Like diamonds resting upon blue velvet, the voice of Nikki Stipp sings the song “Liar” amidst a ballet dance sequence in the new film, “High Strung: Free Dance”, (produced by Michael and Janeen Damian) accompanied by bassist/guitarist husband, Jon. The husband and wife duo are the essence of rhythmic and melodic pop songs encompassed by darkened lyrical genius, comprising “Hooked Like Helen.”
Oscar worthy “Liar” was one of 5 songs that Hooked Like Helen wrote or co-wrote for “High Strung: Free Dance”, as was “No Turning back” which was used in the film’s trailer. Both songs are included on the film’s soundtrack as well as on the band’s EP, “Tragedy of Physics”. Hooked Like Helen’s song, “Tear This Place Apart” premiered on the highly influential UK-based “The Line of Best Fit”, and the Netflix Docu-series “CHEER” celebrated music in nine scenes across the six episodes that first aired in January, custom composed by Hooked Like Helen for the show. Several of the duo’s songs were also featured on MTV’s “Unlocking The Truth” and were included on the show’s official Spotify playlist.
“Nikki’s haunting, layered harmonies and lush vocal arrangements create a surreal atmosphere of simultaneous melancholy and hope, dissonance and resolve.” Hooked Like Helen evokes the power of a raging tsunami, the eerie consonance of the eye inside the storm and the freshness of newly fallen, fluorescent white snow.
I can’t help but ask how did you get the unforgettable name “Hooked Like Helen?”
We named the band after a friend of ours who is sort of the reason that Jon and I met each other, through the random coincidences of life that in retrospect, really feel more like destiny.
I hear that you live out in the country somewhere?
Yes we do. We are just west of Cleveland, near Lake Erie and it’s very rural. We have a house out in the woods and it’s just super peaceful. With all that’s going on right now we appreciate that we have space to ourselves with our son.
How did “Liar” get chosen for the new movie “High Strung: Free Dance?”
We had written this song a few years ago and we uploaded an iPhone video of me just playing and singing the song in our home studio to the indie.com website, which was a songwriting competition platform. It was actually a platform for all different kinds of independent art. One of the topics of the contest was to possibly get your song featured in the next High Strung movie and to meet Michael Damian and have a recording session at Studio City Sound. The next thing we knew we won the grand prize. We got to go out to Studio City Sound and meet Michael and Janeen. They were super duper nice and it was an amazing experience to get to go and do that. We recorded the track at Studio City Sound. Michael and Janeen hadn’t actually written the script for High Strung Free Dance yet, so we weren’t sure if it was going to end up fitting in the movie. But then we got the phone call that scenes from the script had been written around the song and it was going to have a dance sequence performed by Juliet Doherty and choreographed by Tyce Diorio! From there it just took off. The film’s composer, the amazingly talented Nathan Lanier arranged a beautiful live orchestral section for the final chorus of “Liar” and it absolutely blew us away.
That is such a cool story. When this is all over do you plan on touring?
Yes. It was actually really weird for us because we had pretty much just gotten our set up together and everything ready to tour. We had been doing studio music for so long and getting placements in the Kardashians, Bad Girls Club, Nashville, and other MTV shows. We were primarily a studio project. We finally realized OK we got this and we booked a mini tour and then literally March 13 we were supposed to play a show in Cleveland. We had to cancel it because of the pandemic. We had to cancel the remaining dates, which was disappointing, but we are doing some really cool live streams instead and as soon as the world is able to open up we are going to be all about it.
Can you recall the specific moment that changed the trajectory of your life?
Actually, getting pregnant with my son definitely did. It was sort of an unexpected situation. We were living in LA at the time. We were in a band out there, kind of a rock band, and we didn’t have a lot of direction and we were kind of going down a path that wasn’t the best for us. Then when Jon and I found out that I was pregnant we basically did a 180 and really cleaned up our act and moved to Ohio. We became way more focused and are actually making better music than we ever made before, and making huge strides in our musical career because of it. And getting to be a mom is awesome!
Do you guys write songs together?
Yes. I am the primary songwriter for our group, and I do a lot of the production and stuff, but Jon and I definitely collaborate on structure and general sonic direction. He plays bass and guitar and it’s awesome having his perspective and his ear on everything that we do. So, it’s definitely a group effort. He is a pretty awesome partner, it’s good to have somebody that I know will be honest with me when we are doing our creative stuff. He will tell me if something needs to be revised….
Do you fight over it?
We do sometimes. It’s weird because we’re married and we are also creative partners in a band. When you’re in a band you definitely have band fights. We will have creative disagreements but at this point we are sort of prepared for that. So we just kind of walk away, take a breath, and come back to work. I do feel that it helps us get the best out of ourselves because we’re not going to be shy about making sure we do things in the best way.
If you could have me ask you any question on the planet what would you want me to ask you?
Maybe how I got started in music.
Do you feel music was your destiny?
That’s a much better way to put it. I honestly do. I feel like MUSIC has just been a part of me my whole life ever since I was little. When I was about 11 or 12 I decided pop music and the industry was what I wanted to do. I wanted to write songs like these artists that I loved. So, I was recording things on a little karaoke machine and tracking different layers of vocals and instruments and stuff that way. It’s just always been a part of my life and the same thing with Jon too. In sixth or seventh grade his dad started taking him to rock concerts. Guns N’ Roses was a real pivotal moment for him. We just love music so much. It’s always been a part of our life and its just a huge bonus to be able to do it professionally.
Watch “Liar” by Hooked Like Helen here:
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Photo Credits: Hooked Like Helen
High Strung Movie Poster provided by Michael Damian