Hope Waidley sings about being 20 years old, but her voice and music have a classic and timeless feel. “It Rains in Michigan,” her latest single and ode to her home state, takes listeners of all ages back to the experience of first love with lyrics that are simple yet sophisticated, unique yet familiar. “It’s no longer a thought laid on the floor,” she sings. “I’m in love, you pick it up and say, I’ve never felt like this before.”
The song is from her debut EP, Wonder, which comes out May 8 and also includes the spiritual, Janis Joplin-esque single “Born Again.” It follows 2017 EP Hope, but has a more organic, approachable sound than its poppier predecessor. That could be because Waidley spent the past year street performing and surfing as she traveled the country in an old Ford station wagon. The minimalistic videos she’s released so far certainly reflect her free-spiritedness.
We talked to her about what inspires her music and the themes she explores on her EP.
AF: I know you’re self-taught. How did you first teach yourself to sing, play guitar, and write songs?
HW: I started writing songs when I was six years old – it was always a way for me to process, a way for me to express my emotions. I was swinging on our swing-set in the back yard when I wrote my first song, and it was something that just happened. I didn’t try to write anything or say, “OK, I’m going to make a song today.” It was something my brain just started to do, I guess. To this day, it’s still like that. I get an urge to go write and I have to. And then, somehow, a song is written, and then I go back to whatever I was doing. To me, it’s always felt like a gift from God because these songs are such a release for me and help me when I write them.
I taught myself guitar when I was 10 years old and, for years, just played the seven chords I learned. I play a little more variety now, but I don’t know any theory or what the strings are called. I just play the strings that sound good together — I’d like to get better!
When I was 17, I realized if God could use these songs to help me so much, they can be used to help other people. That’s always been my dream: to help people in whatever ways they need help. I started to record and release music at 18.
AF: What inspired your single “It Rains in Michigan”?
HW: I fell in real love for the first time, and that’s what inspired the song. “It Rains In Michigan” is about the beginning of all of that and how I was processing it. I felt unprepared and had no idea what to think, but it was beautiful. I didn’t know much, but I knew my feelings were true. I was also someone that wanted to avoid falling in love for as long as I could because I think I assumed it would complicate my life, but in this situation, it was completely unavoidable. I’m so grateful we gave it a chance. It’s absolutely amazing. I love love.
AF: What was the idea behind the video?
HW: I wanted to show how I became more comfortable with falling in love as the song went on. In the beginning, I wasn’t dancing in the rain, I didn’t take my shoes off, I kept my drenched coat on. Then, as the song went on, I took my shoes off and my coat, and I am dancing in the rain, comfortable, free, accepting, and happy. When something is so new to us, it takes us a little bit of time usually to become comfortable with what’s going on.
AF: Your music videos are all really artfully done — how do you come up with them? Do you have any in the works?
HW: It’s different all the time. An idea will usually pop up in my head, and we kind of just roll with it. Lately, my sister and I or a friend and I have been filming the videos. A lot of it is using the resources we have. We filmed “Wonder” with a flip phone. I love the imperfections, and I love when they don’t look perfect. If they tell the story and are genuine and who I am, we go with it! The next one I’m going to start working on is for a song called “The Boy That Ran Away.”
AF: What else do you sing about on your new EP?
HW: There’s four other songs on the EP besides “It Rains In Michigan.” There’s a song called “Fade” that’s about the position you are in when someone close to you is going down a bad path, and you’re neither what destroys them nor what will save them. “The Boy That Ran Away” is about three different people I met while traveling around the country to street-perform while living in a station wagon with my sister. The song “Wonder” is about imagining how the story would go if I told this person how I felt. Then, “Born Again” is about how sometimes, when we gain new perspective, it’s almost like being born again.
AF: I appreciated the spiritual depth of the song “Born Again.” How does spirituality influence your music?
HW: It influences all of it. The Lord is the reason for why I can even write. It’s a gift from God used to help me, to help others, and I can’t take any credit for it. It’s the Lord’s peace that I feel from these songs, his freedom that I feel when I write, and his power I feel when I perform. It’s such a blessing.
AF: Musically, how would you say this EP is different from your past work?
HW: The production of this EP really states my sound and the direction my music is going. In past work, I always was content just getting my words out there but didn’t necessarily have a “sound” specific to my style and my music. This EP was recorded with live musicians, live instruments, and it’s exactly what I’d hope for my music to sound like instrumentally. Tim Bullock and Rex Rideout made it happen!
AF: Which artists have inspired you?
HW: I love anyone that had anything to say that was interesting or in a new perspective… or had a song that was beautifully written. I’ve always loved Johnny Cash, Jim Croce, Mazzy Star, Kris Kristofferson, The Lumineers, The Band, Chris Cornell, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. So many incredible musicians out there.
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