The London-based, Australian-born musician Hopium crafts music which cuts straight to the heart of the human condition. The situations that he examines are often precise reflections of his own experiences, but the emotions that they convey are universally relatable. Whether he’s singing about narcissist relationships or failing to reach your own potential, Hopium has a rare skill for honing in on the truth.
Hopium first came to attention when his breakthrough track ‘Dreamers’ became an airplay hit in Australia. It also gained traction internationally as a flourish of blogs widened its growing acclaim. The lyrics speak for themselves: “The days became weeks / How did weeks become years?” he questions. “You said this would be your year / But you fucked around, now December’s here / You must be one of the dreamers.”
“I thought they reflected somebody else’s experiences,” says Hopium, known to his friends and family as Josh Hardy. “But then they became true. I realised a year later that maybe it was about me after all.”
That moment of blunt self-reflection took another surreal turn when Hopium unexpectedly heard the ‘Dreamers’ melody out of context on the Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth smash ‘See You Again’. “I was surprised but I wasn’t angry. I was just confused. Like, how am I hearing my melody on the radio? A fan Tweeted me and said you should call your lawyer. I thought I should be credited and remunerated for what they took.”
After subsequently being both credited and paid for his contribution, Hopium started to rethink his approach to creativity. “I did that song in my spare time in my home studio and they had a hit with it,” he states, still emboldened by the memory. “If they can do it, I can do it too!”
Although he’d been involved in various projects, Hopium had never given his music the push that it really deserved. His “back-up plans” – a bachelor’s degree in Psychological Studies and founding a successful tech business – were suddenly on hold. “I thought, screw this, I’ll give it a go. So I shut down the business, took the money I had and left Australia.”
His travels began early in 2016. China was the first stop, followed by an intense break-up in Amsterdam, various writing sessions in London, followed by New York and Los Angeles.
By the time he arrived in Berlin at the end of the summer, he was ready to head back to Melbourne. A meeting with an old friend changed both his immediate outlook and the trajectory of his future. “He said it’s only been nine months since you left, keep going because you’ve only just started and you’d be an idiot to stop now. To have that support from a friend was a really big thing.”
As the countdown to December arrived, Hopium’s resilience was beginning to pay off. He signed a publishing deal and relocated to London shortly after. It was easy to adapt. “I came to London with no expectations. After you’ve stayed in hostels on your own and done session after session, you lose any sense of entitlement. But I really wanted to make the best music I possibly could, and I wanted to write something true.”
It was a goal that was soon realised with his debut Warner Bros. Records track ‘Leave’. Its influences are broad – modern R&B, hip-hop, synth-pop and indietronica – as swathes of synths, filtered vocals and a slick falsetto combine to creative a mesmerising broken-hearted ambience. The skeleton of the song was written with Benji Miller and ex-Klaxon Jamie Reynolds in Soho, before Hopium and Miller headed to a remote farmhouse in Normandy to bring it to completion.
Its tale of control and manipulation in a relationship is full of one-sided, devastatingly cynical observations. “I know you know I know you won’t ever leave,” declares the song’s hook, further victim-blaming with the statement, “You’re complicit because you allow it / If there’s a limit I haven’t found it.”
It was inspired by that break-up in Amsterdam. “It’s from the perspective of an ex. The things I’m saying are how she felt – like she could treat me however she wanted and I’d never leave. Now I don’t feel as angry and I probably wouldn’t write a song that’s quite that bitter, but at that point in time I felt that exploited.”
There’s much more to come from the rest of Hopium’s songbook, with other lyrics that are inspired by everything from failing to find a soulmate in Berghain to how social media creates a longstanding connection to people from your past.
How does he feel about putting such naked emotions out there for the world to discover?
“I think that’s strength not vulnerability.” he declares confidently. “Maybe that’s because I studied psychology and spent so long talking frankly about emotions and reading cases studies and different approaches. Just understanding that human psychology is so fraught with disaster and suffering. So to me it feels natural.”
The studio industry in Australia isn’t as developed as it is in London, so Hopium “didn’t set foot in a proper studio for ages because I did everything in my bedroom.” Learning the tricks of production was therefore another organic progression. “I got involved in production because I have a lot of interests and I like to get involved in everything.”
That dedication to detail also extends to collaborating on all visual media that accompanies the Hopium project. Initially he wanted to let the music speak for itself but then realised that putting a face and a story to it makes it all the more powerful and relatable. From the concept to the deeply personal lyrics through to the music’s nuanced production and the design of the visuals and artwork, everything under the Hopium umbrella is innately interlinked – it’s a project that’s the result of his wide-ranging creativity and complete artistic vision.
While Hopium’s far-reaching abilities mean that he can dictate every aspect of the recording process, he doesn’t desire having control for the sake of it. “I loved being in bands and I’m a natural collaborator, but it needs to be with the right people,” he counters. “If a song’s really personal to me, I’m not going to change it just because someone wants me to.”
Hopium signs off – for now – by considering what his artist moniker and alter ego means to him. “It represents the philosophy of songs and my general outlook in life,” he explains. “Hope is something you have if things aren’t that good. You have to have hope that even at the worst times, things can be better. It’s about understanding that things aren’t perfect and maybe never will be. But that’s OK.”
And that’s Hopium: music to soundtrack the anticipation of better times to come.