Hope D drops debut EP ‘Cash Only’: “I find a lot of beauty in massive exaggeration”

The Brisbane singer-songwriter talks to NME about amplifying her emotions in her lyrics, forming an all-female, all-queer band, and more

Today (February 5), Hope D releases her debut EP ‘Cash Only’ – a collection of seven songs that could be described as exaggeratedly honest. As the Brisbane singer-songwriter born Hope Defteros tells NME, she mines her own life and experiences for inspiration, blowing out the emotion to craft indie rock songs that pack a punch.

On ‘Cash Only’ – named for the nail art her tattoo artist had at Hope’s first post-COVID appointment – the 21-year-old is bracingly open about dark chapters and pivotal moments in her life. Hope sings about a gambling addiction she developed as a teenager (‘Addict’ – which is getting a music video, out soon), coming to terms with her sexuality amid a conservative upbringing (her debut single ‘Swim’) and the hollow numbness of losing yourself in wild nights out over and over (‘Second’, which came in at number 69 in triple j’s Hottest 100 of 2020).

Though Hope recorded most of the EP herself, with the help of producer Hugh Middleton, she has assembled a four-piece backing band to flesh out her live sound. They might join Hope D for her first headline interstate gigs on a national tour in March – which has already had to add new shows since it was announced in January.

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Stream ‘Cash Only’ below and read on for our interview with Hope about being a responsible but bold songwriter, keeping her career independent and more.

What’s your process when it comes to writing a song?

Obviously, all the songs on the EP are about very different things to each other. But most of the time, I start off with lyrics that come to me when I’m experiencing those situations, and then I write them down. And then later on, when I find chords to go with them, I’ll finish the song. Basically, I write how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking, and I exaggerate things a lot, because I find a lot of beauty in massive exaggeration. And especially comparing how you’re feeling to very extreme ways and very dark things. I think that’s kind of cool to, you know, just really blast it and say that you’re feeling things way more intensely. So it’s mostly like that. I take what I’ve been feeling and exaggerate it and put it to a song.

Has that sort of exaggeration gotten you in any trouble with some of the people that you’ve written songs about?

Yeah, definitely. I think there’s been a few situations. The Brisbane music scene is very communal, so when you’re out at gigs and stuff, there’s going to be people that you’ve written songs about, or been inspired by. So I always try to say, “This is very exaggerated!” I try to say that on stage. “This is a very amplified version of how I was actually feeling.” I try to make sure that people know that I’m not actually feeling things that intensely. Just in case it does hurt people’s feelings.

“I don’t want to jeopardise what I want to write about because I know that someone might hear it, because that’s putting the art in a bad situation”

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Has having to face the people who could inspire your songs given you any thought on how songwriters have to be responsible in terms of what they say?

Yeah, absolutely. I always looked at artists, like Taylor Swift, for example. And imagine all the people that she had written songs about: what’s their reaction? The biggest thing for me is I don’t want anyone to feel upset or hurt by that kind of thing. So, it is something that I’m conscious about. And especially being from Brisbane, and everyone is so supportive and connected.

It’s very hard – I don’t want to hold back, though, that’s the biggest thing for me. I don’t want to jeopardise what I want to write about because I know that someone might hear it, because that’s putting the art in a bad situation, if you know what I mean. So I kind of try to just do it regardless. And at the same time, try to tiptoe around hurting people’s feelings.

I know you do live looping. Is that something you do mainly when you’re performing? Or is it also how you write songs, like when you’re demoing stuff?

That’s definitely how I write songs. It’s so amazing to be able to loop chords and then find melodies on the guitar. I do it live as well, and it makes the performance bigger than a solo performance with just a guitar. But it’s nothing compared to [playing] with a band, because, you know, I noticed that when I got the band together, I could change chords and I could change dynamics. Whereas when I’m looping, it’s just one volume, and one loop and then the other one, just two battles going back and forth. But it’s amazing. That’s how I write all my songs as well, just to find melodies and loop the chords, so I don’t have to focus on my hands, and I can write lyrics to that. So it’s a really fun thing to do.

That’s helpful. Like, you can just let it go and then just vibe over it.

Yeah, yeah, that’s it.

When did you put together your band? And I think I saw in photos, that you have an all-female band?

Yeah, I do. My first song that came out as Hope D was called ‘Swim’. And it came out in May 2019, so two years ago now. So up until that point, I was really skeptical about getting a band together, because I just really liked doing it all myself. Because, you know, I could change it on the spot and that kind of thing. But then I was like, “Nah, this song needs that drum beat and the song needs that guitar riff and, the dynamics and harmonies and stuff”.

So I was like, okay, but if I’m going to do a band, it’s going to be all female, all women, we’d have five people and they would have to be queer. Just to like, push that minority to the front. And we did that. They’re incredible, and we have so much fun together. And you know, we do all the big band gigs together and I still do some solo gigs every now and then, if they’re not available, or if I’m requested to be solo, but yeah, that’s how we got together.

What have you learned about yourself as a soloist, over the past few years of being a musician?

Oh, man. I think the biggest thing is if I’m happy with how I’ve played on stage, then reactions shouldn’t matter. Because I found that, being really new to the music scene when I was 18, I let a lot of reactions get to me. It was very easy to just be disheartened by the crowd not going crazy. And putting your songs out there is so scary. You’re literally taking your journal and your diary and just showing everyone: ‘this is how I feel and this is what I think’. So I’ve learned to just know that if I’m happy with it, that’s all that matters.

And I’ve also learned that [in terms of] the way that I record and the way that I want to do things – I want to continue being independent, as well. It’s a big thing for me, just so I can have my hands over everything, apart from my booking agent and my manager. They’re incredible. I like being able to collaborate with other local artists as well. Photographers, filmmakers, everything in between. That’s really cool. And the fact that I am independent means that’s still up to me. So it’s really cool to be able to include everyone that’s around me that’s at the same level as me, and we can grow together. So I love doing that.

So, coming to specific songs. On ‘Second’ you use this rapping-like cadence on the bridge, which is also a really powerful part of the song. How did you land on that delivery?

If you know Hobo Johnson, he’s a huge inspiration for me. The way he sings and spits words and delivers his lyrics are almost cynical. And he just adds different meanings to every word that he says in the way that he says it. I just think it’s incredible. So he’s the biggest influence in that bridge part for that song. The words and the lyrics in that song, for the bridge part, they go: “I call everyone legend, instead of their name / Cuz I just keep forgetting / There’s no cells left in my brain”. And then it touches on seconds, minutes, hours, days, years.

It’s just like a crescendo of how the more that you do something, even if it’s really little – like a drop of water on your head – it may not be a lot, but the more that it happens, the more annoying it gets and the bigger the effect it has on you. So it’s just like, sure, I’d have a drunken night every now and then. But the more that I had them, they just had a massive impact, and you just lose what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. And that’s the biggest thing I wanted in that bridge to show: how insane I was feeling. That’s why there’s a cuss in it, like the F-word. I love having that massive break out in a song.

And on ‘Swim’, you’re talking about your experiences with homophobia and there’s this line: “They keep saying I’m breaking the Lord’s plan.” Did you grow up in a restrictive religious environment? What’s the story behind that?

I went to a Christian school, and we had a subject there that was Christian education. And I don’t think I ever actually heard one of my teachers say it, but a lot of my peers’ teachers in different classes would blatantly say “A man laying with another man is a sin” and “A woman and a woman is a sin”. It’s just not on at all. They kind of drilled that into us.

And also, the environment that I grew up in, not that it was like, totally homophobic with my family and everything, but it was just not talked about. If anything was frowned upon, so that was very pushed on me. So that’s where that comes from, the whole concept of religion. And yeah, that part, like, how is it a sin? And me actually understanding like, why is it a sin, not actually questioning it – and then just believing that it is a sin. And then finally being like, no, but it’s what feels right for me, then why have I been taught that? So it was a very interesting realisation for me.

Were you spiritual or religious up to that point? Or was it always an environment that you just grew up in?

It was definitely an environment. I definitely do it now, too. Like, I just have the personality where if someone tells me something, I just go with it straight away. If you said to me, “Hey, your favourite colour is blue”. I’d be like, “Yeah, it is blue”. And then I’d just be like, oh, and then I’d question it after. I have that very sponge-like personality, where I just absorb things, and then I question it later. So I definitely just didn’t even double think it – I was probably homophobic all up until I realised that I was gay. And I was like, oh, what am I doing? Like, I’m literally internalising this and being hateful for no reason. And just so I can fit in.

And then when I realised how scary it was to be the minority and come out and have people feel that way towards me – it’s horrifying. It’s terrifying. It’s scary, but how could I live any other way? And how could I live hating people that are who I am, and just hating the fact that they have that ability to be themselves because it’s such a huge and scary, scary thing? But luckily, today, I’m in a completely different environment. And it’s just so incredible, being surrounded by such loving and open people.

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