The Musical 'Seeds' of Jesca Hoop Unsigned and living in a van, Hoop took the Los Angeles area by storm with only a demo recording. Several years later, she has a fully fleshed-out major-label album, one that draws on sundry sounds and shape-shifting voices.

The Musical 'Seeds' of Jesca Hoop

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


JESCA HOOP: (Singing) Once my love stood still like a stagnant well for so long, you could hear the song of spiders, strumming fibers, calling her to the web...

BLOCK: Sometimes, a song can punch right through the radio, intriguing, drawing you in. A few years ago, the radio host Nic Harcourt played this song on his influential show "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on KCRW in Santa Monica. And listeners started calling in asking, who is that?

NIC HARCOURT: It was a unique voice. And what I was hearing musically was like something that I'd never really heard before. I guess at the end of the day, it comes down to the audience respond, and as we were playing that song a few times a week, we started to get this feedback from the audience that was telling us that we were playing something that they really enjoyed.

BLOCK: And they enjoyed this song 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 song is called "Seed of Wonder." The singer: Jesca Hoop. She didn't have a record deal at the time. She was living out of a van. This was a rough demo. And now, a more polished version is featured on Jesca Hoop's debut CD "Kismet."


HOOP: (Singing) Once my love stood still like a stagnant well for so long, you could hear the song of spiders, strumming fibers, calling her to the web...

BLOCK: A few things to know about Jesca Hoop: She is 32, and she grew up in a large and musical Mormon family in Northern California. For five years, she worked as a nanny for the kids of the gravelly-voiced singer Tom Waits, and he passed her demo along leading eventually to her record deal. Jesca Hoop describes her songs as having a wardrobe around them.

HOOP: Yeah, or a landscape or, like an architecture, because inside of every costume is a skeleton, which is the song basically. And if it's a good song, it will stand up and dance for you. If not, it's going to turn to dust. Anyway, we can move.


HOOP: (Singing) Bring a soft blanket baby, lay it down for me, and roll me daddy, daddy, roll me in the wheat, la la la la la la la la la...

BLOCK: In a song like "Summertime," it sounds like you're playing a lot of different parts with your voice. There's part that's very high and girly and then you sink down into this really sultry kind of register.

HOOP: Mm-hmm. I started it off talking about Black Eyed Peas and popcorn and the different things that were like reminding me of more things about summer. But then I thought about what spring and summer are really, or like, summer's like an aging spring and how we do that ourselves. We go into adolescence and from adolescence into adulthood in a way, and there's a sexual change that happens. I think that summer is like the sexy spring.


HOOP: You know, it just gets, you know - that's what it was about.

BLOCK: And you get to do that with your voice?

HOOP: I love that about singing. You get to do it whatever you want.

BLOCK: Does it feel like acting?

HOOP: It is acting. I think I indulge in that area. Because, you know, we're not one thing, we're many, many different things, and we should be able to just take advantages of all the different characters that we have within us.


HOOP: (Singing) Stolen crown, pillow down, all tangle in my hair, evening gown, the lights downtown, all dangle in the air, gates of heaven open there is me on the silverscreen, I hope they did good editing.

BLOCK: There are a lot of sounds all through the songs, I mean, there's the winding up of a jewelry box and there's a film projector...

HOOP: Yeah.

BLOCK: ...and crows, I think?

HOOP: Crows. Yeah. The Beatles and Kate Bush, I love how they ring outside of us, you know, they - there's a theatrical aspect in a kind of a sound escape that they create with sampling outside sounds, you know, sounds of the outside world.


HOOP: (Singing) And the rains that came, with the force of a runaway train, oh, run away. And the waters rose...

BLOCK: How soon after Hurricane Katrina did you write "Love is All We Have"?

HOOP: In the midst of it. I mean, we're still in the midst of it.

BLOCK: There's a wonderful sound in this, song and I've been listening to it on headphones and it's as incredible creaking of wood, and I've gone back and forth of thinking is that a door that's swinging? A wooden door or is that a boat? Or is it a cradle?

HOOP: It's a rope on a boat.

BLOCK: It's a rope on a boat?

HOOP: Yeah, it's something that's creaking in the basement of a boat.

BLOCK: And where did that come from?

HOOP: That came from my friend, Ian Walker, who knew he could make that creaking sound on his bass.

BLOCK: What do you think it adds?

HOOP: It adds a ghost-like quality to me. That's a very sad feeling to me.


HOOP: (Singing) Love me now. Love is all we have, yeah. The old church bell is in the graveyard of the old church bell, oh, lace and stone...

BLOCK: I'm picturing if you write your songs as you're writing them. If you're writing them longhand on a piece of paper, I'm imagining a yellow legal pad - for no good reason - and I'm imagining that it's this dense piece of paper with drawings on the side and doodling and lots of different colors. And I could be completely wrong, but that's when I hear your songs. They're so full of imagery and color and texture that that's how I imagine they start.

HOOP: That's sweet.

BLOCK: But I could be totally wrong. They could be on a computer screen somewhere.

HOOP: They're definitely not on a computer screen, and in fact, they're not on paper until they're usually fully written.

BLOCK: So you're getting it into your head entirely before you're putting it on the page?

HOOP: Yeah, I will just sit or walk, whatever, and then recycle the song over and over and over again until I have all the verses and bridges and stuff worked out.

BLOCK: That seems like such a high-wire act because, gosh, you just never have a point when you - it was perfect when you were walking through the field that day and you had it in your head and then you go to try to recreate it and it's gone.

HOOP: Well, no, it's not ever gone. That's what I'm saying is that I usually am able to hold on to the seed of the song and then I keep singing that seed until the seed, like, gets a sprout, and then I just sometimes have to remind myself to push the sprout through, like, and start the next section. So I have real good luck with, like, holding on to the essence of the song.

BLOCK: Jesca Hoop, thanks for coming in.

HOOP: You're welcome.


HOOP: (Singing) You are mine pennyroyal wine fly, like an innocent child, that followed every line, back to my enemy.

BLOCK: Jesca Hoop's new CD is titled, "Kismet." By the way, she spells her name J-E-S-C-A. You can watch two videos of Jesca Hoop in our studio, performing her songs "Money" and this one, "Enemy." That's at

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