Some of us follow in our parents’ footsteps. Some of us chase our own dreams. Jeff Hope is doing both with his comeback disc Fill the Void.
The veteran Nova Scotia singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and audio engineer’s first album in nearly two decades is a true labour of love and the most honest work of his career — and he owes it all to his father and primary musical inspiration Robert Hope, who passed away in 2017.
“I really hadn’t done much musically for a few years,” Hope recalls. “But after he passed away, I was gathering up some of his belongings and playing with some of his guitars and I started noodling around. The next thing I knew, I had an album.”
That’s an exaggeration. But not a big one. A little over two weeks after picking up his dad’s guitar, Hope had crafted the musical building blocks of Fill the Void, an 18-song collection of old-school rock, country and pop that is as edgy, exciting and energized as its creation. “I believe my father was there with me,” he says. “I believe this is a record of ghosts.”
But it is definitely not a record of sad songs. Hope’s mission statement here is to uplift and entertain. And he accomplishes it with a slate of upbeat, lighthearted songs celebrating life and love. First single No Thing is a slice of jangling pop-rock voiced by a commitment-shy playboy. I’m Ok! is a romantic self-affirmation set to a chunky power-chord riff and a driving ’80s rock groove. Good Intentions is a nostalgic country ballad about community. Epic Journey takes flight on a soaring vocal melody that wouldn’t be out of place on a Styx album. In fact, most of Fill the Void’s songs will fit seamlessly on a playlist next to Toto, Journey, Bryan Adams other classic pop-rockers.
The two songs that mean the most to Hope, however, are the slow-burning country-rock waltz God As My Witness and the piano-driven power ballad Rely On Your Old Friends — both of which feature his father Robert on harmonica. “I actually recorded the original versions of those songs 20-some years ago,” Hope explains. “I was able to extract his harp and my vocal, and then I was able to re-record all the music. It was just a chance to connect to Dad in a strange way.”
The seeds of that connection were planted before Hope was born, when his father was a member of revered and influential East Coast rockers The Five Sounds. After hitting the charts with their 1966 single Peanut Butter, they toured the U.S. with the Lovin’ Spoonful, The Mamas & The Papas and Three Dog Night. But the usual combination of bad luck, bad deals and bad decisions kept the brass ring beyond their reach — “They were booked for American Bandstand and Ed Sullivan, but then their singer told off the record company, and since they owned all the songs, the band were all sent home and that was it,” Hope says.
Decades later, Hope picked up where his father left off. “I started getting serious around the time I was 13,” he recalls. “Then my father and I built a recording studio in the basement of our convenience store in the early ’90s.” By the time he was 17, Hope was teaching seminars on home recording while working illegally in bars as a soundman. Over the decades, he has played with country and Celtic bands, co-founded The Frequency, recorded with Louisa Manuel and Grassfire, built and outfitted recording studios throughout the region and produced Chelsea Nisbett’s ECMA-winning 2008 gospel album New Beginnings.
In 2002, he recorded and produced his debut album The Show Must Go On, an upbeat, earnest collection of bluesy rock for cranking up on a drive with the windows down. Now, nearly 20 years and a lifetime later, the show is indeed going on for Hope once more. He’s looking forward to returning to the stage after spending a year painstakingly crafting Fill the Void’s songs with the help of guitarists Bob Melanson, drummer Danny Bourgeois, and harmony vocalist Matt Meuse-Dallien. But he knows he’ll be back in the basement before too long.
“”I feel this is the start of a new chapter,” he says. “I’ve got another record or two in me for sure. I don’t want to put this out and walk away from it again.”
You have to believe his father would approve.