Interview: Tom Waits for Californian singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop

Jesca Hoop

Jesca Hoop

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CALIFORNIAN singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop was first championed by the legend that is Tom Waits, who fell for her sound when she was working as a live-in nanny for his three children.

Since then, she has extended her celebrity fan club to include Elbow frontman Guy Garvey and Peter Gabriel, who invited her on tour as his backing singer. It probably goes without saying, then, but Hoop’s intimate solo show at Electric Circus on Tuesday night should not be missed.

The singer is currently touring with her fifth album The House That Jack Built, which critics and fans have unanimously praised.

“The reaction to the record has been great,” says the 36-year-old. “I’ve been waiting for this reaction.

“I’m not surprised by it in terms of ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe people like it’. It’s more that I know I like it, so it’s good to get that... confirmation.”

The songs on the album are deeply personal; a number of them about her father who died just over a year ago.

“I’ve been quite transparent with my songwriting,” says Hoop. “My dad was just a guy who struggled and we watched him struggle.

“He was a beautiful man, very heartfelt and a good listener but struggled to live his own life. We witnessed his life as a parent might witness their child’s life. Do you know what I mean?

“He couldn’t help us much in life; the ways he could assist were apt, which were in matters of the heart.

So were they difficult to write? “Actually, they were especially easy to write but especially hard to sing,” says Hoop. “It will become easier, once the songs become more practical and for the listeners instead of for me.

“I’m learning how to guard my tears with a wax,” she adds.

Asked what inspired her early songwriting and Hoop says it was nature and her own imagination more than anything else.

“My walks and free time were my biggest influence,” she says. “I can honestly say that in the beginning I can not think of a point of reference from which my songs were derived.

“Thinking back on them, they sound nothing like the artists I was listening to. I was just entertaining myself with my self.

“With that said, over time artists I have learned from and respect include Paul Simon, Kate Bush, PJ Harvey and Joni Mitchell. You know, the greats. If you’re going to look up to anyone they might as well be the very best.”

Top of her list, however, is Waits, who has provided her with a priceless quote to use on her promotional material.

“The record company just used the end of it, and it makes me sad because it was such a beautiful quote,” she says. “Let me see if I can remember it all... I think he said: ‘Jesca Hoop’s music is like a four-sided coin. She’s an old soul, like a good witch, a black pearl or a red moon. It’s like swimming in a lake at night.’ It’s so beautiful, but it’s been castrated.”

Not faint praise, that.

• Jesca Hoop, Electric Circus, Market Street, Tuesday, 7pm, £7, 0131-226 4224