Cool comes easy for 20-something-year-old Hope Tala. “Straight out of the 90s/Definition of brown sugar/Hand on your thigh when I am driving downtown with you,” she sings on “Crazy”. Her unique US-inspired RnB-meets-Bossa Nova style conjures warm California dreams, with opulent visuals to match. But for the London-based singer-songwriter, oozing style comes secondary to building a connection with and creating art for her audience.
It’s been a rough year, but in November, Tala released her third body of work, Girl Eats Sun (2020), a triumphant, stylish soft-pop EP with an intention that rivals poetry. It’s no accident, of course, since the singer has a degree in English Literature and spent a handful of years burying herself in studies while simultaneously pursuing her musical passions. The result: artistic flare to boot.
Although effortlessly cool and intelligently crafted – track five from the EP, “Crazy”, is a drop-top drive under a molten, golden sun – Tala has more importantly made an essential EP for LGBTQ+ listeners, because Girl Eats Sun is an assertion of queer confidence and vibrant art. It’s not just the demanding strings or a twist of Bossa Nova that enriches Hope Tala’s music, but her flare for the dramatic – see “All My Girls Like To Fight”.
Summery Latin-inspired pop eloquently contrasts effortless Sylvia Plath-inspired lyricism to create what can only be described as colourful queer melodrama – “I think if I listened to Mulholland while walking through snow, I’d still feel like I was on a beach in 30-degree heat,” she tells us. Though the EP is Tala’s third body of work, it affirms itself as a defiant entrance with an exciting and fresh flourish.
To follow the release of Girl Eats Sun, House of Solo spoke with Tala about the vibrant collection, the push to create a concept EP and how she hopes to generate emotional impact with her art.
Hi Hope! How are you?
Hi! I’m doing well, thank you – all things considered!
Where are you at the minute? What’s keeping you busy?
I’m at home in London. I’ve been writing, going for walks, reading a lot. Spending time with my family and enjoying the release process with this EP.
Yes! Let’s talk about your triumphant body of work, Girl Eats Sun. What inspired the project? How do you feel now that it’s out in the world?
I feel great about it being out! It feels like it’s been a long time coming. Love tends to be the main inspiration for my lyrics, and this EP is no exception. Sonically it’s rare that I can pinpoint where exactly I’ve been inspired and how it has translated. “Drugstore” is an exception – it’s the only song I wrote during the lockdown, and I was listening to a lot of soft music because I felt very overwhelmed. My music palette shifted for sure, and I think that’s clear in the song. I was listening to “Cayendo” and “Dear April” by Frank Ocean a lot; Skullcrusher’s EP that came out this year; “Session 32” by Summer Walker and “Dialing Drunk” by Ethan Gruska.
I love that you can sense your appreciation for art and literature in the project. The lyrics are vibrant and poetic, while the cover art is an illustrative, surrealist masterpiece – the work of artist Stephen Gibb. Was there any specific art and literature that heavily influenced Girl Eats Sun?
Thank you! For the artwork I just knew I wanted something bold and colourful because I thought that would reflect the music well. The stories in this project are quite vivid I think, and I wanted the artwork to highlight that, which is what drew me to Stephen’s work. Literature-wise, I have a lot of influences for sure and it tends to take a while for me to be able to see after writing a song how those influences have manifested. I’ve realised that there’s a big [Sylvia] Plath influence in “Cherries”, for example.
Despite its thematic ties to the earth and sun, the EP feels almost untethered, surreal and dreamlike, particularly on “Drugstore”. Was this atmosphere intentional?
I definitely write with intention, but usually my only intention is just to write a good song that I love. It feels quite innate to me – I start writing a song based on however I’m feeling or what I’m drawn to that day and either I like it or I don’t. Then I chuck the songs together in an order that makes sense to me. So, things like atmosphere become a by-product of however I’m feeling or what I’m experiencing.
The EP also features cathartic, warm, gentle melodies that contrast with the wintry lockdown we’re experiencing in the UK. Was this contrast a conscious choice?
Most of the EP was written before the lockdown and before winter. I released it in November more because of logistical reasons than for conceptual ones. But hopefully one or two of the songs will make people feel sunny and happy wherever they are! I think if I listened to Mulholland while walking through snow, I’d still feel like I was on a beach in 30-degree heat.
I sense the presence of both UK and US pop in your work. What artists or locations have really shaped your sound and lyricism over the years?
While there are a lot of UK artists I listen to and love, to me [tracks like] “Mulholland” feel way more influenced by American R&B music. Maybe it feels UK-influenced because of my accent, which is quite clear in this song because the verses are more spoken or rap like. I have so many musical influences. I always cite Lauryn Hill as a big one, Justin Timberlake for sure, Everything But The Girl, Fiona Apple, Amerie, Brandy, Lianne La Havas – to name but a few! I listen to way too much music man.
You worked with artists sky and Animé on “Mullholland” and “Cherries”, respectively – how did you find this collaborative process?
sky and I wrote “Mulholland” long before lockdown, when no-one had even heard the word coronavirus. I wrote “Cherries” long before lockdown as well, but Aminé added his verse during lockdown. I guess we’re all very lucky to have access to technology! In general, I’m so honoured to have worked with two artists that I really love on this project. They both add so much more to the songs than I could’ve ever given alone.
The EP is inventive and conceptual – was it hard to push yourself to achieve such a feat during such a strange year?
It was, at times. Finishing everything remotely and getting mixes and all the visual aspects done was mentally quite a struggle this year. I’ve just tried to see it all in a positive light – understanding that I‘ve been so lucky to have had such a rewarding project to focus on that I love and believe in.
Do you have any personal favourites from the EP?
I’m going to be annoying and say every song is a standout for me. I’m sorry! “Mulholland” easily contains my favourite melodies I’ve ever written. “Cherries” and “All My Girls Like To Fight” are the two I’m proudest of lyrically. “Drugstore” is special because it’s the most vulnerable song I’ve ever written, and I don’t have anything to hide behind in the production. My favourite songs to listen to always have catchy fun choruses, and “Crazy” has that. I can’t listen to “Easy To Love Me” without tearing up at the strings. I truly love all these songs with all my heart.
You say music is the most impactful tool for you to make a difference. What impact do you hope Girl Eats Sun has on its listeners?
I just hope my music can make people feel more connected to themselves and whatever they’re experiencing. We’re living in crazy times and people are really struggling right now with so many things. More than ever it’s important to create art and give people access to it so they can have better access to themselves and their emotions.
I might be jumping the gun a little bit, but can we expect an album is in the works for next year?
An album will hopefully be coming out next year. I’ve been working on it for a while now. All I’ll say is that I’m enjoying the process, trying to craft good stories and doing what feels right.