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A Dirty Dozen with HOPE DUNBAR – April 2021

| 8 April 2021 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “Nebraska-based Americana-folk singer-songwriter Hope Dunbar released her new album, Sweetheartland, on April 2, 2021. Recorded in Nashville before the pandemic hit, it’s her second full-length, and it was produced by Zack Smith (one-half of the celebrated duo Smooth Hound Smith), Jesse Thompson, and Dunbar herself. Sweetheartland takes listeners om a journey through stories lifted from everyday routine and secret dreams.” We get Hope to discuss new music, influences, and more…

Photo Credit: Karyn Rae Photography

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

My latest release is called Sweetheartland, and I think the title may be misconstrued at first. It might lead the listener to think all’s well on the plains. However, I think listeners who know my past work, will know to listen for the frustration and the hurt. It’s in there. No matter how sweet, there’s darker, sadder things in the shadows all the time.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

I have always dreamed of becoming a rock and roll superstar since forever. I wanted to be Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, one of the Go-Gos, one of the Bangles – I’m mean, who didn’t? While I was working on my eyeliner skills and big hair, I was practicing piano, taking voice lessons, singing in the choir, doing all the things a normal 5th grader does who loves music. Fast forward to two years AFTER I aged out of “American Idol” auditions (you couldn’t be older than 28 at one time), and I started playing guitar and writing my own songs. Since I can remember, I’ve always loved music and making music. It wasn’t until I started writing songs that I discovered who I was really meant to be as a musician. Somehow the universe knew my hair was already big enough and that eyeliner was optional for living an amazing life in music, and I must say I think I’m having Cyndi Lauper-type fun right now.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

I always answer this question with “Darrell Scott.” He’s been a huge influence on me, but to add more to that thing about my own musical taste, I’m really inspired by musicians who are very openly and honestly embracing their writer’s voice and leaning in to their truest musical identity. That is so inspiring. I’m really interested in being the most Hope Dunbar I can be, loving the sounds and creativity of other artists, but committed to my own voice and my own vision above all. Any time I get a chance to see a performer who is doing that same thing with their work is fantastically inspiring.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

Darrell Scott, Patty Griffin, Kris Kristofferson, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen.

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

Oh boy. Ya know who I’ve been thinking of lately? I’ve been thinking of Buddy Miller. That guy rules. I think his brain and my brain together would cook up some kickass music.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

Well, I know I’ve tried using a combination of the words I think I’m supposed to use to describe it: country/folk/Americana… or maybe it’s Americana/folk/country or co-folk-icana… or something and that never gets the job done. Then I’d say, “Imagine music written by a mildly lonely and sad middle-aged mom from a small town who should be happier than she is.” That. That’s the sound. Have I ever disagreed with a reviewer and how they heard my work? Not really. I know how awesome it is when a reviewer seems to totally click with what I had intended to present. I don’t spend much time thinking about what it’s like when it doesn’t jive.

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a sing-along?

I work with lots of people who have families. As such, we all have really strong, “Can I get you anything?” responses. So, I’d say we all take turns doing the things. For my part, I’d much rather be in charge of the drinks and the sing-along than the cooking. Cooking is not my strong suit.

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

I’m probably forgetting something really significant that happened to me (probably not), but one time I got the chance to get up on stage as a super fan with The Chicks for their finale at their show in Kansas City. There I was, on stage, with The Chicks ten feet in front of me, looking out on a crowd of thousands while pretending to play a tambourine. It was unreal. They turned around and smiled at me like it was no big deal. It was a VERY BIG deal.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

The best part of being a musician is capturing life in song and creating something you hope will live past your own sell-by date. Better than making music is the community that forms around music. My life is so much better and richer because I get to talk songs, write songs, share songs with people who love the work as much as I do. It’s the closest thing to magic that we have. If I weren’t a musician, I’d love to be a professor of Spanish Poetry and Short Stories or a travel tour guide. Let’s walk El Camino de Santiago together. It’ll be awesome.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

Q: Have you ever co-hosted a songwriting podcast? A: Why, yes, it’s called, “Prompt Queens,” where Emily Dunbar and I write new songs for each episode from a prompt and then talk about them. It’s super fun and goofy (and mildly helpful). The question I think that should be tabled might have to be that music influences question. As much as it is foundational to so much of what musicians do and create over a lifetime of songwriting, there comes a point where the writer’s voice outweighs/outgrows the realm of influence, and I think a better word might be “appreciation.” Appreciation then expands the musical scope to include lots of artists who are inspirational and innovative in their work but you might not hear them in the songs that are written. To that question, I’d answer Lauren Hill, OutKast, Wilco, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Todd Snider, Wyclef Jean, Jarabe de Palo, Ketama, Shakira, Aretha Franklin, so many.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

Once I was asked to join Darrell Scott on a festival stage to sing harmony on his legendary hit “It’s a Great Day to be Alive.” I would love to be able to do that over.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

I think hanging around for The Traveling Wilbury’s Volume 1 record would’ve been pretty great. Super group? Making music together because they can? Tom Petty, Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne all sitting on couches listening to playback? I’d hang out there.

BONUS QUESTION – Due to the current world situation with COVID-19 / quarantine / shelter in place, what have you discovered you miss the most from your life before the pandemic struck?

The relationship performers forge with their audiences is deep and true. I miss seeing my friends all across the country. I miss entering into the sacred space that music creates, and that shared moment that’s there and then it’s gone is special and impossible to duplicate in these days. I look forward to getting it back.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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