By Joshua Maloni
Getting married at the start of a global pandemic is not conventional, but then so many events in Hannah Kerr’s life have not been conventional.
She grew up in the Buffalo area – a hotbed for musical talent – but unlike many musicians who frequent our local stages, Kerr moved to Nashville when she was a teenager.
While still in her teens, Kerr released “Overflow,” which had a pair of radio hits – “Warrior” and “Your Love Defends Me.” The ASCAP Christian Award-winning latter was co-penned by Grammy-nominated, Dove Award-winning singer/songwriter Matt Maher.
Kerr signed with Black River Entertainment – the music label owned by Buffalo Bills/Buffalo Sabres/Harborcenter owners Terry and Kim Pegula – and toured with giants of her industry, including Casting Crowns, Kari Jobe, Newsboys and for KING & COUNTRY.
In less than five years, Kerr had a pair of Eps and a pair of records, almost 100 million streams, more pop-worship radio hits (“Split the Sea” and “Ordinary”) and even a Christmas project.
Which brings us to 2020.
With the world newly paused, Kerr found – as she said at the time – “good is still happening” and “God is still watching out.”
Hannah Kerr and her husband, Jason Earley (Photo credit: Joanna Marie Morris/@joannamariemorris/courtesy of Merge PR and Black River Entertainment)
“Yes, it was a very unexpected way to get married,” Kerr said in a phone interview this week. “Definitely different than my husband or I planned.
“We got married literally at the very beginning of the pandemic. So, I think it was like four days before our wedding date was when we couldn't gather with more than 10 people. And so, we had to really quickly pivot into a brand-new plan.
“I definitely battled some disappointment in that, but at the same time, looking back on the day now, it was just us two, my parents, his parents and grandparents, and then my brothers. And of course, the person who married us. And it was the most peaceful, beautiful, simple day; it just felt like exactly how it was supposed to be. There was no pressure or nerves. It was just beautiful and fun and short. (Laughs)
“It wasn't this overwhelming day; we just did the ceremony and then we left. And it was so sweet – and better than I could have planned; which is just like the theme of 2020 for me is that it was really hard and difficult in some ways, but in most ways, everything turned out better than I could have even thought. And I'm so thankful now looking back.”
“Hard and difficult,” but “better than I could have even thought” characterize not only Kerr’s path to music and her career so far, but a new single she released on Friday, titled “Same God.”
The recent Belmont University grad, new wife and proud Buffalonian shared more in this edited Q&A.
Q: Something I often find myself chatting about with artists and musicians is the weather because, being in Western New York, it's not always great. Now, you would have more familiarity than some with Western New York and with Buffalo. Tell me a little bit about where you started from, and how that catapulted you onto this journey of music.
Hannah Kerr: I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. I grew up in Hamburg and Orchard Park. And so Buffalo always feels like home to me whenever I come back and visit.
I lived there from the time I was born until I was 13 years old. Both my parents were born and raised there as well. And so, our family roots are really deep in Buffalo. All of my cousins and grandparents still live there. And so we visit really often. And it definitely feels like home.
The weather there, of course, is its own thing. It's just crazy and snowy and the lake effect snow – and I miss it so much. This year in Nashville, we had this crazy, unprecedented winter storm. I mean, it was everywhere. But especially in Nashville, we don't really get snow very often – maybe once a year, and it's just a dusting. And of course, it shuts everything down for two weeks. But this year, we had an unprecedented winter storm.
And I told my husband, Jason, I was like, “This just feels like home to me.” Looking out the window, it just feels nostalgic. And like I could go outside and build a snow tunnel. And oh, man, some of my absolute best memories of my whole life are from growing up in Buffalo, and playing in the snow with my brothers, and getting to walk to school, and just really sweet, sweet memories.
And moving to Nashville, at 13, was definitely a big transition for me. Both my brothers had went to college. And so I was about to go into high school, and kind of felt like an only child with my parents, just because my brothers were gone at school. And it was a hard transition. I mean, moving from Buffalo, there's just a different culture. And you know, the weather is different, and life is different. And being with all that family and then moving across the country to be around no family – besides my parents – that was a hard transition for me, and definitely a formative period of my life. Just really reading myself into who I am; and figuring out what my purpose was in life; and having to stand on my own two feet for what felt like the first time in my life. Apart from being, you know, in a place that was comfortable and surrounded by people that I grew up around and knew me my whole life. I just had to start kind of fresh.
And so, that transition and that kind of struggle of moving across the country, being away from family, is what really started me writing songs. And I've always sung, and always been in music. I come from a musical family. But that was kind of where I did transition, for me, of just owning my music and using songwriting as an outlet for my own feelings and my thoughts about what I was going through. That kind of started it all for me.
I don't know; if my family hadn't taken that step to move to Nashville, I don't know if I would have done music. I don't know if I would have even thought that was a possibility for me. And so, the whole story just really worked itself out in such a beautiful way. And I'm so thankful for where I've come from, and where I am now. And the whole story just is really sweet to look back on.
Q: You know, there's a lot of great musicians in Buffalo, a lot of great music venues; we’re fortunate to have Kingdom Bound. But to me, it seems like if a Buffalo artist really wants to have a successful career in music they probably do need to move to a place like Nashville, for example. And I'm sure that that definitely contributed to your success. But a lot of your success comes from you: From who you are as a person – from your talent and your drive and your determination. And you talked about the challenges you faced – a lot of people would have shrunk under those challenges. But instead, you've had a lot of success – a lot of success in a short period of time. And you've really been a great ambassador for our area, and we're proud that you still call Buffalo home. But what is it? What is it about you, about your upbringing, about who you are as a person, that enabled you to not only overcome those challenges, but to have the level of success you've had in the past five years?
Hannah Kerr: I feel like, for me, I grew up in a family that is just really amazing. I feel like, in every interview, I talk about my parents and my brothers and my grandparents. I've just come from a long line of people who are dreamers.
And both of my parents started off at these jobs that they didn't love, and then eventually worked their way up to doing something that they both just love doing and feel so called to do – and just feel like they really have found their purpose in life and their jobs. They always wanted my brothers and I to go after our dreams, and to not give up when things get hard, and to dig into the gifts that God has given us.
And so, I feel like when I was going through that transition and those challenges of moving, it was really my parents that encouraged me to try out for the worship team at my church, and to develop my gift of singing and writing. And every song that I wrote, they would hear, and they would encourage me. My dad taught me how to play the guitar.
So it's like, I wouldn't be where I am today without my parents’ influence and just watching their life and how they didn't take the easy way out; they worked for everything that they have. And they're such hard workers, and such big dreamers, that they instilled that in me – that I can do whatever I put my mind to. If I use the gifts that God's given me, then he's gonna be with me as I use those gifts and chase my dreams.
I feel like, without my parents, I wouldn't have done this. I don't know if I would have believed in myself enough to give it a shot and try. And so, I feel like, really, it's nothing about me, and so much more about my family, and just God empowering me to do what he's called me to do.
I am so thankful for the environment that I was raised in, because I wouldn't be here today without it.
Q: Tell me about new music. Tell me about “Same God.”
Hannah Kerr: Yeah, so I'm really excited about the song that's coming out.
This song, to me, is the marker of a new start for me – a new beginning in my career of just releasing these songs that I've written in 2020. I've written so many songs this year. And I'm so thankful for that time that I've had to be able to do that. Usually I'd be so busy on the road and everything.
But, this song, to me, just stuck out as soon as we wrote it back in November. My cowriters and I kind of went into this songwriting day and just said, “Let's forget about releasing a song to radio, and forget about Spotify, and forget about all of that. And let's just write a song that is for us, and something that we need to say today about what we're going through.”
And that was so refreshing to me. I feel like sometimes you get into this mindset of business and making sure that your songs are commercial and … whatever. And I think there's a place for that, but in this specific circumstance, it was just about what we needed to say, and what we felt like God was giving us to say that day.
And we finished the song and just felt like it was special. But I didn't know until I started singing it for the first time – because we had to record the vocals for the track – that it really meant so much to me. I could barely even make it through singing it one time, just because it means so much to me.
Just the idea that, no matter what we go through in life – no matter if we feel like we've messed up, or if we feel lonely or broken – which is so much of 2020, this year, for so many people – God is going to love us the same. His love for us never changes. And that's something that's so comforting to me and has been my whole life.
Even thinking back to my move from Buffalo, like, I needed to know that God was constant and that he loved me – no matter what I was feeling. As lonely and sad and dark as I was feeling about that difficult change, I knew God was with me. And I knew that he loved me the same.
And so, that's just been such a huge theme in my life. And I feel like it's something I've wanted to say for a long time about, you know, it's OK to have doubts and questions and to go through hard seasons. We can trust that God can handle that, and that he loves us no matter what.
Hannah Kerr, “Same God” (single art created by Drew DeSirey and provided courtesy of Black River Entertainment)
Q: Well, I think that's a perfect capper. We're excited about the new music and, hopefully, we'll get some live music back this year – and maybe we'll have an opportunity to see you in person again.
Hannah Kerr: I would love that so, so much.
Hannah Kerr (Photo credit: John Shearer/courtesy of Merge PR and Black River Entertainment)