Local alt-folk band The Simple Parade released its debut single “Confetti” this past December.
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God told Justin Hooper two things.
“He told me two things very clearly, one of them was ‘Stay with her and I’m going to bless that,’ and I felt very strongly about that; the words still rattle in my brain,” he said. “And the other was: ‘Once you stop making music about you, I’m going to use it.’”
“Her” is Kayla Hooper — his wife of four years, bandmate and quite literally the harmony to his melody. And though Kayla, 27, is a jack of all trades, a beautiful vocalist who also plays pretty much any instrument Justin dares her to, Kayla’s influence on the band is most seen in lyrics she doesn’t write. Kayla is the muse.
“I do have to admit, at least half the songs are written for — or about — Kayla,” said 26-year-old Justin, frontman for folk-pop band The Simple Parade.
“So I sing about myself … often,” Kayla retorted, followed by a chuckle.
The Simple Parade includes the Hoopers, Lance Iunker and Shawn Clark, all Cal Poly alumni or current students.
“Heart Strings,” a song on the new album, includes a verse about Iunker, the drummer, written before he joined the group. The song, about things that tug at heart strings, tells Iunker’s story.
“He went to Iraq and was severely wounded, and he should have died,” Justin explained. “His car went off a 75-foot overpass and flipped on top of him while they were bringing in some enemies, and miraculously, he survived and made a full recovery. He came back home and they had this huge reception for it, and I went to that and got inspired and wrote about it. Now, six years later, he’s the drummer for it.”
The band, created through a few well-timed twists of fate, has its first full-length album ready to record. And, of course, given that Hooper is the songwriter, it’s a love album.
“It’s really mushy and sappy and all that jazz,” Justin explained.
“It makes you feel,” Kayla said and closed her eyes behind square frames, a fraction longer than a blink, nearly unnoticeable in the most significant of ways.
The band’s sound, a hodge-podge most aptly described as alt-folk pop, is what would burst out of your speakers if you put Ingrid Michaelson, Mumford & Sons, Ben Folds and bluegrass into a Pandora preferences station.
Its recently-released debut single, “Confetti,” is a carpe diem anthem fit for a slow-motion road trip to nowhere.
“It’s a pretty upbeat, blast of sunshine kind of song,” Justin said.
“A good summer day, roll down the windows by the beach, enjoy life kind of song,” Kayla added.
And so was the pace of their conversation. Back and forth, goo-goo eyes at each other, never holding hands but always seemingly connected, finishing each other’s sentences like they were playing a verbal puzzle. Telling the story of Justin’s proposal in Australia.
A joke about her finding the ring in his pocket and pretending to not have. A laugh about her response when he was down on one knee: “Yes, I think so, yes.” (It was a yes sandwich, so they just ignore the “I think so” these days.) A smile when they talk about each other’s families. Nods and chuckles at the idea of baby Hoopers running around in the not too distant future (“I want to name her Hula if we have a girl,” Justin joked. “If we get big enough in music, we can name our kids anything.”).
And, of course, a brief moment of silence before they begin a song together live, completely unrehearsed, completely on key, completely in love — a love so seemingly perfect, it’s nearly hard to believe it’s real.
But of course the album sheds light on that, too, Justin said.
The album is a lyrical journey through Justin’s past seven or so years, a journey from the “whimsical idea of what love is” to falling for Kayla, getting married at 23 years old and “realizing what true love really is, how much work it is, but also how worth it.”
The album also takes a deeper look at love, delving into the love between a father and son and the love of a divine power, for example.
But, though the Hoopers met leading church youth groups, don’t call it a Christian album.
“I’m a Christian, and I believe in God and what Christ did, but I write songs about everything,” Justin said. “But if you listen closely, you’ll hear that that is one of the things I’m passionate about.”
Over the past few years, Justin has struggled with various health issues. At one point, the 6-foot-tall man weighed only 130 pounds and “looked like Gollum,” he said.
But when he plays music with The Simple Parade, it “literally feels like it heals” him, he said.
And that’s the feeling the Hoopers are hoping to spread.
“The word that keeps coming to me is just ‘hope,’” Kayla said. “Our purpose behind what we do is not for ourselves. Of course we love music, but I think we’re the vessel to bring love to the world through our own creative process.”
To make music, though, takes money. Soon, The Simple Parade will launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise $12,000 to get the band to Denver, Colo. this summer to record its full-length album. Justin said a portion of the profits from that album’s future sales will help fund music education programs, programs he wrote in support of as his undergraduate senior project thesis.
The Simple Parade? They’re not just looking to make it. They’re looking to make a difference.
Correction: A previous version of this article said Lance’s last name was Lunker. It is actually Iunker.