We’re not saying that Lara Hope was born to play a modern day blend of classic ’50s rock, country, and rockabilly, but there’s certainly some evidence to suggest that.
“There’s a videotape of me doing karaoke to Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ when I was nine years old,” says the Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones frontwoman. “I think that maybe I knew without even knowing. I loved that kind of music. I was so young, it was probably subconscious. But I knew I loved it.”
That love of the great Sun Records-era mix of rock and country, and especially rockabilly, is apparent in the band’s most recent album, Luck Maker. Over the album’s 10 tracks, Hope’s elastic, richly sensual voice takes on stutter-stop shuffles (“I Believe You, Liar”), smoky acoustic-electric rockers (the title track), stripped-down greaser stomps (“Floatin’ Down The River”), double-time standup-bass heavy thumpers (“Whiskey Pick”), and honky-tonk country (“I’ve Never”). As she scats, croons, and hollers over the music, it’s clear Hope is having the time of her life.
“This music is fun, first and foremost,” she says. “I like that you can dance to it. I like that it’s music that seems to span generations. There were people who were around for the original wave of it in the ’50s, and there are people my age who love it. It doesn’t pigeonhole you into playing for one particular kind of person or age.”
And it might seem like Hope’s vintage fashion sense, which favors fringe and horn-rimmed glasses, goes hand in hand with the music, but she’s rocked that look since she was a punk rocker. “I’ve had the same style for so many years,” she says. “I was sort of dressing like this before I even started playing the music. I played more modern rock for a long time, but my style wasn’t different before I started playing this.”
The transfer from punk rocker to rockabilly band leader was an easy one for Hope, because the two genres share a certain level of energy and attitude. In fact, she’s seen a lot of her musical peers from the punk world shift into different, older styles of music. “Rockabilly and folk and roots music in general became popular within my generation again,” she says. “People our age delved back into old country and started writing music that sounds like that older music, and I think that’s so cool. There are a lot of people I know who used to play punk music who now play traditional country or rockabilly or roots music in general.”
Hope is also quick to point out that, though they’re most often classified as a straight rockabilly outfit, there’s a lot more going on in the Ark-Tones’ music. “We don’t ever really classify ourselves as a rockabilly band,” she says. “We kind of call ourselves a few different genres, and rockabilly happens to be one of them. I think that comes up because there’s a whole culture surrounding rockabilly, like car shows and festivals and fashion and all that. But we play rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues and rockabilly. Everyone in the band comes from a diverse background, and for me, I would hate to feel like I had to write a certain type of song just to fit into a certain type of genre. I think that we touch on a lot of genres.”
And speaking of songwriting, just because Hope puts a lot of vamp and swagger into her vocals while sporting a vintage look, it doesn’t mean she is playing some throwback character; most of her songs come from her heart or at the very least from what she sees around her. “I want to be able to believe in what I’m singing,” she says, “and I want it to be relatable. If you look at our song ‘He’s Not the Devil,’ that comes from a conversation I had with a friend of mine telling me about her recent divorce. She said that her ex-husband was not the devil, but she was in hell. And I thought, ‘That’s a great song title.’ It came from someone else’s story, but it wasn’t something I made up.”