Nikki Stipp and husband Jon comprise the musical duo Hooked Like Helen, whose rhythmic pop is undeniably fun and appears in the drama film High Strung: Free Dance and Netflix’s wildly popular docuseries, Cheer.
PopAxiom chatted with Nikki about becoming a musician, meeting Jon, leading a band, and creating music as a composer.
Nikki and Jon make up the pop duo Hooked Like Helen. The pair didn’t meet until adulthood, but Nikki says they shared similar interests growing up, “We grew up on music. We had music in our blood since we were kids.”
Nikki’s musical desires were clear from early on. “I was eleven or twelve when I decided pop songs are what I wanted to write. I wanted to be like these artists who moved me so much … and be able to contribute something like that to the rest of the world.”
Nikki started playing “Coffee houses and open mic nights when I was 12 and 13 years old, then I started to join bands.”
It was one of those bands out in LA that brought Nikki and Jon together. “Jon moved out to LA to join a band called Red Circle Underground.” Nikki, already living in LA, joined the band at the lead singer’s request “to do some backing vocals and keys.”
The band “toured around and had a great time but it was time to close that chapter. We found out we were having a child and moved to Cleveland [Jon’s hometown].”
An unfortunate turn of events turned into a whole new positive, music-making legacy. “Jon had an uncle in Seattle who was a music engineer. He passed away and willed us his home music studio. We suddenly found ourselves with all these tools for making music at home.”
Recording music at home was a learning process, however, Jon and Nikki are no strangers to experimentation. “We started small … self-releasing songs here and there. We worked on different types of sounds and music. I was composing stuff and just getting our music out there.”
About High Strung: Free Dance
High Strung: Free Dance is a sequel to the dance-focused film High Strung. The film revolves around a young choreographer who casts a contemporary dancer and innovative pianist in a highly-anticipated new Broadway show.
How did Hooked Like Helen’s song “Liar” end up in the film? “I ended up seeing a Facebook ad for a songwriting contest. It was free to enter. All you had to do was upload an iPhone video. Jon filmed me playing a piano/vocal version of our song ‘Liar.’ We put it up on Indie.com, and next thing we knew, we won the grand prize.”
The success brought about by the contest put Hooked Like Helen in contact with the creators of High Strung. “We were flown to LA and had a session with the directors, Michael and Janeen Damian. We tracked ‘Liar’ that day.”
High Strung: Free Dance didn’t have a script yet. “But the filmmakers loved the song and wanted to fit it in. We got the call that they wrote a scene in the film based on the music.”
In conjunction with the film, Hooked Like Helen “shot a music video for it that incorporates scenes from the movie. Juliet Doherty, the star of the film, danced to ‘Liar’ based on choreography from Tyce Diorio (So You Think You Can Dance).”
For Nikki, the whole thing is “surreal to us to hear our work in this broader context.”
Cheer is a Netflix docuseries following the Navarro College Bulldogs Cheer Team from Corsicana, Texas. Coach Monica Aldama prepares the team for the National Cheerleading Championship in Daytona Beach, Florida. Think of it as the Super Bowl of cheerleading. Through the lens of a handful of individuals on the team, viewers dive into the cheerleading world, including a glimpse at the history and hard work at the heart of the industry.
“Getting to make music for Cheer was a great experience,” said Nikki. “It was extra special in that it was so successful and so well received. It’s an honor to be a part of it.”
Nikki, like many (myself included), hear there’s a show about cheerleaders and images of Bring It On pop up. “As I got scenes to score, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, wow, it’s such a crazy sport, and the athletes and injuries are extreme. It’s amazing to watch.”
Nikki shares some of the influences that inspire the music Hooked Like Helen makes. “I feel you can hear in our music that there’s a wide range of influences. I grew up on legends like Carole King, Prince, Billy Joel, and I loved Mariah Carey growing up. Jon loves Green Day and Nirvana.”
Nikki continues, “I also love current artists like Halsey and 21 Pilots … Billie Eilish’s new record is amazing. We love pop music and good songs, so a lot of music inspires us.”
As Nikki continues to add scoring credits to her filmography, what film would she love to compose if it were ever remade? “I don’t think they should remake this because it’s like one of the best movies ever but Pulp Fiction.”
What’s next for Nikki and Jon? “The very next thing for us is the new music. We’re working on a new EP right now. We also recently found out we’ve been nominated for 5 Josie Music Awards, and we just announced we have a residency to play live at Cedar Point in Sandusky in August. There’s not a lot of live music happening right now so we are grateful to be able to play for people in a safe environment.”
Is High Strung: Free Dance on your watch list?
Thanks to Nikki Stipp and Impact24 PR for making this interview possible.
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