UCR INTERVIEW: Lara Hope of Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones

Lara Hope
Photo Credit: Franco Vogt

Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones are a Rockabilly band from Kingston, New York. “Ask anyone who’s caught them live and you’ll hear the same thing: It’s simply impossible to see Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones perform and not have a great time. A smile on the lips, a swivel in the hips, and an earful of snappy tunes are the inevitable takeaways from any Ark-Tones appearance. The band’s singular blend of rock ‘n’ roll, country, blues, surf, Western swing, rockabilly, folk, pop, and jazzy rhythm & blues gets feet a-moving and hands a-clapping no matter the audience. By the end of the night, if they weren’t already, those lucky
concertgoers are rabid fans.”

We had the opportunity to chat with Lara recently. We talked about her extensive career, what she’s been up to during the pandemic, and the new album Here to Tell the Tale.

Interviewed by: Kevin Rolfe

Utah Concert Review: So where are you speaking to me from right now?

Lara Hope: I am at my house in Kingston, New York, which is right by Woodstock. 

UCR: Oh, nice. That’s a beautiful area. 

Lara Hope: It is a beautiful area for sure. It’s you know people, when I say New York, they just assume New York City, but it’s the big state.

UCR: It’s a real big state. And that’s a great way to jump into this because that was my first thought when thinking of this style of music. I don’t know if it rings, New York, or what people might think of it. They’re gonna think you know, New York City, Manhattan or even Long Island, which is, you know, Billy Joel country…

Lara Hope: Brian Seltzer from The Stray Cats is from Long Island. 

UCR: That’s a great point. Good call! 

Lara Hope: And you know, I actually grew up on Long Island in a town like 20 minutes from where Brian grew up, but I didn’t know about that music until I was older and lived Upstate.

UCR: Yeah, what if you don’t mind me asking what town? 

Lara Hope: Plainview

UCR: So okay, so let me I’m just learning about you and your band. I love this kind of music. I’ve had the chance to cover the Reverend Horton Heat and The Stray Cats and just Brian Seltzer with you know, his orchestra. And it’s just such an awesome style of music. But let’s go back a little to your beginning if you don’t mind. 

Lara Hope: Sure. 

UCR: You’re growing up on Long Island. When did music kind of start coming into your life?

Lara Hope: From as far as I can remember. My mom, was like a lounge singer before I was born. My parents actually met when my mom was performing at a place in the Catskills of New York. It was the Concord Hotel. Most people have heard of it. It doesn’t exist anymore. It’s classic. So they met when she was singing there. So you know, there were always show tunes in my house.  That is really what I was brought up on.

My mom loved the theater and performing show tunes and doing you know, jazz and cabaret kind of stuff. And my dad was, I mean, he can’t, you know, carry a tune in a bucket, but he loves a good show tune. I think when I was about nine is when my mom also dabbled in playing guitar. So it was back then she gave me the foundations of guitar playing. Gave me my first few lessons. And it was also around that same time that we started doing some community musical theater together.

So yeah, I was nine we did Oliver!, I got the role of Oliver, pre-boobs, and that was my first taste into really performing on a stage in front of people. Singing and just getting the feel of that, which felt good right away.  So I did that a lot, for the next, like throughout middle school. And even up until when I started high school, I did a lot of musical theater. And I played guitar on the side. I mostly played covers, started to write my own original material around college.

That was also when I started playing a lot of open mic nights and that’s really where I got my chops.  Playing a guitar in front of people and working on originals and learning tons of covers of various genres, and then started my first band. My junior year of college was an all-girl band.

UCR: I find it so interesting. Musical theater,  when I talk to people it always seems to be one the first avenues into music, even if the style they end up in, you would never guess. It’s just such an interesting spot. I wonder if it’s just because that’s what’s accessible to kids or if there’s just something about in education or whatever, but I wonder what it is about musical theater that is kind of the introduction to performing music in general for a lot of youth.

Lara Hope: I’m happy to hear you say that because I guess I didn’t realize that. I don’t have any friends now that like show tunes. I still love show tunes and some people look at me like, I’m crazy. 

UCR: Yeah, I love them. 

Lara Hope: My husband, who is my bass player, he can do without that.

UCR: Sure. I talked to somebody who was in southern rock, like a southern rock singer. And he played Audrey II in, Little Shop of Horrors, and I thought, actually, that makes sense.  But I would have never thought that that’s where he had his roots. 

Lara Hope: I love that.

UCR: Why not, right? 

Lara Hope: That’s one of the best. 

UCR: OK so you’re in this all-girl band in college. Did that gain any traction or was it mostly just for fun?

Lara Hope: It was mostly for fun, and we did a lot of local stuff. I mean, I always had grand dreams of I want to go on tour, and I want to do this full time. I don’t know that everyone in the band had that same desire. Also back then, booking tours was a totally different animal. I mean, you would have just cold call places like, you know, it was much more challenging. Not that I’m ancient, this is like 15 years ago or so. But it’s definitely easier to book now that people are just more comfortable doing things virtually.

UCR: Yeah, it has changed a lot. So you’re thinking in your mind, whether it’s just a dream, or a fantasy, or maybe like something that’s driving you to do music full time as your career or your just your livelihood, whatever. When did it start to feel like no, I’m really doing this and this is the way I’m gonna do it, the road I’m going to take to get there?

Lara Hope: So after that, band, that band fizzled out after about two years or so. And then I started like a kind of punk rock hard rock band called “Tiger Piss” that I played in for about 10 years. And that band, we actually did a bunch of touring. So that was where and so that was like, in my early 20s, I started to actually hit the road and go all over the country and just meet people and learn about the different venues and the bookers and just how you do this how you actually go on the road as a band and hopefully make some money. Although back then we didn’t make any money. But we made memories!

UCR: There you go. It’s the priceless moments! 

Lara Hope: In between all those blackout nights. We made a few memories. I don’t know how I did it. But that wasn’t a band that I could really financially rely on to pay the bills, but it was something that was worth its weight in learning the ropes and like I said, making memories. So I did that for a long time, and then somewhere there I had a few bands overlap for a while, but somewhere a few years into “Tiger Piss” and into touring, I got approached by a stranger that said I heard you out singing with “Tiger Piss”. I’m starting a rockabilly outfit. We’re looking for a singer I saw you singing I thought you’d be great. Would you want to come see how it feels?

And you know, at the time, like I wasn’t, I knew the more you know, popular, old rock and roll and rockabilly artists like you know, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis and, you know, the older Beatles and Richie Valens and stuff like that. But once I kind of met up with those guys, they kind of got me into a lot more of the roots of rock and roll. So we were called Lara Hope and the Champtones back then. But it was then where I felt like, Okay, this is kind of like, what I’m really supposed to be doing.

This is where I feel like I’ve found my voice. I really like writing in this style. Maybe I can make a career out of this. I played music that my parents hated. And suddenly I’m playing music that’s accessible to people my own age and accessible to people that are you know, a decade older than me, 2, 3, 4 and people that are younger than me. So, like new opportunities were coming up, I mean, there were places that wouldn’t book us just because we were called “Tiger Piss”. Now suddenly,  I’ve played all old age homes and played everything in between. 

So it just kind of, it just kind of fell into place. The Champtones were great. We were more of like a traditional rockabilly band, doing both originals and covers. We wrote and released one EP, and then everyone in the band kind of moved around the same time to like, New Orleans, New Mexico. I was kind of left with all these shows booked and no band. And I had just at the time started dating my now husband, Matt, who he was playing pretty steadily back then with his psychobilly band called the Arkhams, based out of New York City. So I said to him, “Hey man, I’ve got all these shows. And I need a band, can the Arkhams just back me up for the summer until I can kind of figure out what’s going on?” 

So that’s where the Ark-Tones came from, I was the Champtones, he was the Arkhams. And we thought that name was just going to be a placeholder. But then, once we did a whole summer of shows with that name, it just kind of stuck. And the other guys in the Arkhams fell off after a little while, and we got more local players. But Matt, my husband, and I, we’ve just kind of doing that strong for nine years now.

UCR: I think sometimes it can be scary to lose band members or people that you’re comfortable with. But the evolution of creating the band that’s gonna stick it just, it’s weird how it happens, you know? But it seems like you found the band you’re meant to be in after all this time.

Lara Hope: Yeah, it was good. Because with the Champtones, the guy who started it. The reason we were called The Champtones was he built custom telecasters with the name Champtones on guitars, he still does. But he was a family man.  He wanted to play and he wanted to gig but he didn’t want to hit the road and go tour for a month at a time. So had we stayed together, I don’t know that I would have been able to do the things I really wanted to do.

UCR: Right, and it seems like at the same time, it gave you your direction in music. But what I really enjoyed about this album is there are so many elements and so many styles of rock and roll. I think sometimes you’re in a band, and it’s very traditional with a certain style, and you can’t really waver.  But I’m sure with you coming from different places of punk, Broadway, etc, I’m sure it’d be nice to incorporate that into some different songs. And seems like now you have that freedom to do it.

Lara Hope: For sure. I mean, like I said, I did the more traditional thing with the Champtones. And that was fun, and I loved it. And I still would be happy to sing some of those great tunes that we used to do. But yeah, this is like, kind of given me a chance to branch out a little more.

Plus, the guys in the band, we’ve had a few different guitar players, a few different drummers over the years, but at this point, we’ve had the same guitarist for I think, four years and the same drummer for two or three. Everybody comes from, very, varied musical backgrounds. I mean, Matt grew up listening to a lot of metal. And our drummer, Frank Zappa is his biggest influence. And he also loves reggae. Eddie, our guitar player, loves pop punk. You know, not just like, they don’t also love rockabilly and roots music, but these are things that I think they are all bringing to the table that are not just rockabilly music.

UCR:  It’s clear on this album, just because it starts off with pretty strong rockabilly sentiments. And I’m not saying that it wavers a huge amount.  But like the song “It’s a Crime”.  I really liked that song because it has such a nice flow to it.  The one line that I loved was like ”It’s a crime to never leave your hometown”. I just love that because everybody knows that person that just never left and you’re like, you don’t know what’s out there. And there’s so much even if you’re from the best place ever, you gotta at least see other places to know that you’re from the best place ever, you know? 

Lara Hope: For sure! You kind of just hit the nail on the head. That was kind of the running theme throughout the album that wasn’t necessarily intentional. It just kind of worked out that way. Once I had this group of songs and thought like alright, I see what we did here. And that’s also why we picked the title Here to Tell the Tale. About just get out, have your own life experiences, see that life is short, see what you can see don’t live behind your screen. And not everything is gonna be good. But the things that are shitty are going to build your character and it’s all about the experience and having your own tale to tell.

UCR: Totally! So did you write most of this and record most of this during crazy 2020 or was it ready to go and now you’re just chomping at the bit to get out there and everything was on pause?

Lara Hope: Yeah, we recorded it right before the pandemic in January of 2020.

UCR: That must have been so frustrating! Because you’re so eager to get out there. And you just couldn’t.

Lara Hope: So yeah, after that happened. And my husband and I were just stuck in the house, just the two of us. We did write and record and release a pandemic album. 

UCR: Oh, you did? 

Lara Hope: Yeah, we play as a duo sometimes called the Gold Hope Duo. 

Lara Hope: We learned to record ourselves, we just did it in our garage. It’s called Songs in the Key of Quarantine. We put a music video out. And so that just like, kept us busy doing something. And then also right as the pandemic started, we started live streaming. Now we have live streamed every single Monday night at seven o’clock ET from our Facebook and YouTube pages. And we intend to keep doing it. Until people don’t want to watch anymore.

UCR: And that’s great. Because I think in the beginning, a lot of people started doing that they just needed some kind of outlet. But you can kind of tell the people that weren’t really enjoying it, or getting like what they wanted out of it. And they kind of died off. But I’ve really enjoyed people who still have a steady audience and enjoy doing the live stream. It’s a creative outlet at least, and those are the ones that I’ve enjoyed continuing to watch. Some people are like, here I am again, this sucks. I’m not on a real stage. It’s like, well, I don’t want to watch this because I know how much you don’t want to be doing it, you know?

Lara Hope: Sure. And yeah, there are definitely some things that will never compare to the real stage experience, of course. But there are also things that are like, I wear my crocs every Monday. Half the time I’m putting my pajamas on the second we’re done. I don’t have to drive anywhere.  There are things that are nice about it. I’m in the comfort of my own home. I’ve got my dogs in the video every week.

UCR: That’s great. I love your house by the way, just from what I can see. It looks so cool.

Lara Hope: Thank you, this is a kind of a crazy story too. We closed on this house on March 11th, 2020 . The day pandemic hit. 

UCR: Oh my gosh

Lara Hope: And we were supposed to leave that same night to do a cross country tour with Tiger Army. 

UCR: Oh yeah! Then I would have seen you here in Utah.

 Lara Hope: I really hope it gets rescheduled. And we could do it with them again.

UCR: Oh, yeah. That’d be great. So do you remember the first concert you ever went to?

Lara Hope: Yes. It was No Doubt.  And it was awesome.  At the Nassau Colesium up in Long Island. I mean, really, my first concert was Rafi but I don’t remember that.

UCR: That’s amazing. 

Lara Hope: The first like, there’s a band I like that I want to go see and I asked my friend’s mom to take us was No Doubt.

UCR: Was there something in that moment where you thought, I gotta do this, or was it just like this is fun. And that kind of came later?

Lara Hope: I remember smelling weed for the first time.

UCR: You always remember your first time smelling that!  It’s very obvious what it is. We don’t know what it is at the time. Like what is it? Then you never forget? 

Lara Hope: Yeah you know, I’ve wondered before like if that show subliminally put something in my head. Because obviously, Gwen is such, a force of nature. That very well could have planted some seeds. I don’t remember.

UCR: Now I know about your first time performing on a stage in Oliver! But do you remember your first time performing in a band or your own show, at least?

Lara Hope: Yes, I definitely do. It was yeah, it was in like 2005. And it was my first band called “The Red Hopes” not to be confused with my current project with my husband, the Gold Hope Duo. 

UCR: A lot of hope in your music.

Lara Hope: Yeah, it was this really cool venue up in Albany, New York. I had gone to college up there before I transferred to near where I live now. And there was this kind of iconic rock and roll venue called Valentine’s. And they gave us our first gig.  We played with my friend, my other college friends band called “Slim Pickins” and all of her friends came out. It was really fun.

Then a couple weeks later, was my 21st birthday. And I remember throwing a party at the bar that I had been going to for years with my fake ID but now I was throwing my 21st birthday party there and we played that was in that were in New Paltz the town where I went to school.  I got to like really have my first hometown or town I was living in at the time show with all my friends and be 21 and you know, kind of hide the fact that it was number 21.

UCR: What was that like, were you pretty nervous, or was it because it was your friends it was pretty easy?

Lara Hope: I don’t really ever remember having stage fright. 

UCR: Wow. So what do you feel before you on stage?

Lara Hope: I mean, like prior to, that those were my first shows with my band. But like I said, I did a lot of open mics playing in college where was just me and my guitar. Like on-campus ones and at the local bars. That’s why I probably started hanging out at that bar that I just mentioned in the first place. T

hen I got into hosting open mics for 10 plus years. I hosted like three open mics in the area, and I just got out of doing that a few years ago. Which is a nice rest. It’a a lot. But it was great. I met a ton of people and I feel like it gave me really good real world experiences like dealing with people from, every age every background, every socioeconomic level, different types of music, different vibes, learning how to talk to people, learning how to deal with people’s all sorts of bullshit and great qualities too. 

I should say this, I guess I don’t never get stage fright. But when I play with the band or whether it’s, my husband and I as a duo or with the full band, then I always feel comfortable. I guess that’s because I have like my people on stage with me. It’s pretty rare that I play solo. But I mean, I could be playing for like, 10 people in a room with my guitar, and I will kind of get nervous for that. But I could get up with my band in front of 7000 people and feel fine. 

UCR: Sure. 

Lara Hope: So I guess like, yeah, I get a little nervous, playing by myself, but I don’t really like playing by myself and I don’t really do it very much.

UCR: Yeah. What do you think that is? I don’t have the kind of experience you have,  but I’ve had some performance experience, and I can sing in front of 1000s of people and feel a little nervous but it’s like excited nervous. But if like two people are like, hey, sing this, whereas it’s like, nope, no, thanks. 

Lara Hope: Exactly! 

UCR: It’s so awkward and uncomfortable. And I get so nervous. 

Lara Hope: I wonder if there’s a name for that. 

UCR: We’ll have to look into this.  How about Awkward in a small crowd atosis.  I don’t know.   

Lara Hope: Put that in an urban dictionary. 

UCR: Now, do you remember, is there a concert you’ve been to as a fan that you kind of always have in the back, your mind is that’s the top that’s like the best show I’ve ever been to?

Lara Hope: Man, I have to think back to when I used to go to concerts when there were concerts.

I will say one of the best shows that I’ve seen in recent years was Pokey Lafarge.  Are pretty familiar with him? 

UCR: I don’t think so. 

Lara Hope: Look him up.  He has done a few TV and movie things recently. He had a cameo in that Sun Records show. The one CMT did. 

UCR: Yeah, I remember that. 

Lara Hope: So he played Hank Snow. 

UCR: Oh really?

Lara Hope: But he plays as a full band and solo and what he does it’s very old-timey. But it’s like some is Ragtime, some is Bluegrass some is country, some is like rockabilly. But I prefer, like, I don’t want to go see No Doubt, or any band of that size. Because I don’t want to go to a venue that’s that big. I don’t want to see any band that’s epic. Like, I don’t want to go see KISS, I don’t want to see the Grateful Dead. Like, I don’t want to see any f*&king band, where they look like a dot to me and watch on the screen.

I’m fortunate that most of the music I like is not that well known. Like if I want to go see a show, I’d like to see it in a two or 300 cap venue where I actually feel like I can get close to the stage and see what’s going on and feel some sort of actual connection. So that was part of it. It was in New York City of this like two or 300 cap venue and I was standing right in front of the stage. And just right in front of Pokey. He and his whole band were just, so tight. I’m just watching him play mostly rhythm guitar, and I’m a rhythm guitar player, but just being like, I would never have thought to do that. 

And everyone just swapping out solos and just putting on such a fun, visually stimulating show.  I thought about that for a while afterward.

UCR: Do you have a tour or even a specific show or a festival that felt like, that was one of your favorite gigs you’ve ever done?

Lara Hope: This is an easy answer for me.  I was on the tour with the Brian Seltzer Orchestra playing the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. I got my own dressing room. It was the women of Country dressing room, and I peed my pants well a little bit.  

UCR: I almost did just now hearing that!  That sounds incredible! 

Lara Hope: All downhill from there.  We got a f*&king standing ovation. 

UCR: Really? 

Lara Hope: Really! I have a photo of it.  And Matt got down and kissed the stage.

UCR: That’s awesome. That’s so cool 

Lara Hope: It was the best. 

You can stream Here to Tell the Tale on Spotify or purchase the album here. To learn more about Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones, their tour dates, or to watch their Facebook Live and Youtube live stream shows go to larahopeandtheark-tones.com

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