BORN in California in 1975, singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop grew up in a Mormon family which she broke away from as a teenager. She made music from an early age and was given a big leg up in the industry by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, whose children she nannied. She has since released four albums including last year’s Memories Are Now. Hoop told EDWIN GILSON about missing the US, the “excruciating” songwriting process and her religious upbringing

I don’t suppose you’ve been to Lewes before, have you?

No, and actually I wasn’t sure how it was pronounced. There are a good many smaller nooks I haven’t been to in England, and this is one of them.

You’ve lived in Manchester for a decade. How long did it take for you feel at home in the UK?

Gosh, that’s a hard question. In some ways I feel at home and some I don’t. Can a California girl ever get used to this rain? And the drinking culture. I find that people do everything with alcohol – they don’t tend to do much without it. I wasn’t used to that, but I am now.

You’ve spoken about the outdoorsy California life you had growing up. Do you ever pine for a more rural existence now?

Absolutely. I’ve been dreaming of being in Redwood forests. One thing I don’t like in Manchester is the landscape is flat. I’m from a place where trees grow and the ocean is an everpresent – I miss that diverse landscape.

Can you envisage a time when you might move back to the US?

Yeah, definitely, and probably sooner than later. I struggle with the idea of moving back there at the moment because of the administration there.

You’ve said that you have an “identity crisis” every time you write a collection of songs. Was it the same for Memories Are Now?

The writing process has peaks and troughs – it can be quite aggravating. A song doesn’t exist and then it does exist, and the part where it doesn’t exist can be excruciating.

Why was there such a gap between your last record in 2012 and Memories Are Now?

Well, for people who just consume music...there’s a lot more to it than they might think. Where do your vegetables come from? It’s like that with music. There’s a whole world of activity that happens behind the creation of music. If a consumer understood the amount that goes into it maybe they would support it more.

How do you mean?

Paying for it and valuing it. There’s a real engine that goes behind releasing a record every two years. I bring this up because there are all sorts of misconceptions. I’m going to stick with my vegetable analogy.

Is your music on Spotify?

It is. You have to move with the times and streaming is the best case scenario at the moment in terms of supporting the makers of the music. I’m happy to adapt.

I was interested in a line from the title track of the album: “I’ve lived enough life, I’ve earned my stripes, clear the way I’m coming through”. There seems to be a mix of single-mindedness and world-weariness there.

It’s probably something that most people feel. To some degree I intended it to mean that you have stake your claim. First you decide what you’re going to do and then you tell the world around you and then you have to navigate the response to that.

You were writing music before you worked as a nanny for Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, but did their encouragement make you believe you could make a career out of it?

My idea of making music for a living came around that time, just before that, and it was just a happy coincidence or magical alignment that they came through to give me a view on that.

Did they give you specific musical advice or was it more moral support?

I don’t speak about them any more, to be honest with you. That’s all I have to say about that.

Was there any alternative career plan to music?

If I had got the knack for planning earlier in my life, well...that would have been helpful.

You talk about the pitfalls of religion in your recent song The Coming and you’ve spoken about how restrictive you found Mormonism to be. How difficult were those years after leaving the church?

Firstly, The Coming is about hoping to gather more people away from structured religion and getting them to see how deeply flawed those organisations are. It was easy and hard to break away [from the Mormon church]. It was a lot of fun to get out and see the world.

It’s also frightening because you have to rid yourself of the beliefs that have been ingrained into you. The brainwashing that happens from when you are very little is no joke. I wasn’t in a cult, I was in a mainstream religious community, but there’s an indoctrination that goes on. You have these ideas that are very controlling.

How long did it take for you fully break away from the ideas you were brought up with?

It was a very natural thing. My parents were splitting up and at the same time I met one of my favourite people in the world whose parents were atheists. There was a crack in the infrastructure of my foundation which I had to get through and see a new view. I announced to my family I was leaving. I’d say it took a good 15, 20 years to clean it all out and I don’t know I’ve even cleaned it now. It’s a big nut to chew. Let’s not talk about that any more – I’m going to put my foot in my mouth.

Jesca Hoop
Lewes Con Club, January 31, 7.30pm. For tickets and more information visit