He wanted to die but wrote music instead. Now he has a record label

Musician Jon Hope of Long Beach is gaining critical acclaim for his original releases.
Musician Jon Hope of Long Beach is gaining critical acclaim for his original releases. Special to the Sun Herald

The first time he felt depression, he was in the sixth-grade.

“I remember being beyond myself and feeling like I just wanted to die,” said Long Beach musician Jonathan Hope, who is garnering critical acclaim from several internet reviewers.

Although Hope maintains an optimistic disposition, he said he draws inspiration for his music from depression and the low points in his life.

“When I feel the most inspired is when I feel the most intensely about things,” Hope said. “That’s what usually speaks to me — anxiety, depression, love — feelings in general. I think that when I’m at my lowest, that’s when I create things.”

In 2015, he started three bands, each with a unique sound, including If I Die in Mississippi, which has received international recognition by music blog Gold Flake Paint, which reviews artists’ releases on Bandcamp monthly across the world.

“It’s crazy how (the music) has progressed,” Hope said. “I’ve done more things musically this year than I thought I was capable of doing. When you start things as an outlet for yourself — just because you need it — it becomes something people adore.”

Hope released his solo project, an album titled “Sweetheart,” on Feb. 4 through Bandcamp under the moniker If I Die in Mississippi. Hope said he did not expect to get the recognition he received over the internet.

“I feel privileged that the album got the exposure it did,” Hope said.

Unrecorded, a music news site that explores independent musicians daily, said “Sweetheart” is one of those rare finds you only discover every once in a few hundred records.

“It’s sad, it’s joyful and it’s intimate — it’s a work of love,” Unrecorded wrote.

Hope’s other musical endeavors echo If I Die in Mississippi’s sentiments.

Former bandmate Ri Wardlow said the band came out of their friendship and exchanging music with each other via voice memos on their iPhones.

“Something about our mutual sadness and genuine intentions flowed well together and we started playing shows,” Wardlow said.

Wardlow said her collaboration and friendship with Hope are reminders that there was someone else out there who was also pouring their heart into every small romantic feeling or every minuscule aspect of feeling hurt.

“I think me and Jon are both the type of people who are fast to care for others and put our entire hearts into people we love,” Wardlow said.

Hope’s talents extend further than the creation of music as he shares a love of cassettes with partner Leah Rials.

This year, with the help of Rials, Hope founded record label Girlfriend Tapes to publish music by artists in the Southeast.

Rials said the main goal of the label was to support artists they were passionate about.

“Each release we put out is always exciting for us, and being able to do this with someone who is just as excited about it as I am is a really great experience,” Rials said. “We’ve always said that if we ever stop having fun putting out releases on Girlfriend Tapes, then it’s no longer worth doing. ”

Hope said he created his record label because he feared that a major label would compromise his aesthetic vision for “Sweetheart.”

“Leah and I decided to just make it ourselves and make it a thing with a logo,” Hope said. “So each tape will have a consistency in terms of production and distribution. But also not. Each package has a thank-you card to the person specifically. So there is this intimacy — like it was made just for you.”

Hope dubs cassettes by way of his own aesthetic sensibilities and artistic preferences, such as when a painter prefers oil to acrylic. He said cassettes offer a way to appreciate a medium that has been around.

“It’s not only having the novelty of a cassette to hold — it means so much more when you actually have a piece of art to hold in your hand, but also if you prefer that lo-fi quality of a cassette,” Hope said. “I like the way tapes sound, too. They have this sort of natural tremolo that I can’t get enough of.”

From his music to his record label, Hope inserts an intimacy not found on a major label or in other musicians.

Every aspect of his endeavors displays a delicacy that echoes his grasp of reality and love for creating aesthetics and relatable content.