Chayla Hope reinvents herself as a solo pop star in Cleveland
Vocalist Chayla Hope has been a staple of Cleveland’s music scene for much of the last decade, fronting popular indie-rock band Seafair and pressing vinyl at Gotta Grove Records.
In late 2022, Hope debuted her solo record, “Damn, Feelings,” broadcasting her reinvented persona as a pop artist.
Hope has had a lifelong passion for pop music and performance. She honed her craft and identity as a drag performer for many years.
“I was a machinist by day, and then I'd go at night to do drag,” Hope said. “I'd still have glitter on my face the next morning, running like a huge lathe. Drag is what brought me into myself 100 percent.”
Now, her star is rising as she settles into her role as a pop singer — a genre of music she said may be disregarded or disliked — especially in Cleveland, a city rich with rock ‘n’ roll roots.
“A lot of people don't like backing tracks. They don't like major production. And so that's why I think it took me so long to be like, ‘OK, I really want to make pop,’” Hope said. “I was so worried of how I was going to be treated here, and it took gaining confidence and belief in myself to actually want to jump at it.”
Getting tapped to record the Care Bears theme
When Seafair disbanded in 2019, Hope shifted her focus to creating her own music.
She was selected to record the opening theme to a reboot of the animated TV series “Care Bears,” which originated as artwork on greeting cards from American Greetings in Cleveland.
Hope’s producer called and asked if she could learn a song by the end of that same day that would be used in a Care Bears toy.
“I was, like, trying to learn it, and then right as the day ended, my producer’s like, ‘He might want you to take a stab at the theme song if he likes your voice. Do you want to do it?” she said.
“Care Bears: Unlock the Magic” debuted on Boomerang and Cartoon Network in 2019 and featured Hope’s rendition of “Caring is the Key” at the beginning of each episode.
Hope said that opportunity made her realize creating pop music was what she wanted to do.
“Forget what everyone else is saying. Forget how everyone else feels. It's cool to me. I love it. I want to create it,” she said.
The Care Bears embody ‘80s magic, and Hope cites the sounds of that decade as influential on her solo music.
Collaborating with Cleveland businesses
The juxtaposition of happy beats and instrumentation masking sad lyrics has fascinated the artist, and this contrast can be heard throughout “Damn, Feelings.”
She began working on the album at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hope spent the next nine months in the studio at Suma Recording in Painesville for eight hours a day, four days a week.
The result of her efforts is a synth-filled journey of love, loss and heartbreak.
“I really wanted it to be big and bold and like smack you in the face — in the most loving way possible,” Hope said.
To promote the release of “Damn, Feelings,” Hope partnered with Cleveland-area businesses on special menu items, like a Saucy Brew Works IPA named after her album.
The beer’s label includes graphic design elements pulled from 1980s and ‘90s aesthetics along with bright colors and geometric shapes.
The design was inspired by Hope’s feelings on the music industry as well as her hard work and dedication to creating a pop album that embodies her sensibilities.
Hope also partnered with Lakewood’s Rood Food and Pie, which developed a “Falling for You” vegan strawberry rhubarb pie named after her track, “Falling.”
“You love a place so much, you say, ‘Hey, I've seen you before. Would you like to do something with me?’ Doing something as simple as a brand partnership in your hometown can really put eyes on both the local business and your music,” Hope said.
She’s also using her time and experience at Gotta Groove to press her album to vinyl this spring.
“I'm partnering with Wax Mage. You know, they're part of Gotta Groove, and they just make these beautiful, beautiful pieces that you can also spin,” she said. “So there's going to be lots of pinks, lots of sparkles, you know, all the stuff that encapsulates me in this record.”
Getting the details right on her debut album
The process of recording “Damn, Feelings” took almost a year, and Hope said she’d only get about a week or two in the studio with Seafair.
“So we really, really got deep and in-depth with this thing and spent all of our time and energy on it,” she said. “I mean, there were days where we literally just recorded sounds. I think there's like horses, there are dogs, there are like slamming doors and airplanes on this thing.”
“I really wanted it to be big and bold and like smack you in the face — in the most loving way possible."Chayla Hope
Hope has released a slew of singles from the album, each of which have been individually pressed on seven-inch vinyl.
She wrote the tracks “High” and “Alone” at home in the middle of the night.
“I woke up with the songs in my head,” she said. “Some of the parts like that I recorded at home on the demo are still on it.”
She said songs like “Alone” are meant for listeners to feel closer and connected to her.
"And ‘Love in Lo-Fi,’ which is really fun, was written by my co-writer [Britton Roberts] who truly believed in me and this project,” Hope said. “So the song is actually about believing that this can happen for us."
The influence of Hope’s pop-singer idols, Kate Bush and Robyn, can be heard on “Love in Lo-Fi” and “Sleepwalking.”
Hope said she has been able to come out and become her “full, unapologetic self” — both in her music and her personal identity. She converted to Judaism in 2017 and is an active part of the LGBTQ community.
“I'm always like, ‘My name is Chayla Hope, and I'm a pansexual Jew,’” she said.
She’s been writing new songs as a therapeutic way to work out her anger toward the music industry and its treatment of women.
“Pop got me through so much through those times,” Hope said.