B-Sides: Naomi Hooley and the Wilderness Inside

I discovered Naomi Hooley’s warm, powerful music a few months ago, when a friend pointed me first to her song “Tornado” and then the album that spawned it, the gorgeous It Was a Great October. Her sound is earthy and approachable, and her backstory is the stuff of serendipitous musical legend. My theory is, no matter where you listen to Naomi’s music, you will be reminded of home.

The cover of Naomi Hooley's album, which features a white woman with long blonde hair staring into the camera on a beautiful fall day.I believe in perfect, enigmatic musical offerings that fall from the sky fully formed every once in a while and leave adoring audiences wondering where they came from and what we have done to deserve such perfection (hello, Fiona Apple), but I’ve always connected more to artists with a clearly marked road behind them. Naomi Hooley’s is a doozy.

Born and raised in Alaska—where her family built their home, raised and hunted their own food, and lived for years without running water or electricity—Hooley imbues her music with a deep sense of nature and place, even if that place is ever-changing. It Was a Great October sings to her tough childhood (“Mosquito Street”), but also to her adopted home of Portland, where she had geographical love-at-first-visit (“Busy City”). The album’s title track also comes steeped in context: Hooley came to Portland to record the album with her band, which she did, but the band broke up three days after completing work in the studio. Upon returning to Alaska days later, her marriage dissolved. Great October tells that story, of how quickly priorities and circumstances change.

The stories in Hooley’s music are dramatic alone, but would fall flat or seem overly theatrical were she not the musical craftswoman she is. (Credit also due to her excellent producer, Portland legend Rob Stroup.) Her piano, organ, and Wurlitzer work place each song, alternatively, in ’70s Los Angeles canyon rock, full-throated piano pop, or straightforward, searching, singer-songwriter lamentation—all over the seamless, emotive instrumentation barrels her gorgeous voice. Hooley has drawn comparisons to Neko Case, Elton John, and Adele, none of which are hard to place upon hearing her sing or watching her perform. Here’s a video including a short interview following her CD release concert in Portland, and a performance of “Tornado.” Also on display: Her thoughtful, honest responses to questions about her music, which she continues to give in interviews still.

For info on Naomi’s tour schedule and to buy her music, visit her website here.

Previously: New Music From Angel Haze, Beach House, and Erykah Badu, Q&A with Anaïs Mitchell

by Katie Presley
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Katie Presley is a writer and editor currently based on the East Coast (help, how did this happen??). She's been with Bitch in one form or another since 2010, when she started as a New Media Intern, and most recently served as Bitch's first and only Music Editor, from 2016-2017. Past resume lines include Assistant Producer for All Songs Considered at NPR Music, panelist on Pop Culture Happy Hour, and bylines at NPR and Ms. Katie is also a doula and herbalist, and writes a blog on herbal medicine, "The Herbal Apprentice." She also co-founded the first full-spectrum doula organization in Texas, The Bridge Collective. She is also a late-comer to being a Dog Person, but currently lives with four cats. 

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