Julius Cole Rassin-called Cole by his family and many of his friends-passed away at the age of 22 in February this year. Cole was an actor, a musician, and a prolific songwriter. He left behind so much music, and his friend Hannah decided to record six of his songs in tribute to his life and talent.
The album Hannah recorded in Nashville is titled Sunny Day. The release party is this Sunday at The Annex at The Brooklyn Arts Center at 7:00. Album sales are supporting an organization Hannah helped create called Music Heals Minds. Listen above to hear our conversation, and see the extended discussion below.
About Hannah's last name-She was born Hannah Laham, but her stage name is Hannah Kol. She got this name through a brainstorming session with her dad, who is from Isreal. Kol means “voice” in Hebrew.
Gina: I'd like to start by asking you about the music and about how you started, how you became a musician.
Hannah: Basically, I grew up in Wilmington, really was into the theater scene there. And when I turned 16 I decided that I wanted to go to school for musical theater. So I like applied to all these schools and ended up getting accepted into one of my dream schools in New York. And a couple months before I graduated, I decided for some reason it just didn't feel right, so I decided not to go and I decided to take a year off from school and I got hired at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to sing in this pop show. And I'd always loved pop music. But I never really thought about just being a singer because theater was always like where did all my stuff growing up. So I took the job and moved out here and spent that whole year getting to do a concert style show. Like, it was just six people super intimate and I got to sing pop music.
And I realized then that that's what I really looked to do is, I mean, I always knew I loved to sing, but I didn't know that I just want it to be a singer. And so, fast forward like a year, and I got in contact with a producer in Nashville and he called me and was like, so what are you going for? Like, what style are you looking for? What kind of music do you write? Had all these questions for me. And of course I had, I didn't have any material at the time. I didn't really know exactly what I wanted to do, didn't have much direction. But I just like to keep in touch with them and get back to when I really found out what it is I wanted to be as an artist and what I wanted to do.
And about a month later, a good friend of mine, Julius Cole Rassin, passed away. And it threw me for a loop. Just was like really random. It felt random at least. And I remembered like the conversation we've had about like a month before, it was right when I was talking to my producer and he called me ... and I had done like a little Christmas cd for like my friends and family back at home and he'd listened to it and he called me and told me how proud he was of me and that he wanted to record some stuff together whenever I could, whenever I got back home.
And so when he passed away, his parents actually gave me six of his songs to finish and get to record, which has been insane and amazing and yeah, it's just been such a blessing and such a, like it's just been a great amount of healing for me and I'm sure for other people, too once it's out.
Gina: I knew him myself, so it's been great. You were friends with Cole when you were in sixth grade together?
Hannah: Yeah, we went to middle school together.
Gina: There seven songs on the album?
Hannah: There are eight. Six songs that Cole wrote, some of them weren't finished so I got the chance to like write another verse or, you know, change some things up just to make it fit musically, which has been really cool because it's been like writing with him and then I wrote two songs about this whole experience for me.
Gina: Which one of those songs is the most important one to you?
Hannah: One song he wrote is called, Here I Am. It's one of the last songs that he wrote while he was still here. And I actually got the chance to get one of his friends to come to Nashville with me. His name is Michael Eakins and he got to help collaborate on that song and sing it with me. So it's kind of like a duet and the lyrics are all about what Cole went through and you can just tell. The lyrics to the chorus are things will work out, things will look up and I just think that's so important, and I think that's something that it's hard to, it's hard to really believe that when stuff happens like this, but it really does look up and it's so cool to see that happen.
Gina: And tell me of the two songs that you made specifically for this album or that you made on your own. Tell me about the writing process of those.
Hannah: So, I wrote two songs. The first one I wrote was the night that Cole went missing. I've literally never been able to write music in my life without it sounding like super weird to me. Like, I've just never been worthy of actually producing. But the night he went missing, I wrote the hook to a song called Sunday and it was kind of like a song I wrote to his mom about just holding on to whatever hope you do have that he would be back to her someday. And at that point I didn't, I didn't know anything that was going to happen, but it just came to me and that was amazing for me because I've, like I said, I've literally never been able to write music. So it was crazy.
Gina: And then you came out with another one.
Hannah: Yeah. And then the other one is called Sunny Day, which is what the album is called. I wrote that song. I was sitting in my room talking to a mutual friend of Cole and I's named Sunny. And it's just, it's very similar to Here I Am, like the message, but it's all about Cole's life, and anyone's life really. If you lose anyone or how no matter how dark one day can be, there'll always be a sunny day after. And that's so important to remember.
Gina: It sounds to me like this whole album really is about Cole.
Hannah: It absolutely is. I've, I've just never been able to write music before. So this entire thing happening like opened up a whole other part of me, which is, you know, as awful as it is, it's so great, too.
Gina: When horrible things happened, it kind of breaks us apart a little bit.
Gina: Light shines into different places and light shines out of different places.
Hannah: For sure.
Gina: So now I also wanted to ask you about Music Heals Minds. Tell me about that organization.
Hannah: So basically, my inspiration for it was obviously from Cole, to help him cope with ... he had schizoaffective disorder and I know how real mental illness is, especially in the music industry. And I just know how much music can help. Like just having a guitar or you know, being able to study music or just have an ipod to listen to music can help so many people heal through so much. Like without music, I don't know where I would be right now, but it's just yeah.
Gina: And this organization, the goal of it is to try to get that music into the people's hands who need it?
Hannah: Yeah. So the goal is to basically help. We're mainly focusing on youth and young adults, help them incorporate music into their life to help cope with whatever mental illness they do have. So we're collecting gently used instruments, and monetary donations at this point and we hope to one day be able to collect things like journals and it's just really hard depending on the facilities that we donate to, what they're allowed to have there. But we're looking into all of that.
Gina: And I noticed that Cole's mother, Mary is on your Board. That’s great.
Hannah: She just has so many ideas to help with stuff like this. I know she, she obviously dealt with a lot of these things on a very personal level and it, it helps a lot. She knows a lot of the logistics when it comes to what they can accept, what they can't accept. And I know that a lot of facilities in town have a really good relationship with her because they knew Cole and they loved Cole. And I think it's really awesome.
Gina: And is Cole's dad, Steve, has been involved.
Hannah: Steve has been a huge part of this process for sure because he, you know, he helped sign over Cole's stuff to me and trust me with that. So that's been a huge blessing for me, too.
Gina: Hannah, you are going to be having your CD release party, your album release party at the Brooklyn Art Center this Sunday. and do you want to tell me anything about that?
Hannah: It’s in The Annex at the Brooklyn Art Center, which is like a perfect place for this, I think. Super intimate and I'm having Michael Eakins open for me and he was a good friend of Cole’s so that's super special. And he's featured on the song that he sings with me on album. And also we have Javier Rodriguez who is also featured on a song on the album, so it'll be awesome. I'm really excited about it. We're doing all eight songs from the album.
My band from Nashville is coming down to play for it.
Gina: You have a band in Nashville?
Hannah: Well, basically we had like, we had a bunch of really awesome session players play for the album just because they have crazy booked up, you know, on tour, on whatever. My Bass player, Craig Young, actually like put together a little, he calls it his dream band and they're coming. They're coming down to play for the release party.
Gina: That is really cool.
Hannah: Yeah. I'm super excited.
Gina: a way, this is a great gift that you've been given, but it seems like a really huge responsibility to. Do you feel that?
Hannah: What do you mean exactly?
Gina: I mean, for it to be said, hey, here's this music ... perform it. Record it. Do something with his music. It like a very serious responsibility.
Hannah: Yeah, it was really overwhelming at first. I had to think about it a lot just to see if it felt right and it's been so, so, so special to me. and I know two friends to like Michael and Sunny and his mom and his dad, I'm sure ... it's a huge responsibility, but I can't imagine it any other way right now. I'm like, I don't know, it's just, it's awesome to be able to, to sing and to make it not only Cole's, but relate to everyone and I think that's what he always wanted was for someone no matter who it was to spread his music. And I think that's so important.
Gina: Let me ask you about your last name.
Hannah: Yeah. So my real last name is Laham, which obviously is kind of hard to pronounce for some because it looks like Laham. But, I, in January I like went home. I just finished my performing contract in Tennessee and I was sitting down with my dad and I was like, it was right after I'd talked to the producer, so I was like, I kind of want like a stage name just because no one ever says, well home, right. Which is fine. But it also just wasn't really clicking for like, I don't know, it just, it wasn't what I wanted. And I sat down with him and my dad's from Israel, so I've always like really wanted, what, what I'm represented by to be a part of my roots. And so we were going through names, like Israeli words, Hebrew words and stuff to see if there was anything that really clicked and we went through so many names, like crazy mountings and Kol came up, Kol, and in Hebrew that means voice. And at the time I was like, oh, that's kinda cute. Like Hannah Kol, but I didn't really think anything of it. And I was like, well, we'll just figure it out later, put it off. And then once this all happened, like once I started thinking about everything that had happened when Cole passed away and everything, it just made so much more sense. Like the fact that it sounds just like his name and it means voice in Hebrew, like it just made it even more like relevant, made it feel like it was supposed to be that way.
Gina: Thank you. That's even better than I could've imagined it to be.