Jesca Hoop
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Jesca Hoop


Band Alternative Singer/Songwriter


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"New York Times Review"

Jesca Hoop may have grown fond of oompah during the five years she worked as the nanny to Tom Waits’s children. But that beat is only one of the eccentric ingredients on her debut album, “Kismet” (3Entertainment/Red Ink/Columbia). Some songs build dreamscapes of airy vocal counterpoint; some ride patterns plunked on electric guitar or knocked out on distorted drums. Some sketch girlish realms of ballerinas and romantic kisses; some offer compassion amid catastrophe. And then there’s the hard-nosed “Money,” a Kurt Weillish take on the music business: “You can trade in that saga you tell/For the song you know will sell.” Ms. Hoop hasn’t succumbed.
- Jon Pareles (October 7, 2007)
- New York Times

""4 To Watch" Feature"

Why She’s Worth Watching - Her debut Kismet feels like a feral child emerging from the Top 40 forest, brimming with loopy, acrobatic vocals, ethereal off-kilter melodies and lovably eccentric lyrics. Kickoff single “Summertime” even features a crow cawing along amid the yodelly fluff.
- Tom Lanham (October 2007)
- Paste Magazine

"Performing Songwriter Review"

When your fans run the gamut from Tom Waits to the Polyphonic Spree, you must be doing something interesting. Jesca Hoop- Waits’ former nanny- has been touring with the Spree and releases her debut, Kismet, in September. Already a KCRW darling, Hoop’s distinctive sound is somewhere between Regina Spektor and Kate Bush
- Abby White (September/October 2007

- Performing Songwriter

"The Musical 'Seeds' of Jesca Hoop"

A few years ago, radio host Nic Harcourt played a song called "Seed of Wonder" on his influential show Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif. The audience response was unprecedented.

Listeners enjoyed it so much, it set an unofficial record for the show: It was one of the top five most requested songs for two months running. The singer didn't have a record deal at the time — she had sent a rough demo. At the time, she was living out of a van.

That singer is Jesca Hoop, who has recorded a different version of "Seed of Wonder" for her major-label debut Kismet. She sat down with Melissa Block to discuss her craft and her new album.

Hoop grew up in a large and musical Mormon family in Northern California. For five years, she worked as a nanny for the children of gravelly voiced singer Tom Waits, who helped pass her demo along to get that record deal.

Hoop describes her songs as having a wardrobe around them — a "landscape," or an "architecture" — and she uses diverse sonic building blocks to construct the songs on Kismet. For example, listeners might hear the winding of a jewelry box, or a film projector, or crows, or a sound that bassist Ian Walker generated to simulate a rope being pulled across a boat.

"The Beatles and Kate Bush: I love how they bring [in] outside elements," Hoop says. "There's a theatrical aspect, kind of a soundscape they create from using outside sounds — sounds from the outside world."

As varied as its sonic palette is, Kismet is also full of Hoop's mutable voice, which frequently morphs into different registers, filters and colors.

"I love that about singing — you get to do whatever you want with your voice," she says. Hoop compares the process to acting. "I think I indulge in that area," she says, "because we're not one thing: We're many, many different things, and we should be able to take advantage of all the different characters we have within us."

That internal monologue is present as Hoop devises her songs in her head. She doesn't write down her tunes until they're fully formed, the result of constant singing to herself.

"I usually am able to hold on to that one — the seed of the song," Hoop says. "And then I keep singing that seed until the seed gets a sprout, and then I just sometimes have to try to remind myself to push the sprout through and start the next section."

And her recent success? "I have real good luck with holding on to the essence of a song," she says.

For audio interview and video clips:

- NPR's All Things Considered

"20 Best New Acts of 2009"

California-based Hoop used to be Tom Waits’s nanny and Elbow’s Guy Garvey enjoyed her folk-rock enough to take her on tour.
Download: Murder of Birds
- Guardian UK/The Observer

"Single of the Week"

Jesca Hoop – Murder of Birds. On this track taken from her Kismet acoustic EP, the arctic clarity of Hoop’s voice is offset by the simple guitar chord sequence which forms the foundation of a heaven-sent melody. (November 28, 2008)
- The Sun

"Breaking Act"

A Californian, Hoop once worked as nanny to Tom Wait’s children. Her debut album, Kismet, is yet to be released here; instead, Kismet Acoustic, an EP comprising of reworked album tracks and a new song, Murder of Birds, on which Elbow’s Guy Garvey guests, serves as her British debut. On the surface, her music seems skittish, almost throwaway, its finger-picked acoustic guitars, curlicued harmonies and Joni-and Kate Bush-like soars and swoops lulling the listener into a state of calm. Lyrics such as “I’ve got demons/ When I need ‘ems” suggest darker depths and it is these that soon draw you in, making that surface seem very deceptive indeed. Dive in, but take care. When’s the record out? Kismet Acoustic is released tomorrow on Last Laugh/Nettwerk
- The Sunday Times UK

""Strange Magic" Feature"

Jesca Hoop is gleefully pulling a wad of vintage lace out of her shopping bag. Layer after layer appears – is a grandmother somewhere being deprived of her curtains? “No, it’s a dress!” cries a delighted Hoop, the pixieish Californian singer-song-writer who has just been touring the UK with Elbow. Getting up on stage allows her to glam up appropriately – this is not the sort of creation she could have worn in any of her previous lives.

Like when she used to run boot camps for teenagers, taking them out to sleep rough in the mountains of Arizona, or when she lived in a hut beside an apple orchard and pillaged food from dumpsters by night, or when she was a nanny to Tom Waits’s kids. Or when she was growing up, the middle child of five Mormon siblings, preparing for a life of religious servitude. She rebelled against that, but says her songs are her service now – they certainly leave the audience spellbound. You can see why Tom Waits has said: “Her music is like swimming in a lake at night.”

There’s Murder of Birds, which she recorded with Gus Garvey of Elbow. Seen performed at a small solo gig in London, the song really is that rare thing, a sort of musical onomatopoeia, in which the melody darts in and out of view as the title suggests, as light on the air as birds. (It’s not about killing – a murder is the term for a group of crows.) Her voice swoops in and pierces the high heavens and then the song soars down low into the strumming of her guitar.

When you meet Hoop, 33, her conversation can take similarly surprising turns. She tells you about the time she decided to go to work in construction but it was too physically tough so she decided to move to an apple orchard: “I was looking for a run-down place that I could rent for nothing and fix up but when I found the shack in the orchard I was, eurgh, no no no, this is really bad. There was a bottle of piss next to a very nasty bed, used condoms beside it. The person who works the orchard would use it once in a while. But then I took a deep breath and said, well it can be gutted and reroofed, I can do it. So I moved in.” She stayed for five years.

As for the kids’ camp, a hard-core programme for 12 to 18-year-olds: “Basically it’s a deprivation camp. The kids are deprived of, one, everything that defines them, and two, everything that keeps them comfortable. They have a sleeping bag, a string, a cup, no flash-lights. There’s no camp as such – you’re just walking through the high mountain desert in Arizona. My job was to guide these kids through the passes.”

This went on for two months. Didn’t the kids go mad? Didn’t she? “Oh yeah! The kids are mostly from wealthy backgrounds but some are sent by the state, and some are kidnapped by their parents – they literally wake up and they’re in this place. They throw fits. They scream. Sometimes it was so, so hard. I did quit eventually – I was just, like, I can’t do this any more.”

She loved living with Tom Waits, his wife Kathleen and their three children. Jim Jarmusch used to come round, but otherwise they are “a very private family”. Was she the sort of nanny who is a substitute parent, or one of the kids? “Oh definitely one of the kids, although I did learn that you can’t ride on the hood of the car – oh, but the cars were one of the greatest things about working for Tom, because he has these old Cadillacs – one which I dented, one which I filled up with diesel fuel. Yeah I got into big trouble, ha ha.” She was reluctant to show Waits her own songs. “It took me a year; they knew I was a musician but I didn’t talk about it. I would sing in the house because I always do, but I didn’t want them to think that I was exploiting them in any way.

“So I needed to be really careful. But when they felt I was ready as a songwriter they did send my work to their publisher, and things started to happen then. And actually on the last day of my work there Tom taught me Summertime on the guitar. I think he’d wanted to do it before but we never took the time. I was just so shy.”

Less so now – she’s been taking advice from her great buddy Garvey, who befriended her after he hunted her down to play on his radio show, and interviewed her on air, on the phone, live from her bath. “He always tells me, ‘Tell ’em what’s what, Hoopster. Show ’em how it’s done.’ ” Lets hope she takes his advice.

- The Sunday Times UK

"Music Week London"

“Lead track Murder of Birds will doubtlessly grab the attention here, not just because it features man of the Mercury’s Elbow frontman Guy Garvey but also because it is a genuinely gorgeous song, the likes of which come along all too rarely. The rest of the EP can only suffer- albeit slightly- in the wake of such an amazingly strong opener, but there is nonetheless some excellent songwriting on board.”
-Ben Cardew

- Music Week London

"Time Out London"

No less a talent than Tom Waits has described her music as ‘like going swimming in a lake at night’ and she’s been feted (most recently in these very pages) by Guy Garvey of Elbow. Not bad accolades for someone you’ve probably never heard of. Oddness of name aside, Hoop has racked up some interesting experiences. She grew up one of five children in a highly musical, strict Mormon family in California, then left to work in a wilderness rehabilitation programme for troubled kids in the backwoods of Wyoming and Arizona. On moving back to her home state, she took a job as a nanny to three children of Waits and Kathleen Brennan, who became the ‘life and music mentors’ that Hoop- ‘a pretty mixed-up kid’ herself at that point- had been so desperately seeking. Not that she needed much help on the songwriting front. Hoop’s evocative, intriguingly enigmatic, neo-traditional fare recalls the round singing she practiced as a child and brings to mind a less husky Sandy Denny or a sweet voiced take on Kristen Hersh’s Appalachian murder balladry.

‘I feel like an old soul in a modern environment,’ Hop offers. ‘I write songs that push songwriting further from the place where it currently is. My songs are like puzzles and they’re either dressed up fabulously or are totally naked. They’re multidimensional, unpredictable and very pleasurable. My music is very heart-centered, but I hope without being pretentious or too serious.’ Mission accomplished on that count, Ms. Hoop.
-Sharon O’Connell
Further listening:
- Time Out London


The House That Jack Built (2012)
Snowglobe EP (2010)
Hunting My Dress (2009)
Kismet Acoustic EP (2008)
Kismet (2007)
Silverscreen Demos (2005)



Jesca Hoop has lived all over the map, and her rich life experience is reflected in her distinctive voice and natural gift for inventive song craft.

Hoop learned to sing at an early age, harmonising with her musical Mormon family in northern California. She began writing highly idiosyncratic songs at the age of 14 to keep her company on her long walks to school. At 16, Hoop broke away from her strict upbringing and began what she calls her 'life as a racoon', off the grid & close to nature. Rambling through the high mountain deserts of the Southwest and along the coastlines of the Northwest, she worked as a wilderness survival guide and chalked up skills in farming, surveying, and carpentry. Her songwriting continued throughout, shared on porches, in deep river canyons and around campfires.

 In 2004 the desire to share these songs on a broader scale set in. She settled in Los Angeles, where she honed her songwriting craft and developed a reputation as a unique and beguiling live performer of real substance. Though she now resides in Manchester, England, Hoop returned to Los Angeles to record her third album, The House That Jack Built.

 Jesca has quite the growing collection of fans in high places: Tom Waits described her music as being "like a four sided coin. She is an old soul, like a black pearl, a good witch or red moon. Her music is like going swimming in a lake at night". Peter Gabriel took her to South America to sing with him, and in recent years she has been hand picked to play as support on tour for Eels, Andrew Bird, Punch Brothers and Elbow: Elbow's Guy Garvey even had her do a stint as guest presenter on his BBC radio show in early 2012, to great reception.

 The follow up to 2009's critically acclaimed Hunting My Dress, this new record displays a striking duality: light and dark, head and heart, it juxtaposes the macabre and visceral with a disarmingly candid intimacy. The resulting combination is powerfully evocative, with overarching themes of biology, nature and humanity - Hoop's stone-turning observations are mired in the equal beauty and violence of a nature that, for her, is clearly red in tooth and claw.