I’ll be honest, it wasn’t hard to generate a list of questions for someone who has had such a varied and illustrious career in this industry. With a near twenty year wealth of experience to draw from, Ella Hooper has to be one of Australia’s hardest working artists. Smart, witty and oh so talented, Ella is so much more than just the lead singer of Killing Heidi. She took some time out to speak to us about her involvement in Record Store Day 2016 and her evolution as an artist.
You’ve been a fierce supporter of independent music over the years; tell us about your involvement with Record Store Day 2016?
Well, it just feels like a shoe that fits. I do love my independent record stores and I’ve been an indie artist for the last five or six years now. I love the ceremony around going to a store and having an experience with the music. Talking to a human about what you love and what they might recommend, I’m a big fan of that. Also, the lost art of the in-store. I used to do a lot of in-stores back in the day and really enjoyed that. I know a lot of indie acts still do them, but I’m really excited to do a few of my own on Record Store Day 2016!
Awesome. So those will be in support of the new double EP you’re bringing out soon?
Yeah Venom / New Magic. It’s perfect timing for that, I’m actually dropping that off at the printers today. It’s in production now and I’ll certainly be playing some new stuff from that in store on the day.
According to the Google Gods, it’s 20 years this year since you began your journey through this industry and my, what a journey it’s been. What are you most proud of?
Tricky! Because as I get older, I remember and respect more and more those incredible experiences I had at the beginning. To step back and go, ‘That’s pretty amazing to have played at New Year’s 2000 for hundreds of thousands of people on Sydney Harbour.’ The big things stand out, but I think it’s the little things I’m most proud of. The little achievements I’ve made in the last few years after going independent, like having my music on vinyl for the first time ever. I’m a bit of a vinyl junkie, and that only happened two years ago. So there’s so many highlights. But it’s always fun to say I shared the stage with Stevie Nicks when we played with Fleetwood Mac. The fact that I can say that is pretty cool.
Coolness level – expert! Your voice is enchanting. About when did you realise you could really sing?
Thank you so much for the compliment! But I was always singing, so it’s a bit hard to remember when it all really started. I don’t think anyone ever told me to shut up, so that was kind of like my encouragement. Except my brother Jesse, he told me to shut up a lot (Laughs). But I do seem to remember that when I got to high school and was able to sing in groups and bands with people a couple of years above me, that’s when I started thinking, ‘Maybe it’s not just my friends and family that actually like it when I sing!’ I’ve always loved the feeling of singing, so I was going to do it no matter what, but then when I realised, ‘Hey these people actually want me in their bands,’ I thought, ‘Maybe I’m actually good at it!’.
What effect did your commercial success with Killing Heidi at such a young age have on the rest of your career?
It definitely had a big effect and it’s definitely a double edged sword. Sometimes I still feel like I’m still limited by the shadow of Killing Heidi because it looms so large and when you have a big breakthrough success, it’s forever the benchmark you’re judged by. I’ve changed a lot. You know, I started so young and I’m proud of what I did then, but it certainly isn’t the kind of music I could keep playing with a straight face.
When you write a song at 15 and you’ve still got to sing it at 33, that’s been tricky for me, because I don’t do it. But that’s been my choice to move on as an artist. Still, I’m always going to be that girl from Killing Heidi, I mean I am that girl from Killing Heidi! There’s nothing I can do about that except own it and try and incorporate it into my future career in a positive way. So big success is a double edged sword, because people might have certain preconceptions about you and what you maybe get given. Sometimes that means I don’t get opportunities because people think well you’ve had enough opportunity for one lifetime. But I’m a lifer in this industry, so I just have to deal with it!
So many artists I’ve spoken to recently have said the same thing. You know when you’ve had an amount of success in the industry, you have to work twice as hard independently.
Absolutely. I mean there’s pros to everyone knowing your name and therefore you have a foot in the door sometimes. In Australia in particular, I don’t think that actually translates into much. Sometimes people knowing your name here can actually be a negative, because the cult of ‘the new’ reigns here. The best thing you can be is new. I can’t be new anymore!
You’ve kept writing music with Jesse right throughout your career, The Verses being a prime example. Has he had any influence over your more recent solo efforts?
Not really. I mean he’s incredibly supportive, obviously. His influence is there in that he’s always said, ‘Elle do what you wanna do.’ He’ll always do things for me like drive me to the studio but musically no, it’s been really important for me to do this on my own and not rely on him because he really was the framework of Killing Heidi. I may have been the creative, but he held it all together. Doing this on my own has shown me what kind of songs I can write without his chords and tastes and funnily enough, now that I’ve done it on my own for a couple of years, I actually find myself thinking I wanna go and have jam with Jesse. So never say never!
I had a listen to “Monkey Mind” from the new double EP. Very cool. Very indie. A little bit psychedelic, a little bit Britpop. What were the major influences here?
It’s funny you say that, because somebody else just told me they though it was very British. I hadn’t thought of that at all but that’s a compliment, because lots of my favourite artists are British and indie. The influences were sort of [from] the 90’s. Looking back to music that didn’t feel over-produced. You know, like a low-fi sound. I love music that is fuzzed out, low-fi, not very crisp. Even though Killing Heidi was the opposite of that, that wasn’t my taste. So now I get to do things in a warm, mid-tempo way with drum loops that you can rely on. Putting the focus back on the lyrics and the mood of the song, rather than too many dynamics.
So you said just before that you were a bit of a vinyl junkie, and this kind of music will fit that media perfectly. Was that maybe in the back of your mind somewhere?
It wasn’t consciously, but that’s still a real compliment to me, because I take that to mean you think it’s warm and has detail that can be appreciated on vinyl.
Yes, the stuff you don’t hear on digital. Which is why I love vinyl, because you get the nuances of music that just don’t translate in other media.
Absolutely, it’s like chalk and cheese. You get the download and then put the vinyl record on and there’s so much more depth to it. You hear things you just didn’t hear before. I’d love to put this record on vinyl, I think it would really suit it. There’s some other tracks coming that are a little bit more bright and bubbly, some that are softer and then some that are a bit more punky and poppy.
No person is an island, so besides Jesse, who have been your go-to people in this industry?
What a great question! You need so much support. I was just talking about this to my house mate Madeline, who I will identify as one of these people. She’s a muso too, a composer in fact. She not only plays the shit out of keyboards, she can write for orchestras too. So she’s definitely someone I look to, only a few years older than me, who rides the wave of having gigs and having none. Trying to find enough cash to make the next record. We try to empower each other to keep on keeping on. She was in The Verses. I met her towards the end of Killing Heidi and she joined The Verses and she’s now in my New Magic band as well. I’ve also always enjoyed chatting to Pete ‘Lucky’ Luscombe, the drummer from Paul Kelly’s band. He’s a wealth of wisdom. He told me the other day, ‘Hey Ella, music’s a journey and you never get there.’