Take a listen to Never Ending Sky, the just-released sophomore project from Hannah Bethel, and you'll notice a great deal of career progression since the release of her debut disc, The Freedom EP.
"I went through a lot of changes between them," the rising songstress tells Billboard. "I think all told, there was about two years between the albums. I wrote a lot, I toured a ton, and had a lot of awesome and terrible life experiences. They all influenced the music I was writing, and I got older and more of a sense of self in my artistry. Never Ending Sky is quite a bit different. I'm happy with the way that everything has progressed."
When asked what kind of learning curve she dealt with over the past couple of years, the Michigan native smiles and says, "It was huge. When I made the first EP, I had just turned 22 and had been in Nashville for a few years. But I was still very much wide-eyed and totally didn't have a full grasp of how the record industry works. Since then, I did a lot of touring, and I really got a handle on how that whole world works. I've had a lot more meetings with labels and publishers and had more conversations about how they function and how we can work together. I have a much deeper understanding of the process this time around."
Bethel realized now that there's much more to the industry than the hour spent in front of her fans. "When I was a little kid dreaming about this, the only part I ever thought about was the singing on stage, because that's what drew me, was what I wanted to do. But there is so much more to the business than that. Now I actually spend the smallest amount of time performing and the biggest part preparing. But that being said, I love every facet of the business -- the writing side, the production side, I really love all of it."
Sonically, there is a bit of a difference to Never Ending Sky as well. "That was a very organic record, which was what we wanted it to be. On this record, I knew I wanted to play the game a little more, and I knew we had some great commercial songs and some melodies that were current with what was going on at country radio, but different enough to have an individual identity. We experimented with a lot of different guitar tones and different sounds in trying to create a familiar sound that also had a unique sound where I'd never heard it that way before. We really wanted to make it sound a little different."
The first single from the album is "You Wanna Be My Man," which she wrote with David Meyer, who plays guitar on the track as well. "I can't wait to share it with people, and I just hope they like it. We sat down to write and actually weren't even planning on writing. He just started playing the opening riff of the song. I started humming along, and we recorded it."
Another track that Bethel thinks fans will gravitate toward is the personal "If You Felt Like I Did," which she co-wrote with Matt Vrba. "He called me with the idea for the song. He said, 'I have this great idea. The hook of it is "if you felt like I did, I wouldn't feel like I do." Do you want to write it with me?' I said, 'Oh my God, yes.' I just fell in love with the hook instantly. I think a couple of months went by before we could finally get together, but once we did, we wrote it really fast. At the end of it, we were both in tears because it was such a special song. It was something that I personally have experienced, and it was very intimate and personal in that way."