Wednesday, 15 May 2013

It's My Kind of Interview - Ella Hooper

She's fronted Killing Heidi as one of Australia's most exciting rock stars, embraced her folky roots with The Verses, hosted national radio shows and now she's embarking on a solo career, reborn an indie-pop chanteuse. No matter where her artistry lies, Ella Hooper stands as one of the most fascinating figures in music. To say I was excited to have a chat with her is an understatement. For this blogger, it was a dream come true. Read on to find out about Ella's upcoming album, In Tongues, the future for Killing Heidi and The Verses (if there should be one), albums that have shaped her life and more. 

Interview by Matt Bond

First up, welcome! How are you? What's been happening this week?

Ella: Well Hi! I'm great, thanks for asking. Busy but great. This week just passed I had a launch for Haxan my new single, which was a raging success if I do say so myself, a dear friend's wedding, a friend staying from out of town, and many, many other varied but fun commitments, hence the 'busy'..

You've (finally - woo!) headed down the solo road. After your time in Killing Heidi and The Verses, how has it been adjusting from the band environment to 'solo artist' Ella Hooper?

Ella: It's been really educational and rewarding so far. I suspect part of the reason why I wanted to do this was to challenge myself and see if I could actually survive and thrive without a band, or co-band leader, and so far I'm doing okay. I'm growing new skills every day, like being a heck of a lot more organised and assertive, which is pretty cool. (they said it couldn't be done…) Sometimes I do long for someone to tell me what to do, or what the better choice to make is, but then I snap out of it.

The tastes of In Tongues we've received so far, 'Low High' and 'Haxan,' have blown me away. Talk us through these two tracks and why did you think they were the best to introduce this new chapter of your career?

Ella: They both had the slightly darker, noir-ish feel I wanted to lead with. Though the album has more shades to it than that, i wanted to begin quite starkly, I guess to highlight the contrast between this project and what I've done before, which has often been quite lush and/or busy. This bunch of songs are a lot more streamlined. Plus, I think Low High is pretty catchy and I do love a good pop hook after all.


In Tongues is due out in 2013. What other details are you willing to share? Would you say there's a consistent theme to the album? Any collaborations other than the fantastic Graveyard Train appearing in 'Low High'? 

Ella: It's themed around control, giving in and being taken over. Struggling with finding your path in life and love, it's my ode to Saturn Returning, where everything becomes topsy turvy, a second adolescence of sorts, one which I've found and am finding very inspiring and yet challenging. It's about what's revealed when things are a bit shaken up and stripped back..

Collaboration wise, I had many incredible muso's help me out. Ryan Caesar from Pearls and ex-Children Collide plays drums on half the tracks. Em from Tin Pan Orange sings backing vocals on one track. Mark from Jet also plays bass on a track. One of my best friends and the keys player in the Verses, Mads Davey, wrote and arranged the strings and also played the keys. Working with people you know well is so much fun!

Reflector was met with overwhelming success, winning four ARIA awards for you and Killing Heidi. Looking back at that early time in your career now, how do you feel? 

Ella: I feel like it was an amazing and unique way to spend my youth. I'm proud of the hard work I put in and the way I handled the lows and highs (haha) of which there were many. Some extreme. Though, I think because of the nature of our success then (so quick, so high, so much) people became quite over it and immune to anything we did next, something that I'll still have to navigate and probably grapple with now as a solo artist, years later. The KH experience is definitely a double edged sword. But, it's my lot and I'm happy to work around and through it.

What led to Killing Heidi's indefinite hiatus? Do you still think of it as a hiatus, or something more permanent?

Ella: Permanent. I don't think I could sing such youthful, and youth based songs convincingly any more. It really did just run its natural course and I think it would be very unnatural to start it up again now. I'm very surprised by all these 90's / 00's reunions and reformations going on in the industry at the moment. I couldn't do it. But each to their own!

You teamed up with your brother Jesse to form The Verses. Seasons, your debut album was a gripping piece of Australian folk-rock and 'Want Everything' in particular was a beautiful piece of songwriting. Do you think there's more territory to explore with The Verses?

Ella: Thank you! I'm so glad you dig that song, it's one of my favourites too. I always love playing it. And yes I'd like to think so.. we had a great time in the Verses, exploring a different side of our songwriting and musicality. I'd love to add another chapter to that book one day. That style is always on my mind, song-stories, classic production, great playing, an earthy Americana - Australiana vibe... I just love it!

I'll keep you posted!

What are your thoughts on Triple J these days?

Ella: It's a hard nut to crack. I sometimes get upset by how even though I come from a Triple J background - being Unearthed, topping hottest 100's, Live at the Wireless's etc. there seems to be little acknowledgement of that time and relationship now. We never pop up in their Hottest 100's of all times or whatever, it feels a little like we (or KH) has been white washed, while other bands from the same time have been kept in the fold. Whether that's to do with 'crossing over' to mainstream radio etc I don't know, as Missy (Higgins) and many others have done the same and managed to keep JJJ onside. I'll definitely be trying to get my solo material on there, as it's still the gatekeeper to finding a larger, and especially regional audience, who I think would be interested in my music, but it's really quite tough as there's many artists trying and only so many songs they can play in the day.

What do you think is the best song you've ever written and which of your songs is the most fun to perform live (and why)?  

Ella: Oooh that's so hard, like trying to pick a very best friend (I have three!). They're all good in different ways for different reasons, one to suit each mood, be it misery or jubilation! Winter by The Verses is very close to my heart, but there's a song called Everything Was A Sign on the new solo record that just might top it. It came out in a single flow 'stream of consciousness', and is incredibly intimate and true, and right now it is ridiculously poignant in my life. More so than when I wrote it. (that always happens… Maybe I should be more careful with what I write!)

If you had to pick five albums that have shaped who you are as a person, what would they be and why?

Ella: American Thighs - Veruca Salt

It was the first album I bought and it inspired me to rock. I was (and still am) smitten by the strong, sad, sexy, vulnerable and cheeky sides Louise and Nina showed us in this band and album. All adjectives I would hope someone could use on my new album too.

Siamese Dream - Smashing Pumpkins

I was a teenage Pumpkin's tragic. Just could not get enough of this band. Listened to them daily. Nightly. Hugely inspirational. The songwriting chops. The guitar chops. Not so much the singing chops, but hey, most of my favourite artists don't have 'perfect' voices.. The Pumpkins of my youth couldn't be outdone for both attitude and emotion, which are FAR more important than perfection anyway.

Astral Weeks - Van Morrison

I was obsessed from a young age by this album. I still love Van the Man. This collection showed me that song structure ain't everything, in fact it ain't anything if you don't got soul.. and Van has that in spades.

Rid Of Me - PJ Harvey

I think this was the 2nd album I ever got. She winded me. I was SO inspired by her howling, grunting, unapologetic blues.. Just crazy good. And the frighteningly raw production, I've always loved low fi, bare bones records, where you can 'hear the room' etc as well as lush ones.. and this is the most perfect example of the former.

Another Side Of - Bob Dylan

Personal and effortless songwriting, 101.

This is how it's done. He is my main man.

(said me and every other muso ever…)

Look, 11-year-old me would slap current-me if I didn't take this opportunity, so here goes... will you marry me? Regardless of how you answer, I'll still be excited about the release of In Tongues and wish you all the best in 2013 and beyond.

Ella: Well, I am recently single!! (haha)

Though, 11 might be a little young for me.. just a little.


I'll take that as a maybe? Woo hoo! A massive, massive thanks to Ella Hooper for answering our questions. We can't wait to hear In Tongues! Her single Haxan is out now kids, so you can go get it on the iTunes and you can also keep an eye on the official Facebook page for updates on In Tongues, live shows and more.

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