Tête-à-Tête Jesca Hoop
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I first heard Jesca Hoop in the summer of 2003, when Tom Waits’ publisher sent me her demo called “Seed of Wonder.” Reminiscent of Kate Bush and Björk, with layers of gospel, old folk and country, it was, in a word, unique.
I was struck by her otherworldly voice...and by the fact that she had actually been a nanny for Waits. I started playing the song on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic and got one of the most enthusiastic reactions in my decade-long tenure.
After building a reputation in the live scene, Hoop signed with Tony Berg’s 3 Records, under Sony, and released Kismet in 2007 to much acclaim. Then her label underwent a reshuffle, and she was inexplicably dropped.
Perhaps to shake things up, the Northern California–born artist made a dramatic move to England, where she self-released her follow-up album with Berg, Hunting My Dress, in late 2009. It garnered glowing reviews there, and now the trick is to grow the album in the States, where it came out this summer on Vanguard.
Nic Harcourt: You lived in L.A. for five years. Did that influence your songwriting?
Jesca Hoop: When I first moved here, I lived in a French cottage in Topanga and had the opportunity to write. The influence, I guess, is in the laments, as I think about missing that simple life.
Kismet had you poised for success here, but then your label pulled out. Looking back, what happened?
Sony pretty much pulled the rug out three months in. When Rick Rubin came in to run Columbia and purged the company, I was one of the casualties—the baby thrown out with the bathwater. I did get my record back, though, so there are no hard feelings. This time I took a publishing advance and pulled together my own marketing team, and I’ve had good radio support in the U.K. I think people rely on radio more over there. Here, it’s hard to get airplay apart from pockets on either side of the country.
Your music always weaves together a lot of different elements, but Hunting My Dress seems to be so much more bluesy than Kismet.
There’s definitely a bit of the blues in the new album—songs like “Four Dreams,” where I become an old-man blues singer, but then I think I become Diana Ross. But I just love old country blues.
So, a year and a half ago, you got a call from Guy Garvey, lead singer of the U.K. band Elbow. What happened?
He received a mixed tape of my music and called me while I was in the bath. It was a genuinely good conversation. He sought me out and was really interested in the content of my songs.
And that led him to invite you to support Elbow on tour in Europe.
One of the problems with being an opener is you play as people are arriving, and most of the time they’re not paying attention. The chatter can really be a distraction. Every now and then, we’d play seated theaters, and people had to listen. That was way better.
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But that time was life-changing because you fell in love with Elbow’s tour manager, Tom Piper.
We’d be working during the day, but then we’d sit together backstage while Elbow played their set, and we got to know each other. When the tour ended in Brussels, he suggested I move to Manchester. I said no. Of course, before I knew it, I was in Manchester.
Love has its own logic, I guess. Manchester is a little different from L.A. What was the biggest culture shock?
No restaurants I could relate to—plenty of curry but not a lot else. I’m a Californian—I like salads. There’s no Whole Foods, no Mexican. When I come back here, I get very excited about the food.
How exactly does the music scene differ over there?
The community is smaller. There’s no industry there like there is in L.A. Elbow are massive, but they hang out in the pub, as do a lot of local bands. Manchester is very down to earth. It’s too salty there for anyone to believe the hype.
Are you happy to have a career in Europe, or do you really want to be working in the States?
I want to be where the love is, and right now it’s over there. If people here can actually know this record exists and get to hear it, I feel confident it’ll have a long life in the U.S.—and maybe then I’ll move back here.