Finding the beauty in honesty with Hope D
Brutally honest, with a heavy helping of exaggeration, Meanjin/Brisbane based singer-songwriter Hope D is unafraid to open up her own life and put it under the magnifying glass for any who wish to take a look. Having first made a mark with her debut single, ‘Swim’ in 2019, she has become one of Australia’s most exciting breakout names. Her 2020 single, ‘Second’, reached the coveted #69 spot in triple j’s Hottest 100 of that year. She sold out multiple Hope D headline shows in her hometown last year and she’s currently playing across the country to more sold out shows. She released her debut EP, Cash Only, at the start of 2021, and just recently was the most played artist on triple j. Not bad at all for a singer-songwriter writing songs in her bedroom.
Of course, have one listen to Hope D and her success makes sense. She is at once deeply personal yet entirely universal, and possesses a knack of being able to take something that happened to her and blast it open enough for us all to find a home in her tale of it. She openly wrestles with addiction, shame, heartbreak, fucking up, love and loss and everything else a 20-something-year-old has to face, and her fearlessness in which she approaches these topics makes for an arresting listening experience every time.
Across seven tracks, Cash Only is the end result of Hope D finishing up her debut release towards the end of Brisbane’s first lockdown. While these songs have been with her for some time, she finished it up in that period which came with its fair share of realisations (the EP’s title is inspired by Hope’s tattoo artist who had the words painted on her nails at her first post-COVID appointment, tips its hat to that period of time). Featuring singles ‘Second’, as well as ‘Miscommunicate’, ‘Common Denominator’ and most recently, ‘Addict’, the EP’s breadth of influences and inspirations is far reaching, but each maintain a connection of Hope‘s bold acceptance of herself and owning all that she is. Traversing the very personal experience of a gambling addiction, or a secret relationship she had when she was in school when she hadn’t come out yet, these are very major moments in Hope‘s life, and one would totally understand if she kept it to herself. However, she finds beauty in honesty and rawness, and so we find solace in the perspectives she shares — whether it be the suffocation of something you just can’t quit yourself, or the feeling of spiralling and unravelling when you’re caught in a relationship you know is not good for you.
Interjecting her songs with her humour and wit, and pairing it with her rapid fire delivery which borders on rapping at time, and wielding her guitar and ability to make intricate loops to reel you in even more, Hope D sounds like a friend and makes music which feels reassuring and comforting. She never pretends to have the answers, but instead reminds you that she’s right there beside you as you figure it out. It’s this winning combination of all of this which makes Hope D such an exciting artist. Possessing the self-deprecating awareness and humour of Phoebe Bridgers, the storytelling abilities of Paul Kelly, the musicality of Danielle Haim or Tash Sultana, and the grit and edge of Ruby Fields, Hope D‘s power comes from being herself, which is a radical act given her experiences growing up and being told she needs to be anything but. As she continues to rise and builds on the solid and impressive foundation that is her debut EP, the only thing that remains certain is there is simply no stopping Hope D.
Congratulations on the EP, it is so, so good! It’s been out for a little while now. How you feeling now it’s officially out in the world?
I’m super happy that it’s out. As an artist, the more songs that you write, the older the old ones get I guess, so putting out that EP is not only so incredible because the songs mean so much to me, but also it’s a chapter of my life that I can put out there and then put out another one afterwards once that’s settled. It’s been amazing, the feedback’s been incredible and I’m just super happy to have all the all the songs out finally.
They are such personal songs. It kind of did all come together really quickly at the end there, but the songs have existed for a while before that. How was it revisiting those periods of your life that you know are a few years ago now?
When the songs were written, they were the most raw then, definitely. And then recording them is like this therapeutic stage of the process of dealing with all that and what they’re about. And then when they’re out, it’s like that celebration of them I feel. It’s super cool to revisit them. I think [it’s] the coolest thing that we as humans can write songs and create art about stories and experiences and emotions that we’ve had, and then looking back on them is this amazing thing that we can do and appreciate where we are right now, or even feel super nostalgic about where we are right now. It was strange to remember how I felt. You know how when you feel something, the older and older you get and the more time that has passed, it’s so faded and it’s so hard to remember exactly how you felt and how intense it was. You remember being super intense, but it’s since so much time has passed, it’s hard to channel that and know exactly how you felt. It’s super interesting I’d say, and cool to see that.
It would give you a bit of clarity, right? Reflecting on these times and you’re like, “Oh shit, I was not okay then!” Did you have those kind of moments too?
[Laughs] Totally! I think there’s a vault in my head that I can personally put them in there, all that serious stuff. It’s cool that I don’t have to feel those yucky feelings, like for ‘Addict’ for example. Those were awful, awful feelings. It’s really cool to look back on that and be able to play that song. It’s like my literal favourite song to play live, I don’t like breakdown crying or anything when I play it which is awesome. That’s another cool thing about artistry is that we celebrate it. I love playing it and love sharing that story instead. Sometimes there are stories that you break down and like hate to play.
Speaking of ‘Addict’, for example, you spoken about how the creation of that clip especially was very therapeutic for you. Can you talk to me about reliving that particular experience of your life? Only this time, you’re on the other side and you’re with your friends but you’re going back in time and revisiting that period.
Creating that clip, everything I felt at the time that [I wrote] ‘Addict’ was definitely visited during the clip. That’s exactly what I wanted though. I wanted that clip to make people possibly feel what I was feeling. The clip and the song are super duper manic and I definitely channeled something else when I was acting. I’m so awkward in front of the camera, but when I was acting I was surprised because I got super into it. I did have to skull to beers before we did the scene in that hallway, just because I wanted to really get into that manic crazy thing. I’m so shy in front of the camera, so I really wanted to be someone else or just not care so I had a couple of beers and I was fine. I still surprised myself, so it was really cool. I think definitely was just literally channeling what I was and what I thought in that period time where I was addicted to the casino. I think that’s awesome because you know, I pass pokie machines all the time now and I don’t feel anything like that anymore.
You’ve spoken about how you want your listeners to feel like they’re not alone and that’s a big part of why you are so personal with your music and with the stories that you’re sharing. Why is that so important to you, Hope? Are there artists that you’re trying to emulate?
Oh, absolutely. I think for me when I was growing up, but’s really funny because it took me a while to actually get into music. I knew that music was something that I enjoyed the sound of but I never thought I’d be doing it until my friend who plays a very big part of my life, she was very into music and she would show me playlists when we’re sitting in class. I’d hear some songs and be like, “Oh wow that actually made me feel something!” And then I started to get into music. She used to show me like the bands like The Jungle Giants and [other] Australian artists and I got really into it. My ears felt so happy and I was like, “Wow I didn’t know people make things that I could feel super super super happy about!” I got so into YouTube when I was in grade 10 — so many videos. I found this artist named Dodie Clark, and she’s amazing. She has a song called ‘She’, and I watched her play it in her bedroom and then I watched this video that some people had made like, recreating the story that the song’s about. It’s about two girls falling in love, but then one doesn’t love the other one back. I REALLY felt something then, and I remember going to bed thinking I can’t sleep, I just felt so many things. I can’t believe this person’s made me feel this. I feel so happy and settled and not alone, but also so stressed because, you know, I wanted those two people to end up together! It’s amazing that this person made me feel all these things with one song, but the main thing was that I feel so connected and not alone. There’s too queer women here and I don’t even know if I’m queer, like I want to tell people that I’m queer but I don’t even know what that is and I don’t know where to start! So, that was really cool. Then I started diving into more music like this and songs that blatantly say “she.” [I thought that was] so brave and so cool, like I can’t believe people can do that! That’s when I was like, “Okay, I have feelings for girls and I want to write songs that make people feel things. I want to write songs for girls that make them feel happy and loved.” This is what’s happened to me and it’s had the biggest impact on me. It’s made me realise that I want to do music which is insane, and that’s all I want to do. If I write songs and stuff that make people feel not alone. I just want people to feel more comfortable because feeling uncomfortable is just awful.
With your stories, they are really deep and you’re not afraid to go all the way and tell people how shit something was and things like that. Do you ever get a bit worried or a bit anxious about sharing so much with people? Does that ever scare you, especially in a live context?
It’s a very scary thing. I was definitely scared to release ‘Swim’ which I released in 2019. I think that was a very therapeutic thing for me because I think that was my official “coming out.” I thought to myself, “Well if this song is out, then I have to feel comfortable with myself, no matter what.” I pushed myself out of the nest in a way, but I’m so grateful for that. That song is my favourite song I have out because it is, I think, the biggest one that connects with people on a queer level, which is awesome. And even just on any level [too]. It is very scary, especially because I never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. I used to look at artists that sing so many songs that are all obviously about other celebrities, like, Taylor Swift or something. I always think, “Damn, I wonder if she feels bad, or the person it’s so obviously about feels bad?” That is something that I am a bit nervous about, but I never want to sacrifice the artistry in that. I’d rather just have conversations [with the people I’m writing about]. I’ll never write anything that’s awful.
There won’t be a Hope D diss track any time soon, but you are gonna talk about how you felt at the time!
Exactly! Another thing is, I do exaggerate songs a lot and lyrics a lot because I find so much beauty in the exaggeration and the dark twisting of words.
Would you say that it kind of goes hand in hand in knowing that you’re listeners are open to hearing such personal stories which essentially pushes you to keep being open and to keep opening up? Starting from ‘Swim’ through to songs like ‘Addict’ and ‘Life Sentence’ now, knowing there is an audience and there is an appetite for wanting that personal connection, has it encouraged you to keep going?
Definitely, it’s cool that people actually want to listen to things like that. Everyone has their own things going on, so even if the song doesn’t relate to them specifically but they enjoy how deep and raw and open it is, then that’s actually super cool.
You’ve got the big part of your personality and your artistic persona as such is owning everything that you are with no apologies, which I love! I think everyone should be doing that anyway. I wanted to know, has it always been that way, or was that something that you discovered through your music as well?
Definitely through my music. I used to write songs and when I would post them on YouTube, I’d be like, “here’s song is about a girl from a boy’s perspective – not mine!” [I was] so, so scared of kind of thing and I was so nervous. Also, growing up in a all girls Christian school as well, there wasn’t too much of an art scene that I was comfortable in. If I released some of the songs I release now, talking about the topics that I talk about, they would be very poorly received I’d say. Basically, I hid who I was and made excuses for the songs and that kind of thing, pretending that I was someone else or writing for someone else. But now, it’s obviously like, “This is my song and I wrote it because of this,” and I’m so excited! I feel like experiencing that and feeling very positive, I [get to] make up for it now, and I’m very excited to say these songs are about this and these songs about me back then or how I feel now. I’m just really happy to be a comfortable and happy to be open, and I want people to also feel less alone in that way. I want someone to hear a story that I have that is extremely painful or raw or whatever, and even if that makes them feel like “Oh, I guess my life’s not that bad,”as long as they can see or they can feel something. It is very rewarding being able to feel comfortable and are owning everything I am now.
I didn’t realise that you went to an all girls Christian school. That would have been so stifling, not just in terms of your sexuality and who you are, but probably in terms of your creativity as well, as you said. You’ve now got this body of work now that you’re so proud of and that has been received so well — how does it feel looking back at that young Hope and being like, “You got out!”?
It’s awesome. Growing up in that kind of scene, the art that I wanted to create, I don’t even think that Hope back then would even recognise that that’s Hope in the future. It’s like everything that I wanted myself to have. Because the schooling then as well, it’s super academic, and I’m so un-academic. I’m awkward at everything else but I’m good at writing songs I guess and I love to be able to release them. If that’s anything giving back to people that have done that for me, then that’s amazing. It’s really awesome as well, looking back on how I would be writing songs in someone else’s pocket and from someone else’s perspective, and being able to be super proud of me releasing them now. I think that young Hope would be super excited to become old Hope.
That is so special! My favourite song on The EP is ‘Life Sentence’. It just it hits so hard every damn time. Can you tell me about that song?
I’m so glad that you like that one, because that’s one I definitely didn’t think that would hit as hard as the other ones. That’s really awesome to hear that. Thank you! It’s super personal, it’s about a very personal story. I was in grade 12 and I was still coming to terms with my sexuality. Then I met this girl who was also from that school and she was still coming to terms her sexuality. We started this relationship that we were super secretive about it because it was very not okay to be doing that. None of our friends approved of it. I wasn’t even talking to my parents about it or my family, because I wasn’t talking to them about anything to do with me dating girls or having feelings for girls. So we had this relationship, and it turned super sour. We were on and off, and we were trying to make each other jealous but also told each other we missed each other. We were making each other’s lives not okay because we were so [caught up] in this feeling of being closeted. We were so closeted and we had no one to go to, but at the same time we had each other — but then we hated each other, and wanted each other. That really made me have this feeling of feeling very insane. The fact that we were sneaking around the hallways and stuff, it just created this feeling of just feeling very insane. The classes that we had were literally telling us that two women together is a sin. Not that we believed it for a second, but it’s just very hard to feel safe in that kind of environment. This song is very exaggerated. The chorus is the biggest thing where it says “Insanity is a sin and there’s no repentance,” a very big play on the Christian education we had there. It’s a exaggeration but I just felt very insane in a way that I felt like I was in jail. I kind of didn’t have anywhere to go.
It makes sense when you thinking about the shame that those schools really put you through. I went to another school as well so like I completely understand what you’re talking about. It was just like this weird thing. They’re preaching acceptance and “love thy neighbour” and all this stuff, and then at the same time telling these people that this thing that is so natural is somehow wrong.
It’s cool coming out and being out of school and knowing that what you believe in is what you believe in.
And then finding yourself and your people and your community outside of school. It’s a shame it happens a bit later on, but lucky that it happened at all!
Looking forward now or rather looking back you’ve got the Hottest 100 is already happened which was massive. You’ve now got this enormous tour which keeps having shows added to because everyone wants to see Hope D. What a year you’ve already had! What’s something that you want to achieve this year that you’re like “dream big” hoping for?
I think that just releasing more music that has positive responses, and I would love to get into some more like festival lineups, which is more hope towards COVID getting better so that we can have festivals. That would be amazing. I would also LOVE to get a Hope D beer happening. Somehow this year, that’s like my number one goal!
Cash Only, the debut EP from Hope D is out now. Listen here.
Words by Emma Jones
Image: Casey Garnsey