First impressions are everything, and Kristi Hoopes has steadily been building momentum to make hers. A viral performance, a run on The Voice and the belief from a duo of heavy-hitting producers in Nashville have all culminated in Life of the Party, her debut EP that is refreshingly difficult to pigeonhole into one specific genre.
Comprising the EP, which was funded by fans on Indiegogo, are tunes that tap into Hoopes’ diverse influences, ranging everywhere from Loretta Lynn to Prince to Creedance Clearwater Revival. Coupled with stories of falling in love, coping, music and more, Life of the Party is both sonically and lyrically thought-provoking, and has us excited for the new music she has already began working on.
We chatted with Kristi about her musical roots, her time on The Voice, all about Life of the Party and what she hopes listeners take away from it, how her newfound down time has been beneficial and more!
Pro Country: Who are some of your early musical influences who had an impact on your sound?
Kristi Hoopes: I grew up in a very musically diverse household. My dad, who played bass in college, loved CCR, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Cream. My mom was really into Prince and Parliament Funkadelic. She was a DJ at a nightclub called Fast Eddie’s back in the 80s and loved spinning funk, pop and disco records. Funny enough, she was also a huge fan of Loretta Lynn, so credit for my love of country music is due primarily to her. After hearing her play “Coal Miner’s Daughter” in the kitchen one afternoon, I was hooked. I wanted to be just like Loretta and actually performed her version of “These Boots Are Made For Walking” in my third-grade talent show. Besides Loretta Lynn, I’d definitely say Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Kacey Musgraves and Reba had an impact on my sound and style.
PC: You mentioned that you’ve been on stage dating back to third grade. What was it about music that connected with you so early in life?
KH: My mom will tell you that I’ve been singing since the day I was born. When I was little, I would climb up on the coffee table in our living room and sing “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor” from Barney & Friends over and over and over again [laughs]. There was something about knowing that my singing put a smile on people’s faces that made me love it. As I got into kindergarten and onward, I did all of the school musicals and plays; I just loved being on stage. I was addicted to it. I loved stepping into a character and pretending to be somebody else for a little while. When I realized I could do that for a living, it all clicked.
PC: Was there a specific moment for you where you realized you could pursue a career in music, or was it a culmination of things in those early years?
KH:My third-grade talent show was definitely the catalyst. When I stepped off that stage, I knew it was my calling. I also knew that without my parents’ support, it wouldn’t be possible. My mom and dad saw how genuinely gifted I was and knew that I was serious about making music my profession, so they jumped right in and took on the roles of manager and roadie, respectively. They’re in the homebuilding industry and didn’t have a clue how to get into the world of entertainment, but they always told me that hard work and humility can get you anywhere, and they were right. Honestly, I believe it was God whispering in their ear, saying, “Hey, this is what she’s going to do with her life, and you need to jump on board because the train is leaving the station.”
PC: You won the 2016 Lyricord Songwriting contest with your song “At Least It’s Something.” Is there a certain level of validation that comes with that early recognition of your talent?
KH: Absolutely. When people you’ve never met listen to your music and love it the way you do, that’s the best compliment you could ever receive. It confirmed for me that my vocal technique, storytelling ability and musical craftsmanship were on par with professionals who had decades of experience on me.
PC: You went viral in 2016 after Dierks Bentley shared your performance of “Different For Girls” on social media. What was it like for you to see the views that the song was getting and for so many eyes to be on you so early in your career?
KH: That was so wild and such a God wink! I had no idea how much of an impact that little cover I did on a whim would have. It had been on YouTube for about a month before Dierks found it, and he shared it on the day I moved into my college dorm. When my phone started blowing up about an hour away from campus, my parents and I stopped at a Walmart to buy car crayons and wrote my website all over the windows. If my first day as a Nashville transplant was that good, I was eager to see how much better it could get.
PC: How did the opportunity to audition for Season 13 of The Voice come to you?
KH: That came through the Dierks Bentley cover, actually. A casting agent with the show saw it and invited me to a private producer audition. I had never really thought that I would be cut out for one of those shows because my style isn’t necessarily part of the loud and belty crowd, but I went for it anyway and not only became a contestant on the show, but scored a three-chair turn and was the last person to be selected for Team Blake.
PC: What emotions were you feeling on the day leading up to your audition and when you were standing on stage? What did it mean to have Blake Shelton, Jennifer Hudson and Adam Levine turn their chairs for you?
KH: As odd as it sounds, I was calm. Right before walking out on stage, I said a little prayer and asked God to have His way with the situation. I was as prepared as I could possibly be; the rest was in His hands. Even if I didn’t get a chair turn, I would walk away knowing I left my heart on that stage. The whole audition was such a rush. One minute I was singing to four chairs, and the next I was looking at three smiling faces and thinking, “I guess this means I did okay.” [laughs].
PC: What was the biggest thing you took away from being on The Voice?
KH: I would say being confident in who you are. Everyone on the show is there because they’re incredibly talented singers, but nobody can sing the way you do. I used to be worried that there wouldn’t be a place for someone like me in country music who is more hushed and stripped back, so I decided to make a place for myself instead. Every time I stepped onto that stage, I reminded myself to stand firm in my sound.
PC: Your debut EP, Life of the Party was funded on Indiegogo. What did it mean to you to be able to tangibly see the support you had and see how many people were interested in your music?
KH: I feel blessed beyond belief. $15,000 seemed like such a lofty goal and 50 people made it happen. To have a group of people believe in my dream as much as I did was so encouraging. It’s wild to see all of it come to fruition.
PC: What went into the decision to release “Don’t Worry Mama” as the lead single from Life of the Party? What has that song meant to you and your mother since its release?
KH: That was one of the first songs that I wrote when I moved to town, so it was fitting to make it the first single. I wanted to come out of the gate with the best introduction to me as possible. “Don’t Worry Mama” is vulnerable, inspired, sentimental and nostalgic, and that’s exactly how I would describe myself. I released a surprise lyric video for the song that features photos of my mom growing up. She called me crying after watching it and said she had never been prouder of me. That moment is one of my greatest treasures.
PC: “Life of the Party” is one of our favorite tracks on the EP, and discusses coping and self-destructive behavior. Why did you decide to make that the title track of the EP?
KH: Thanks so much! I’ve always considered myself to be a bit of a walking contradiction; exuberant and lively in person, yet quiet and reserved on recordings. It’s unexpected. “Life of the Party” is much of the same. When you hear somebody described as the “life of the party,” you don’t expect that person to be broken, miserable and lonely. That theme of being unexpected is carried throughout the whole EP. For the record, this life of the party has been to very few major ragers in her lifetime. Blame it on my book worminess! [laughs]
PC: To that point, “Complicated” is the most sonically diverse song on Life of the Party. Can you talk about the influences you drew upon when creating that song, and if it’s important to you to have a certain level of sonic versatility in your music?
KH: I love “Complicated,” so I’m glad you brought it up [laughs]. Like I said earlier, my mom was a DJ, so I grew up listening to a lot of disco and funk music. I think they play so well with country sounds, and I really just wanted to have a fun, four-on-the-floor disco-inspired dance track, and we definitely got it! That steel solo played by Dan Dugmore is one of my absolute favorite things to listen to. When we were running back one of the takes in the control room at Sound Emporium, our drummer, Fred Eltringham, couldn’t stop dancing to it, so I knew we had captured that 70s magic. I do think it’s important to be versatile sonically. I listen to and love more than just country music, so it’s only natural that other genres bleed in. My heart will always be firmly planted in country, but I do love to dabble in the unconventional.
PC: “Ghosts of the Greats” is our favorite song on Life of the Party. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
KH: That was the first song that I ever co-wrote with Kirsti Manna and Lynn Wilbanks. It was only the second song I had co-written in my life. We had just met one another walking into the writers’ room, and I had come in with an idea of music being a constant friend. We always talk about the greats in the music that we love, the Patsys, the Lorettas, the Dollys, and Glen Campbells, and I wanted to write something about the music of those people that is always there for you. Kirsti piped up and asked, “What if we wrote it from the perspective of the record? What if the artist of the record was talking to you?” I thought it was kind of odd, but we decided to roll with it and see where it went, and it created “Ghosts of the Greats,” which is one of my favorite songs as well. I think the message is so applicable to everyone. We feel like music is a friend, and it feels like the artists we listen to have seen us through our joys and our heartaches, and what a concept it is to have your favorite record really see everything going on around you and want to be your friend and never vanish.
PC: Life of the Party was produced by Paul Worley (The Chicks, Lady A) and Biff Watson (Don Williams, Crystal Gayle). What was it like working in the studio with them, and what were you able to take away from the experience?
KH: They’re just so talented. It’s always dumbfounding to be in the room with people like them. They’re beyond gifted, and it was such an honor to be in their presence and see the way that they work. What I appreciated most about Biff and Paul was their intentionality. They considered my vision every step of the way and wanted to take great care of these songs. Being creatively comfortable with your collaborators is crucial to making great music.
PC: Do you have a favorite song on Life of the Party? If so, why is it so special to you?
KH: It’s hard because it’s like picking a favorite child. I love them all for different reasons, but I would probably say it’s between “Don’t Worry Mama” and “What Comes Next.” I’d say “Don’t Worry Mama” because it’s about the woman who gave me the wings to chase my dreams, and I’d say “What Comes Next” because that was the very first song that I wrote when I moved to town and was actively falling in love with my now fiancé. To be able to listen back and see how much our love has bloomed since first writing it makes me teary-eyed every time.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from Life of the Party after listening all the way through?
KH: I hope that they can find themselves wherever they are in these songs. I really hope that they love hearing something that’s a little bit different, something that has an authentic country soul to it, but isn’t afraid to try something new. I hope people listen to it, love it and share it with the people they care about, that’s really all I can ask for.
PC: 2020 has altered most of the plans of artists. Of the things you can control, what are your plans for the rest of the year and going into 2021?
KH: I’ve already started writing for record number two. We’re working on tracking right now, and I’m just writing like crazy. Being quarantined at home has given me ample time to do that [laughs]. Everybody wants to tour, myself included, so I’m looking forward to playing these songs on the road at some point. I’m also collaborating with some new people and can’t wait to see what we come up with, so keep an eye out for new songs soon!
PC: You mentioned you’ve been spending more time at home. What has that adjustment been like for you?
KH: I never realized how much I needed to slow down until the pandemic hit. I was working non-stop after The Voice, teaching at MTSU, finishing college, doing internships and getting engaged. When the pandemic hit and quarantine was mandatory, I realized how much of the life part I was missing out on in the work-life balance, and that needed to change. I started waking up at 5:30AM to read scripture and do devotionals, planted a garden, got into baking, renovated my house, went for hikes and spent real, quality time with my fiancé. As much as I miss my busy schedule, it’s been nice not to feel spread so thin.
*Kristi’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*