and I went, this is not for me. this is the moment that nobody can tell me no. And I said, I'm never ever stepping foot in a church again.
And I don't have to be told that anymore cuz now I'm a parent.
Hannah: And so from that moment I decided, , this is not how I'm gonna raise this kid, and I'm gonna do everything differently, which I think a lot of people do as parents.
But for me, this was the real core of the situation for me was I do not want to bring a child into the world and just be forced to raise him in this Church of Christ or super fundamentalist mentality where I lie and tell him things that I don't believe in because it looks good, I'm not gonna do it.
I'm gonna have a baby and I'm gonna raise him, and I'm gonna tell him whatever it is that he wants to do with his life is what he can do. And I'm gonna be there to support him. And I can honestly say it was the right way as a 35 year old woman.
And I look at my 15 year old son and I think I was right. You know, I should not have put him through that. I am so grateful that from day one that I did not make him go through all of this, make him go to this church, Christ School, all these things that would've unraveled had I had those people not sent those emails.
And from that moment on, I decided that I wanted to, instead of. being a believer, like I had always been told to be I thought, you know what? I'm gonna be an unbeliever. I'm gonna unbelieve in all of this toxic crap that I've been taught my whole life. I'm gonna unravel the strings that have been very carefully and delicately wrapped around me, and I'm gonna just completely try to break free from all of that and move forward with an open heart.
and in that I decided that I wanted to go travel around Europe. So I, Jackson was probably about two, and I told Jackson's dad that I needed to kind of have a little bit of clarity. I was probably about 21 at that point.
Hannah: So I, I need to kind of like go on a trip to just explore the world a little bit. you know, I've went straight from being in a fundamentalist Christian upbringing and school and all that, and straight into college and then straight into motherhood. And I never had a moment of just being able to do something on my own free will, you know?
So I went to Europe for maybe like three weeks and went to every single place I could possibly cram in. you know? It was like, I may never be back here again. So I'm gonna see as much as I can. And there was so much that I saw on that trip that made me realize how small I am, you know?
And that I had zero understanding of the world, or zero understanding of how God and the concept of God and religion has translated to the rest of the world. I had been told my whole life that this particular narrative, is the right way. And I mean, if you stray even one sentence away from that, you're going to hell.
That's the way that I was raised. And so I was never able to be like, but wait a minute, what about the Catholic church? They were here first, so are they all going to hell? Yep, they're all going to hell. Uh oh, okay. That's interesting. . So, you know, I was able to go and see like, for example, all of the cathedrals around Europe and, realize wow, I have been totally lied to my whole life.
it was just this mind boggling experience to go over there and see all that.
Hannah: And when I did that, I, um, came back and enrolled back in college. . and I thought, I definitely wanna do something in music.
so I went back to college and I started studying classical ballet and then music. And I enrolled in a songwriting program. and never having written a song or anything and, in that process, I wrote one song that ended up getting put on a TV show, which is like unheard of like, uh, you spend your whole career trying to get one song on a TV show, but this song just happened to like land itself in a TV show well before I had ever even played a show live, you know?
one thing led to another and,
And I decided I wanted to be a touring musician. And that is probably the second hardest thing I've ever done in my life, , because people were so not supportive of that.
Hannah: I mean, before people, had reasons for saying, no, that's not a good idea. You shouldn't be a musician. Now they had a weapon of saying, you're a terrible parent. You're an awful person. How could you leave your kid at home and go out and play music? You're an awful person.
You're just trying to get rid of this kid.
now I've gotten out of the religious thing and now everybody found a new way to shame me, you know? and I just consistently, ignored everything and just said, you'll see, you'll see.
Hannah: That's not what I'm doing. I wanna be a musician. And I would coordinate my schedule so carefully where I could go out and play some shows on the weekend, come back and be a mom, And then as Jackson got a little older, it was, okay, I'm gonna go out for a week and then I'm gonna come back home.
But still, I will tell you, until my son was probably 13, I would have women come up to me at shows and be like, so where's your son when you're touring? And I'm like, it is none of your business. But if you really wanna know he is with his father because, you know, he's also a capable parent. You know?
Hannah: And, uh, fast forward Jackson's 15 and, he is like the most excellent child I could have ever wished for. I swear. I don't even know how in the world I could have had anything to do with raising a kid as good as he is, he is just absolutely outstanding.
He's so mature. I'm able to look back at it now and look at that girl at 19 years old and think, Ugh, you have no idea.
what you are in for. I mean, really up until about 30. I can't imagine going through any harder of a life than, that as a single woman. And trying to just fight my way through being defiant and fighting this for what I wanted, you know, and what I really believed in there's nothing that I could have ever done that could teach me more than just pursuing something that I felt was not right for me. and finding a way out of that and finding an outlet And so that for me is like the, the biggest part of my music.
if I didn't have any of that backstory, I don't know what I'd be writing about, to be honest.
Hannah: I am here
I think it started with kind of this deep, deep sadness and trauma that I felt like I could write about. And then, starting to really feel like I had the freedom and the platform as I got more and more established to talk about these things about religion, you know, in my songs.
Hannah: Because I think I felt really scared to address that initially, that I would really, really get flogged,you know.
Hannah: So I have a song that I wrote, called Unbeliever, um, That whole process of me leaving the church and walking out the doors with a baby in my arms and thinking this is the last day I won't ever step back, you know, in a church ever again, because this is not, where I find, what the truth is for me.
I took, that moment to decide that I was gonna become an unbeliever instead of a believer that I had always been told I needed to be. and one day I was talking to my friend Lachlan Bryan that lives in Australia and we were kind of joking cuz he and I are both very dark, cynical sense of humor.
Hannah: And I said, yeah, well anything that I ever believe in, I just unbelief it as fast as possible, you know, and we were kind of joking about it so he and I sat down and we decided to write that song, about somebody who is, going through that experience, for me it was really cathartic to write that song because I had never written about that specifically before that moment in time where I just froze and thought, this is the time that I'mgonna move away from this. I kind of thought that that process would take me a couple years and it probably will take me a lifetime, you know?
I think that that was a really important song for me to write because it was like, Kind of bookmarked to the end of, a chapter in my life of, going through, a lot of really hard, questions and then starting to kind of move forward on a blank slate.
Hannah: The interesting thing about being a touring musician with a young child is that it gives you some sort of sense of, business mindedness that I think a lot of people might not have. originally. You know, when they start out doing music, they do it just cuz they gotta write songs to survive.
For me, from day one, it was like, what is a way that I can do this in a way that makes sense economically and feels like a career versus just escapism, you know? I've really, tried to be as professional as possible with my music.
Hannah: And, I think that that has led to me realizing within that, that the thing that I love is traveling and meeting people and expressing myself and my, stories to people in a room, in Australia or in Sweden or wherever it is that I am I feel like we all have this unspoken kind of darkness in us that we don't ever get to really talk about.
And, as an artist that the things that really make me want to go out and do this are writing songs that are about things that are hard to talk about for people and going and playing them in us. feeling like we've had a holy experience, you know, and feeling like that's my church. You know, that stage is my moment where I can go and I can find a peace and something bigger than myself and gather people together and we can say, it's okay to feel this way.
It's okay to talk about this stuff. there are a lot of people in a room that need somebody to give them permission to feel a certain way or to say, you know, I'm not happy. Or I think about suicide sometimes, or I don't believe in God either, and I've been told that I have to, or whatever it is, you know.
Um, I have a song that's about a woman who murders her husband because he was beating her, which is a true story. and it's called Parchman. And that song I've gone out and played all over the world and, just seeing the pain in so many people's eyes of that being something they went through and them coming up and saying, thank you for writing that, because I can't write that.
I couldn't have put that into words, but you did that for me.
for me, like more and more and more the road has become my church. You know, it's become my sanctuary and my place that everybody's welcome. Everybody can come, everybody can question everybody can come and talk to me, for me, that really has gotten more and more clear as time has gone on, that that is my purpose in the music industry.
Hannah: It's not necessarily to write songs and put 'em out on the radio and then be big number one hits. that's not really a goal of mine. You know, I really have this kind of wandering aimless spirit, and I'm not sure what the big picture is, you know, in 20 years. But what I can say is that I love traveling. I love touring, I love playing live shows, and I love experiencing the world as it is. And not just in stories or just on a 10 day vacation somewhere with my fanny pack and my passport.
You know, I, I wanna experience it as it is and meet people that fulfills me in a way that I don't think any other thing ever could, you know, that, along with my son, are the two really only important things in my life whenever it comes to big picture things. So I'm gonna write the best songs that I can, And, try to be the best musician that I possibly can be. just traveling the world and sharing those songs. And that's, where I see myself in the next 10 years. After that, I don't know, I may, you know, have some life circumstance change where I can't go out and tour.
But my son will graduate high school in a couple years and, and that will be weird for me because my whole life has pretty much been about him and, scheduling everything where I could be home for all of the things that he needed me to be.
Hannah: So I think at that point, you know, I'll have to flip over and go to the next chapter and say, what is it to be just Hannah Aldridge?
Host Jamie: Thanks so much for listening to this week's episode. Hannah Aldridge forthcoming album 'Dream of America', will be released in early 2023. I encourage you to visit her website, check out her tour dates, and follow her on your favorite listening platform. She'll be in various cities in the US, The Netherlands, and Scandinavia this year. If you enjoy this show and believe in our mission of documenting women's stories, please take a moment to give us a rating or review on Apple or directly on our website. This episode and all of our work is supported by our incredible League of Women. At the end of 2022, we invited women leaders to help us expand and elevate this podcast with their time, talent, and resources.
Our League members include Fredda Herz Brown, Carrie Ahern, Christine Shook, Sister Monica Clare, Dawn Roode, Elizabeth Doerr, Kara Pass, and Karen McNeill. This podcast is produced by me, Jamie Yuenger, and my husband Piet Hurkmans. Thanks so much for listening to If You Knew Me. We'll be back with you next week.