Considering the focus and direction of artists in the contemporary music landscape, what the world needs now is a little bit of “Hope.” And while it may be standard practice for music lovers to be inundated with sexual imagery and care-free lyrics, should one search hard enough, they will no doubt find a rare alternative: the proverbial “diamond in the rough.” Last year, in 2009, Atlantic Records found their precious gem in Los Angeles, California. (Perhaps the old saying is true: “Hope springs eternal.”)
With song placements in Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? (“Who Am I To Say”), P.S. I Love You (“Fortress”) and MTV’s The City, Hope has steadily increased her exposure behind-the-scenes. In fact, her first single, “Love Love Love,” captivated Jason Mraz so much that he sought a collaboration with Hope, in order to be a guest feature on the track!
In preparation for her 2011 self-titled debut, Hope managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on her move from New York City to the “City of Angels,” the inclusion of “The Rain Don’t Last” in the American Red Cross’ PSA for Hurricane Katrina, and the lasting impact that she “hopes” her music will have on the world.
Considering the fact that a lot of your songs revolve around social issues, when I also look at your name, Hope, what is your ultimate hope for your music? What do you hope people will be inspired to do, or what you hope people will be motivated to do, when they listen to your music?
I hope that people will be inspired to live happily and to live in love, live fearlessly, and live with a real sense of hope. I know there are a lot of things going on in the world and sometimes we have a tendency to get down. We get so caught up in so many things, and there’s so much more out there. There’s so much more beauty around us that we don’t see because we’re distracted. I just want people to feel happy about life and happy about living and the people around them, and then to love. Mainly to love and to feel hopeful.
Breaking out as a new artist is definitely a hard thing to do, but you have been able to get your songs placed in a lot of different areas. Talk about the long road you had to take, even though you are signed to a major label.
Well, some of the placements came actually before I was signed. I had spent about two-and-a-half years performing on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California, and I also performed on the Venice Beach Boardwalk in Venice Beach. You could always find me out there singing my songs and meeting new people, accumulating more fans and just constantly exposing myself to people. So as a result of that, some of those film placements came. People would walk by and say, “I have a film I’m working on, and I want to know if you’d be willing to be a part of it.” So a large number of my placements came as a result of just being available and out there in front of people. There is always going to be some bumps along the way, and it’s definitely a long road; but it’s just all about the journey. Every part of it means so much, because without the hard times, you probably wouldn’t appreciate the amazing moments that come along.
Yes, indeed! [laughing] When you talk about the early years, especially your boardwalk performances, at what point did you realize that music was your passion, to the point that you started putting yourself on public display, in order to grow and develop as an artist?
Well, I realized it at a very young age, as soon as I saw anyone on stage. When I was in church, I think at three years old, I wanted to get up on a platform. I wanted to grab a mic and sing, and I would do that whenever I could. So since I was a young child, like three years old, I would get up and play the piano and I would sing. So I’ve carried it with me, and I always knew, in the back of my head, in the front of my head, that this is what I had to do, no matter what. I wanted to be in front of people, and I wanted to sing.
When I got to California, it just opened up a whole new world. It’s like a condensed area with people just pushing and following their creative dreams. It was very inspiring and that’s when I said: “I have to go and perform.” And actually the first place I performed was Hollywood Boulevard. I was working at Tommy Hilfiger at the time, because they just opened the Hollywood store. I took my guitar out to the street, and I said: “I have to get to the next level with music!,” but I didn’t know how. So I thought to myself: “If I start on the street, maybe someone will see me here.”
After the first twenty minutes, I would almost always be in tears, because I was thinking: “Why do I even care about doing this? Why do I want to take my ballad guitar and go stand on the corner with no mic, in front of people that could laugh at me?” It took so much courage to just go and do it. And I would literally have to talk myself into it every time I would go out. And then eventually, I didn’t have any reservations. I would just get my guitar and know that this is what I was going to do. I started making good money, and I didn’t have to wait two weeks for my checks anymore from Tommy Hilfiger. And that was just amazing! [laughing] That was kind of like the turning point in my mind.
It was during Christmastime of 2001. I just made so much money and people were so responsive. They were giving me flowers and old memoirs that they had. Kids would just throw their change in my guitar case. There were so many amazing moments. That’s kind of where I realized my love for people and my love for music and performing had to happen more often, and I had to go to the next level.
Even though your Atlantic release serves as your grand debut, you have put more than a decade worth of time, energy and effort into your career.
Pretty much, yes! [laughing]
In what ways do you think you have grown the most, in terms of your performance, or maybe even your songwriting? Along the way, what is the biggest lesson that you have learned either about yourself or the way that the music business operates?
Well, it’s definitely never an overnight success for anyone because the dream starts early on and there’s a lot of hard work that has to go into it. Along the way, I’ve just learned perseverance, stick-to-itiveness, never giving up, and really focusing on constantly doing it over and over again. You can never sing a song too many times.
There’s always going to be someone new listening, hopefully, and you never know who’s listening. That person could gather an amazing experience just hearing a few words in your song, as I do when I go hear other artists perform. I just learned to continue following my dreams and to never give up. A lot of my friends have left Los Angeles. They said: “This is too much. I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to follow my dreams, but maybe this is just not the right time.” But I feel that those of us that can have laser-focus on our dreams, knowing that if we pound on that door long enough, eventually it’s going to follow through. So I’ve learned that I have to keep pushing, I have to keep performing, keep writing songs.
It doesn’t matter if I’m writing songs that I think are not going to be a hit song. It doesn’t matter because it’s still the song. You never know if someone will enjoy it or where it may end up on its own. So I’m always creating, and I’ve learned that I have to continue to always create, always perform, always be available and consider what’s happening in people’s personal lives. That’s a big part of the art and creative connection that you want to have with people.
I kind of look at myself and the situations I’m going through, and realize that we’re all here, we’re all humans, and we’re all going through the same thing. It kind of relates, and so I’m happy about that, and I’ve definitely learned that.
One thing that we can all relate to is the ups-and-downs of love. Some of us are better at it than others, in terms of how we foster and nurture our personal relationships. But I am very interested to learn about the origins of your first single, “Love Love Love,” which features Jason Mraz.
“Love Love Love” came towards the end of our recording process. I was in the studio with Michael Blue, and I was listening to some of the mixes. I felt that there was something still missing from the album, something that was more carefree, and that people could listen to and feel good about without having to think very hard. So Michael and I grabbed our guitars and we wrote the song together. And then I guess Michael Blue played the song for Jason Mraz in his studio. Jason was completely excited and agreed to be featured on the song. So, you know, I was super-excited! [laughing]
Right! It isn’t everyday that Jason Mraz agrees to be a guest collaborator! [laughing] During this entire recording process, you wore a lot of hats. You are an instrumentalist. A singer. A songwriter. A producer. And you are connected to every aspect of the creative process. Which process do you think showcases your talents the best? And at the same time, which do you think is the most natural?
Singing was the very first thing that I started to do, playing the piano and singing as a child. I just played songs. I started writing when I was about seven, and when I was about thirteen I completed my first song. My main instrument is my voice – pretty much. I played guitar and, of course, piano. Growing up, I played an auto-harp, as well. I’ll play anything. A bass. Whatever! [laughing] Any instrument that I can make a sound out of! [laughing continues]
So it is safe to say that you have always been musically inclined?
I’m not necessarily talented, but I have an ear for songs. That’s where the production side comes in. Even with my first record, my independent album, being able to be a part of the music-making process, that was so key for me, because it was like painting my picture, and I wanted to decide which colors I put on it. I think that it’s been really cool being able to produce my first major label debut and co-produce with Michael Blue. At this point in time, I do spend a lot of time writing. It’s definitely my passion. Being able to create songs is huge for me, and I’m also producing a couple of other projects that will be coming out in the years to come.
Do you remember the first song that you ever wrote?
Let’s see, the first song that I ever wrote was a love song. And it was called “Your Love’s For Real”! [laughing] I was like thirteen, and it was totally about a boy, and I was totally just thinking about him, and I just wrote this song! [laughing] Maybe one day I’ll play it for you.
I can’t wait! [laughing] Some of your previously unreleased songs have made their rounds on the Internet: “The Rain Don’t Last,,” which was used in the Red Cross’ PSA for Hurrican Katrina, and “Mother Earth,” which calls for us to take responsibility in taking care of the environment. What do these songs mean to you on a personal level?
Well, “The Rain Don’t Last” has been my heart from day one. Actually, I started writing that song when I was working at Tommy Hilfiger, and I was performing on Hollywood Boulevard. I was telling one of my friends that I just had this desire to perform this song in front of thousands of people. And he mentioned to me: “Well, you know, whatever you’re going through, it’s not going to last forever.” That’s kind of where “The Rain Don’t Last” came about. And it took me about a year-and-a-half to finish the song, even though it ended up being one of the simpler songs that I’ve written.
It has a special meaning to me because there’s always going to be the ups and downs of life that we all have. No matter where I go, every time that I sing this song, people gravitate towards it and really feel connected to the words and to the message in it, so it’s definitely a special one for me. And “Mother Earth,” as well. There’s a lot going on in our environment. Right now, there is so much going on in our world, and this song is really just a call to all of us to do our part to help preserve and protect this world that we live in for our children and for ourselves, and also for the generations to come.
A couple of different questions have come to my mind. The first is just getting down to what you believe to be the function and purpose of your art. Even though you have a fun side to you, there seems to be universal and uplifting messages that undergird all of your music. Is there a certain artist that inspired you as you were growing up? Or is there a certain philosophy that has always guided you during your music making? At this point in your career, you did not necessarily have to touch on serious issues, but yet you do, and for that I commend you, because a lot of what we hear on television and radio is far from what I would call “serious” music.
Thank you so much. Well, around the age of thirteen, when I became a teenager, I heard a song by Sade called “Pearls.” When I heard the song, it opened up my mind, and I thought: “Wow, she’s writing about a woman in Somalia that she’s never seen and all the things that she may be going through.” Tears just filled my eyes and I thought to myself: “This is amazing. It’s not just about love. It can be about more.” And then also my father was an incredible songwriter throughout the years. Every week, he would write a new song about the world and his view on different social issues. He was a huge influence on my music, and just being able to observe my dad playing songs and singing them really helped me to write about more than just love.
On top of that, what is the biggest tip you got from your father, as far as songwriting is concerned?
I would have to say that it doesn’t have to be rushed. Every bar doesn’t have to be filled up with some noise or something. He always took his time. There was always space in between the bars of music. Listening to my dad’s songs helped me realize that my songs don’t have to be rushed. I can really take my time writing them, performing them, and now producing them ultimately. They don’t have to be over-produced.
I see. And that’s an interesting counter-narrative to what’s going on right now in the music landscape – knowing and saying that music doesn’t have to be overproduced. For a lot of songs that come out now, production is the focus, so it is interesting to hear you say that. And going back to what you mentioned earlier, I am curious to know how it feels when a song with a personal attachment, like “The Rain Don’t Last,” winds up being utilized by an outside organization. Does it transform to something greater and serve dual purposes, or does the original meaning override the second?
Well, I was thrilled that the Red Cross wanted to used my song. Hurricane Katrina had just happened, and there was so much devastation, and I was in California thinking: “What can I do to help the people of New Orleans? They are destitute. They have no food, no water.” And like everyone else, the whole thing seemed so overwhelming. I wanted to do something to help. I wanted to just go down there, but because I wasn’t able to, when this opportunity came up to give my song to them for the commercial, I said of course. It was just relief, because a lot of us don’t understand that some of the biggest joys in life are seeing other people experience joy, seeing other people happy, and helping other people. But as we begin to exercise it, we can understand how much it really does fill us. So it was amazing for me to be able to give them my song. I was very proud and very excited.
The title of your website is “Follow Hope.” On one hand, the title could be viewed as a simple ploy to amass followers. But I sense that the title is much deeper. Why do you think people should “follow Hope”?
That’s so cool that you recognized that! I have been laboring over my domain name for quite a while now, and “Follow Hope” was something that just popped into my head. I thought, at this point in time, and our climate in the world, there’s a lot of people following so many different things, and a lot of people aren’t very happy. They’re fearful right now. So I felt at the time that I needed to have something simple that people could find easily. I happen to have a name that shares a word that means something even to me, because I need to feel hopeful at the same time. So, it was kind of just thinking of a word that was easy for people to find and that would just make sense with my name and with the word “hope.”
For more information on Hope, visit her official website.