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By Jillian Groening
Pursuing a career in the music industry can often appear to be a gamble. Talent, connections, and diligence are pitted against simply the act of being in the right place at the right time.
For Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter JP Hoe, learning how to put the odds in his favour has allowed him to create his own luck and his own success.
From opening up for The Kink’s frontman Ray Davies on the Winnipeg Folk Festival's main stage to European and Australian tours and playing SXSW twice, after years of rejection, Hoe’s career accomplishments read something like a musician’s bucket list.
“Honest to God this job is 10 percent readiness and 90 percent good luck,” Hoe says with a chuckle. The opportunity to play England’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival arose after the organizer caught a set of Hoe’s at the North American Folk Alliance in Memphis, Tennessee. The festival gig lead to a Euro tour and radio spots on BBC. “If those certain people didn’t walk into [our set] that afternoon then there would be no chance. It was so nuts but it created one of the most special touring experiences of my life.”
Recently signed to esteemed Canadian label MapleMusic Recordings, Hoe’s days of independent music making bit the dust in a similar lucky break fashion. After the label’s general manager, Tony Tarleton, happened across Hoe’s set at SXSW and again at JUNOfest, the contracts were signed and Hoe joined the prestigious MapleMusic family.
“I was at the point in my career where I felt my usefulness had plateaued and I didn’t want to be doing this unless I was moving in the right direction,” Hoe explains. “Whatever music deities are out there, they needed one more from me. I’m just so stinking fortunate that it all panned out.”
Set to officially release his first record with MapleMusic in August 2015, Hideaway comes highly anticipated after 2012’s six-time Western Canadian Music Award nominated Mannequin. Blending fresh new influence with established collaboration, Hideaway promises to be a polished folk/rock masterpiece.
Produced by old friend and peer Rusty Matyas (The Waking Eyes, Imaginary Cities, The Sheepdogs), Hideaway was recorded over an intensive two weeks at Winnipeg’s Private Ear Recording. With four tracks co-written by Los Angeles-based artist Alex Stochansky (Ani DiFranco, Goo Goo Dolls, Indigo Girls) and mastering by João Carvalho (City & Colour, Serena Ryder, Sloan), Hideaway is a harmonic pairing of old artistic forces with new and was a totally new experience for Hoe.
“It was different but it was really fun,” Hoe recalls. Between Hoe laying down the vocals and guitar and Matyas adding bass and drums, with both switching off on the keys, the process was fast-paced and dynamic. Some of the songs had never even been played live before, compelling the musicians to make changes on the fly. “I wanted to work with Rusty because we have a similar feeling about songs. A great song that has a strong melody, memorable lyrics and hooks, I just knew that he would be the guy.”
Following the release of Hideaway, Hoe plans on hopping across the pond to tour Europe - benefitting from connections made in the inaugural trip - and will return home to play dates across Canada and Australia.
Unlike the last international tour - where Hoe was accompanied by a pair of string-players - the singer will be backed by good old drum and bass, forming a bridge between genres and expanding his fan base.
“Being a solo artist is a bit of a catch 22, where I get to delve into the folk world and the indie pop world but ultimately it’s all under the umbrella of the singer-songwriter,” Hoe says. “I think it’s so great and it’s truly the reason why I think I have been able to continue and to be flexible.”
Backed by poetic lyrics, a bold voice, and catchy melodies, the local folk hero’s fluid skill of collaborating with a variety of artists, from beat-driven pop-rock bands to classically trained cellists, allows him to create openly and fearlessly.
“Winnipeg is a wonderful place to become what you want to be without the pressure of people telling you to be more like another band,” Hoe states. “Every musician in Winnipeg makes the music that they want to make and I love that more than anything else.”
Hoe’s ability to transfix audiences at intimate, acoustic house concerts and hyped rock shows alike has granted the humble father of one a strong and faithful following and has also seen him collaborate with a myriad of local A-listers. From Ruth Moody of The Wailin’ Jennys to Winnipeg royalty Fred Penner, Hoe’s stage-sharing resumé, as well as the credits for his last four albums, boast some impressive names. Yet the charismatic musician doesn’t let ego-boosting opportunities obstruct his focus.
“I remember getting up [on stage] and hearing fans, friends and family and I had goosebumps for the entire set,” Hoe recalls of his experience opening for award-winning Canadian songstress Jann Arden at the MTS Centre. “It was the hardest and the worst set of the tour but it was really special. I come from such a supportive community. I don’t just mean musicians-wise but all of the people who have come to shows over the years.”
This awareness and appreciation of his fans and of the greater music community is partly what has granted the artist sold-out runs of his annual Christmas show held at the historic Burton Cummings Theatre and has filled theatre seats from Victoria to St. John’s.
“As my dad always said, ‘you can’t have too many friends’,” Hoe says. “My community stretches near and far, in little communities as well as big ones.”
Connecting to his audience is a goal of Hoe’s and an approach that has granted him fans across the globe.
“I love when people come up after the show and say ‘that song means a lot to me’,” Hoe reflects. “It’s nice that something that started out as a selfish artistic endeavour (I write songs that please me and that way every time I play it I’ll still love it) also makes people feel. I want to give something to people. I want them to feel the way I feel when there’s music that I love.”