Name: Happie Hoffman
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: Happie Hoffman's "All I Needed" is out now. It's the first single off her upcoming EP Heartbreak Season.
Recommendations: As a musician, the book Zen Guitar by Phillip Toshio has been an amazing way to experience music and playing music with others. I would also recommend The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. This book was an incredible guide to working through resistance as an artist.
If you enjoyed this interview with Happie Hoffman and find out more about her music, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing music when I was four. My parents put me in piano lessons, and soon after I began playing piano I was singing. I have early memories of practicing for performances and recitals, and when I was a teenager I really began writing my own music.
Music always made sense to me - I could hear and anticipate what should come next in a song or melody, and as early as I remember singing, I remember hearing harmonies.
For writing - the first songs I wrote were written as gifts for friends. I remember writing those first songs vividly.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colors. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I feel connected, and it can profoundly change how I feel emotionally. I feel connected to source, I feel connected to the artist or writer, and I can really feel what the singer or writer feels if they’re feeling it when they sing or play.
Some music elevates my mood, some music breaks my heart, and other music makes me feel connected to others because I can feel them feel things through their voice or what they’re playing.
When an amazing musician plays, emotion comes through. That's my favorite part of music, feeling that emotion sonically.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
In college I put together my first band. I was the lead vocalist with four guys in a cover band, and I loved performing with them at IU in Bloomington, Indiana. It was an amazing training and unofficial course for many past moments and what I’m doing now in my life.
After school, I was in a duo with my boyfriend at the time, Eric. Our band was “Eric & Happie” and we traveled the world playing both Jewish music and indie folk music--lots of love songs. Our debut Album “It’s Yours” debuted #11 on the itunes singer-songwriter charts at the time, which was so exciting, and we were together for six years writing, loving, and touring. We are still great friends. After that chapter, I knew I needed to release a solo project and come into my own as an artist.
It has been an important three years of really learning what it means to be on my own-- to be a solo artist and to be single (for some of this time). I had not written a song about that relationship or breakup until I sat down to write this album. My cowriter, Ori Rakib, or iromusic, encouraged me to write a song we started about Eric. I immediately started crying, and the song “Goodbye” poured out of me.
In the writing process, Ori pushed me to be more honest than I’d ever been in my songwriting. He told me to write the things that I didn't want to say or admit outloud-- and that's how we got to the core of these songs about love and heartbreak.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee-- a true music town, and I grew up around music and soul. I love any kind of music where you can hear the soul or emotion. I think that's the point.
I believe, based on what people have expressed to me, that my gift is helping people to access emotion - and that means I have to feel what I’m singing or expressing. Sometimes it feels really vulnerable to even sing a cover song, because my emotion is out on the table for others to see.
That is how I see my job though, to be a channel for emotion and creativity and to share that with others.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
It is not my own-- my gift was given to me and it is my responsibility to be a channel and to share it. It's my responsibility to keep the channel clear and to remember that it's not mine to keep, especially when I’m scared or feeling shy.
I have also found that it’s profoundly important to be around other creators and artists - to be around other people that have been tasked or graced with this task in life to create and share their hearts.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I think it's up to each one of us to make what inspires us. It's inevitable that those sounds and styles might change with the times as far as what sounds inspire us and the influences we have at any given moment.
I think the thread that is timeless is making sure you feel something as the creator and that you're helping others feel something. To me - that is the tradition no matter the genre.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
The best tool I have is journaling. It helps me understand what I’m feeling and what it is that I need to be creating or singing about.
The strategy is consistency and doing it even if I don't feel like it.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Wake up. Coffee immediately. Journal. Workout. Work, emails, phone calls, social media ... More phone calls, both professional and personal. Play music. Matcha latte. Socialize. Scroll social media. Sleep.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
The song “So Clean” on my album was written after a disagreement with my cowriter. We worked through some feelings we were both having and then wrote the song “So Clean” about cleaning the slates and sharing how we felt. The whole process felt authentic and real to what was happening for both of us at the time.
That was a creative moment with this project that I will cherish, and going through that process of honesty and heart-shares together brought our friendship closer together.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I find that when writing by myself I’m able to really distill how I’m feeling. I love creating ideas on my own, and then often I’ll bring some of those ideas that I want to chase down to a writing partner and we’ll build from there.
I cowrote in my last band for six years and I still love co-writing. You're able to create something that neither of you could create on your own because of the presence of the other creative. I love the feeling of being wowed by another person's ideas in moments of creativity.
In a cowrite situation, I find that the biggest asset I’m able to bring is melodic imagination. I love the way my brain thinks about melodies, and I am amazed by other musicians and lyricists who are able to capture a feeling and put it into the perfect lyric.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
The art that I’m making right now feels very authentic to the current stage I am in in life. I am single and in a stage of looking for love that many people can relate to. I love hearing a song and feeling like it was written for me because of what I’m going through, and my hope is to do the same for people.
Music elevates - music can help us access an emotion, whether it be happy or sad, and music can speak to the places of our soul that dont even know they need a talking to.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Music has been a way for me to connect with others. For years I traveled the world leading music and communal singing and prayer. Singing is a way for us to support one another with our voices.
The music I’m writing now is about love and the heart. This album has been about sharing my experience with navigating love and matters of the heart. I have sung at funerals and weddings, and music is truly a way for people to connect to the emotion at hand.
People sometimes cry when they hear music because it speaks to a deeper layer that we don’t always tap into on a normal Tuesday.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Well, I am no scientist, but I have sat in many soundbaths with crystal bowls, and I’ve found that feeling the soundwaves from that experience is truly a somatic experience.
I believe that music has an effect on our bodies, and I’m sure there's a scientist that would tell you that music activates different areas of our brain than a normal conversation or visual experience.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think some musicians who really enjoy a chemex pour over might say that the two could be similar.
Music and creativity is an experience (for me) that takes full presence and emotion. I do not feel that way when I make my keurig coffee in the morning necessarily, but what I will say about the two is that both are important to me to be true routines. Creativity is like a muscle, and must be used and activated in order to keep it healthy and strong.
As far as what I express through music, I express emotion and my heart. Singing, to me, is much more than singing notes-- it’s feeling and expressing. After I sing something emotional, I feel as though I’ve gone through something or experienced something - because I have. I do not tap into that part of myself when I make my coffee in the morning or do mundane tasks, as it would end up being draining.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I am not a scientist. But I would say that it's pretty magic that music is able to affect us so prominently! A meditation teacher of mine once said our minds are like tofu - they take on whatever thoughts and experiences we put them in.
Music is a marinade that can take us to other worlds through our thoughts and emotions.