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Ormstown songwriter releases musical short story

Part of what makes the Valley’s culture so special is the rich and varied music scene. Ben Hooker, from Ormstown, recently released Johnny, a collection of songs that he is calling a “musical short story.” It took two years to create, and it was officially launched on May 6 following the April 28 release of a music video for one of the songs.

Hooker has been playing bass guitar and performing for years with the Howick Drama Club and throughout his time at Chateauguay Valley Regional High School (CVR). He jokes that he “started playing bass because everyone would be furious with me if I started playing guitar and was the sixth guitarist in our band.” From a young age, he knew he loved having all eyes upon him while on stage. But once he had graduated high school, chances to perform became scarcer. However, he kept pushing to find or create performance opportunities. “My background [of] being encouraged to perform so much at CVR is what encouraged me to kind of figure out how to do it on my own,” he says.

After high school Hooker moved to Ottawa, where he currently resides. He studied public policy, worked at various jobs in politics, and he is currently working as the operations manager for the agriculture minister. Hooker has always had a love for both politics and agriculture. He had struggled making the decision to move away from the family farm in Ormstown; “It was a little threatening because even though I love agriculture so much, I was still leaving the farm.” However, his current job allows him to be involved in both interests.

 

Ben Hooker has spent the past two years working on Johnny, a collection of his songs that was officially launched on May 6. PHOTO Courtesy of Ben Hooker

 

Throughout the pandemic, Hooker was hard at work creating the songs and the imagery for Johnny. The themes of this musical experience arose from the isolation he faced as a young person just starting his career and then suddenly having the world come to a halt. “I found that when I was spending all that time by myself it’s impossible to hide from yourself and the things that you’re going through… When the pandemic drags on, those things will come to the surface whether you try to put them down or not.”
Something that came up consistently was the theme of Home. As mentioned, Hooker had struggled with leaving the family farm even before the pandemic had begun. When writing this project, he noticed that a lot of it became “about feeling really worried and anxious about work and not knowing where to go.” At that point, he took a step back and returned to his roots. “Last spring when I was in the middle of writing, I went home, and I felt a lot of reassurance … it’s a place to feel renewed and grateful for, and that things really aren’t so bad.” He even filmed his music video “back home.”

The title Johnny doesn’t stand for one specific person, but rather a version of Hooker himself. “For me, that was reconciling that I started this life, and I had left home, but I loved home so much. It was reconciling that I don’t always feel so comfortable in my own skin, and a lot of people our age feel that way too.” He adds that “Johnny felt like a way to step back from myself while still talking about things I was going through.” At first, Hooker says he wasn’t sure if he was going to share what he created, but as he wrote, it became clear that this was something he needed to make public.

Creating a new body of work during a pandemic did not come without a whole slew of challenges. Writing and recording from home forces artists to learn a whole new set of skills. Hooker explains that writing the content was easy, but “The hard stuff was figuring out how to use recording software and [for example] watching a forty-five-minute YouTube video that’s telling me how to download something that will make me sound a little fuzzier.” He had to become his own audio engineer from his own bedroom.

Hooker is looking forward to performing some original music at upcoming gigs. His next show will take place in Ottawa on May 27. He emphasizes that anyone who is thinking about getting creative should jump into it: “I would encourage people to make something. As many downsides as there are being stuck inside, the upside is that we have everything in the power of our hands… It’s really gratifying.”

Regardless of how nervous you are, or if you feel like it’s not good enough, he says, “People generally want to hear creative things from creative people.”

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