Lara Hope

Interview: Lara Hope and The Ark-Tones Want You To Experience Life Firsthand with ‘Here To Tell The Tale’



Lara Hope

Lara Hope and the Ark-Tones are set to release their third studio album, Here To Tell The Tale, on June 25th 2021 via Sower Records and Crazy Love Records, and their first single “Let’s Go” is shaking things up already. The Roots Rock band is steeped in Rockabilly traditions taken in new directions and Lara Hope originally hails from a Hard Rock and Punk background as a vocalist. Intrigued and inspired by Rockabilly, she jumped at the chance to try fronting a Rockabilly band and hasn’t looked back since. Joined by husband and double bassist Matt “The Knife” Goldpaugh, lead guitarist Eddie Rion, and drummer Jeremy Boniello, Lara Hope had come off intensive touring and some intense experiences when working on the new album’s songs, and you’ll find a fresh directness in them to engage with real life.

As Lara Hope reflects below, when she looked at the songs that might work for the new album, she realized a theme they had in common, that of creating your own memories and experiences in life and being “Here to Tell The Tale” afterwards. It’s an encouragement she wants to share with the world that feels even more relevant after the experiences of 2020 and 2021 so far. Lara Hope spoke with me about her experiences taking on Rockabilly, why reflecting on life lately has impacted her future choices, and where some of the directness in Here To Tell the Tale comes from.

Americana Highways: I heard that you got into Rockabilly after an initial foray into music in a Punk band.

Lara Hope: Yes, I played in a Hard Rock/Punk band for a long time.

AH: How did you discover Rockabilly music in the mid-Atlantic region. Was there enough going on to pull you in?

LH: It was a number of things. One was that I had done a lot of traveling with my band and was exposed to different types of music that way. But back around 2010 or so, I started playing in a more Roots-based band. People in the area who were already trying to form a Rockabilly-type band had seen me out playing with my band and were looking for a singer at the time. They reached out to me and asked if I’d like to come jam with them and see how it felt. Also, at the time, there were a lot of touring bands coming through the area in Kingston, New York, so I saw a lot of Rockabilly and Psychobilly bands from all over the country. We also used to go to the Coney Island Rockabilly Festival and that had bands from all over the country.

AH: That’s really cool. I did not know about that festival. Were you shocked when you were asked to jam with a Roots band? How big a switch up was that for you?

LH: I was excited. Watching the Rockabilly scene from an outside perspective, it always seemed really fun. I loved the people and the music, and the dancing, and the fashion. At the time, I looked at it like, “That’s what the cool kids are doing!” It seemed like a no-brainer to try it out and it was really quick for me to feel like, “Okay, I’ve found my voice here.”

AH: Were you doing traditional music or original music at that time?

LH: It was original music and we released one EP as Lara Hope and the Champ-Tones. That was way more traditional than what we do now. Now, I rarely use the word “Rockabilly,” I just say, “Roots Rock,” or “Neo-Rockabilly” if anything.

AH: Is the Punk ethos still part of your life? The whole framework of agency I see in your career and the way that you carry it out seems to coincide with Punk to me.

LH: I know people associate DIY with Punk. Recently I heard something I really like from a band from Austin, who said, “We’re not DIY, we’re DIT. Do It Together.” I love that. It is about working together. At the end of the day, I think we are all going to be our best representatives, so if you want something for your career, you have to get started. If you have teammates and partners who can work alongside you, that’s ideal, but you have to set the wheels in motion to make what you want to happen attainable.

AH: When you approached making this third album, did you make a decision to make a new album, or was it more organic writing songs along the way and then deciding when you had enough songs for an album?

LH: It was more like the latter. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, but our last album came out in 2017, and I think that it being four years has been too long. But we did record this in 2020 and we did plan on putting it out last year, then Covid happened. I would love to be putting out an album every two years.

But we have toured a lot in the past couple of years and for me, it’s not always easiest to write when you’re on the road. It’s hard to find downtime. I prefer writing when alone so it’s challenging for me when touring. I’ve appreciated my downtime in the past year more than I expected to. I think everything in life should have a balance and maybe we were previously touring and gigging a little too much. Maybe other parts of my life were suffering, and I’ve kind of realized that this past year.

AH: I noticed that Here To Tell The Tale will be released on vinyl as well as digital or CD. What’s your history with vinyl? Is that something that’s fan-driven?

LH: We also released our previous album on vinyl through the same label, a German label called Crazy Love. They mostly do Psychobilly and Rockabilly. For sure, it’s fan driven. We always sell merch at shows, and a lot of times it’s been merch that has kept us afloat, especially on tour. We always have an elaborate merch display. People can always go to our website, too, to buy t-shirts, vinyl, and other swag.

AH: Can you tell us a little about the foundational music that you listened to when you were younger? I heard that you liked The Beatles and Dolly Parton.

LH: A lot of the music that I listened to growing up was not “Roots” music. I spent some time thinking about that this week, wondering what I was listening to in my early 20s when I first started writing music. I was listening to a lot of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Violent Femmes, Fiona Apple, Tsunami Bomb. My first love in life was showtunes and I grew up surrounded by musical theater. That’s how I got into performing in the first place.

AH: It takes a certain drive to step out and front a band with lead vocals. Is that where it comes from for you, from musicals and theater?

LH: I’m sure that’s where it comes from. I don’t want to just be a musician. I want to be an entertainer. I want to put on a show that you couldn’t have gotten just from listening to the CD at home. I want to put on a visually entertaining performance for the spectator.

AH: Do you see performances as each being unique, separate events?

LH: Ideally, yes. We’ve toured and gigged so much that I feel like I did get a little burned out on it and that’s one of the things that I have realized in the past year. I want our performances to be more about the quality and less about the quantity. Moving forward, I’d like to perform a little bit less so I can go back to the way that it used to be, when each performance was special. I want to be able to have that connection with the audience again.

I’ve taken a lot of pride from the fact that I’ve been able to support myself professionally in music for the past decade, but that’s meant that I’ve had to gig nonstop. That’s another thing I realized this year, that I need to figure out some new revenue streams that will allow me to play music, but have it be more about the quality and less about the quantity.

AH: In my mind, this is quite an outspoken album. It seems like the songs are very specific and there are certain ideas that you want to talk about or questions you want to raise. Do you think that you’re more outspoken here than on previous albums?

LH: I do feel like this album, more than others, has a theme. It wasn’t done intentionally, but when we sat down to look at the songs for the album, I thought, “I do see a theme here that I didn’t create on purpose.” The theme goes along with the title of the album, Here To Tell The Tale. We live in such a digital age that people just want to Netflix and chill instead of getting out and having an adventure, seeing that show, or taking that hike, experiencing things firsthand. I’m trying to encourage making your own memories in this short time we’re on Earth. Don’t like vicariously through other people. Get out and have your own tale to tell.

AH: I like that message a lot and I need to hear it. Certainly, this year has probably proven that to people, that we need to keep making memories.

LH: I do realize it’s kind of ironic to release this during Covid when people don’t have many tales to tell, but hopefully with things opening back up, this could be a guide for people and a reminder that it’s not too late. This is our chance to make up for lost time once things are safe.

AH: The idea behind the title has a number of possible interpretations and can suggest survival, too. I think people can relate to that this year. It’s been a wild ride.

LH: The reason that I came up with the title is that I found myself using the phrase so often. I’d be telling a story and say, “But I’m here to tell the tale.”

AH: The songs on this album do have a kind of story to each of them. Even in “Let’s Go,” which is a very active song, there’s a subtext there. The person speaking is a little accusatory.

LH: I haven’t been very open about what it’s about since I didn’t want to ruffle feathers in the music industry.

AH: Even without details, it suggests the amount of gumption and energy that’s necessary to keep going in music, and I think that’s an important message.

LH: Exactly. This thing that happened was really hard for me to process and figure out how to move forward. I could have just thrown in the towel regarding my music career and just said, “Screw it!” But writing this song was, honestly, healing for me, in a way to get past this. Also, as I said before, to be reminded that we are always our best ally. I needed to buck up and move forward.

AH: That’s a great message. This song is quite a declaration and pushes back against difficulty. Another one that’s outspoken in some ways is, “It’s a Crime.” It’s so relevant to hear about the expectations that women have put upon them. It made me question what I’m still hearing in society today.

LH: I was laughing to my husband the other day, saying, “Did I really write a song saying, ‘Everyone go and have pre-marital sex’?” But I kind of did! That’s one of the many things I’m saying. It is about trying to expand and break apart from the things that were drilled into our heads and we think we’re supposed to do. This song also speaks the most about the message of being here to tell the tale. If you don’t give yourself a chance to get out and try everything you’re interested in, and just go for it, then it’s a crime.

AH: It’s super-direct and it’s challenging in a very cool way. The song “Here To Tell The Tale” also feels like a really powerful song. Does it stand out to you in that way?

LH: I mentioned that in the past few years, we’ve toured so much, and while some of it has been great, some of it has been really challenging. Our van broke down in California Christmas week and we were stuck there for all of Christmas. I had to sleep on a cot in someone’s kitchen. When we got our van back, we had to drive home for three days without stopping, only stopping to use the bathroom, to get home for a New Year’s Eve gig. As soon as we got home to New York, our van broke down again.

Next week two years ago, I also broke my leg in California, and we had to cancel the rest of the tour. I had to fly home for emergency surgery and I had to get 23 pins and three metal plates in my leg. I feel like I’m still recovering from that, honestly, but I’m still seeing progress. That was really traumatic. We only missed about three weeks of shows, though, since we kept all our regional and local shows. I took a chair on stage and I would just play with my leg up and my cast on. We bedazzled my cast.

AH: That’s very DIT to get through that.

LH: We have great fans. When that happened and I told fans on the internet about the three plane tickets I had to buy to fly home, they banded together, and they bought merch. They helped support us. The same thing happened when Covid hit, since we were about to go on a cross-country tour opening for Tiger Army. We had also just closed on our first home the day that the tour was cancelled. In that moment, people really showed their support for us.

We’ve also done a livestream show every Monday night from our Facebook page since Covid hit. From that we’ve created this amazing community. They actually call themselves “The Monday Knights.” We have this amazing following from all over the country, from Europe, and from Argentina. I know that people are planning to travel from all over the country to come to our album release party and they are all going to wear their Monday Knights shirts.

AH: Wow! When and where will that happen?

LH: It will be outside. The album comes out June 25th, so this will be on the 26th of June in Woodstock, New York, at Colony.

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