Sure, Lara Hope has a crackerjack band that knows how to flood a dancefloor with its cool, custom bop and swing. And The Ark-Tones know where the traditions stand as they forge fresh tracks to avoid the mildew and clutter. But what'll grab you and won't let go is Hope's creamy contralto. Whereas a lot of her contemporaries lead off with a gutsy snarl or hillbilly twang, Hope croons.
Hope won the 2017 Ameripolitan Award for Best Female Rockabilly Artist, but The Ark-Tones are so much more than a rockabilly band, mixing its own rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues with appreciative glimpses in the rearview. Still, I'm telling you, it's that voice. Hope could read from the Old Testament or a phonebook and make it sound sexy.
The Hudson Valley-based band has put out two albums in its 10 years on the scene and is really starting to make a dent. A European tour is slated for the upcoming year as well as dates in the US supporting the Reverend Horton Heat.
CITY spoke with Hope to discuss it all: community theater, keeping it fresh, and being more than just a rockabilly band. An edited transcript follows.
CITY: Marti Brom, Nikki Hill, Candye Kane, Rosie Flores, Kim Lenz, and now Lara Hope. Give me a little history. What got you started? Is there one moment etched in your mind?
Lara Hope: First of all, I'm flattered to be included in that sentence with those women who I admire so much. OK, where to start? Well, I came out of my mom's womb singing a Dolly Parton song, with a full head of hair. Just kidding — the hair part is true, though. I do remember my first out of school performance: it was a community theater production of "Oliver" the musical. Since I didn't have boobs yet at the age of 9, I got the role of Oliver, a little boy. I'll never forget coming out to take my bow at curtain call, and the applause I got from the audience gave me such an amazing and thrilling feeling. I think I was hooked on show business at that moment.
I played in punk rock and hard rock bands in my early 20's, and was asked to front a traditional rockabilly band around 2008, 2009. I felt like I really found my voice when I started singing and writing roots music.
You recently won an Ameripolitan Award; how was that?
Just attending the Ameripolitan Awards, let alone winning, was one of the best experiences of my life. To be a part of something bigger than yourself, but somewhere that you feel you belong — as a part of a movement that is so important to you — is just beyond words. They don't tell you that you've won until they call your name, and put your face on that big screen, and you've got to get up there and make a speech in front of a packed Paramount Theater, of people you respect and look up to. Now that is nerve-wracking and amazing.
Is it important for you to listen to the legends to keep it pure, or do you avoid them to keep your sound fresh?
I listen to it all. At this point in time, I'd say that I probably listen to equal parts contemporary music and traditional, older, legends kind of stuff. There's a lot of great roots music coming out right now, here and internationally. Most of it is influenced in some way by the old stuff, but there are definitely some fresh sounds and new takes on an old sound that's happening — which is what we are aiming to do: put a new spin on something familiar.
We've been described as "neo-rockabilly" and "pan-Americana," which are titles that I can get behind. There was a rawness and a novel beauty in a lot of the older stuff that is charming and honest. It's important to me to hold on to some of that, and not forget to keep it simple sometimes.
Are you just a rockabilly band?
Heck no. In fact, we've actually been starting to shy away from calling ourselves a rockabilly band, and using the term "roots rock 'n' roll" instead. I think that gives a more accurate sense of what we do. Sure, we play rockabilly music, but we also play rhythm and blues, country, jazz, and have even been called "punkabilly." I'll never break up with rockabilly, but we like to push our musical boundaries and let the music go where it needs to.
What is an irreplaceable component in your band?
My husband, Matt. Really though, it's hard to find a great upright bass player around here, so, when I found one, I married him.
What's something you and the band want to do but haven't done yet?
Touring Europe, but that is happening for the first time in April. We will be spending the month in Belgium and Holland. We've got 30 shows booked in 30 days there. I just hope we come home in one piece.
I heard a tour with the Rev Horton Heat is happening this year.
It's true. We are very excited to be spending two weeks on the road this June with The Rev and Big Sandy.
What are you most proud of?
Some people say that success is being able to support yourself by doing something that you love. While we live very modestly, and are definitely toward the bottom of the financial ladder, I am able to pay my bills by playing music and have done so for the past 6 years. Anything that happens after this is icing on the cake.