An Interview with Hope Tala

While opening for Alina Baraz, we sat down with Hope Tala for a great conversation on Nov. 4, on their San Diego stop of the Alone With You tour

Bringing such a down-to-earth yet exciting energy to the stage, it is apparent that every part of Hope Tala’s music is truly a reflection of herself. Opening for Alina Baraz, whose tour travels throughout the U.S. until February, Hope Tala played songs that ranged her entire discography on the tour’s stop in San Diego last Thursday, Nov. 4. From slower ballads, like her song “Drugstore” that swayed the audience, to bossa nova beats like “Lovestained,” her set carried ethereal energy. Although Tala was only accompanied by a keyboardist and a guitarist, she filled the space with her presence, dancing and skipping across the stage during songs. The audience appeared to feed off this energy. Many of those in front seemed to melt as she reached for their hands while she sang. It was surprising to see how humble Hope Tala was, both on and off stage.

“Thank you for coming to see Alina Baraz,” Hope Tala said during her opening performance. “We’re just here to keep you entertained while you wait,” not realizing what a huge portion of the crowd was solely there to see her. During her interview, she continued to be so kind and thoughtful with each of her answers. It was easy to see that she pours herself into her projects and what genuine energy surrounds her. Opening up about her music and her experiences in the world so far, Hope Tala shared with me everything from her inspirations to how fans have impacted her. 

Photo Credit: Talya Levy

“So you have an English literature degree, do you have any authors or poets that you like to take inspiration from for your songs?”

  • I have quite a few. I think my all-time favorite poet is Sylvia Plath and I definitely take a lot of inspiration from her poetry, particularly her collection Ariel. I really like the way she writes about the body and corporeal themes which I like to take into my own stuff. Shakespeare is a writer that I have always really looked up to, and Zadie Smith as well. There are loads but those are 3 big ones to me. 

“When you first found out you were going on tour with Alina Baraz, what was your first reaction?”

  • I was so incredibly excited for a few reasons. First of all, I’ve listened to her since I was 14. I’ve loved her music for a really long time and in that sense, as a fan, it was amazing. Her most recent album put out last year is just one of my favorite albums and I love it so I was really excited. Also, I’ve never been on tour before, so that was amazing to think about. Particularly coming to the U.S. was exciting because I haven’t seen much of it besides L.A. and New York. It’s been wonderful to see new places and travel around and just meet loads of new people and play shows. Particularly due to recent events and the pandemic and everything, being able to play shows is amazing. Just excitement, joy, happiness, all of the above.

“I don’t know much about the music industry but what was the process of planning to go on tour like?

  • It was lots of rehearsals, me and the band. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted the setlist to be. That was a really fun process for me because obviously, I’ve released EPs that are all in order but it’s fun for me to rummage around and reorder things and work out what went well together from different projects. Lots of trying to prep and vocal warmups and drinking tea and making sure I am healthy and prepared in that sense. And mentally healthy too. So there’s a lot that goes into it, a lot of people that work and I’m very grateful in that sense. 

“When you finish creating a song, who is the first person that you go to?

  • Probably either my close friends, like Tulula, or my parents. I play my parents loads of stuff when I first make it because I really trust their musical opinion since I got my musical nature from them. The person whose opinion I really really trust is my brother but he has decided that he doesn’t want to listen to my music anymore before it comes out because he wants to be excited with his friends. So I can’t go to him anymore but I’d like to. I also go to my team because I really trust all of them. I’m lucky to have them. 

“It seems like you make every word in your songs have some sort of significance or symbolism to them. Is there significance to the name Hope Tala?”

  • Well, the first part of it is my first name, so that’s significant to me. The name Tala is interesting because my real middle name is Natasha. I really love that name but I never related to it that much. My mom took it from her favorite book “War and Peace.” One day I was looking up nicknames for Natasha and I saw Tala and I thought, “That’s such a cool name. Let me take that.” Because the name Natasha comes from the Russian name Natalia and I thought “Let me just poach it.”

“What is one aspect of your music that you think is unique to you and without it in a song, it wouldn’t be yours?”

  • I think for me what’s most important is chords. Having very specific chord progressions. I’m very particular about that. And also guitar. I play a lot of guitar and I mean I’m not the best at it at all but I love playing it and I think that it adds such a texture to my music. It wouldn’t feel like my music if it didn’t have guitar, specific chord progressions, and lyricism that feels unique to me. I like a lot of major and minor 7th chords, major and minor 9ths. It just has to sound right, almost a bit magical.  

“A lot of your songs are about emotional topics, like heartbreak or frustration. Do you think that these typically uncomfortable situations you’ve been in have helped not just you but also your music grow?”

  • Yeah, I think those types of things are really so formative for everyone. I think in my life and my experience, those kinds of big crazy emotions are the ones that I draw inspiration from in the end, even if they’re negative, even if they’re difficult. I try to keep a good balance between heartbreak, frustration, all those sad and negative things compared to all my happy music, like my songs ‘Crazy’, ‘Lovestained’ and just happy love songs. I think for me, life is just all about love, even if it’s not romantic love. I’ve been writing a lot of songs recently that are more about friendship and family. I think that drawing from love, whether it’s heartbreak, the happy beginning, or frustration, is always going to be the most inspirational and interesting to me. 

“So you originally put your music onto Soundcloud in the attempts to get the attention of a girl that you liked. First of all, did it work?”

  • It did work, temporarily. That’s the keyword – temporarily. Then it stopped working. It was cool though because once it stopped working I realized that I actually really love making music just for myself. So, that was actually a blessing in disguise because I realized that I could make music for me.

“Also relating to that last question, it is so amazing to be getting some more representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the music industry. Has there ever been part of your identity that you’ve at first been hesitant to talk about in your songs?”

  • Definitely being queer. I think that it was such a driving force for me to start making music in the first place but also something that I was scared of. And really through my teenage years, I remember discovering Kehlani when I was 14 or 15 and she was one of the few artists, there were others, but she was one of the few around at the time that was singing about queerness. It was so important to me as a queer person so it made me think ‘Well if I ever make music I want to make sure that it is loud and proud’. But it is also scary to put yourself out there like that in a world like ours where, obviously it is becoming more accepting and there’s been so many amazing things happening for marginalized people, but it still is a harsh world. It was a bit of both but it has been so worth it. It is so wonderful to just feel free. I think what I’ve realized over the past couple of years is that I would never want to close anything off from my music. I always want to make sure that I’m being honest in my music and nothing matters more than that. I would never keep something secret or not write about something because I’m scared of the consequences. It’s been very liberating and freeing. I feel very grateful that I’ve had that experience and not a more negative one. 

“Watching videos of you so far on the tour, you have been playing to huge numbers of people. Is it scary at all? Do you get nervous?

  • I get absolutely terrified. We played L.A. last night and, granted, as the opening act, not everyone is necessarily there, but it was so many more people than I ever played to. I was terrified to go on stage but I have always carried the ethos that you just have to push yourself outside your comfort zone. That might not be going on stage and singing for everyone but I think just pushing yourself a bit outside your comfort zone, outside of your box, every so often is so important. As humans, we need challenge and we need change. I noticed how much performing has helped me be a better and more confident person. It helped me realize how amazing and fun and wonderful life is. We’re all here together on this rock that we’re living on.

“What do you feel is your most intimate and vulnerable project or song?

  • There’s a song that hasn’t come out yet that I think is my most emotionally vulnerable song. But of the projects that have come out, probably my 2nd EP ‘Sensitive Soul’. I mean it’s called ‘Sensitive Soul’, so it’s all about being emotional. If I were to say a specific song that’s the most vulnerable, I would have to say “D.T.M.’ off that EP or maybe ‘Drugstore’ off the next EP ‘Girl Eats Sun’

“You’ve been quoted saying, ‘Why have a life if you’re not going to do something crazy and make a difference in the world?’ Have you always felt like you were going to make a difference or was there more of a specific moment that made you realize that?”

  • I think that I’ve always been a fairly driven, ambitious person. I’ve always wanted to make sure that I leave something behind me. I always live every day to the fullest. My motto is ‘If you get hit by a bus tomorrow, just do what you want to do and reach for the stars.’ I think until my late teens I didn’t know how I was going to do that. I wanted to be a lawyer or work for a charity but then I realized that what I love to do is music. I realized I was able to help people with music, which I don’t think I’d ever really thought before. But definitely, music helps me so much through difficult periods. I remember back when I only had songs on SoundCloud and only 200 Instagram followers, I was barely making music, this woman messaged me on Instagram and had said she and her family were going through a really hard time. My music had really helped them through that day. As soon as I read that, I was like “Wow, I could really do this and help people.” And since then I realized “Let me just do this.” Not only that, but music is also really fun. It took me a while to find what my vessel was to get to that phrase but music was it.

Written by: Talya Levy

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