Interview: We had a chat with Hope D about busking, Brisbane, and her brilliant debut EP 'Cash Only'

Photo by Casey Garnsey

Last night at work I was back of house, cleaning dishes like I normally do, and I turned on triple j. A song was coming to an end, followed by a short segue, then a familiar anthemic introduction to a song came on. It was 'Addict', the latest single from singer-songwriter Hope D, and I thought to myself "there's just no escaping Hope D".

Since the release of 'Swim' in May 2019, the Brisbane artist's name began to circle around the music scene frequently, finding its way onto everyone's playlists, watch lists, and gigs-I-should-go-to lists. So much so that we began seeing Hope's name appear regularly on triple j / Unearthed radio, festival lineups, and a sweet appearance in the most recent Hottest 100. It feels like no matter where you look, you're bound to find a space reserved for Hope D there.

Hope has been writing and performing since she was nine-years-old, spending her teenage years slowly crafting and developing her style up until she was ready to busk on street corners and on stage throughout the Queensland state capital. The locals loved her as multiple awards and competitions were being crowned her way, and Hope had her eyes set to keep moving and achieve bigger things.

In the spring of 2018, Hope found herself in and around Fortitude Valley, busking during the annual BIGSOUND conference and festival which attracts the eyes and ears of virtually everyone in the industry. One year later, off the back of 'Swim', a breakthrough single release for her, Hope found herself back in Fortitude Valley, but this time she wasn't busking - she was showcasing.

This big difference in Hope's year is mirrored throughout her career. She found herself playing Splendour in the Grass, Laneway Festival, and jumping on King Street Crawl in Sydney all in 2019. Last year, Hope did what many did and blessed us with new music, releasing 'Second' in March which would later find its way in the Hottest 100 sitting comfortably at #69.

On Friday, we got to hear the next chapter in the career of Hope D with the release of her debut EP 'Cash Only', which is driving Hope around this half of the country next month as she embarks on her first headline tour. It's a wonderful collection of songs that take a deep dive into the life of Hope D, as the songs deal with themes of addiction, heartbreak, and coming out. The vulnerable and honest songwriting and storytelling that Hope brings to her music is what we all love so much about her. Hearing the emotion Hope pours into 'Swim' is moving and cathartic, what made that song stand out so much.

This week we were lucky enough to have a chat with Hope about 'Cash Only'. We talked about her background in music, the themes in the songs, her band, and most importantly, where she keeps her tomato sauce...

HgS: You began performing in and around Brisbane in 2017, what were those early stages of your music like back then? And how did the local Brisbane music scene shape you and your music?

Hope: Yeah, it was completely different. I very much made Ed Sheeran/Passenger style of music with acoustic guitar looping, but nowhere near as layered as the loops I do now. I just had the loop pedal - I didn't have any pedals to change the sound or anything. There was a point where I was doing drum pad stuff as well so that made it even bigger, but I tend to not do that anymore.

But going from those first gigs and looking out at the crowd and it's just my mum and dad, sister and brother, and a couple of my closest friends just peppered around. Compared to now and there’s all these strangers buying tickets to these gigs and selling out shows across venues all over Australia. It’s fucking sick to think about. And it's really cool to know how far my sound has come as well.

I used to release music under Hope Defteros and that’s all just songs I recorded on a laptop. Acoustic guitar, layered a couple of riffs, layered vocals - very acoustic folk, storytelling stuff. My music is very different now, especially the topics I write and sing about. I’ve become more comfortable saying “this song is about me and how I feel now” and being really open with those. In the past I used to write songs about how I felt about a girl and saying “oh this is from the perspective of a guy because I can’t sing about a girl because I'm a girl”. The maturity of the topics has changed drastically and just the confidence and the style is so different as well.

We’ve seen many great Australian talents start out from busking on street corners, namely Tash Sultana and Tones And I. For you, how did busking shape your style and performance?

Hope: I didn’t busk as much as I did cover gigs, which were similar but the venue would pay me for three hours. I find them similar in the sense of how the crowd treated you. The majority of the time I didn’t mind that people weren’t listening to me and that was more comfortable for me to play in because I didn’t want people to feel bad about this chick playing in the corner, like “oh I need to give her my attention”. I don't want anyone's petty attention or anything like that, I only want people to listen to me if they want to.

But the way that it shaped me is confidence-wise. It’s so scary playing for people that you know aren’t there to listen to you. These people are here for a burger, or they’re here to walk down the street. They’re not here to listen to me. Which is why the confidence is so different compared to being on stage when I know these people are buying tickets to see me, and I can be so confident with it. It’s amazing and I’m so fucking grateful and I pinch myself everyday that people would want to pay money to see me. Compared to that, that’s something that’s definitely shaped me - putting yourself out there so vulnerably is so terrifying.

Plus as well, if I'm going to sit there and play a cover and play it the exact same way the song sounds, how many heads are you going to turn? I used to try and make my covers as different as I could to make people be like “oh I think I know this song but it sounds different”. Like, why play a cover the exact same, because then you can just listen to the original. The amount of covers and busking sessions I did, they were like paid practise sessions, so I took the opportunity to play for hours and find a crowd and make covers up on the spot, make songs up on the spot, so that was really cool as well.

You were busking around Fortitude Valley during BIGSOUND in 2018, and a year later you were part of the BIGSOUND lineup. While busking, were you thinking to yourself "next year I’m gonna be on one of those stages"?

I was super stoked at the opportunity to busk there, because you have to actually apply to busk, so I was so happy to get that. I always thought maybe next year I'll be playing on the stages but I didn't think too much of it. But then I applied and I got in to do that. It’s really funny to watch myself go from the streets to a stage in that sense, and that BIGSOUND in 2019 was so much fun, so that was really great.

Seeing you perform before with your band, I saw how much love and support they have for you, and this sense of a wonderful friendship between each of you. What’s the background story between you and them and how they came to be part of this journey with you?

I love them so much. We have such a unique relationship. We’ve all female and we’re all queer, so it’s really nice to play the songs together that put those topics in the spotlight and put a monitory in the spotlight. That makes our bond stronger. They all love it and it gives them an opportunity to play live and playing with them, the energy and the banter we have is the best. They’re as happy to be there as I am, which is so nice.

The best part is: on stage - so much fun. Off stage - so much fun! I can’t wait to be able to tour with them, maybe next year if things allow, and the tour diaries I can think of us having would be so much fun.

There seems to be an endless highlights reel of your career so far. What are some of your biggest and most memorable moments so far?

Definitely Laneway [Festival], that was an incredible highlight because I only had one song out at the time. That was amazing in so many ways to play on a stage that I had been attending since I was old enough to. Also because as soon as I did that, I had a massive high!

And then my single launch for ‘Swim’ which sold out. It was a very small venue called Haya Bar, which isn’t around anymore sadly, it was fucking sick, but that was definetely one of my highlight as well because the first band gig that we ever played. Up to that point I was solo.

And obviously the past year was a bit crazy with ‘Second’ coming out and getting in the Hottest 100 - that was fucked up! I still don’t believe it, I think I will when I get ‘69’ tattooed on me. Everything else that happened - five sold out shows last year! And I’m just really keen to see what happens this year as well, hopefully some cool things happen.

There’s a lot of really honest and open tracks on this EP in regards to the themes of the songs. You talk about your experiences coming out, gambling addictions, and on the track ‘Miscommunicate’ you talk about deliberately miscommunicating with a former partner. How do you feel releasing these songs that take a real personal snapshot of your life?

It’s definitely something I always wanted to do. Ever since I was confident, open, and accepting of myself I just wanted to have music out there that people could relate to, and also feel like they could feel as comfortable as me being able to release it. It’s not the most comfortable thing putting out songs that are literally diary entries but I hear them and feel less alone and that’s the biggest thing to me.

I think the biggest thing about humans is the stories we get and being able to tell those stories to other people. We learn from experiences but also lessons we learn from stories from others. So that’s one of my main goals is to be able to release all these things and for people to hear them, maybe relate to them, get some insight from it maybe, learn something, or just have a good time with it. Music is the biggest drug, and being able to have beautiful sounds at the same time as hearing something that takes you on a journey is the biggest amount of ecstasy. That’s my biggest thing about releasing music that’s so personal and close to me. I just want to take people on that ride.

There’s this relationship between the last two tracks on the EP - ‘Swim’ and ‘Outro’ - where you talk about swimming to conform to some norm. ‘Outro’ even sonically feels very spacious and deep watered. Could you expand on the symbolism in swimming in this context?

Swimming in my head when I was writing, is moreso like conforming, “How about I just swim until my feet no longer hit the ground” - it’s meant to be getting away from yourself and conforming to the point where you don’t know who you are anymore, you’re just being like everyone else to fit in, just to be comfortable because that’s what everyone else it. And if you’re different you’re uncomfortable, you’re outcasted. Sinking is basically just really going under, but then when you’re not swimming or sinking that’s when you can be your full self, unapologetically.

And is that what ‘Outro’ is about? Not swimming, not sinking, but just being who you are?

Yeah that’s exactly it.

Next month you’re heading out on your debut headline tour, which is selling out by the minute. What can fans expect to see from you at these shows?

I think I’m going to be super excited! I can’t wait to meet everyone! That’s going to be really fucking sick to see these people that want to see me. I feel like I should buy a ticket to go, to pay to see these people. Definitely expect me to be super into it. I’m going to get really raw and honest. If audiences allow, I want to explain the songs before I sing them. Sadly, It’s just going to be a solo tour this time around. Brisbane and Gold Coast are going to have the band. But I’m still going to give it everything I have, and it’s going to be so much fun. And just expect a lot of beers!

And the most important question of all: where do you keep your tomato sauce; in the fridge or cupboard?

I keep it in the fridge personally because when you want tomato sauce on something that’s hot, the coolness cools it down. I get that it's a super diverse question and people really are passionate about it, as am I, and I don't hold back. I keep it in the fridge, and I’m not sorry about it.

Hope D 'Cash Only' Tour

Fri 12 March - The Triffid - Brisbane

Sat 13 March - Miami Marketta - Gold Coast

Fri 19 March - The Workers Club - Melbourne

Sat 20 March - Grace Emily Hotel - Adelaide

Fri 26 March - The Hamilton Station Hotel - Newcastle

Sat 27 March - Waywards - Sydney

Sun 28 March - La La La's - Wollongong

You can find Hope D on Facebook / Instagram / Spotify / Unearthed