Interview: Molly Hocking

A home-grown talent, Molly Hocking’s voice – dreamy, yet achingly emotive – alongside a healthy dose of grit, determination and unwavering optimism propelled her to winning one of the TV’s biggest talent competitions, The Voice. A year on, Gemma Cockrell caught up with the Cornwall starlet to see how she has adapted to the challenges of life beyond the cameras.

Molly Hocking was just seventeen-years-old when she was crowned The Voice UK’s 2019 winner in front of millions of viewers across the nation. Fast-forward to 2020, she is now nineteen, and shines with maturity and wisdom beyond her years as she navigates the difficulties of the music industry with a resiliently optimistic mindset. Despite growing up nestled in the heart of Cornwall, against the backdrop of the beaches of St Ives, Hocking doesn’t believe that her Cornish roots have had a role in shaping her sound. Instead, she cites her family as her main influence: “My sound comes from myself, my family and my experiences,” she explains. “My granddad inspired me, he’s in a big band and I grew up listening to jazz in his living room.” This, along with a childhood intrigue for the life and work of Amy Winehouse, can be heard in doozy pop-jazz tones of Hocking’s sound.

When lockdown restrictions were first imposed, along with the rest of the nation, Hocking struggled with motivation and productivity: “I caught myself at the beginning looking through social media, and saw artists posting about how much they’d been writing like twenty hours a day. Some people went into panic mode, but then you run out of things to do and burn yourself out,” she reflects “The reality of it is I needed a break, so I wasn’t doing as much writing and recording as I should have been doing. But I’ve got my backside back into gear and now I’m ready to go!”

Previous winners of the show have struggled to find success, but this hasnt seemed to deter Hocking in the slightest.

Part of this involved Hocking devoting time to mastering the piano during lockdown: “I can’t read music, I do it by ear, but it’s going well! I’ve never picked up another instrument – I tried the guitar but it’s too big for me, I’ve got really small fingers!” she laughs. Whilst the free time afforded by the pandemic has been productive for the young prodigy, she professes her glee at returning to some semblance of normality in recent weeks. “I’ve been writing a lot recently because I’ve been up and back from London,” she smiles, “and that restarted my creative spark, knowing that I’m kind of back at work again.” “Like everyone else, I’ve had a lot of time to sit and think, which has brought a lot of memories back, so I’ve just been playing a few chords on the piano and words have been coming out.”

Born of a distinctively connected musical era, Hocking recognises the importance of utilising social media as a twenty-first century artist to interact and engage with fans and even more so during lockdown. Her playful personality shone throughout The Voice series, and bound to her home, she took to the internet in the hope of brightening up the dragging days of quarantine for her fans: “I’ve been into comedy acting for a while, so I tried to bring a bit of that funniness onto my Instagram during lockdown and people loved it!” Even in such trying times, she is a strong advocate of “trying to find the positive in the negative as much as possible,” and is a fitting role model for young musicians doggedly chasing their own lucky break the world over.

Speaking candidly about her relationship with the writing process, the singer expresses her frustrations about the fickle nature of the music industry: “It changes every single second, and it’s so difficult trying to stay one step ahead all the time. At the moment I am more focused on EPs than a full-length album, because that’s what most people are downloading,” she explains. “Just before lockdown, everyone was buying CD’s and record players again, but as time has gone on, people have been streaming more on Spotify than ever before. You never know which way it’s going to go!” she sighs.

Far from dejected, however, Hocking has an abundance of material beneath her hat: “I’ve got about twelve finished demos that I’m hoping to release in the new year.” “Not all at once though, maybe one every six weeks or so and then build up to an EP!” The first song in this series of releases was the rousing After The Night Before, a track curated long before Hockings trademark lockdown writing sessions: “It was the first song I co-wrote after I came out of The Voice. Last summer I went into a studio in South Kensington and co-wrote it with Adam Argyle and Iain James.” She explains how the song was inspired by the raw, personal experience of heartbreak: “I know this is a bit cliché... I had a breakup two weeks before I wrote that song, but I didn’t want to go into the studio with the mindset that I wanted to write a song about a break up. She pauses thoughtfully before finishing: “I wanted it to have aspects that many listeners can relate to, even if they haven’t been through a break up.”

“Nothing too serious, but good fun, good music and a good time!”

The release of After The Night Before saw her return to The Voice UK for a guest performance on the 2020 semi-final. “It was an amazing experience,” she recalls warmly, “It’s strange, because you never felt like you were on TV until it came to the live shows, because you were just in a room with cameras.” Though previous winners of the show have struggled to find success, this has not deterred Hocking in the slightest; if anything making her more determined to take on whatever challenges are thrown at her. “At the end of the day, if you want it that much, you won’t let it go. I think people tend to give up, or not do it anymore, when they find it difficult, and think there’s no way out, but there’s always a way you can make it work,” she affirms optimistically.

After being crowned 2019’s winner, Hocking explains how she was left to her own devices, a scenario that she was luckily mentally prepared for: “Obviously it’s a series, and when a show ends, it ends, but I got a record label and I had to find my own management,” she explains. “I was lucky enough to get a really good manager and he’s looking after me.” A shining example of the self-determination and drive necessary to survive in the music industry, Hocking was never expecting the show to hand her everything on a plate. “I kind of had to do it all myself, but I knew that would happen anyway. You can’t go in with any expectations because the reality is that as soon as you start expecting things, that’s when you get let down.”

An undeniably supportive figure throughout the young stars journey, however, was her coach from the show and Essex pop sensation, Olly Murs. “He is exactly the same off camera as he is on,” she beams, “he’s like my big brother, he was so supportive and really good fun – we worked really hard on the show but we also enjoyed ourselves, and that’s what it’s all about!” When asked whether the pair had stayed in contact following the show, Hocking’s air of remarkable maturity revealed itself once more: “We’ve got each other’s numbers, and we still support each other from time to time, but at the end of the day we both have our separate careers that we need to focus on as well I know he’s always there if I need him.”

Continuing to look to the future, Hocking speaks eagerly of her exciting year to come: “Olly actually asked me to support him for the Cornwall show of his 2021 tour, and I cannot wait!” “It’s going to be all of the Cornish locals and supporters coming, so it should be a really fun show. I’ve done a lot of gigs in my hometown, and people have always been really supportive, so it will be nice to perform in front of the them again – it gives the gig a more personal touch!” she exclaims.

“I’ve grown up during the most difficult time of my life in the most difficult industry, with the most competition.”

In terms of her own touring schedule, Hocking has more pragmatic ambitions: “Rather than doing a tour, I want to get a good, few venues as my base, and maybe do a monthly gig there, building up an audience – I’ll let everyone know when that happens!” she explains giddily. Her live performance aims to capture the energy of a nineteen-year-old girl living her dream – “Nothing too serious, but good fun, good music and a good time!” she promises. Hocking has already seen immense success within the festival scene: “The year I won The Voice, it was coming up to summer, festival season, so I played a few big festivals in Cornwall, like Tunes in the Dunes and Boardmasters. I was also lucky enough to support Celine Dion in Hyde Park; that was incredible,” she reminisces.

Echoing the sentiments of the rest of the music industry, she exclaims in desperation: “I just want that feeling back again!” Ever the optimist however, she manages to find some benefits in live music’s prolonged hiatus: “I think once live music returns, it’ll be a completely different experience and people will appreciate it more.” She views her own experiences in the music industry so far in a similarly positive light: “I don’t wish I’d done anything differently, I don’t want to change anything, because you learn from it even if it’s a bad experience,” she reflects. “Going into it, I was seventeen, and now I’m nineteen, turning twenty next week, so I’ve grown up during the most difficult time of my life in the most difficult industry with the most competition.”

She attributes her still-present sanity to one thing: kindness. In navigating an industry rife with pitfalls, and trying to stay true to herself in a music machine fostering pop replicas, Hocking explains how a little bit of compassion can go a really long way. “Being a nice person is how to get longevity; at the end of the day, if you’re a nice person, nice people will want to do nice things for you! So be a nice person!” Fuelled by grace and with a voice to match, the future looks bright for the young Cornwall winner, and the conversation was departed with some shameless plugs and a big smile: “Listen for my new music next year, drop a follow my socials, and I’ll let everyone know what’s going on!”

Written by: Gemma Cockrell

Edited by: Louise Dugan

Featured and article images courtesy of Molly Hocking via Facebook.