Salmo’s Songbird: Introducing Kyla Hanna

Allyson Kenning
By Allyson Kenning
January 31st, 2011

I often lament that there simply is not enough heavy metal music in the Kootenays, yet I certainly don’t want anyone thinking there is no quality music around here, or any talent of equal calibre as some of the Finnish power metal I enjoy so much. Joe Hill Coffee House on January 16 might not have had any metal in it, but it had a load of “metal” people there – metal in terms of badassness, in terms genuineness, in terms of passion and raw talent. Amongst a bill filled with outstanding performers, one mesmerized me in particular, and that was Salmo’s Kyla Hanna.


Kyla began her set with a cover she said we’d all recognize, so she didn’t say what it was. As I listened, I recognized the tune but not the song, but it didn’t matter. The song was “House of the Rising Sun,” popularized in the 1960s by a British band called The Animals. From the first notes strummed on Kyla’s acoustic guitar in the intro and to the rich tones of her voice, this song took on a magical quality that had me transfixed. Kyla sang this tune with a husky sexiness that suited the subject matter to a T and imbued the story told in the song with an emotional mix of melancholy, regret, and just a bit of edge. Since hearing this song, I have been unable to get it out of my head. And since hearing Kyla’s set that night, I have been hooked.


Hailing most recently from Salmo but arriving there via Smithers and some other places as her family moved around, Kyla became involved in the Bulkley Valley Folk Music Society, who put on a music festival every summer. “I taught myself to play guitar and sing with a few pointers from friends and other music society members. I began playing at coffee house open mics and eventually got a full set,” Kyla says of her beginnings. She also plays keyboards.


She attended Selkirk College’s music program starting in 2000, where she had her first crack at recording. “In 2004 I received a grant from the Columbia Basin Trust via my local arts council and recorded Bell in the Selkirk College studio “The Kitchen.”


Bell is Kyla’s debut CD, which, after hearing Kyla play at Joe Hill, I was eager to get my hands on. I found it on iTunes and the hooks dug in farther under my skin. Kyla describes her style as “contemporary folk”, which I think is as accurate as you’re going to get. Certainly, upon my first listen to Bell, I found the music reminiscent of the Wailin’ Jennies, especially as one of the strengths of the album is Kyla’s ability to produce gorgeous vocal harmonies like the Jennies do. Standouts on the CD with this feature that, incidentally, is very prominent in the Gothic and symphonic metal music I listen to, are “Sailor’s Life” and “The Peddler.” Kyla’s voice seems very versatile. Along with the upper-register harmonizations that can at times remind the listener of Sarah McLachlan, Kyla has a rich lower register evident in her song “Princes in Favor”. She switches to a more old country style in a song called “Black Matthew”, and then there is that throaty huskiness that was so magical in her live performance of “House of the Rising Sun.”


The parallel between Kyla and Sarah McLachlan aren’t surprising given that Sarah was one of Kyla’s early songwriting influences, along with Tori Amos. “Right now I am enjoying the music of  Ray Lamontange, and independent musicians Steve Brockley and Emaline Delapaix.”


When describing her lyrical themes, Kyla told me in an email interview, “The songs I tend to write seem to come from an other world that is only barely connected to my everyday life. A concept or feeling will develop into a story and I find a melody to accompany it. Often I feel as though the song already exists somewhere and I only need figure it out. Some songs come fully developed in a matter of hours and others take months and in some cases years to chisel out.” The album title came from a short story Kyla wrote that eventually inspired her song “So This Is.”


I can’t say enough good things about Bell. It’s a lush, mellow CD with so much going for it. And this summer and early fall, Kyla is launching a tour of the Kootenays to promote her work and to preview songs she plans for her follow-up CD, which she hopes to record in the fall and winter of this year. “The tour is called “Sounding through the night, like the ringing of a Bell,” and tour dates will be posted on my MySpace page,” states Kyla.


And this fan will be there, with metaphoric bells on. Rock on Kyla!


For more information on Kyla, here is her MySpace page:

Her CD, Bell, is available in iTunes’ Canadian store and also here,  where there are previews of all seven songs appearing on the CD.

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