Filed under: feature, interrupting yr broadcast | Tags: hunting my dress, interview, jesca hoop, lucy brouwer
“Are you from She Wears The Pants?” asks Jesca Hoop when I arrive to interview her at Glasgow’s Nice ‘n’ Sleazy. For an artist who has recently moved from Los Angeles to Manchester, maybe language nuances are something that she’s still getting used to. Despite this initial mix up, her transition has been otherwise smooth and Hoop does not seem to be the fish out of water that I was expecting. Huddling against the draught in a large green faux-fur collared coat in Sleazy’s tiny office cum storeroom, she looks tired but focused. She’s part way through a 21-date tour building on the enviable critical response to her second album, Hunting My Dress, a record that defies simple description and provokes curiosity about her intriguing background.
Hoop was raised a Mormon but shunned the strict orthodoxy of the religion to adopt a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, spending time working in Arizona and Wyoming before settling into her present career a little under three years ago. Music, though, has been part of her life from an early age. She started writing purely as a pastime when she was about 16 years old, coming up with songs as she walked to and from school. She was a singer from childhood; her mother was an opera performer and her father was a great lover of folk music. Anyone, she maintains, can sing folk music.
Hoop’s music is much less easy to pigeonhole. Does her strange blend of influences have an impact on how she makes music today? “I think my willingness to use some of my traditional upbringing does free me up in a lot of ways or help to peel me away from the norm,” she says, thoughtfully. “Texture is everything, for me. If you think of texture it can lead you down surprising avenues. Making a record is all about texture and singing is all about texture.”
Her fairly itinerant lifestyle has also had an effect on her work, “I’ve always moved since I was 18. I’ve moved round a lot, I’ve lived in a lot of different subcultures.” And her latest move to Manchester has proven to be the biggest cultural shift so far, with the sharpest difference between Los Angeles and Manchester being, inevitably, the climate. “Weather has so much to do with the kind of people that live under it, or within it,” she nods. So how is she finding Manchester? “I’m really, really enjoying it. My life has taken on a richness that I hadn’t yet had.”
You would imagine that a chilly Glasgow day would make her yearn for the Californian sunshine, but not a bit of it. “The cold is going to end soon, the real cold. And I can deal with a grey sky, that’s all right,” she says. “It’s when it’s cold and rainy that I start to get over it. It’s conducive for songwriting as well.”
On the subject of songwriting, Jesca asserts that it’s the sounds her words make on the tongue that plays an important role, adding that “it tends to come all together from the way that I approach putting words together. You have three things generally that you have to connect – a concept, your melody, and then the rhythm or syllables. Sometimes how you connect words with melodies, those two elements alone can create a song unto themselves, without the concept.”
Her move to Manchester has also provided her with the musicians she needs to bring her songs to life. She has two of her UK band along with her tonight – Zoe on backing vocals and guitarist Jimmy James – and two more who couldn’t make it. The support of BBC 6Music’s Marc Riley has also helped her settle in. “He kind of brought me into the fold of the Mancunian artists,” she explains.
Through the support of 6Music and some unbeatable word of mouth, Jesca seems to be getting her record heard. Unusually for an artist in 2010, she has barely any internet presence. A bare-bones Myspace, yes, but definitely no active Twitter. “I’m not huge on Myspace. I don’t network through the internet,” she shrugs. “I’m more of an analogue kind of girl. I don’t sit there and build my online profile, it’s just not the way I’m going to spend my time. But if people are searching, they can find me. The consumer has more power; I appreciate the internet for that reason. But I don’t socialise through the internet.”
The one thing that every article about Hoop has so far picked up on is the fact that she spent some time working for Tom Waits as a nanny to his children. The fact that he has also uncharacteristically passed positive comment on her work is something that stands out from her biography. Is he someone who has musically had an impact on her work?
“Of course! I think that if you’re an independent thinker, you would be good to check in with him as an example. If you’re trying to free up yourself and search for your individual voice, then he obviously has influences but he really uses what he has. Kate Bush is the same for me. For women who want to find their voice, want to express themselves, form their own idiosyncrasies, they’re good people to learn from.”
Does she, like these two famously reclusive figures, prefer to keep her life and art separate? “I don’t think they have to cross each other out. I enjoy doing interviews, I enjoy talking, and I don’t mind a certain amount of transparency because I think that it’s good to be unafraid of your story. Some of my lyrics are autobiographical. There’s less fiction on this record than on records of the past; in fact, I think it’s pretty much all true.”
As well as Kate Bush, Hoop cites her musical heroines as “the brilliant” Edith Piaf, Nina Simone, Björk and Joni Mitchell. All of them singular characters. She also, more unexpectedly, mentions Barbra Streisand: “She’s just a really strong character, not that much stylistically but as a character she has a kind of a force to herself.” Would that be Jesca’s own aim, to be a very recognisable musical being? “Of course, you want to be acknowledged for what is specifically yours. My aim is to write better and better, perform better and better. Let the other business do its own self, you know what I mean?”
Her ideal audience would be “People who wanna participate, without using their voices. I mean, for conversation. The music is best suited for people who want to pay attention. The show works best when the room is all eyes forward.” Sadly, her hopes for a respectful, quiet audience tonight are somewhat thwarted by the chatter of a Glasgow crowd on a Saturday night. But for those who were willing to concentrate, Jesca’s performance was a very personal, stripped-down affair.
When she lifts her arms theatrically on the song ‘Money’, from her first record Kismet, it’s as if she has wings, the intricate tattoos on both her wrists visible under the kimono sleeves of her vintage blouse. She sings into a Bakelite telephone receiver to filter her voice and a surprising amount of texture is retained in this mostly acoustic performance. Songs from the new album like ‘Whispering Light’ and recent single ‘Feast Of The Heart’ become more primal, while ‘Four Dreams’ sounds in places like bluegrass (miraculously this doesn’t make her namecheck of the Beastie Boys seem out of place).
The crowd’s resistance cannot spoil the sad intimacy of ‘Angel Mom’, whose lyrics about being a “grown woman jumping up and down like I was a child” become less oblique in this minimalised rendition. Ending on a “murder ballad about a ginger”, called ‘Tulip’, it seems to me that perhaps she’s already picking up some British idiosyncrasies to add to her own after all.
Hunting My Dress is out now on Last Laugh. Tune in to Resonance FM‘s The Other Woman show tonight from 7pm to hear Jesca in session with presenter Ruth Barnes.
All live photography by Michael Gallacher.
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