Too often the idea of a folk musician conjures up a sullen, road-weary traveller, filtering life's injustices through cigarette-scorched songs. This is not the case with Winnipeg's JP Hoe. Though the young singer-songwriter is influenced by the greats ("Bob, Neil and Joni put an acoustic guitar in my hand," he says), Hoe has carved out a unique path where humour and tongue-in-cheek lyrics feel just as right as a tortured ballad.
A trip to his website shows a banner photo of Hoe with his hands making a Batman mask, posters for his annual JP Hoe Hoe Hoe Holiday Show and a staggering amount of short (and funny) videos created for Canada Day about what makes our country unique.
"For me, the humour is in the fact that the lyrics almost always have a double meaning from what a listener will hear. For example, the song 'Learn To Let You Go'"---off his fifth album, 2012's Mannequin---"is really about a guy I know who joined a cult. When you listen, you'll probably think it has something to do with a love gone bad," Hoe says. "Nope. A cult. At concerts, I love telling audiences the origins of my songs, which usually results in a few 'shut up,' 'what?' and 'really?' I find that funny."
Hoe's debut video, for "Nothing's Gonna Harm You," is in keeping with his love of whimsy, featuring adorable stop motion animated paper trains, kitties peeping through mailslots and tokens of western Canadiana.
"I loved the finished product. When we sat down to figure out the video, the Procter brothers pitched some thoughts and I gave them a few suggestions---love of Winnipeg, urgency, whimsicality---and away they went," he says. "I truly think it's one of the more unique videos I've ever seen. There are so many subtle nuances that you need to watch the video numerous times to pick up and to me that's fun."
Hoe's music is upbeat---it's easy to hear pop and rock sidling alongside roots and folk influences.
"I think as a singer songwriter I'm afforded the luxury of experimenting and dipping my toes outside of what's expected. I love folk, roots, pop, rock and orchestration," Hoe says. "To ignore part of the passion would probably be a detriment to the music and my happiness. And if this job isn't making me happy, then what the hell am I doing here?"
And making sure he's happy is certainly something on Hoe's mind. While for some artists, popularity and a wider audience can result in a lack of focus, for Hoe it's been quite the opposite. On staying true to himself in the face of his increasingly mainstream success, Hoe says: "Beck, Aimee Mann and Wilco taught me you don't have to be on every radio station in order to write great music and have a lasting career.
"I want to look back at my career, wherever it ends up, and be proud that I didn't have to compromise artistically. Perhaps it's the reason it's taken longer for success, or perhaps it will ultimately lead to my end, I don't care. I love this job because I get to make what I want to make. I believe there's a market for what I do, and most importantly, I truly believe the artists that remain true to themselves and their music have the staying power to keep going for life. But what do I know?"
JP Hoe w/Andrew O’Brien, Ari Hest Friday, January 25, 8pm, Cempoal de la Calavera Negra, 2376 Agricola St., $10