Girl with the Elephant Heart By Julia Zhu and Photos Provided by Kira Hooks
Kira Hooks does not settle. She does not settle for less than perfection with her music, and she definitely has not settled when it comes to a place she calls home. At the young age of 20, Hooks’ music exceeds the influential boundaries of many of those her age entering the music industry. Instead of bounding herself to a specific genre, she describes her music as an “eclectic mix of vintage soul, jazz, and R&B with a modern twist.”
Born in Houston, Texas, and now based in Los Angeles, the singer-songwriter moved across the Atlantic Ocean to Holland at the age of 4. Three and a half years later, she set off to her third continent, Africa, where she spent three years in Nigeria. Hooks returned to Europe to settle down briefly in Scotland, a country with a population of five million, and afterward to Shanghai, a city with a population of 20 million. It was a big change, but easy to handle for a girl who had literally been around the globe before the age of 16.
Finding a sense of home in each of these new adventures was “weird, but easy,” because to Hooks “it was never about the place; instead home is about finding a sense of me.” Her poetic way with words translates perfectly to her songwriting: Throughout all those years of “home-hopping,” her dedication to music never waned.
Start of Something New
Hooks grew up listening to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles “mixed in with a little bit of Britney Spears,” all who have inspired her current melodies. Music always had a presence in her household, from family karaoke sessions to piano lessons. Although Hooks never had any professional musical training — she taught herself guitar — she was never afraid to jump straight into her passion.
Eventually, Hooks was accepted into the prestigious Berklee Summer Program, aimed toward high school students who are aspiring musicians. Her engagement in the program was the jumpstart to her current career. Although she had been around the world, it was at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. that finally pushed her to the level she truly wanted to achieve. “It was a completely different experience being surrounded by kids who were exactly like me,” Hooks added with a laugh. “In Scotland, I was surrounded by bagpipes.”
With an once-in-a-lifetime experience under her belt, Hooks was ready to challenge herself musically. She began songwriting, performing her own songs and organizing musical events at her high school. Unlike typical direction-less high schools seniors, by the time college applications rolled around, Hooks knew exactly where and what she wanted to be.
Home in Pasadena
In the summer of 2011, Hooks packed up her life in Shanghai and headed for sunny Pasadena, Calif. The contrast in culture between the two cities was stark. Shanghai was filled with towering buildings, the push and pull of busy subways, and foggy mornings. Pasadena, the more peaceful counterpart to Los Angeles, boasted delicious vegetarian restaurants, quaint architecture and beautiful Californian weather year-round. “Moving to California was the beginning of my spiritual journey,” Hooks states. “One that had a huge impact on my music.”
At LAMA College for Music Professionals, now called the Los Angeles College of Music, Hooks gained the skills and knowledge to release her freshman EP, Underground Sky. “The production quality could have been a lot better, but I learned a lot,” Hooks noted. “It was an experience I would never give up.”
A year after the release of her Underground Sky, Hooks received her Associate’s Degree from the Los Angeles College of Music. She valued gaining a stronger understanding of musical elements, but Hooks knew she needed real-life experience. Degree in hand, she began to focus full-time on her music, working with a variety of fresh faces in Los Angeles such as Bruno Justi and Jeff Goodkind, both who have made enormous contributions to her current music.
This year, Hooks released her first full-length album, Elephant Heart, which embodied exactly what she wanted to portray with her sound. An eclectic musician with a jazzy voice, Hooks’ album consists of a mix of Latin- and Broadway-inspired songs complete with trumpets on tracks “Latin Lover” and “How Beautiful Life Is,” but balanced with slower, soulful tracks like “When I Run Into You.” The album is not only a signifier of the sound she has found for herself, but also demonstrates her musical maturation and self-discovery since the release of her first EP. The album is available for purchase on iTunes.
With every new experience, Hooks finds inspiration to add to her established sound. After the release of Elephant Heart, Hooks continues to pen new tunes with her band mates, and performs a weekly Saturday gig at The Elderberries, a hip vegan café located on Sunset Boulevard. With her music career headed in an opportune direction, her music has her settled in Los Angeles comfortably. “I’m definitely going to be based in L.A,” Hooks declared. “I’m not in love with the place physically, but I’m here for the people. I have an emotional connection to the people here.”
Still, next destination: unknown.