RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW AUSTRALIAN ARTIST JEN LUSH
Hiya- thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.
Introduce us to you and your musical history.
Hey there, I’ve been making music in some form or another for a fair while – in the early 2000’s I was in an electronica band called Suvome, we moved to London for a few years and played, I wrote songs for German dance music producers, and then started writing songs acoustically when I moved back to Australia, folk-country-pop in a band called Cat Dog Bird. This lasted for about ten years and then in 2017 I released a solo album ‘The Night’s Insomnia’ and a second album ‘Let Loose The Beating Birds’ in 2021. The band I play with now are a brilliant bunch of guys with jazz, rock, metal backgrounds who create soundscapes that take my little folk songs into new and adventurous places.
Let’s go back a bit, what made you decide that music is a thing for you?
Music has always been an important part of my life. My Dad is a folk singer-songwriter who would perform with his bands at folk festivals and events all through my early years, I sometimes jumped up to sing with them, and joined him more regularly in my teens. Dad gave me my first acoustic guitar – a whopping 12 string dreadnaught that I could barely play. I bought my current guitar from him a few years ago. (My dad and I also run a live music venue together in South Australia called Stone Pony.) I think I decided to make music a bigger part of my life when I was studying Dance at Uni and was considering getting into musical theatre, but I started writing electronic trip-hop music with my fella and have been making and playing music in some form ever since.
Name your 3 favorite Albums.
Three favourite albums.. I would have to say Helplessness Blues by the Fleet Foxes, Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens, and Metals by Feist.
What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?
I was really into pop music growing up, such a sucker for a killer melody and groove. The first song I heard that made me really take notice was Blondie’s Heart of Glass. The first song that made me want to make my own music was Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy.’
What’s the biggest thing you have learned from someone else in the industry?
The biggest thing I’ve learned from someone else in the industry is about the recording process – to try and remember that it is a record of a moment in time. It is very easy for me to agonise over how to make it better and keep on working on it to the point of overproduction. But there’s a point where you need to know when to stop – put the tools down, make peace with any imperfections and know it’s the best you could do at this time. And then once it is out in the world, it is for others to discover, and all of that uncertainty can fall away.
If you could wish for one thing to aid your career what would it be?
One thing to aid my career.. a windfall of dollars to fund the next album..!
As you develop as an artist and develop using socials, in what ways do you get new ears on your music? Any tips?
I’m probably not the pin-up girl for amazing social traction or high streaming traffic but I know that sharing things that amuse me, or stories that are more personal that might have nothing to do with music, is a way for me to connect with others about real things. Music is one way to tell stories but I also like to document and share through photos and poetry via instagram too. It helps me to make sense of this strange and often bewildering world we live in and by doing this – reach people in a way that feels meaningful to me.
Tell us Two truths and a lie about you.
I hardly ever cry but when I do it is big and usually about nothing very important.
It took me seven goes before I got my drivers licence.
I am an excellent liar.
What was the worst experience on stage?
My worst experience on stage which could also be my best moment – launching my last album ‘Let Loose The Beating Birds’ in front of a lot of people. I was busting out some big dance moves on one of the louder songs – Blackhammer. I flung myself across the stage, lost my balance, fell on Sam who plays acoustic guitar and kind of bounced off him. He saved me from falling over entirely but not from looking like an idiot. He didn’t even miss a note.
What makes you stand out as a band/artist?
What makes me stand out as a band /artist? I think my band is pretty amazing, without them the music would still be folk demos in my kitchen. They are such an intuitive group of musicians and are able to do that rare thing of not over-playing, just serving the music. I guess as an artist I’m deeply interested in poetry and making the lyrical aspect of my songs count. The words are a huge focus for me – whether it’s writing my own poetry or working with the poetry of others as I have on this new album, I spend as much time crafting words as I do creating the music that surrounds them. I’m not sure this makes me stand out but it might help to give the music a slow burn rather than a quick fix.
What was the recording process like for the new single?
The recording process for the new single was fairly smooth. We recorded at Wizard Tone Studios in Hendon, SA – a beautiful space nestled in the heart of an old warehouse that was once a film-scoring stage. I’ve recorded the last two albums there and it has so much retro ambience and atmosphere.
We recorded Icon – song 1 live with the band altogether with me in the old projection room above doing the guide vocals. I laid down the final vocals and harmonies on my own a week or so later. I prefer this, it is a very private and often difficult process for me to get it feeling right and takes being in the right headspace. James Brown who is also in the band playing electric guitar recorded and mixed the album, and he left this song until last to mix as it was the most complex – bringing all the elements into the right balance, but I think he nailed it.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new track?
The biggest learning curve writing this track was the collaboration aspect of it. It was part of a ‘music of poetry’ project commissioned for the Festival of Voice in Western Australia, working with Australian poets bringing their poetry into song. Icon – song 1 comes from Maria Zajkowski’s recent book called ‘Icon’ about her father’s experience of Alzheimers and his decline, so it was quite an emotional tightrope infusing the words with the feeling without leaning too hard either way. I didn’t want to drench the words in a heavy handed melancholic approach.
Maria initially expressed a little surprise by the lightness in the feel of the song, but I really wanted to juxtapose the weight of the words with a slightly more hopeful sounding melody. The changing bar lengths in the sparser verses are there to give a slight feeling of uncertainty – of being adrift, before the swells in the chorus wrap around and anchor us. I think Maria understood where I was heading with it and has been so supportive of the process but it is definitely a more complex thing working with the poetry of others – honouring it and being deeply intuitive about how it is represented musically.
Would you change anything now that it’s finished?
If I could change anything it might be to just go back and sing it better, but as I mentioned in an earlier question, it’s important to know when to stop and let it be. As UK band Portishead once expressed – the better take isn’t always the most technical, it’s often the one with the most feel. And this one needed to feel right.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
Anything else to share with the world.. well if anyone is still reading after all of these words of mine, they deserve a medal..! I guess I would share that there is a video that goes with this song – made by my fella Tobin Lush and features my eldest son Orlando. It was shot out at Sceale Bay on the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia. When he found out we’d be filming in water he refused to do it, he was concerned his beloved cheap polyester op-shop suit would be damaged forever, so it took a lot of convincing. He eventually agreed when I promised to launder it back to its pristine glory. And it turned out ok. And there is an added poignancy to this for me, Orlando was born with a brain trauma at birth and has had plenty of challenges in his life so far. He and Tobin represented this song so bravely and beautifully.
My band and I will be launching the whole album ‘Hum of the mettle’ on August 18th with a special show on the 20th. Details via my socials and mailing list.