Ella Hooper on flying solo

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I’ve had the fortune of knowing singer songwriter Ella Hooper since she was 21. My first and vivid impression arrived in a version of an instantly likeable, somewhat intriguing, very well raised, “but I’ve outgrown the country and I’m busting a move up here in the big smoke”, kinda gal. I sensed she was wearing a subtle but identifiable badge of apprehension or side-stepping a small puddle of grayness amidst the black and white of her personality. Then I heard her voice and it made even more sense, that polite and gracious demeanour, completely intact and unchanged today, would set the tone of light and dark, and soft and hard still present in Hooper’s vocal compositions. From fronting Killing Heidi to starring alongside brother Jesse in The Verses, to standing solo and strong today, Ella Hooper is one of Australia’s musical forces to be most reckoned with.

The lyrics and composition of Ella’s first two solo singles Low High and Haxan stay undeniably true to her familiar autobiographical catalogue of writings. Except this time around she shows a more vulnerable side, still easy for loyal followers to identify with as she simply navigates through her own version of life.

“I wanted to challenge myself and I thought, shit, now’s the time,” says the girl. “I am never going to feel perfect about this, I really needed to do this, to break away and express just myself and who I am when no-one else is around. It’s still autobiographical but in the past I have always wanted to be the solution and the encourager, rather than the naysayer or someone that explores and expresses the darkness. This time I had to take the time to give myself that leeway to go ‘this is fucked’, or ‘I feel challenged’, or ‘I feel lost’ or ‘who the hell am I?’ and I think by doing that, hopefully people will see a different side to me.”

You could (safely) expect Ella to be surrounded by talented industry mates; it was generally the case. Low High is accompanied by a haunting video clip by noted photographer Wilk and and producer Jan Skubizewski (Owl Eyes, Illy, Way Of The Eagle) who provided a controlled but contrasting studio environment, where Hooper was able to be her absolute self with but still encouraged to explore creative options bought to the table by Skubizewski.

I asked Hooper how the creative process played out.

“I had about six songs, that [developed] pretty much the traditional way; sitting there in my lounge room playing my guitar and writing my lyrics. Then when I got into the studio I wrote another six and, pop!, out came Low High, and I thought ‘Whoa, now we’re really on a new page…”

And what was it like working with Jan Skubiewski?

“It was so good and this huge step into the unknown. I knew I wanted a great producer that could do a lot of things, so we didn’t have to, again, put another band together, and Jan is a great multi-instrumentalist. He’s a great producer and he also loves a very wide variety of music like me – I like everything from old country to rock, and I said to Jan, ‘You’re going to have to have an open mind and you’re going to have to try and help me find something that doesn’t really fit anywhere, yet fits everywhere.”

Ella and brother Jesse have been collaborating and performing since their early teens. For any other artist, it could prove difficult to pull away and focus on solo intentions.

“Yeah, it was intense, almost like a big break-up, but Jesse has been so supportive and lovely, even driving me to the studio some days so I would make it on time.

“But I had to do it alone and he understood that. Jesse is also doing so many cool things on his own now so I think it’s got something to do with giving each other the space to become our own people and to be creative, away from each other,which we really hadn’t done much of; we’ve always been creative together.  Our relationship, our friendship is even stronger now that we don’t have to see each other every day. He’s really stoked for me and I am so happy for him because he’s actually kicking ass at what he’s doing, too.” 

Ella could be forgiven for making peace with need for big label assistance this time around.  Some well -ocumented struggles with first labels Wah Wah Records and Sony BMG and a big move to the USA to record The Verses album sees Hooper now pting to fund her own project, deciding to releasing the album In Tongues independently.

“It’s going to be a little bit more organic because we are doing it independently with just our money and our energy behind us and no big record company to kind of count on for the big marketing spends. But on the other hand it’s a great time for me to really get my grass roots fan base back.”

Any tour plans for 2013? 

“I would love to go to a SXSW festival and get this album out far and wide. My desire to get out and all over the country is really strong and my ambitions and expectations are really high but I realise I’m going to have to do it a little bit more, piece by piece. I’ve got the itchiest feet and can’t wait to travel and tour again. I’ve also got my Facebook friends and Twitter friends, that are saying, are you coming, when are you coming, so yes I would love to get on the road as soon as possible.”  Simone Harle


Ella Hooper’s single Haxan is out now.

The album In Tongues is soon out.