Catch My Signal: Maggie Hopp Transmits Hope as Raw Honey

raw honey
Image courtesy of Katherine Keeler.

Maggie Hopp’s artistic life has been one of arrivals. The 28-year-old singer/songwriter was born and raised here in Ann Arbor, but she’s been continuing to make music over the last decade as Raw Honey amidst a moderately nomadic lifestyle. Hopp has created new recordings and forging new collaborations even as she’s spent months-on-end living in places like Marquette, Chicago, and even South Korea. “I’ve been back home here in Ann Arbor for the last three years, which is the longest I’ve been in one place in a long time,” says Hopp. “Everything in my life has reached this point of alchemy unlike I’ve ever experienced with my band and my social life. By the time this happened, of course, I’d already decided that I’d be moving.”

By the end of September, Hopp will be arriving, once again, this time in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There, she will unquestionably continue writing new songs as Raw Honey. “I don’t think it’s really a choice. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel that the songs are something that I write. It’s like I’m channeling them. It comes from my heart or the universe. I gather songs by keeping track of the things that inspire me. I’m an intuitive and mostly self-taught musician. I didn’t start taking lessons until I was an adult. I’m one of those people who is always trying to improve my craft — that’s part of why the music of Raw Honey changes so much.”

Collaboration & Evolution

Over the last couple of years, she was working on Riverbed, a batch of interconnected songs that became her debut full-length. Raw Honey, however, has existed for a decade. The album, which was recently released on vinyl via LifeLike, is subtly monumental for Hopp. She attributes this both to the splendor of Fred Thomas’s production and the fact that many of these songs are fundamentally profound for her. They are inspired by her late father and serve as a cathartic outlet for working through the trauma of his passing. Hopp’s voice sounds utterly transcendent as it weaves indelible melodies in a tender tone, relaying lyrics that are bittersweet and heartbreaking, even if the musical textures and chord progressions are heartwarming in contrast.

Even as she looks forward to arriving in New Mexico, she’ll have more new music to look forward to. Riverbed was released in the springtime, but a new EP is already nearing completion and will likely be released before the end of the year. “I feel that things will expand as I travel onward and that I’ll find more people who will become collaborators. Collaboration is such a huge part of my process. Another reason the music always sounds or feels different is that it’s passed through different collaborators.”

Hopp first released recordings as Raw Honey a decade ago by posting them to her Soundcloud. That’s how musician Josh Bay found her, connected with her, and offered to join her as a proper duo. It existed as that duo for almost five years before Bay moved to the Pacific Northwest. After that, Maggie moved up to Marquette for college. There she inevitably connected, once again, with more fellow musicians that would accompany her for live performances. But no matter where she was — Chicago, Korea, Ypsilanti — she’s found someone to bounce ideas off of and to work with together. It has resulted in Hopp thriving in this constant state of growth and adaptation, consistently finding and forging these creative dialogues with creative musicians and producers.

Raw Honey Utilizes Music’s Healing Properties

“It’s an ever-evolving thing,” Hopp said. “With each new collaboration, it changes. But also the content of the songs has shifted over time, from songs about heartbreak or boy problems when I was younger, into something more autobiographical. A lot of the material on Riverbed is me sorting through my trauma and trying to transform it into something less heavy and more beautiful. I have definitely found a few people that the music has really spoken to.” One listener recently told Hopp that she endured an all too similar family tragedy and that her music restored her resiliency to go on. This is incredibly impactful and exactly aligns with Hopp’s selfless intention with her music: to provide any shred of solace, any bit of healing

“The lyrics are a little sad, but something I like to do is pair that melancholy with a more upbeat chord progression. Because that’s how life is: it’s all-encompassing, so beautiful and so painful. Every single person shares that. We’re all simultaneously loving life but suffering. And I’m deeply interested in healing processes. That is why I make music: to sort through my trauma and to transform it into something that makes it easier to live with but also stands as a beautiful piece of art on its own. I hope that it helps listeners feel better than they did before hearing it.”

Another reason Hopp finds herself arriving in New Mexico is to attend a graduate program for art therapy and counseling, which is, an extension of her ambition to cultivate healing. But there’s also something more metaphysical woven into the relocation. One of her best friends was living in Santa Fe when she took her own life, causing Hopp to feel as though there is a range of ineffable emotional echoes resounding around the city. Again, it’s heavy, but it stands to show that wherever Hopp has arrived, she has been willing and as ready as can be to greet the heaviness. Her songs, whether they sound like ambient folk ballads or atmospheric indie-rock, bare lyrics that are heartfelt responses to the heaviness. 

Music on the Move

The latest single from Raw Honey, “Radio Tower Blues,” was released last week. It has a slow, traipsing tempo, with Hopp singing in a cadence that matches a steady pulse over the entrancing warble of a Moog synthesizer. The lyrics declare a readiness to detach from the past and the chorus wistfully concludes that her heartbeat is like a radio. Across the distance from Michigan to New Mexico, her sentiments can be transmitted through a metaphorical ionosphere, to be received by anyone who needs to hear it. “I’m wondering if you will catch my signal,” she sings.

It’s the first aural preview of the next EP, and a dreamy demonstration of her newfound collaboration with Jonathan Edwards, her guitar teacher and upstairs neighbor who also serves as a professor at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University schools of music. Hopp was living in the flat below Edwards during the time she was working on Riverbed with Fred Thomas. Once Edwards found out how prolific of a songwriter his new student was, the idea of collaboration was all but inevitable. Edwards recorded, produced, and added various instrumental flourishes to the newest batch of songs.

“I’m so psyched to be working with Jonathan. He’s so talented and has a vision for my songs. And these new songs are shaping up to be different from Riverbed. In fact, all the songs are remarkably distinct from one another. I’m also so grateful for Fred Thomas. He offered endless guidance and support throughout the creation of Riverbed, but also from the very beginning of my music. He’s been a mentor throughout all of this and the source of so much inspiration.”

Raw Honey Continues Sharing her Music

Hopp said she’s grateful not only to the producer of her new/forthcoming EP and the producer of her very recent LP. She’s also grateful to the entire city of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti for the support she’s found from fellow musicians and artists here. “This will always be my hometown,” she said. “I’m taking a huge leap of faith here and trying to see what’s out there. But I will be back in the area. I’ll be returning a lot.

For more music by Maggie Hopp, check out her Bandcamp.