Let’s get the perfunctory stuff out of the way: Ella Hooper is known to Australian audiences because she’s a member of Killing Heidi, which she formed with her brother Jesse. Their first album, Reflector, was released in 2000. Hooper released the solo album In Tongues in 2014. She was raised in Violet Town in Victoria and lives there again, still.
Small Town Temple is Hooper’s latest album. In some ways it is her memoir, with the stories in ‘Grow Wild’ and the title track. But, really, those stories give us the context for what develops as the album goes on. They are Hooper showing us who she was so we understand who she is now; and perhaps it is she too who is striving understand that. The girl who grew wild, living in the small town temple, is now the adult who puts no limits on the size of her heart and her willingness to engage in life and with people. For if ever there were an album that sounded like the artist was declaring, ‘I love this crazy, messed-up world in all its beauty and imperfections’, it is this one.
This is an album that sounds like it’s exactly what you need right now because Hooper is so completely present in it, because it sounds exactly like what she needs to create and release to the world right now. It’s bluesy and rocky and sometimes a bit country, earthy and heartfelt, and mostly it’s full of love – for life, for people, for imperfections and possibilities and chances taken, considered and missed. Track eight, ‘Achilles Heel’, feels like both the crux and nadir of the album: Hooper brought down by love, but glad of it, because that is what she wants her life to be suffused with. She follows it with ‘The Basics and Stuff’, a less romantic song about her upbringing than ‘Grow Wild’ but a reminder – after the depths of ‘Achilles Heel’ – of who she is and where she came from, because that is what puts her back on the path to creating. To living.
Small Town Temple is a manifesto for a post- and mid-pandemic world in which we’ve all been a bit scared to even be near each other yet simultaneously emboldened by the ‘what-the-hell-just-happened?’ nature of the past few years that we’re prepared to do things we haven’t done before. Hooper hasn’t made music like this before, either in Killing Heidi or solo, in that musically it sounds different to what she’s made before even as she is still at the core of it. And that core is so bright and beautiful that it’s irresistible – for how can you ignore someone who is so willing to show you everything she is and wants, without condition or expectation? Of course, she is asking the same of us, as listeners: show me who you are, she seems to be saying, and I will not only see that but accept you. This is the true exchange of artist and audience, one which she continues to embrace, and one that can only come from an artist who has so much experience in connecting with others, from the stage, on the street, as friends and family. From an artist who cannot help but feel empathy even as she’d probably say she’s still figuring out how to be a human. Her art is how she figures that out, and it’s also a gift she offers to the rest of us to help us do the same. Small Town Temple is aptly named, for it is both a temple and the offering within it, and Hooper its high priestess.
Ella Hooper is on tour – go to https://ellahoopermusic.com for details