hope tala interview

Hope Tala

The title (Girl Eats Sun) is adapted from a lyric in ‘Cherries’– ‘sunlight eats your skin.’ When I was considering titles for the project, that lyric really stuck out to me, and the phrase “girl eats sunlight” came into my head, but I wanted the title to be monosyllabic; really punchy, and strong to reflect the music, so I ended up making it Girl Eats Sun. I see it as a paraphrase of ‘if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen’– as the girl eating the sun, I can take the heat, basically.

The title for UK songstress Hope Tala’s new EP, Girl Eats Sun, is a pure embodiment of the energy brought into it. Commitment to herself, and her career path and craft, are what define her newfound strength. There is power within her acknowledgment of her purpose, at least for right now. Though Hope hopes to eventually publish more literary written work, as she has an English Literature degree, right now is the time for her to dive headfirst into the path that chose her, music. 

When you hear a Hope Tala song you are not only struck by a unique rhythmic flavor but how soft yet full her tone is. The effortless melodies and transitions feel similar to other UK vocalists like Corrine Bailey Rae and Lianne La Havas yet with a clear twinge of a more R&B center, driven by main influences like Brandy. Girl Eats Sun evokes a boost in confidence in this steadfast tone with a precision that drives her main intention, the lyrics. 

Undoubtedly, Hope loves words. From reading them to writing them to singing them to analyzing them she can’t seem to get enough. She describes her vocal gifts as solely “a vehicle” for the words she hopes will cut through. On her standout lead single “All My Girls Like To Fight” when you hear lines like, “I wish I could throw the first punch, but purity curbs my tongue,” you immediately understand that not only are her words her prized possessions, but they deserve enhancement through how she sings them and what musically surrounds them. 

We caught up with Hope to discuss all things Girl Eats Sun. To my delight, we dove into even more topics including our mutual adoration of Kendrick Lamar and hip-hop itself. 

For “All My Girls Like To Fight” what was the inspiration for the flamenco/matador vibe for the song and video?
When I was in the studio making that song, we started with some guitar chords and they immediately made me think of suspense and action movies and drama. I really wanted to go down a lane of writing something that was fictional and escapist, but also honest. The director Millicent got that vibe from the song and came up with that whole concept with all the red. I think it speaks so truly to the song.

I hear at least three songs from Girl Eats Sun that are very Latin music centered. Was that intentional?
That was just natural. The same two guys produced those three songs and I think they and I really share a love of Latin music. Also, I’ve always loved R&B music that incorporates Latin guitar, and I think that’s the sound I was trying to create. I’m very particular about my chords and I think that’s why my music has its own cohesive sound. Having a great guitar progression makes writing a song so easy. 

When you said R&B songs with Latin guitar, the first one that came to my mind was “Señorita” by Justin Timberlake. But what are some others?
That’s the first one that came to my mind too! I think a lot of Justin Timberlake’s early music embodies that sound. “Señorita,” but there’s also one called “Still On My Brain” from that album which is kind of similar. I think Justified is an incredible album. That came out when I was a young kid and I became so obsessed. Who else? Some of Ashanti’s stuff. But definitely that early Justin Timberlake. He’s the best performer I’ve seen live hands down.

Ok before I forget, we gotta talk about the rap verse on “All My Girls Like To Fight.” Where’d that come from, and were there any of your favorite rappers you were channeling?
I don’t think so…but I can tell you who I’m really into! I love Kendrick Lamar. He’s my all-time favorite rapper/ may be my favorite artist. I love Aminé. I listen to mostly American rap. But there’s some British rap I love as well, like Loyle Carner and I really like Rejjie Snow. I really like Goldlink. But there’s no one I think that directly influenced it. 

Well, Kendrick is my favorite rapper slash artist too.
He’s just miles ahead of everyone. He just doesn’t fail. He doesn’t have a flop ever. It’s just quality. I want him to put out more music. I heard he’s canned four albums and tossed all of them. He’s got such high expectations for himself I feel like. 

Well, I could talk about this forever, but back to “All My Girls Like To Fight.” Do you actually have girls that will throw down?
Lowkey, I’ve had relationships with people who’ve been in fights. Definitely not with me, but yeah. The whole concept of the song is that I’m the complete opposite type of person. Like I’d never get in a fight and it’s in the lyrics like, “I wish that I could throw the first punch.” I’m not, not confrontational, but I’d never like “throw hands” at someone. 

hope tala interview
photo: Rosie Matheson / press


For the song “Cherries,” my other favorite from the EP, there’s that cool tone switch that happens to a more hip-hop styled drum. How’d that idea come to fruition?
I think David Baca was doing the drums on that song and it was something he included. At first, I was really skeptical about it. But then I remember thinking “I really just wanna experiment with new sounds, and it still sounds like me so why not?” It’s a really new texture to the EP that I have grown to love. It’s a bit different but that’s ok, and it’s become a real turning point for my sound. 

Speaking of your sound, I love how you layer your vocals. Is there a specific way you attack that in the studio?
I think honestly my vocals are so much better on this project then they have been, because the guys who produced most of the songs Baca and Brandon are super classically trained, or they studied jazz or something. They’re such perfectionists so I was in the booth way longer than I have been. Some of my first songs I did one take and I’d be like, “yeah, that’s fine,” because I didn’t know anything about vocal delivery. With these guys, it was a lot of repetition, but it was definitely worth it. It’s them that had ideas for where there needed to be a double or triple vocal take, or where there needed to be harmonies. 

Well, I think you should also give yourself some credit! What about your specific vocal delivery? How do you transfer between your chest and head voice so seamlessly?
It’s funny because I think the thing I’ve always been insecure about with music is my vocal delivery. People think it’s super easy to sing softly and if you have a soft voice with a narrower range than you’re not a good singer. So I think with this EP I’ve tried to get over it and show the fact that I can sing, even though it’s not your typical Beyoncé or Mariah Carey voice. There are a couple of songs on this EP, “Crazy” for example, where there’s a lot of stuff that’s up in the head voice and it’s tricky. But sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. I also think my lyrics just come across better with a softer voice. I think often with a lot of music I listen to, lyrics and meaning can sometimes get lost. So I think that’s something I’ve always been really conscious of. My voice isn’t the main point, the lyrics and the song is the main point, and my voice is just a vehicle.

If there’s one lyric from the EP that really stuck out to me it’s, “I can see your heart beneath your rib cage can you save it for me?” It feels so innately you. Can you speak on the meaning and intention behind it?
I love that lyric! I’m so pleased that was the one that stuck out! It’s very me and even reminds me of the early music I made. When I was writing poetry, even before I started making music, I’d always been intrigued by the body and corporeal elements and themes. In “Cherries” for example, I talk a lot about bones and skin and stuff. That’s always just been a way that I like writing. Something about me is, I find it more difficult to discuss more sexual stuff in my lyrics. I think a lot of music these days, particularly a lot of music I listen to, is very sexual. But I don’t necessarily feel comfortable being so explicit about it. So by talking about corporeal things about the body in a more poetic way is my kind of way of doing it. I think that lyric is a way of talking about the body that’s not super explicit or vulgar, but more beautiful I guess. 

Wow, that’s so specific in a different way than I would’ve expected. That’s really cool. Let’s talk more about the way you think. Can you as simply as possible summarize your To Pimp A Butterfly thesis you wrote for University?
I was looking at how Kendrick discusses white spectatorship. I was arguing he sees the white spectator being both fascinated with and simultaneously fearful of black masculinity. I was looking at the white gaze and how it consumes black masculinity as something that’s to be scared of. It was so long ago now that I wrote that thesis, but I loved it.

hope tala interview
photo: Rosie Matheson / press

Have you done any more academic writing since then?
I still try and write essays and stuff. One of my big aspirations is to publish a book of essays. So hopefully that’ll happen at some point. I really wanna publish something on Pop Culture. When I was at University, I studied English Literature and I would get really angry that music and lyrics aren’t seen as literature. Lyrics are basically poetry with music behind them. I think Kendrick Lamar is an example of someone who’s an incredible writer and poet, as well as an incredible lyricist and rapper. I’m very bent on having music seen that way. I think particularly black music isn’t seen or respected enough in that light. I think rap is such an incredible art form. I think it needs to be seen more as high art and poetry and have that type of merit. 

I have never agreed with anything more. I’ve seen that you said you are inspired by Shakespeare in your writing. But are there any other more modern novelists who inspire you as well?
That’s the thing my friends make fun of me for the most. They’ll read in some article that I’m talking about Shakespeare and rinse me for it! But there’s loads of modern writers that I love. There’s this French writer called Francois Sagan. I’m pretty sure she’s dead, but she wrote in the 20th Century. I don’t speak French but I read her stuff in translation. I love Zadie Smith, who’s a British writer. I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who’s a Nigerian author. Ruth Ozeki who’s a Japanese American-Canadian author. The best book I read this year is Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Those are the main ones. Maya Angelou…Audre Lorde. 

Do any of them also inspire your lyric writing?
They definitely do, but I think it’s kind of indirect and subconscious. I always find that the more that I read the better my lyrics are. I’m not the type of person who hears a lyric in music or hears a chord progression or reads a line of writing and I’m like, “ok let me use that, or adopt that in some way.” Everyone obviously creates art in different ways. But it’s through osmosis that I consume stuff and then expel it. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. However, I would say that Sylvia Plath is one of my all-time favorite authors and her poetry really inspired me to start writing poetry. So I think a lot of my early writing is really informed by her in a more direct way. I was talking to you before about writing about the body in the way that I do and rib cages and skin. She definitely writes like that. Her poetry collection Ariel particularly informed the fact that I write like that. 

As we are talking books, there is one on your cover art for the EP that includes the title Girl Eats Sun with your name enshrined as the author. What is the meaning behind it all?
Stephen Gibb painted it, he’s a really talented Canadian artist. I wanted something very colorful, vivid, and imaginative, which are all words I’d associate with Stephen’s work, and theme-wise he understood what I was going for immediately. There’s a reference to every song on the EP in the artwork, and he included the book in the bottom right corner because he wanted to add something non-music related that’s personal to me, and books are a big part of my life – I wouldn’t be able to write music without the influence of what I’ve read.

Great. Since we were on the path of talking inspiration before. With your vocal runs or riffs that you do, are there any R&B singers who inspire them?
I could talk about this forever. My favorite singer of all time in terms of her voice is Brandy. She’s got the most incredible voice I’ve ever heard. Her album Full Moon I always say is my favorite album of all time. I think Rodney Jerkins produced it and it’s just incredible. Not one person can touch her when it comes to runs. Her recent song with Daniel Caesar, “Love Again,” the runs in that song are absolutely crazy. She’s someone I could never compare to, but I really look up to her in terms of that respect. Who else? Beyoncé, of course. Amerie I really look up to. SZA! You know at the end of her new video that hidden song? The runs in that are ridiculous. It’s called “Good Days” or something. This guy Tone Stith he’s a newer artist and R&B singer, he does incredible runs. 

For sure! So the final question is a two-parter. Here’s part one: What do you hope fans hear in Girl Eats Sun, as far as growth from your last project Sensitive Soul EP?
The main thing is I really hope it stays true to my sound and what people who like my music wanna hear from me, but that it’s becoming more quality. Just evolving a little bit. Kind of the same, but better and a little bit different. 

Then second, how have you personally grown since the last EP dropped to now?
I had a few life changes like leaving education. I was supposed to do my masters and ended up not going. I made a real conscious decision to do music properly. I kind of fell into making music and releasing music. So I think I had to come to a point where I was actually choosing this. That happened just before I made this EP and just after the previous one. I think making that decision made me feel very empowered and I think that comes across in the music. There’s a strength behind my work I think it hasn’t had before.