17 Years On, Killing Heidi Take A Loving Look Back At ‘Reflector’
"It doesn't sound like what's on triple j right now, but it holds up on its own."
It’s a brisk morning in Sydney’s inner east, and Jesse and Ella Hooper are ordering their third coffees of the day. “Our flight left at 6.30am,” Jesse says by way of explanation, as a fresh long black is placed in front of him. “And we fly back tonight — so I really need this.”
Despite the early start, the Hooper siblings are bright-eyed and talkative, ready for the hectic press day that lies ahead of them. It’s a few days out from the start of their national tour as Killing Heidi, and they’re excited.
“It feels really good to be playing those songs again,” Jesse says. “For a long time we didn’t want to go back there — because those songs were our youth. Now, we’re just realising that it can be fun to go back, and we’re enjoying it.”
2017 marks 20 years since the duo formed Killing Heidi in the small country hamlet of Violet Town. Spurred on by early success with the single ‘Kettle’, they went on to release three acclaimed albums: Reflector, Present, and Killing Heidi.
While all their albums enjoyed success, it was their 2000 debut Reflector that dramatically altered the music landscape and catapulted them to stardom. Buoyed by the huge singles ‘Weir’ and ‘Mascara’, it raced to number one on the ARIA Charts and became the fastest selling album in Australian music history. What’s more, all this happened while Ella and Jesse were still teenagers.
So before they dive into their back catalogue on stage, Music Junkee caught up with them to look back at the album that started it all.
Music Junkee: Going right back to the start, can you remember when the idea was first put to you to make an album?
Jesse Hooper: Our first hit, ‘Kettle’, came out in ’96, and we signed with our label around ’97, ’98, so there was a good two years of writing and development before we really even started thinking about it. We always knew we working towards an album, but we didn’t have any idea of how it was going to go.
What do you remember about those first studio sessions?
Ella Hooper: I remember being intimidated. I didn’t have any experience of singing into those big, beautiful microphones. I had just been playing live. I’m used to moving around with the microphone, I’m not used to standing still. The physical experience of just standing still was very intimidating. It’s a bit of an awkward process for a singer at least.
Also, the thing that struck me was that it was the first time having working relationships. I felt so grown up. I was meeting the producer and meeting the engineer and the tech person and the lady that runs the studio. It was such a point of personal growth.
JH: I remember us being very, very excited just to be having that opportunity. We were now playing with people who’ve played in bands we really respected, so there was definitely a feeling of ‘we have to step up’. We were so young — we were living in the country then, and every weekend we would drive to Melbourne to record. There were two main sessions we had over a year in two different studios, then a whole bunch of overload sessions over a year and a half.
The first half we did at Sing Sing in ’97, and the second half at Harris Road studio in ’98.
EH: I also remember feeling like the album was never going to come out. We didn’t know what a normal recording process was — that it can take months and months and years — and it took us years. And to a kid of 16, a year is so long.
“We were so young — we were living in the country then, and every weekend we would drive to Melbourne to record.”
JH: Also, our managers were shuffling us around to labels for deals — and they were all saying “no, no, no”. We honestly felt like this could just be a writing process that would never see the light of day.
Did you go in with a bunch of songs ready to go? What was the first song to be cut?
JH: A lot of the songs came from an early writing period off the back of ‘Kettle’; they were written in ’97, ’98, ’99.
EH: They were mostly written through jamming, because we’re brother and sister and we lived together at the time. He was the nearest person and it was just very natural. It’s that famous saying of, “You’ve got your whole life to write your first record, and you’ve got three months to write your second”. We very much went through that kind of scenario with the first two albums.
JH: The first song recorded? Hmm. It was in the first batch of recording. Either ‘Weir’, ‘Leave Me Alone’, or ‘You Don’t Know’.
There are so many ideas in Reflector. Before you even open your mouth in ‘Mascara’, there have been strings, there have been synths — there just so much crammed in there. Was your thinking, “Let’s just throw in that. Let’s just throw in that”. What was going on?
EH: It was just excitement.
JH: I think in the first album it’s like, “Let’s just try everything that we possibly can.”
EH: Also, we didn’t know any better. I didn’t even know how to make a record. I knew I could sing and write good songs, but in terms of production, I had no idea.
There’s a lot going on in there with hindsight — pretty immediate hindsight. I would take 20 percent of the bells and whistles off now. There was a long time there where I couldn’t listen to it because of the production. I felt like it was so hectic.
JH: I agree, we would make a totally different record now. But it is what it is, and we love it.
“There was a long time there where I couldn’t listen to it because of the production, because I felt like the production was so hectic.”
The other thing that comes through is the youthful exuberance. Like these are talented teenagers in a studio having fun — that’s what shines through.
JH: Interestingly, I think that’s why we’re loving playing these songs again. We’re playing them without a lot of the recorded layers, but it’s energy that you bring to them that’s making people love it as much as they used to.
There are a lot of grunge influences in there. The rhythm section in particular.
EH: Absolutely the grunge ingredient in there. Sometimes people forget that because it’s so shiny, but the song-writing is very grunge. We were into some really heavy stuff, like White Zombie. That’s also where the dreadlocks came from as well [laughs].
That band was very strange, they had their moment in ’99, ’96. More rhythmic driving and then also funk and pop. A mixing of those sort of feminine alternative pop vogue influences with the male masculine driving grunge and rock.
I read something great about the making of ‘Weir’. You were encouraged to make the chorus bigger and bigger and bigger, and you got frustrated with those people telling you to maker it bigger, that you just ended up screaming in the chorus.
EH: [Laughs] Yep, that’s true. It’s such an epic chorus to sing. There’s not many lyrics in ‘Weir’, but what lyrics there are are really drawn out, so you’ll use a lot of air. You really have to breathe deep. It’s quite physical to sing like that, but it does work.
JH: The chorus melody is really pumped up, and the range goes up.
EH: We did love contrast.
JH: We did love contrast, particularly just in different sections of the track. Really going for contrast, really going for dynamics.
What’s your favourite song of the album, do you think?
EH: Gee, you know I never think about that.
JH: I think for me it’s still ‘Weir’… it’s just a great pop song.
“Reflector doesn’t sound like what’s on triple j right now, but it holds up on its own.”
EH: ‘Class Celebrities’ — for the lyrics. I feel like it was a bit more succinct with its vision. Like the recording, it’s clearly about the cool kids and the not so cool kids in my school. I was like, ‘Cool. I nailed one time, one place, one setting, one feeling’. It’s a bit of a rally cry for not having to be super pretty, super polished.
I was just a scruffy, scrappy teenager — I wanted to say ‘Hey, you can be grungy. It’s fine — you don’t need to tolerate bullies.’ That message still resonates with me now.
Do you remember the day Reflector came out?
JH: No, but I remember the day that the chart got released. We were up in Sydney and had a champagne breakfast and Ella got poo-pooed in the newspaper, ’cause she was underage.
EH: That’s right. I forgot!. I was like 16. Little did they know that champagne was the least of their worries [laughs].
Those performances of the Reflector tour are legendary. What show stands out above the rest?
JH: Big Day Out in Melbourne was the classic crazy one because we were billed on the side stage, but in the time between being booked and the time we played, our music had peaked in popularity.
EH: We should have been bumped up to main stage.
JH: Security had to turn people away. It was getting dangerous. People were hanging off the roof. You couldn’t hear anything, people were screaming. You couldn’t hear each other–
EH: It was really weird, we were like “okay we can’t hear anything, but let’s go for it”. You wouldn’t believe what it sounds like until you actually have people screaming at that pitch. You can’t hear anything. They are louder than your amps and stuff. It’s like, “Well shit, I hope this is good.”
Did you listen back to Reflector a lot over the years?
JH: Once it came out and we were playing those songs live, I don’t think I listened to it at all. For years. Until last year when I was in London — I listened to most of it, but not the whole thing.
EH: I was surprised that it still holds up. This doesn’t sound like what’s on triple j right now, but it holds up on its own — and I am quite a critic. I think I will be the first to say, “Oh my God. It’s aged so badly. It’s terrible.” But it hasn’t.
Is it a trip to listen to yourself back when you were that young? Like musical time travel?
EH: Yeah. Your voice sounds weird to you because you know you don’t sound like that anymore. You know you wouldn’t choose certain words anymore because that’s the only word you knew at the time — that classic teenage habit.
And to play those songs again?
JH: The big fear for us was that we didn’t want to pretend to be those young people again. We’re not 16 anymore. But it’s not really like that, it’s about just having fun. We are still playing those songs but it feels like we’re reinterpreting them in a fun way.
EH: It’s amazing how much is there, and how much you don’t have to re-learn or really practice. The rust is only a tiny layer of rust, like knowing the song and knowing the structure — it’s all muscle memory.
That album meant so much to a lot of teenagers.
EH: We get that. We get the stories, and that it makes people so emotional. It really means so much to me what it means to them. We’ve got beautiful coming out of stories on our Facebook, we’ve got stories of people who were really depressed and really, really not well in their teenage years. People who felt so misunderstood and it was a real lifeline for them.
JH: People who felt cast out, people who felt like misfits. People’s connection to this material blows us away. When we do signings — and we do them a lot — that is kind of overwhelming. There are hundreds of thousands of people’s stories that are in that music. Reflector is so much bigger than just us.
Killing Heidi National Tour
Sydney: June 8 at the Metro
Melbourne: June 9 at 170 Russell
Brisbane: June 10 at the Tivoli
You can grab tickets here.