Nikki Stipp of Hooked Like Helen Talks About “OCD” and Offers Candid Advice

Alternative duo Hooked Like Helen recently dropped their new single, “OCD (these thoughts again),” a foretaste of their upcoming EP, Promise Me You’ll Run, slated for release this fall.

Made up of singer-songwriter, pianist, and guitarist Nikki Stipp and bassist/guitarist Jon Stipp, Hooked Like Helen’s music is in demand by music supervisors for E!, MTV, and Netflix. Their song “Liar” resulted in the script for High Strung: Free Dance, with Jane Seymour. Nikki scored nine scenes across the Emmy-winning docuseries CHEER and continues to provide music for upcoming titles through BMG.

Hooked Like Helen has toured with Icon For Hire and Halocene, and shared the stage with Jewel, Taylor Hicks, and Blood Sweat & Tears.

Guitar Girl Magazine spoke with Nikki Stipp to discuss “OCD” and the story behind the band’s name Hooked Like Helen.

What three things can’t you live without?

Hot sauce, caffeine, and my family. Not in that order ha-ha.

What inspired your upcoming single, “OCD (these thoughts again)?”

I was inspired to write ‘OCD’ by my personal experience as someone who struggles with many shades of obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD is a disorder of the mind that many members of my extended family deal with to varying degrees, but it manifests itself so differently in each of us. I like to write songs that are authentic to my heart and my life because, at the end of the day, we’re never alone in the struggles we face as humans; when we let ourselves get vulnerable, we open ourselves up to the opportunity to truly connect with others on a deep, personal level. We hope to help people who relate to our pain.

Who directed the lyric video and where was it shot?

The direction of the lyric video was a collaborative effort between myself and Jon as a band, and Chris Rayle (cinematographer) and Josh Loney (lyric animation). We shot it at our local park about three minutes away from our house in our small Ohio town.

What do you want viewers to take away from the video?

We want this video to find the people that its message might resonate with – we hope that others who suffer from intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors can get some of that frustration, rage, and anxiety out when rocking out to the song! We hope the video conveys the energy that Jon and I put into our live show, too. We like to go hard on stage because that’s how WE manage our frustration, rage, and anxiety.

Did your sound evolve naturally, or did you deliberately push it in a certain direction?

It was time for a shift. The pandemic cleared up a whole lot of old confusion and healed a lot of old wounds for me, and it felt like almost a metamorphosis as I emerged on the other side of it. I felt like a new person, and I started writing in a new, more empowered style, and producing with sounds and arrangements inspired by more rock-leaning genres. As we continue to play this new, heavier music live, the more we feel at home in our sound and the more we’re connecting with our fans. We feel like we are who we’re supposed to be now with this new EP and it’s such an incredible feeling of peace, purpose, and relief.

How did you originally get started in music?

I’ve been writing music since I was literally five years old and it’s definitely part of my DNA. I’ve done solo projects, pop projects, rock bands, instrumental synthwave projects, commercial work, film scores, etc., etc. I love and need it all and am so thankful for the amazing people and experiences that have found me through the music.

What’s the story behind the name Hooked Like Helen?

So, Jon and I met when I was invited to join an alt-rock band called Red Circle Underground. He was the bassist in the band, and I joined on keys and backing vocals. As destiny would have it, a dear friend of mine named Helen was the reason that I ended up on RCU’s radar, through multiple different connections. It’s like, if one of the paths that led me from Helen to Jon didn’t work out, another one would have. It’s like Jon and I were destined to be together, and Helen was the key. The ‘Hooked’ part is this: Helen has always been an avid Diet Coke drinker, even more so than myself. When I found out I was pregnant, I had to quit all the vices, and the hardest one to let go of, surprisingly, was the Diet Coke. At some point during my struggles to cut out my final addiction, I turned to Jon and said, ‘At least I’m not hooked like Helen is’ and we instantly agreed that we had the band name for our new project.

What kind of guitar do you play?

So I do not play guitar on stage (I primarily play and write on keys), but when I’m writing on guitar, I’m playing either an acoustic Yamaha or Jon’s Ibanez Hollow Body. Jon switches from both guitar and bass on stage and on recordings. He plays an American Jazz Fender Bass.

For our upcoming show at The Winchester Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio with Liliac on July 16th, we’ll have a special guest, INSANE shredder, Alyssa Day on guitar. We literally can’t wait to rock with her – she’s a whole prodigy.

What’s your definition of tone? And has Hooke Like Helen’s tone changed or remained the same?

As someone who experiences Chromesthesia, (my brain translates sound into visuals of shapes, colors, and light) tone is color, and therefore mood. Tone is warmth or the absence of it. Tone is timbre, character, brightness, darkness, dullness, crispness. It’s the shape of the sound. HLH’s tone has definitely changed over the years and definitely will continue to. This upcoming EP, ‘Promise Me You’ll Run,’ is much more guitar-driven and rock-based than much of our previous work, and so the ‘tone’ has shifted both in terms of the guitar work and the general feelings and emotions in the music. We’ve got a lot of crunch and edge in these forthcoming singles. A lot of aggression, angst, distortion, feedback, layers of ethereal, reverb-drenched octaves. Our tone is more unhinged overall but more honest than ever before. It’s exhilarating and terrifying ha-ha.

Hooked Like Helen
Hooked Like Helen

What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, TV, or other media?

As I mentioned, I draw inspiration from my own emotions. Most of the time the feelings are sparked by my own life situations, but there are also times when outside sources cause secondhand emotional inspiration. For instance, our fourth single and title track on this EP, ‘Promise Me You’ll Run,’ is about the infamous female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, and I wrote it from her perspective. Her story fascinates me because it’s SO tragic and such a commentary on so many of the ugliest aspects of society, as well as a study of the human mind and the role that trauma plays in mental illness. Aileen had the capacity to do things most of us couldn’t imagine doing; she murdered seven men in a 12-month spree, and she also showed the ultimate loyalty by confessing to her crimes and sacrificing her freedom in exchange for her partner’s immunity. No one is all good or all bad. Aileen was the best and the worst simultaneously. That fascinates me and pulls at my heart.

What more can you share about your writing process?

I like to write alone, mostly on piano, at home, with time to reflect and revise and expand. It’s usually a melodic line first, then a chord progression that builds out the full melody and the structure. Somewhere in there the lyrical theme gets identified and the words and story get kneaded in. Sometimes a song comes together quite quickly, other times, I can be ‘almost there’ with it for days before I find the right piece of the puzzle to make it hit the correct emotions. Jon is my muse and often encourages me to keep going with ideas I show him or to pivot from others, without getting too invasive. Even when Hooked Like Helen has done co-writing collaborations with outside writers, it’s been remotely over the internet after 90% of the song was fleshed out musically and lyrically. I don’t care for the Nashville songwriting circle vibe, where people get in a room together, sometimes as total strangers, and just start pulling ideas out of their asses and putting them together, two hours later having written a song. I can write that way, and I have respect for people who have created some brilliant music that way, but for me, that’s never going to be how I make a piece of art that is truly what I want to say.

In your opinion, which music artists are killing it right now?

Our friends who we toured with last year, Halocene, are doing some amazing things. They’re on a European tour and absolutely crushing it. Hotmilk is brilliant and we’d love to catch them on tour sometime soon. Wynona Fighter rocks, Plush is amazing, and Snarls has a beautiful new album out…Fall Out Boy’s ‘So Much (for) Stardust’ is an absolute masterpiece.

If you could share one piece of advice for women in the music industry, what would it be? What is one piece of advice that you wish people had given you?

Don’t let them get away with treating you like you’re under-qualified. I’ve personally experienced so many men who frankly didn’t know wtf they were talking about, trying to push me around in the studio or during soundcheck when it was them who were totally wrong and clueless. When I was younger, I internalized this phenomenon and I assumed that there were simply a whole lot of aspects of music (mostly on the tech side) that I was just too uninformed or inexperienced to participate in, or that my brain just wasn’t equipped to learn. I ended up relying on people who were frankly less talented and more sloppy than I would have ever dreamed of being, and the music suffered because of it for years. It took me way too long to realize that it’s ok to not be an expert at something before you try it; I ended up teaching myself how to use Pro Tools and to record myself at home, and I’m now highly proficient. I’m confident in my ability to produce, I’m now well-versed in Ableton Live and building backing tracks for our live show, and I’m able to troubleshoot gear issues for all band members quickly in real time on stage at shows. But this has come after unraveling YEARS of internalized misogyny and low self-esteem. On tour, I’ve had to build double confidence to walk into these venues with our input list and say “I am the person to refer to for any tech/spec/audio questions for Hooked Like Helen’s live rig and set up” and to stand my ground when the sound guy (we’ve had a total of three female sound engineers in the 100’s of shows we’ve played across the country) starts in on the mansplaining. That’s not to say that every sound guy does this; we’ve had some wonderful experiences with incredibly talented audio engineers who have treated me with respect AND done an amazing job running our sound. However, when I am discredited and dismissed and ignored and fucked with, it’s 100% of the time by men.

What is your definition of success?

Success is sustainability and growth. It’s finding the audience that your music was intended for and positively affecting their lives with it. It’s making music for a living, music that is true to your heart and that resonates with others on a soul-level.

What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Live gigs? New music? Music videos?

All of the above! We’ll have singles dropping all summer and our EP coming out in the fall. We’ve got a show on July 16th with Liliac in Cleveland, and more in the works. In addition to the ‘OCD’ lyric video, we shot a crazy visual for the next single, ‘It Doesn’t Look So Good For You Now’ and we’re working on a whole concept video for ‘Promise Me You’ll Run.’ I’m excited as hell to play Aileen ha-ha. Our hope is to be on tour in the fall, and we’re already working on a follow-up EP. We’re chomping at the bit to get this new music out. Our fans have been patiently waiting and it’s time!

Follow Hooked Like Helen Instagram | Twitter | TikTok | Facebook | Spotify

Related Articles

Back to top button