With International Women’s Day just around the corner, we’re putting a spotlight on the women at Collarts who are sharing their industry expertise and passion with our students. No stranger to the Australian music industry, Performance Forum teacher Ella Hooper is the type of artist to step back and look at the bigger picture. Finding fame at the young age of 14, Ella’s body of work began from the launchpad of successful rock outfit Killing Heidi, leading her to the alt-folk project of the Verses and later, her personal solo project.
With four Arias and several top-ten hits including a number one album and single, her multi-platinum status reflects the integral connection Ella has to the Australian music industry, and how it has been shaped by the powerful women around her. Originally from country Victoria, Ella has her fair share of experiences on tackling festival lineups, performing all over the world in Europe, Asia and the United States. A regular face in media and known for her contribution to SBS’s RocKwiz Live, Ella also co-hosted her own national radio show on the 2Day network, scooping an ACRA (radio award) in her first year. Although it’s clear Ella marches to her own beat, we caught up with her to discuss the echo chamber of people in power and how the industry is changing for the better.
Hi Ella, thanks for chatting with me! You’ve been immersed in the music industry since you were thirteen-years-old. Over the years, how has the Australian music industry and your projects helped define who you are?
It’s definitely had an influence, as I’m sure it does for anyone growing up learning a trade. In a way, because I started so young, I was probably either going to split from it and reject it at some stage or go with it and become what they call, “a lifer.” The latter seems to be the path I’ve chosen. I care passionately about music and artists and their journeys, but the “industry” side of living a life in music life is still a little unresolved for me. I’m hot and cold with it. It’s not a clear-cut business, and it changes so fast. So assume nothing! I guess in terms of defining who I am, it’s given me the chance to know—yes, I’m a songwriter and yes, I’m a performer—it’s in my bones and this stuff is actually what makes me tick. I’d be a different and I suspect more one-dimensional person without it, and I feel very lucky and grateful to do it as my profession.
Many know you as both an ARIA Award-winner and the youngest and first woman to receive an APRA’s Songwriter of the Year Award. Have you ever considered the work you do as revolutionary, and how does it humble you?
Wow! That sentence is very humbling! I know that having examples of unusual success stories is important, as I looked up to several artists myself growing up, thinking if they can do it, I can. I feel humbled for sure to be that for others, if and when I am. I am all for the underdog, the path less traveled and sometimes it means I’ve made interesting career decisions and gone the long—sometimes unbearably long—way round with my career. But it’s all worth it if I can sit in my own integrity and be happy with my contribution. Especially if it inspires others or brings about necessary change and revolution.
“I feel we have way more scope as creative creatures than we allow ourselves to explore. Because fear kicks in. Safety in numbers kicks in. The want for mass acceptance kicks in. But most of my hero’s are mavericks.”
From Killing Heidi to your solo records, there’s a deeply personal element in your songwriting. Have you always found strength in vulnerability?
Yes! Definitely. The crux of the band Killing Heidi and even what the name was about owning and accepting not being the perfect, the model, the ideal, but finding your own kind of strength, your own kind of beauty, being your own kind of ideal. I don’t love cookie cutter anything. I feel we have way more scope as creative creatures than we allow ourselves to explore. Because fear kicks in. Safety in numbers kicks in. The want for mass acceptance kicks in. But most of my hero’s are mavericks. Odd bods. Genuine marching-to-the-beat-of-my-own-drum types, who just do their thing regardless of trend or fortune. Not that there’s anything wrong with being trendy or fortunate, I just believe you’ll have a way better time and create a truly powerful energy when the wheel of trend and fortune comes round to shine its light on you and you really are doing your thing. That’s cool. And trust me that wheel is always turning. Stick with it! I’m very comfortable being open and sharing my imperfections. Vulnerability and taking the risk to look like an idiot… I think that’s the key to a good performance. Well, an entertaining performance anyway!
“Being a feminist to me simply means no one should be disadvantaged. No one should be less safe, less heard, less respected, less anything due to their gender.”
You’re incredibly passionate about gender equality in the music industry, including being involved in One For One and The Victorian Women’s Trust. What does “the future is gender equality” mean to you?
Yes! Well, there is The Future Is Female slogan that’s been kicking around for a while, but in my mind, we’re almost up around the corner where the patriarchy has been dismantled and all are truly equal. No need for women to be on top or men to be on top: we’re all smart and evolved enough to take every single person on their merits; no matter the package they come in or chose to present. I understand that we’re not there yet— nowhere near it in fact. So The Future Is Female is necessary and great work, and it’s why we should all be feminists. The Future Is Gender Equality is the slogan of the Victorian Women’s Trust (VWT), who I am incredibly proud to sit on the board of and work with. They are an incredible, money-where-their-mouth-is type of feminist organisation who I urge everyone to check out! Being a feminist to me simply means no one should be disadvantaged. No one should be less safe, less heard, less respected, less anything due to their gender. It’s really so simple… until you realise most of the world has been set up in a very different way and those that have been benefiting off these long-held structures of society—restrictive, unfair, shitty ones—don’t wanna see them go because of money, power, fear… I could go on.
Conversations around feminism and the music industry are starting to inspire change. What positive changes are you already seeing in the industry, and how can people in positions of power use their platforms for change?
It’s absolutely undeniable something is happening. Change is front and center and I’m seeing some incredibly positive stuff. From the Gen Y set utilising hashtags and t-shirts to raise awareness, to the projects I’ve seen launched this year addressing gender imbalance in the fields of audio engineering and production, it’s been a massive time of action. I think the number one thing you can do is be more aware. The action will be different for everyone, but challenge your old or automatic ways of thinking: for example, ask yourself, is there any gender diversity or diversity of any kind in this lineup? Reach a little further, try a little harder to make connections and support people coming through who are deserving but may not have had opportunities. I would love to see some female CEOs of big record companies. Many indies are run wildly successfully by women, but hardly any of the big old school ones are. And they can be real harbingers of nasty, old, outmoded, ageist, sexist ways. The music industry can do better, and be better. Let’s try putting a few women in real positions of power and see what trickles down.
“Inspiration loves commitment and talent loves to practice, even if you don’t!”
You’re always one to interact with your fans—and even students—online. As a Performance Forum Teacher at Collarts, what are you hoping to inspire in the next generation of singer-songwriters?
Mainly to find your own unique voice and back it. Have fun with the search for it. Take on roles and try things fearlessly until you find it, then be okay with it changing when it changes. Let it mutate. If you’ve already found it, go go go on with your honing and exploration of it. I believe in one simple trick with music: Just Don’t Stop. Have breaks when needed, but come back to it. Inspiration loves commitment and talent loves to practice, even if you don’t!
This International Women’s Day, what Australian artists will you be listening to?
Mojo Juju, Kira Puru, Tanzer, The Sugar Fed Leopards, Miss Destiny, NUN, Aldous Harding and the sexy new single by Gena Rose Bruce, it’s soooo good.
Want to be connected to the industry? Check out our 2018 study options at Collarts and get hands-on through exclusive opportunities.