The Moment I Knew I Wanted to Make Music: Cade Hoppe

by - March 23, 2023

Photo courtesy of Will Shellhorn

I always knew I loved music, but I didn’t know I couldn’t live without it until I didn’t have it. When I went to NYU to play basketball and study finance, I had it in my head that I would pursue opportunities in music on the side - as if that’s how it works. I even wrote in my basketball profile bio, “Aspires to either work on Wall Street or become a singer/songwriter.” I was naive and afraid. Naive to the fact that defying all odds takes everything you’ve got, not just what’s left over. And afraid of jumping ship without any sight of land or another ship. But here I am, going on a few years of treading water wondering if my legs or my lungs will give out first.

The moment I knew I was going to make music as a career was not when I jumped; it was when I wound myself up so hard that not jumping would have left me so unbalanced that I would’ve gone overboard anyway. It was the summer of 2019, when I worked a miserable unpaid internship in FiDi while living in Washington Heights. My commute was an hour each way. I was working from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, then going to work out for two to three hours, and finally making it back to my apartment around 9 p.m. or so where I ate my first meal of the day. On top of everything, I had no piano, no guitar, no way of writing or playing music. The real punchline is that I’m sure there would have been a lot of great melodramatic songs that came out of that summer had I been able to write them.

Around the end of that summer, my whole perspective changed. My biggest music influence growing up, Ben Folds, came to town for an event talking with Sara Bareilles about his new memoir. It was at the Cooper Union near Washington Square, so I was back on my “old” NYU stomping grounds. I remember walking around to kill some time before the event started, listening to my favorite Ben Folds music. Then his song “Evaporated” came on my playlist. It was my first-ever concert in 2014 (which led me to write my first song a few weeks later) and I’d seen him perform four times since then, but he had never played that song. I remember it resonating with me more than usual. I remember letting myself feel emotions I’d been pretending I didn’t have. I remember pressing “replay”. Again. And again. I remember thinking, “I need him to play this tonight. I need to hear this tonight.”

At the event, Ben and Sara talked for about an hour. I hung onto every word - listening to two people who dedicated their lives to doing exactly what I wanted to do, talking about what it’s taken to actually do it. At the end, sure enough, he went over to the grand piano onstage and announced that he’d be playing a couple of songs before signing our copies of the book. He launched into a beautiful, more recent song of his, “So There”, as the audience all practically craned their necks in unison to see his hands move across the keys. When he finished, he started describing the writing process of the song he was going to play next. “I sat down at the piano and played these two notes over and over again,” he said (loosely), “And it somehow perfectly described the emotional state I was in.” I already knew what song it was and I could already feel my eyes start to tear up.

“What I’ve kept with me/And what I’ve thrown away/And where the hell I’ve ended up on this glary, random day/Were the things I really cared about/Just left along the way/For being too pent up and proud?” That’s how the song starts. I felt every word as deep as one can feel words, maybe even deeper. For a moment, it was unclear what were my own thoughts in my head and what was being sung on stage. All at once, I realized exactly what had made this summer so miserable and what I needed to do to change and get things back on track, even though I had no idea how to do it yet.

The rest of the evening was a blur besides when I met Ben which seemed to move in slow motion. I shook his hand and told him how I started writing songs because of him and how the first song I ever wrote was basically a rip-off of his song “Fred Jones, Pt. II” and how grateful I was for all his music had done for me. A flurry of words carefully crafted to let him know how he fits into my life story, while simultaneously conveying to him between the lines that I’d love to work with him someday and that I believe it will happen. You know… keeping it cool. But he was so gracious and humble; he looked at me and said something like, “That’s exactly how it’s supposed to start. If this is what you want to do then you gotta just keep going.”

I didn’t know it yet, but I was ready to jump - properly wound up, far past the point of no return. Over the next year, I discovered just how necessary the jump was. I think most of that discovery was realizing that sure, it’s scary to jump ship with no sight of land or another ship, but less so if said ship is on fire. Then you’d better put as much distance between you and the ship as possible. I think the biggest lesson I learned from that summer is that I was on a sinking ship, and I could either go down with it or I could jump into the water and pray it was warm.

Turns out it’s not too bad down here. It’s just pruned fingers, sunburns and every shade of endless blue. Like I said, it’s tiring treading water, but at least I’ve floated far away from the ship’s wreckage by now. I almost can’t even remember being on the ship at all. And I have no choice but to believe that if I tread water long enough, I’ll wash up on some shore eventually.

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