Self-taught Del Mar songwriter reveals personal beliefs in lyrics

Singer-songwriter Paul Hanna enjoys exercising both sides of his brain. As an engineer for the City of San Diego Water Department, he puts his math skills to good use on a daily basis. As a songwriter, he produces heartfelt lyrics that often focus on social commentary.

The formula seems to work well for Hanna, who released his first album, “Follow No Trends,” in 2006. Last month, he debuted his second album, “LeftyLucea” on


As a child, Hanna had every opportunity to study music formally, but traditional study held little appeal for him. While still in kindergarten, he tried studying the violin, but after his music teachers complained to his parents that he wouldn’t learn how to play the instrument technically, he switched to the piano, with similar results. Guitar lessons were next, but before long, Hanna abandoned formal music study all together. Not that Hanna ever gave up on music, but he just needed to find his own creative path.

Rather than struggling to read music, Hanna found that he preferred playing by ear and learned far more by mimicking what he heard on the radio and on CDs.

“Nothing felt comfortable until I started playing on my own,” he said. “That’s when it started to feel right.”

Hanna’s parents approved of his passion for music, but they impressed upon him the need to have a profession in order to pay his bills.

“I was good at math in high school, so I chose engineering,” said Hanna, who studied at the University of Hawaii.

While there he worked as a DJ on the college radio station and shared his varied musical tastes with the students.

“I couldn’t play music during the hip-hop hour, the jazz hour or the reggae hour because I never had a strict kind of music, but they allowed me to have a show called “Music for the Soul,” and I was allowed to play music from everywhere,” he said. “Growing up in Hawaii, our influences are heavily island music and reggae.”

Hanna’s show also featured music from the Andes and African beat, along with the work of such artists as Enya and the Gypsy Kings.

After earning his engineering degree, Hanna took a year off to study at the Los Angeles Recording Workshop. There, his studies introduced him to the world of sound engineering and multi-track recording that now play a large role in his own CD production.

When Hanna sent one of his demo recordings to his neighbor, Hawaiian singer Kelly Delima, Delima invited him to return to Hawaii to record an album with his group Kapena. With Delima’s help, Hanna recorded his first album, “Follow No Trends.” For the recording sessions, Hanna selected works from his library of 90 songs that he’d written over the years. The album cuts blend the sounds of organ, steel guitar, banjo and percussion instruments with Hanna’s lyrics that center on compassion and generosity for less fortunate people.

Hanna moved to Del Mar this past January and began working on his second album, “LeftyLucea.” Named after one of his favorite places in Jamaica, the album features 17 of Hanna’s highly personal songs.

“I wrote all the songs and did all the lyrics, instruments and vocals myself,” he said. “It represents what my beliefs are, how I think and what I want for myself and other people.”

Concern for other people runs through many of Hanna’s lyrics, and he cites such cultural icons as Bob Marley, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. for leaving a strong imprint on his music.

“They’re crying out for people to be conscious of our neighbors and realize that we’re all one,” Hanna said. “Current events hit me - after Katrina hit, I went home and realized how I have everything, so I wrote “Noah’s Ark.”

According to Hanna, people often suggest that he write songs about partying, but the concept leaves him uninspired.

“I can’t conform to that because that’s not what hits me; my music is about being conscious,” he said. “My music is simple and anyone can strum it, and its message is saying, ‘hey, look at your neighbor and give a little bit.’”

Hanna’s goal is to reach his full musical potential. He hopes to earn enough funding to play his music on a worldwide basis while helping people in need.

Listen to Hanna’s music at