Fearless, spiritual, free. All are words that have been used to describe Hannah Westerholm, known to her fans as Half Wolf. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter began her musical career in Minneapolis. Music has been an integral part of her life since grade school, when her parents first bought her a keyboard.
“As soon as I got my piano I was like, ‘game over,’” she said. “I was locking myself in my room for hours at a time.”
Westerholm moved to Minneapolis to launch her career as an artist in 2015. She frequently graced the stages of Honey and Acadia as well as local house shows – some of which she held at her own apartment in Cedar-Riverside.
But after three and a half years in the Twin Cities, Westerholm’s blossoming career led her to California.
Westerholm visited Los Angeles for the first time in February 2019 before moving there in August. During her first trek to the City of Angels, she met with her producer and took part in a ten-hour demo session with David Davis, an audio engineer whose resume includes work with Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Tyler, The Creator and more.
In the studio, Westerholm was tuning her guitar by ear when Davis offered her an extra tuner from none other than the set of “A Star is Born.” In the same session, she used the headphones Frank Ocean wore while recording his sophomore album, “Blonde.”
Despite those star-studded experiences, Westerholm acknowledged that life as a musician is not always glamorous. She recalled the sacrifice it took to record at Groove Masters Studio, owned by folk-rock legend Jackson Browne.
“I completely emptied out all my bank accounts, maxed out my credit card, and I was still $20 short to pay for the studio,” Westerholm said. “It was really emotional to have such a huge opportunity and then be so close to it … and then emptying out all of my bank accounts. Finally my brother came in with the Hail Mary – an extra $20.”
It was during this session that Westerholm re-recorded “Neverland,” a piano ballad she wrote when she was 16, and “My Stranger,” the first song she wrote after moving to Los Angeles.
Friends of hers said Westerholm's strength is one of her defining characters. Jackie Kelsh has known Westerholm since they attended high school in their home state of North Dakota.
“She was always somebody that I would go to with personal problems,” Kelsh said. “She’s the first person who taught me about any sort of spiritual practice as far as meditation, mindfulness and manifesting things.”
When Westerholm’s manager Jay Saunders found her, before she took on her Half Wolf persona, her SoundCloud songs averaged about 15 plays.
“Immediately I was like, ‘There’s something special here that I’m not hearing right now, but I can see it in the future, and I can see what she’s trying to pull out of herself,’” he said. “She is unlike anyone I’ve ever met.”
When it comes to the question of genre, Saunders said Westerholm’s style cannot be put in a box. Her current sound ranges from folk to country and alternative to rock. Westerholm defines her music as wild, vulnerable and nostalgic.
The tune of her first single, “Pretty Lonely," – which features her heart-wrenching vocals and a lone guitar – was inspired by the solitude she felt while simultaneously living out of her car and saying goodbye to her childhood home of 17 years.
Though her music often evokes somber feelings, Westerholm takes pride in her style. “I really think, especially in this day and age, that we need to make space to allow ourselves to be emotional, and that is something that I’m kind of running with with my music,” she said.
Her debut Los Angeles performance, including multiple singles and a self-produced, starred and directed music video, are all on the horizon for Half Wolf in the coming months.
Throughout the hard times – finding her voice, living out of her car, struggling with loneliness – she never gave up on her dream.
For Westerholm, the decision to move out West felt like “jumping off a cliff.” But that’s never stopped her before.