Jesca Hoop

Jesca Hoop Biography

"We wanted to make sure that our inexperience showed," says Jesca Hoop about her entrancing debut album, Kismet. "This album was a process of discovery, and this is what that discovery sounds like. I wanted to hear something new, so I made what I think is something new – or fresh to my ears, anyway. I made the record that I wanted to hear. That was my motivation."

Indeed, Kismet is filled with continually unfolding discoveries – from the shimmering wonder of "Summertime," its lustrous opening track, to the off-kilter elegance of "Love and Love Again," which brings it to a swooning close. Each of the album’s eleven song wanders into surprising sonic places – woozy keyboards, pop riffs that turn themselves surreally inside out, lyrics that flirt with multiple meanings and refuse to settle in any one spot. The result is a shifting, dreamlike atmosphere in which everything follows an internal logic that makes perfect sense for the length of each song, and then evaporates as the next song begins to take its equally individual shape. The album is seductive, fun and entirely mesmerizing.

How it came to be is a story in itself. Hoop was raised a Mormon, but eventually left that world behind to create her own path – and her own visionary worlds. She traveled in the West – California, Wyoming, Arizona – and, finally, worked for five years as nanny to the children of Tom Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan. Hoop had already been writing songs and performing with a band, and Waits took an interest in her songs. Through him, an early version of "Seed of Wonder" made its way to Lionel Conway who in turn gave it to Nic Harcourt, the musically adventurous and influential host of "Morning Becomes Eclectic," on KCRW in Santa Monica. Harcourt began playing the song, and it became one of the most requested tracks in the station’s history.

"Nic was willing to play this weird, six-minute song that had only guitar and vocal on it on the radio," Hoop says, appreciatively. "He deserves credit for that, and I want to acknowledge him, because that's what I want to hear from deejays – for them to try something new. He did, and it's done a world of good for me." Record company interest ensued, and Hoop signed with 3 Entertainment, a partnership with Columbia Records. "From the moment I heard her demos I knew I had found a special artist," proclaims Harcourt "a unique voice, a unique songwriter, a unique record."

Hoop describes Kismet as a collaboration between herself, producer Damian Anthony, and Tony Berg, the co-founder of 3 Entertainment. An industry veteran, Berg has produced the likes of Edie Brickell, Michael Penn and Aimee Mann, and much of Kismet was recorded at his home studio, Zeitgeist. "It took a little while to fall into our dynamic," Hoop says. "Tony has his production style. Damian and I had no defined production style – we were discovering our style. We wanted to keep it young and naïve, but we also wanted to make sure that it had the smarts and savvy of someone who did have experience. Tony provided that guidance."

The trio managed to strike that balance. For all of its unpredictable turns, Kismet never runs off the rails. The fleshed-out, though no less provocative, version of "Seed of Wonder" on Kismet, for example, includes drums by Stewart Copeland, one of Hoop’s favorite drummers from her childhood. "That was a serious treat!" she says. "It’s a complicated song, because the structure is not...normal," she continues, laughing. "So he just sat down for an hour or so and did the most mad drumming I’ve ever witnessed – breaking sticks, throwing sticks. I'm a longtime fan."

Hoop's improvisational flair as a singer is one of the album's most significant unifying aspects. She delivers her vocals as if she is making up the melody on the spot. You listen just to see where she’s going to go next. It's an effect that often underscores the themes of her songs, as in "Summertime," where an abrupt key change and drop in pitch signal a move from a childlike world of innocent pleasure to a more adult realm of erotic longing.

"It takes a funny turn," Hoop says of the song. "It's like, what about the deeper side of summer, where you're that kid who wanders off and has your first sexual experience? Or even if you’re a grown woman – there’s the heat of summer and all the sexiness involved. You have the age of innocence, and also the ripening of that innocence."

"Money," meanwhile, takes a wry look at the rampant commercialism of the music industry – and the culture at large. "Money makes the world go round/Money make you change your sound, if the price is right," she sings. On another note, the haunting folk melody of "Enemy" reveals a strange beauty in the scars of love's wars – "the jewels of my story," as the singer puts it. And the mournful "Love Is All We Have" commemorates the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. "It's a way to reflect upon that wound in our country, to lend a heart to it," Hoop says. "And to let the people there know what we're thinking of them."

For all of its artistic ambition and near obsession with sound and sensual wordplay ("it burned and it burned and it burrowed in/soar through the source searching/hammer and ping"), Kismet is an album of profound emotional power. That aspect of Hoop's music is especially palpable on stage, she says. "I love that people will come and lend their imaginations to words that I’ve put on a piece of paper, and that I’m singing to them at that moment," she explains. "The songs affect me, because they come from a pretty emotional place. And if I think about it affecting the people listening, it will inevitably make me cry!" She pauses and laughs. "The people who know me best, the ones who come to every show, know that I cry a lot," she continues. "These songs are very personal. There’s just nothing like the joy of playing for people."

The word "kismet," of course, means fate. There's no doubt that many of the fans who discover Jesca Hoop with this album will come to feel that somehow they were meant to hear these deeply moving songs.

Kismet is that sort of album, and Jesca Hoop is that sort of artist.

--- Anthony DeCurtis


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