When asked to describe Jesca Hoop‘s music Tom Waits summed up her melodies with the line “Her music is like going swimming in a lake at night“, and on listening to her debut album ‘Kismet‘ it’s not hard to hear why he had such high praise for her. Hailing from a Mormon family, Jesca grew up surrounded by music, singing in a choir and learning from her opera singer mother.
Whilst she was working as a nanny for the Waits family, Tom sent the song “Seed of Wonder” to KCRW DJ Nic Harcourt, where it became one of the most requested tracks in the station’s history. Having signed to 3 Entertainment (Columbia) Hoop thrilled both fans and critics with her debut album, and has already written the tracks for number two.
Dee Massey stole her away from a jam session with Guy Garvey of Elbow for a chat about life on the road, Kismet and what the future holds.
Firstly welcome to London! How’s the UK treating you so far…apart from the miserable weather?
It’s great! I mean, it’s rainy and blustery but as long it’s not too windy and just wet then it’s ok..
This afternoon you played in-store at the Apple store – how did that go?
It was really fun actually, I wasn’t expecting it to be fun – I mean, you never expect to play in a store and for it to be fun, but it was really enjoyable actually.
Did you manage to blag any free Apple stuff?
They gave us t shirts….[sighs]
I know! [laughs]
Right back to business, can we go right back to the beginning. I understand your mother was a trained opera singer, was she fundamental in your career choice – did she teach you to sing?
Yes – she taught us through church hymns and musicals, we would sing them as little children and it all went from there.
Is it true you had a theatre in your basement?
Oh yes! We had a place where we’d put on productions. There were five of us [children] altogether…and the theatre had a ghost.
Yes – it had a ghost.
Did you ever see it?
My mum’s friend, who was prone to those kinds of things, saw her. And my mother I believe saw her. [The ghost] was like a familiar for a dark period.
Your very own ghost! And whilst growing up, as well as the musicals and choir songs, what kind of bands would you listen to?
The Beatles – The Beatles were my first choice anyway. Crosby Stills and Nash, Neil Diamond – all those from growing up at home.
Your music can’t really be pigeonholed into just one genre; it transcends them all in a way – so how would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard it before?
It’s free willed. It’s very spontaneous and of its own free will – I think that’s the best way to describe it.
You worked for Tom Waits and his family for five years, which must have been an amazing experience. Were you a Tom Waits fan before the job?
I was familiar with him, but I became a fan over time. I mean, I was familiar but I didn’t know I was that into him until then.
I read that he played a fundamental role in getting you signed? Can you tell us a little about that?
Not so much in getting me signed, but in terms of getting that first door opened, which was my publisher, and it all went from there.
So let’s have a little chat about your album, Kismet. Did you go into the studio knowing how you wanted to sound.
Oh no… I knew certain fundamentals, and I knew what milestones I wanted to work everything else around. I wanted a blend of old and new, with rhythm combined with song writing, and some digital and acoustic elements. I sort of wanted to just cross the genres, make it a hybrid.
Are you proud of the results?
I am pleased with it – and ready to move on!
So are you thinking about starting to write the new album?
It’s written! [laughs]
Oh yes [laughs]
When you write your songs, do you work melodies around your lyrics or write lyrics for the music?
They usually coincide luckily.
You co-produced your last album with Tony Berg – will you co-produce the next album – or would you ever let a producer take total control?
I would always be involved with it; I could never just yield judgement to just one person. [Being in the studio] is my favourite thing to do. We work for very long hours… I love the process of recording songs because it’s such a well rounded scope of feelings. We use pro tools, but we don’t do auto-tuning – you’ve got to sing! If you can’t sing…don’t sing! [laughs] Or learn how!
Well said! You’ve toured with some amazing bands including Elbow – who were singing your praises on XFM last week.
Yes – and Guy [Garvey]’s going to sit in on us tonight!
I’ll watch out for him! How do you find touring – does life on the road suit you?
I love touring. I honestly do, it can be grinding, and it can be hard, but I like the process of travelling and playing from place to place.
What’s been your best experience on stage?
My favourite experience was playing at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, opening up for Sinead O’Conner, and what was special about it was the room was absolutely unbelievable to perform in, and gave me a gauge of what I aspire to.
What do you like to do when you’re not on tour or in a studio?
I like to cook! And lots of physical activity, riding a bicycle, walking, hiking – when I can I’ll grow a garden, although I live downtown so it’s kinda not the thing to do. [I like] dancing…going to see music, I like all those things.
When do you think you’ll come back to the UK for any people who missed you this time?
As soon as we find someone to distribute the record over here [laughs], that’s what we’re working on, so as soon as those people ring me up!
I’m sure they will.
I hope so!
I have a few quick fire questions which I ask everyone..so here goes! What three things do you always take on tour with you?
Erm…a dry brush for my skin! A yoga mat and a pair of tennis shoes.
What’s the best thing about being a musician?
Writing music and singing it for people.
Do you own any really shameful CDs?
You know what, I’m a huge Billy Joel fan, and some people absolutely love Billy Joel who are aware of where the good line is for music, and know when it becomes bad..and I’m one of those people [laughs] I love Billy Joel!
What’s your favourite alcoholic beverage?
It’s a toss up between sake and a good red wine.
And what’s your best hangover cure?
Oh I wish I’d had one the other day! [laughs] Hangover cure would be sleep and movies.
And finally, could you leave us with some words of wisdom for the Crossfire readers?
My favourite quote on the planet, it goes “The only thing of true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with another person when you’re uncool”
And on that note – we’ll leave you in peace!