In Conversation with Hooked Like Helen as they share their new single ‘No Turning Back’
In a peaceful home-recording studio in the woods of Milan, 40 miles west of Ohio’s major city, Cleveland, Nikki and Jon Stipp began to experiment with recordings and musical musings. From humble beginnings, Hooked Like Helen came into fruition, and now the duo prepares to release their upcoming EP Tragedy Of Physics, on 17th March via Stipp Manor Music. They recently shared the first track to be lifted from the album, ‘No Turning Back’ and enlisted the services of Grammy award-winning mixer, engineer and producer Isha Erskine (Ziggy Marley, Maroon 5, Black Eyed Peas) The EP also features vocals by NBC’s The Voice contestant, Emily Keener.
Hooked Like Helen is an interesting musical composite, made up of contrasting musical tastes. Nikki’s influences run along the lines of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Prince, while Jon’s interests lie with the raw energy of punk, and the throbbing chords of rock. Nikki experiences Chromesthesia, and this phenomenon of sound to color and shape guides her in composition, arrangement, and production.
We caught with Jon and Nikki some insight into the unique alt-pop vision that is Hooked Like Helen…
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
Music is just what we do! We literally don’t know any other way to live.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
The idea comes first and we bring it to life through sounds
What’s on your current playlist?
Ariana Grande, The Weeknd, Chris Stapleton, Charlie Puth, 5 Seconds Of Summer
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
It is a full-blown love affair
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
Nikki writes the beats using electronic samples that she plays out manually on her piano keyboard. Then we have a live drummer come in and re-play certain sections of the beats with real drums, as well as add natural, human-player accents to other sections. We end up with a unique blend of live and electronic drums that fill out the songs with the emotion of live drums and the groove and precision of the machines.
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
With a home studio, we have the luxury of using our recording capability as a tool in songwriting. From the first piano/vocal demo to the finished song, all of it happens in our basement studio, each song’s many stages of evolution documented and preserved in Pro tools sessions forever. Pre-production sort of slips into production, which slips into final tracks, and ultimately a finished mix. Nikki records vocals alone, laying down an insane amount of harmonies on every song – there are usually around 20 stacked vocal tracks by the time a song is done! She acts as engineer for Jon when he lays down bass and guitar; sometimes the guitar-tracking days are a little intense…Since neither of us are formally trained in music tech/engineering, we go through a lot of youtube tutorials and good old-fashioned trial-and-error before we get that amp mic’ed up just right! (Every damn time) We’re getting better at it though.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “This is what I want to do”?
For Nikki: I wrote a 3-minute pop song about a pepper tree when I was 11 years old and I tracked the demo on a cassette-tape Karaoke machine. When I realized that I could create this thing in my mind that had never been heard before, and then bring it to life and share it, I was obsessed. At that age, I was completely engulfed in the music that my favorite artists made – just wrapped up in my favorite albums – and the art touched me deeply and meant so very much to me. The thought of cultivating the ability within myself to make my own contribution through music just brought me so much joy (still does) and changed who I am forever.
For Jon: When he stole his dad’s Appetite For Destruction album, 10 year old Jon fell in love with rock and roll from that moment on.
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
Water and a laptop. Extra bass picks. We’re sober now
Any emerging artists on your radar?
Emily Keener and Ali Tomineek
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Pain. Joy. Boredom. Everything. 🙂 We write when we are sad, we write when we are happy. The more immersed and focused we are able to get, the more prolific we are – an object in motion tends to stay in motion.
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
Jon has an American fender jazz bass that SLAPS. Beautiful instrument. We tracked our current EP, Tragedy Of Physics on some less-than current gear and we couldn’t be more proud of the outcome. Actually, we inherited our humble home studio from Jon’s uncle, Ben when he sadly passed away a few years ago, and we taught ourselves how to use it. Uncle Ben had been a sound engineer in Seattle at one time before his passing, so although the gear is outdated, it is very solid stuff. We don’t even know where we’d be right now if Ben hadn’t left us his gear; as non-tech savvy musicians, we never would have taken the leap to invest in this kind of recording equipment on our own. We inherited Pro Tools 10 with the Mbox pro interface, two studio monitors and an AT 4040 condenser mic. We had to downgrade our mac operating system to even get the Pro Tools to open, and we used the free plug-in, Xpand for most of the sounds on Tragedy Of Physics. A few people who heard the EP and then saw our studio set up were kind of incredulous, like “you made THAT with THIS? No way!!” and honestly there couldn’t be a better compliment, haha! Recently we’ve upgraded to the new Pro Tools and we invested in an Apollo Twin Quad – looking forward to producing more music on this fancy future gear! Shout out to the Audio Technica vocal mic though, it has been amazing and Nikki has no plans to switch it out
Any side projects you’re working on?
Nikki has an ultra-pop alter-ego called Frailey. She’s had music on Keeping Up With The Kardashians, the Bad Girls Club, and a song on the soundtrack for the upcoming dance film, “High Strung: Free Dance” featuring Ali Tomineek.
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
We really buckled down and studied the art of songwriting. The craft of it. Recently we analyzed, as best we could, all of our favorite songs (classic and current) for what it is that makes these songs so great. What combo of ingredients makes that thing happen in our souls? We’ve gotten real about learning to record ourselves and we got serious about production. Sounds, grooves, etc. We are on a mission to perfect every track, and it is so satisfying when we feel like we got it!
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
Our EP Tragedy Of Physics! A weird, creepy low-fi video for our first single, “Tear This Place Apart”. An epic, emotional music video for our song, “Liar” featuring beautiful dancing from the film “High Strung: Free Dance”. Some live shows (finally)!! And probably more music after all that haha.
Famous last words?
“There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” – Terminator 2 Judgement Day
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