Kelly Hoppenjans has been singing for longer than she can remember. She earned her childhood nickname, Kellybird, because of her constant singing, for no one in particular but herself. Having moved around a lot as a kid, she relied on music and singing as a constant through all the change; so it’s fitting that she now calls Nashville home, since it’s such a musical city. Kelly’s music is intimate and personal, with wryly optimistic lyrics, catchy pop melodies, and a lush mix of stylistic influences from folk to rock to jazz.
In this interview feature, we chat with Kelly about her new project, her influences, the digital music world and more.
Full Q&A along with links and a stream for Garden of Little White Lies below.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
I’m from Columbus OH, but I’ve lived in Nashville almost four years now and I love it. I usually call my style indie-folk or singer-songwriter, because I’m inspired by the simple, melodic nature of folk music and the personal, quirky style of singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple, and Bjork. But my stylistic influences range from protest punk to jazz standards to Americana, so I’d say I’m pretty eclectic.
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to stay the course?
Oh man! I’ve always known I wanted to be a singer, but it’s taken me a long time to figure out the specific way I wanted to pursue that dream. But I’ve been obsessed with singing since I was a little kid, and in fact my mother called me “Kellybird” when I was child because of that! I wrote songs in middle and high school and pursued musical theatre in college and in NYC, where I lived for two years after college. I still love musical theatre and perform in musicals sometimes, but I’ve found that writing my own songs gives me more control as an artist. I came to Nashville to learn how to do that, and here I am!
When I was in college, one of our professors asked us a question on the first day of his musical theatre song acting class: why do you sing? What makes you “break the silence of the universe,” as he called it? He called me out specifically, and I said, timidly, “…because I have something to say??” And he responded, “Bullshit.” Harsh perhaps! But his point was that you need a concrete reason to continue down this path, because it’s so difficult and can challenge your convictions unrelentingly. And my answer now would be: I sing because it makes me happy and heals my heart.
How is your new release different than previous ones? Did you set out to accomplish anything specific?
My last album was considerably lighter and more joyful than this one. I think there are moments of levity on the new album, but it’s certainly darker and more ominous throughout. I set out with this theme in mind, inspired by a line from one of the songs: “Dreaming is easy, the trouble is waking up.” You can take that to mean that it’s easy to dream about your goals and much harder to put them into action, or it could be taken literally about dreaming and waking. So I wanted to demonstrate with the songs the vividness and surreal nature of dreams contrasted with gritty reality. Many of the songs feature folksy melodies or accompaniment hampered by some kind of other-worldly sound to highlight this contrast.
This particular song, “Garden of Little White Lies,” was written about what is probably an everyday occurrence for most people–telling someone a white lie, like “I love your dress!” or “let’s grab coffee sometime!” to spare their feelings. In the song, these start out as little white flower lies, then become overgrown, suffocating weeds.
Do you face challenges as an indie musician in a digital age? How has technology helped you (assuming it helps)?
I think certain things are so much easier in this age, because our music is available to everyone with access to a computer and the internet. Streaming has changed the game for indie musicians getting the word out about their music. It’s a double-edged sword though, because since it’s accessible to virtually everyone, there is so much music out there now that it can become difficult to stand apart from others. That’s why I think getting involved in your local scene, hitting the road, and making personal connections with people will never truly go out of style–it’s the best way to meet musicians who may inspire you and people who may become life-long fans of your music.
Where can we connect with you online and discover more music?
My website is www.kellyhoppenjans.com, and that has links to all my socials, which I’ll include below. The album will be out June 23 on Spotify, Apple Music, and many more, but if you preorder the album “Dreaming Is Easy” on Apple Music, you’ll get a copy of “Garden of Little White Lies” instantly!
Anything else before we sign off?
Sing your hearts out loves, and thanks for listening!