Embracing the ‘back half’

Singer-songwriter JP Hoe approaches new record, musical career with fresh perspective


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If JP Hoe never puts out another album, he could die happy.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/09/2022 (194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If JP Hoe never puts out another album, he could die happy.

“It feels better than any other record has felt,” Hoe says of Botanicals, his sixth studio release. “This is the piece of art that I would gladly die on — this is that hill.”

Covered in old-timey illustrations of flora and fauna, the album, which comes out tomorrow, is all about growth — as a person, as a parent, as a friend and as a busy touring musician.

Like everyone in the music industry, the pandemic took everything from Hoe. Overnight, he became the primary caregiver for his kids, nine-year-old Parker and four-year-old Mara, while his wife, Lindsay, worked 60 hours a week for a company developing a COVID-19 drug. Touring, performing and even writing ceased for the better part of a year.

As the outside world fell away, the internal was thrown into sharp relief.

“Up to the pandemic, everything was about attaining and the drive to reach new benchmarks and thresholds,” he says. “I’m looking at my career a little bit differently and just how I want to work on the back half of my life.”

“Back half” is a lovingly morbid term Hoe, 41, uses to refer to his future. “Assume you can get to 80 (years old),” he says. “These first 40 years are grow grow grow, figure it out… and then the back half is really about living those lessons.”

The importance of balance was a hard-taught lesson during the pandemic, but one he hopes to practice at home and on the road. He’s resigned to be more choosey with gigs so he can be more present as a husband and father.

“Let’s make it worthwhile for everybody,” Hoe says. “If it’s going to be harder on my wife and on the kids, these have to be really good shows.”

One thing in particular he doesn’t want to give up is the opportunity to coach his son’s hockey and baseball teams. Mentoring young athletes was a surprisingly rewarding activity over the last two years for the musician, who once had designs on becoming a teacher.

“It was coaching that actually gave me a sense of purpose and joy,” he says. “I was shocked that it did, but I know that going forward I don’t want to lose that.”

Botanicals is a 12-track album written, engineered and produced by Hoe and funded entirely through the generosity of his fanbase. Early in the pandemic, he launched a crowdfunding campaign and received enough donations to make the forthcoming record without a label. It gave him full creative control and provided copious amounts of guilt while navigating the demands of life during a public health crisis.

“I could not even unlock the door (to my studio) for almost a year,” he says. “That led to moments of panic attacks and anxiety and feeling like I’m letting down these people who are giving me this jolt of energy and funds to make this record.”

In 2021, Hoe was finally able to carve out time in his backyard recording studio to write and revisit songs in progress. He writes best in public — a busy coffee shop is his ideal setting — so working from home was a challenge. To get in the right mindset, he would head out to the studio, turn off the lights and sit in front of the piano until something came to him. Whenever a tune struck a chord he would play it, ad nauseum, for the only public available: his family.

Hoe performed demos at the breakfast table and before bedtime. His kids became trusted critics and, quite literally, valuable sounding boards — son Parker doled out praise easily, while daughter Mara was more selective. Even the song My Blood, which was written with Mara in mind, didn’t always pass muster.

“She was into it and then for a couple months, she hated it and asked me to stop playing it,” Hoe says, laughing.

When he was finally able to bring in other collaborators, he surrounded himself with musical friends including Rusty Matyas, Matt Peters, Lloyd Peterson and others. Graphic designer Roberta Landreth created the album artwork.

Botanicals is deeply personal, not only for the way it was created, but also for its content. Half the songs were written pre-pandemic and half were written in the thick of it.

There’s a song about a miscarriage his wife experienced, a song about reconnecting with old friends, a song about mortality and a song about putting life on hold for love. The latter, written in 2019 and entitled All Good Things Must Come to an End, started as a vignette about star-crossed lovers and took on new meaning through isolation.

“That song absolutely shifted into (something) bigger than just this little story,” he says.

Next weekend, Hoe will play these songs in public for the first time at an album release party at the Park Theatre on Fri., Sept. 16 and a super secret field trip on Sat., Sept. 17. He expects the sets to be emotional.

“My first worry is that I will cry,” he says. “(But) it’ll feel really, really good at the end of the night, I’m sure of that.”

The first show at the Park is sold out, but spots are still available for the secret show on Saturday, which includes a bus trip to an undisclosed location, dinner and a concert. The second show also happens to land on Hoe’s 42nd birthday — a fitting celebration of the “back half,” when life feels good and undiscovered excitement is on the horizon.

“The garden is lush right now,” he says.

Botanicals can be downloaded starting tomorrow on Apple Music and Spotify. Visit jphoe.com for more information.


Twitter: @evawasney

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Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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