To the Heart of the Matter
Published January 12, 2009
Photo courtesy of Morning After Records
It won’t come as a surprise that Hearts of Palm UK‘s debut album, For Life, was mastered by Henrik Jonsson, the producer behind Lykke Li, Peter Bjorn and John, The Knife, and Robyn’s recent re-invention. The three girls behind HOPUK have a distinctly Jonsson vibe: breathless, coy electro-pop designed to lull the Virgin Suicides set.
Unlike Jonsson’s four most famous collaborators, HOPUK isn’t Swedish; and despite the name, they aren’t British either. They’re from Los Angeles. And they all perform under assumed names: frontwoman Erica Elektra; cohorts Frankie Rose and Billy Kaye. Everything about HOPUK is a little mysterious: Even their debut video, “People & Logistics” (below) barely features the girls; it was made with 70s-era public-domain prom footage.
Alexandria Symonds: Can you tell me the story of your last name? I read that you adopted it after a bit of bad luck.
Erica Elektra: As a teenager, I got electrocuted playing bass. It was in a basement and it was raining, so the sewage flooded, and I didn’t notice until I got electrocuted. And pretty much ever since then—at band practice, whenever I walk by amps—they buzz, and I always have a lot of static. Ever since the incident, I’ve just felt very electrical. And then I got electrocuted onstage last year, which was hilarious. And the other story is, I used to write a zine when I was a teenager, and I used my real last name. I actually had a stalker who came to New York, and that was really scary. So I vowed never to use my last name.
AS: That makes sense. Is it important to you that you maintain some level of mystery, or an identity separate from your musical one?
EE: Yeah, because I have a nine-to-five. I totally have these two lives.
AS: And I know that the chances you’re going to actually tell me this are slim, but I’m going to ask anyway about the UK at the end of the band’s name.
EE: [Laughs] What would you like to ask?
AS: What does it mean, why is it there—any clue as to what that’s about?
EE: I will say, it’s an inside joke. Me and Sonia started the band, and it’s an inside joke that we promised that we would never tell anybody. It’s just a thing. We just promised it.
AS: Well, that’s something. So your album opens with the line, “It’s hard to start this song ‘cause I know you might be listening,” and then there’s a song named after your ex-boyfriend. Do you think of your album as a confessional one?
EE: Yeah, I do. I think all songs that I write are confessional. That’s just the nature of my music. Songs are—I don’t see them as frivolous, like some are silly or fun—for me, writing songs is always really emotional. That ties in with “confessional,” I guess, right?
AS: Yeah. It’s interesting, though: I can’t help thinking any time I listen to For Life that it’s sort of a soundtrack for optimism. Even these heavy subjects end up coming out sort of upbeat.
EE: I’m a Sagittarius, so-I don’t know if you know anything about astrology, but Sagittariuses are known for being optimists. I’m pretty spiritual; I just know that whatever you focus your energy on is what comes. Even though I was in a really low place, I was just trying to find some light and talk about hope, because if you don’t have hope, there’s nothing. I’m always just trying to be optimistic, and pull myself up, and yeahthat’s my vibe.
AS: You spoke about your sign—you worked as a psychic, right?
EE: [Laughs] I used to be a phone psychic. I’m an astrologer; I do readings, and tarot cards, and crystal healings, and all sorts of weird things.
AS: Is that still a big part of your life, even though you don’t do it professionally anymore?
EE: I actually started doing it professionally again. I don’t like to think of it like a professional thing because it’s more like an interest. But yeah, I got my first tarot cards when I was eleven, and I’ve always just been one of those girls. I don’t know if it has anything to tie into my music; except for the attitude of happiness, trying to be positive.
AS: I was actually going to ask you a question sort of along those lines – do you think astrology does influence how you write, record, and perform? Or do you consider your psychic life and your musical life to be more distinct?
EE: I definitely know, for all the people in the band—I know everybody’s charts and how they work, so I definitely tailor the way we write music and record according to what works for them and their sign. Or certain practice days, I’ll avoid, if it’s a bad moon or something. More like group dynamics.
AS: Are there ever conflicts between the charts—like, what might be a really good day for you is actually a really bad day for Sonia, and so you have to decide?
EE: Well, luckily, all of us—there’s two types of general signs, yin and yang, and we’re all yang. So that really works—it generally affects us similarly. And it’s funny because as a band we have a lot of Gemini, and that tends to be really scattered, so we’ll always forget to get paid at the end of the night, stuff like that, because Geminis aren’t good at that. It’s describing personalities more than predicting anything, you know?
AS: Yeah, that makes sense. And then about your bandmates, can you tell me a little bit about how you got together with them, and how you all started playing together?
EE: Yeah. I moved to Los Angeles, and I was alone, and Sonia—Frankie Rose; her real name is Sonia Powell—is my best friend, and I was playing with a bunch of musicians off of Craigslist, and trying to do it that way. And I just couldn’t find anybody that really worked. So Sonia was watching me through all of it, and I’d call her up and be like, “Oh, my God, guess who I just met.” I actually played with a bunch of bands that I used to like in childhood whose members are older now. You meet a lot of cool people, but nothing was right. I was just like, “God, I wish she could be in my band.” The thing about playing music is that you want to like the people, and you want it to be fun. The only thing was that she didn’t play music.
EE: I was like, “I’m gonna teach you! I’m gonna do these keyboard things, and I’ll teach you what to play, and pick up the glockenspiel. It’s not that hard; just hit the notes.” And I taught her how to play different things, and she had a piano background. So she and I started to do our little thing, and I got an iPod, and we started recording in the studio and playing shows. And then our friend Jamie offered to take photographs of us, and she did, and meanwhile, she started learning cello. I was like, “A year from now, you’re gonna be in our band.” And then a year from then, which was a year or so ago, she joined our band.
EE: Yeah, so nobody really played music – it happened as the band did. It’s like, well, now they play music.
AS: Sort of by necessity, yeah. Just coming back to that song about your ex-boyfriend: On the album, it says, “Jonathan FMF,” and I was wondering whether the “FMF” stands for what I think it does.
EE: Okay, this is a good story.
EE: Yes, it stands for what you think it does. [Laughs] Basically, he had kind of proposed to me, and I wrote the song as, like, “Oh, my God, it’s over, I don’t have to worry, this is it, you’re the one.” And then he totally broke my heart. So I didn’t want him to go down in history with this beautiful love song.
EE: So I was like, “Oh, he is a fucking motherfucker.” So that was the name of the song, “Jonathan Fucking Mother Fucker.” And then, a year ago, I entered this contest for Bioré and GenArts – they had this women-in-music contest, and we ended up being finalists, and it was $20,000. But they were like, “You can’t enter that song because of swear words.” You know, it was Bioré
AS: Ohh. [Laughs]
EE: They made me change it, so the song was now “Jonathan.” I ended up winning the contest, so I totally was just calling it “Jonathan.” But, you know, I already got the money, and I already spent the money, so I’m calling it “Jonathan FMF.”
For Life, from Hypnote Records, is available on Amazon and iTunes.