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Hope Dunbar in Sweetheartland

Hope Dunbar in Sweetheartland

Photo Credit: Karyn Rae Photography

Hope Dunbar in Sweetheartland

Nebraska-based Americana-folk singer-songwriter Hope Dunbar has unveiled Sweetheartland, her latest record that is sure to leave a lasting impression on all who give a good listen.  Recorded in Nashville before the pandemic hit, it’s her second full-length, and it was produced by Zack Smith (one-half of the celebrated duo Smooth Hound Smith), Jesse Thompson, and Dunbar herself.  Sweetheartland takes a listener on a journey with memorable stories and vibrant melodies that are absolutely timeless.  In this interview with Highwire Daze, Hope Dunbar invites us all into the realm of Sweetheartland, discusses her dynamic live shows, John Prine visions and Joni Mitchell covers, and other topics of interest.  Read on…

What was the name of the very first song you wrote, how old were you, and what was the song about?

Oh gosh, I don’t remember the title but I know it was about Jane Austen’sPride and Prejudice,” which might make you think I was 15 when I wrote it. I was 30, actually. I love Jane Austen.

Where are you based out of and what is your local music scene like there?
I live in a small town west of Lincoln, NE, and that’s my local music scene. Lincoln is an amazing music town with great bands and strong support for local music, which is so awesome. I’m a singer/songwriter and there aren’t as many of us solo acts, but the venues and fans that give us space to play have a very special place in my heart. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed seeing all my Lincoln music friends.

Is there any overall story or concept behind the album title “Sweetheartland”?
I think the overall theme behind “Sweetheartland” is that there’s more to it than you imagine. It’s about love and putting down roots, but it’s also giving a voice to loneliness and longing. This album is wealth and want all at the same time.

Tell me about the song “John Prine,” and do you have any stories about meeting or seeing John Prine live that you could share?
I sat down and wrote a song about John Prine one day just to satisfy the urge to talk to him, and that’s the song you hear on the record. I only had the pleasure of seeing him once live and he was as magical.

Select two other songs from “Sweetheartland” and what inspired the lyrics.
Evacuate” was written after Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas, and I was imagining that metaphorical sense of flood and drowning. “Dog Like You” was written for an episode of my podcast I co-host with my sister-in-law, Emily Dunbar, “Prompt Queens.” We write new songs to prompts each week.

Who produced “Sweetheartland,” and what was it like working with them?
Sweetheartland” was co-produced by Zack Smith and Jesse Thompson, and they were amazing to work with. They understood my vision and made it come to life.

What has it been like to write and release new music in the middle of a pandemic and all of the social unrest in the world?
Writing music during pandemic has been a real lifesaver. I found a writing group early on in pandemic, and we have been meeting weekly for over a year now, which has been such a gift. We’ve used music to process, digest, and express ourselves through turmoil in real time week by week. Releasing music in pandemic feels like a wonderful leap of faith. I held on to this record for a while unsure of how I’d send it out into the world. Choosing to release it now feels exactly right.

What could one expect from a live Hope Dunbar show?
I’m lucky to spend most of my concert dates in rooms where I can see everyone and tell a story. I love entering into the moment and capturing it just for those 90 minutes before it flies away again. I like telling stories, I like laughing and having fun. I hope people connect with the music that I bring them.

What was the last show you played prior to the pandemic and how did the show go?
When pandemic hit, my friend, Katie Dahl and I had just arrived in Amsterdam for a European tour. The very next day, we were called home, and a couple days later we got a return flight. Just prior to that, I had done a mini-Midwestern tour with my friend, Bob Hillman, and I think those were my last dates. Perhaps Kansas City was my last show?

If you could open for any band or artist either now or from the past, who would it be and why?
My job as an opener is to get the ball rolling, do my best to craft a set that will transition and help point everyone’s focus to the headliner. It’s even better when you love that headliner’s music and happen to be friends with them, so I’m always going to answer, Darrell Scott.

If you were invited to appear on a tribute album to Joni Mitchell, what song would you choose to cover and why?
Oooohhhhh, I am a master “Blue” album singer. I put it on, and my rule is to sing it all the way through. I am very very good at singing “Case of You.”

What do you hope 2021 brings for you and for the music world in general?
I hope people start gathering around live music again. I hope people renew their passion for this amazing artform, and elevate it to more than what it was before the world shut down. The fans and musicians, together, have the potential to build our musical world even stronger than what it was before it went dark.

Any final words of wisdom?
The great thing about music is that it’s like the biggest table ever. Songs have lots of different jobs and serve many different purposes in the soundtrack of our lives. I would encourage, first myself, and everyone else, to walk around the table every once in a while and sit in a realm you’re not as familiar with. Let an unknown voice be the thing that transforms your moments and days. It’s a vast universe that we all get to enjoy.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!
Thank you for inviting me to hang out and talk about “Sweetheartland!”

(Interview by Ken Morton)

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