Photograph by Jesse Kate Kramer
“HOPE HITS LONDON’S MUSIC SCENE”
Written by Candice McMillan
THE SOUTH AFRICAN, APRIL 2013
Award-winning South African pianist and vocal artist Shannon Hope will be making her mark on the London music scene this April.
Shannon Hope has left many an audience awed by her soul-stirring lyrics, powerful vocal performances and musical mastery of the keyboard. She has been described as “thrilling, enthralling, endearing and awe-inspiring performer” and having seen her perform myself, I would have to agree.
With two full-length studio albums already in circulation and years of well-earned stage experience under her belt, Miss Hope brings something definitely worth hearing. I had the opportunity to chat to Shannon about her music and upcoming London tour.
For those who may not have heard your records before, describe your music in a sentence.
I often say that my music falls within the “honest” genre, and while that doesn’t really describe a sound, it captures the essence of what my show and my music is about.
What do you have in store for your London audience? What can people expect from a Shannon Hope show?
This is my first solo tour to London and I’m excited to introduce my music to a new audience. When I perform solo, the tracks are showcased in their raw form, as they were initially written; with just piano and vocals, so it’s very much about the music and what the songs communicate. It allows me to really explore the boundaries of songwriting and engage in authentic and raw intimacy with an audience. The songs are lyrically-focussed and fall within the singer-songwriter genre, with some elements of pop/rock sneaking in once in a while.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the music of your current album, Fight A New Day.
I write from personal experience – my view of love, life and everything in between, so my albums generally tell the story of my life as it progresses. I often refer to my two albums as the “broken heart” and “fixed heart” albums, but essentially Fight A New Day is chapter two. There is a lot about love and loss and moving on, but in chapter two there’s also a lot about believing in yourself and fighting for what you want and who you are.
Who are some of your favourite artists? Is there anyone in particular that has been a relevant influence for you?
I was trained classically and that has definitely left its mark on a lot of my writing. I grew up listening to greats like Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, and then shifted focus to artists like Muse and Skunk Anansie. Skin from Skunk Anansie is my greatest vocal inspiration, and there is a wide range of artists who have stumbled across my path and left an imprint on who I’ve become as a songwriter, probably the most notable being Fiona Apple, and more recently Regina Spektor. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of blues which seems to be pushing me in a new direction in my writing, but I’m still figuring out what that direction is.
What’s the most frequently played music on your iPod?
At this moment, it’s only playing The Black Keys…
Where did music start for you?
I started piano when I was six, and was apparently singing before I could talk, so music has always been a part of who I am and was always going to be what I pursued as a lifestyle. I studied music through high school and did my grades in piano through Trinity College, before joining my first band in 1998. I started a rock band 2 years later and was involved in a few different musical incarnations before going back to my roots as a piano-based songwriter and launching my solo career in 2009.
So what’s it like being a South African artist carving a path in the music industry?
I would imagine it’s quite similar to pursuing a career in music anywhere in the world, and I certainly didn’t start out with false hopes that it was ever going to be an easy task. Any dream pursuit has its challenges, and most musicians I know are only able to pursue their music after hours because they rely on ‘day jobs’ to pay the bills, but that’s not a reality limited to South Africa. I’ve been working in this industry since 1998 and have seen so many changes during that time – some good, some damaging – but it’s certainly never dull!
Describe a typical day in the life of a full-time muso.
Every day is different, which is one of the things I love about this job. I’m self-managed at this point, so have to split a lot of my time between music and the admin of it. On tour, days are broken up into driving, marketing, performing, meetings, networking, press interviews, and a little bit of touristy exploring whenever possible. When I’m off tour, I’m generally planning tours, marketing, researching new opportunities, and writing or rehearsing as much as I can (although never as much as I would like).
What would you ultimately like to achieve musically; what would make you feel you’ve ‘made it’?
To make a reasonable living off music in South Africa doesn’t happen often, and I’ve become quite stubborn in my efforts to prove that it’s possible without compromising who I am as an artist. It’s been interesting finding the balance between what I’m willing to compromise and what I’m not, but my goal has always been to tell my story in a way that connects to the world very honestly, and I hope that I can continue to do that while developing and maintaining a sustainable career. Ultimately I’m a musician. That’s who I’ve always been, and all I ever want to be. I don’t really think of the concept of ‘making it’ as an end goal, but rather as a process of realising various dreams along the way.
Do you have any wise words for aspiring musicians?
I would say the same thing to anyone who wanted to pursue any dream. If you want to be something, if you want to do something, you should go and do that. You get one chance to do this life thing. If you waste your time and energy doing things you hate so that you have enough money to continue living a life you essentially hate, then you’re wasting your life. Make a decision about how much you’re willing to compromise in the pursuit of your dream, and give yourself a chance to see if you can make it work. As hard as the fight can be, I’m happier knowing that I’m doing everything I can to be who I want to be, living the life that I want to live.
You can catch Shannon Hope live at The Troubadour (18 April 2013), The Bedford (25 April 2013), The Regal Room (26 April 2013) and Gallery Cafe (27 April 2013).