Ella Hooper has had to learn the hard way to never say never. She’s well aware of how many times that word has come back to bite her in the arse over the years – especially when it comes to the band that made her a household name to begin with, Killing Heidi. Hooper was all of 13 years old when the band was formed back in 1996 with her older brother Jesse. The decade that followed saw the release of three studio albums, a handful of ARIAs and even a couple of tracks that have existed in the Australian collective conscience since the turn of the century. Then there’s the decade between the end and the rebirth to take into account, in which Hooper turned to radio, television and even a solo music career. All the while, a return to Killing Heidi remained very much in the “never” pile. So, what changed?
“It just didn’t feel right back then,” Hooper explains. “I kept saying no because I still really felt this need to define myself as my own person, away from what that band was. Eventually, I got to a point where I felt as though I had done exactly that. I’d done the things I wanted to do, made the things I wanted to make. I’ve proven so much shit to myself. I ventured out on my own and I came back with so much more. Something had changed – and I think that’s why, when it was brought up again last year, it didn’t feel like the most awful idea in the world anymore.”
And so it went that Killing Heidi would spend the summer of late 2016 on the regional festival circuit, finding their bearings and starting over. The Hoopers reunited with original drummer Adam Pedretti in the new lineup, while also bringing in two new members: keyboardist Lena Douglas and bassist/violinist James Gilligan. This lineup performed throughout 2017, including a Twilight At Taronga show and a run of capital-city dates in June, before the lineup was shifted yet again prior to the band’s current run of shows. Joining the Hoopers and Pedretti now are keyboardist Clio Renner and bassist Tim Curnick. “They’re such beautiful players,” Ella enthuses emphatically. “I’ve done a lot of touring with Clio, as she’s a part of the RocKwiz house band and I go out with them on the road a lot. Tim has been around as this incredible jazz bassist for years – he’s an amazing producer as well, so he sounds really yummy mixed in with us.”
Interestingly, it’s been through inducting new faces into the Killing Heidi collective that has assisted Hooper in re-staking her own claim to the music itself. She goes on to describe having previously-uninvolved people on board as a part of her own healing process. “It sounds funny to even need one,” she admits. “I guess I spent a lot of time not wanting to draw attention to it because I was so young when these songs were written. To have a few young guns coming through our ranks and be really enthusiastic about playing these songs has sort of allowed me to have a bit of fun with it as well. They’ll be like, ‘This song is so cool!’ and it’ll just hit me: Yeah, it is!”
Having gotten into music so young, Hooper more or less came of age in the public eye. That, in turn, meant developing as a performer in many ways. At 34, Hooper is more confident and in control than ever before – which means you’re far more likely to get a great Killing Heidi show now than you ever would have back at the height of the band’s popularity. Sure, having the biggest songs in the country sung back to you in a frenzied bunny-mosh, multi-coloured dreads flying about, is enough to make one take off their bucket hat in respect. Even so, Hooper knows she was far from disciplined as a performing vocalist at the time – she was far too preoccupied with the energy than hitting the notes.
“Back when I was in the eye of the storm, it was so hard for me to comprehend my own artistic journey,” she says. “It’s a really overwhelming thing when you’re so caught up in it all. That’s another reason why I really felt like I had to get away from it. I suppose now that I’m an adult…” She pauses, giggling at the very notion of the word, before continuing: “…I’m coming to these songs with a lot more maturity and experience. I see why the songs worked, and how they worked. I can look back on our live shows back then and see that they were hit and miss. Now, I don’t feel like there are any misses. We know what we’re doing. We can’t fuck it up.”
Hooper and co. are currently undertaking a regional tour, getting to the areas that weren’t covered back in June. You’ll hear songs from all three Killing Heidi LPs, some rare cuts from the early days and even a couple of non-Killing Heidi songs. They’re not covers, however – at least, not technically. To acknowledge the intervening years, as well as to break up the bouts of nostalgia, the band play a song from the Hooper siblings’ project The Verses, as well as a single released under Ella Hooper’s own name. “I’m glad people have been enjoying that,” says the lady herself. “There are obviously some Killing Heidi fans that would have absolutely no idea about The Verses or my solo record. It’s a bit of a risk to have those songs in there, but I think it’s a big part of the narrative. It takes you through our whole journey, and then right back around to the beginning.”
Hooper also doesn’t take offence to the fact that, for some people, she’s been in the “whatever happened to…” pile ever since Killing Heidi broke up for the first time. She’s acutely aware of pop-culture blindspots, having had plenty of them herself, and has a deep comprehension of the ebb and flow of public profile. “I really don’t mind at all,” she says. “If anyone ever asks if they see me in the street or something, I’m just like ‘Well, you probably don’t know, but there’s this, this and this.’ It’s fine. I mean, the only things that are really omnipresent for everyday Aussies is the massive stuff like The Bachelor or something like that.” It’s suggested, in jest, that The Bachelorette could be a possible career option; given the rise in profile it’s given to Sophie Monk. “You laugh, but it’s legitimately something friends and relatives have suggested,” Hooper cackles. “My auntie literally emailed me about it just the other day. I’m not going on the fucking Bachelor! Go away!”