Interview with The Citizen

hot off the press

Photograph by Rogan Ward

“HOPE ABOUNDS”
Written by Bruce Dennill
THE CITIZEN, SEPTEMBER 2010

Singer-songwriter Shannon Hope defines her sound as “art pop”. Huh?

“When I started,” she remembers, “it was difficult to answer questions about what I was doing. At some point, I was at a book launch and trying to describe my style to someone and a person next to me, who had heard the music, said, ‘It’s art pop.’ I love that. It leaves something to the imagination, and it doesn’t put me in a box.”

Hope manages herself, a daunting task in an industry filled with talented self-starters. “When I first released an album, I wanted a record deal,” she says. “But while I was trying to sort that out, I was distributing my own stuff and managing my own touring. And I realised that I actually didn’t want someone else doing that.”

So what’s in a day’s work? “I do admin, handle bookings, sort out the marketing and plan tours,” says Hope. “Well, that’s a day’s work at home in Umhlanga, but I’ve only been there for about eight weeks since March. For the moment, my time is taken up driving between gigs, checking that the marketing’s up to date, that posters are up and so on.”

Is that all sustainable? “It’s getting to the point where it is,” Hope says. “The amount of touring that I’m doing is paying off. But I have a new album to record, and that’s going to be expensive. I’d like to tour that with a band, though – rather make my solo thing a more unique, emotional thing.”

Hope supports herself on piano while she sings, joining a long line of impressive pop performers from Kate Bush to Regina Spektor. “I like being ‘the pianist’,” says Hope. “It helps differentiate us from the other singer-songwriters – most of them are guitarists.”

But it’s more difficult to manipulate in terms of loops and so on, surely? “My keyboard has a sequencer,” says Hope, “but my focus is on the lyrics. The piano is the background. I think the more complicated you make your sound, the more difficult it is to listen.”

Hope’s look won’t fit into some ideas of what the “sensitive singer-songwriter” image involves. “It’s just who I am,” she says. “I’m a rock chick – I’m not going to put on a dress with flowers on it. I have toned down, though.”

Does Hope think her honest lyrical approach will remain interesting for listeners? Could it not become the musical equivalent of a 20-year-old writing an autobiography – an unfinished story of limited interest? “When I recorded with producer Bjorn Thorsrud, he said I had to write 80 to 100 songs per album,” she says. “That means I write when I’m in a number of different places. One song on the new album is my interpretation of someone else’s perspective, for instance. “But my intention remains to be as honest as possible,” Hope says.

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