Written by Charlie Lawrence
Jen Cloher's recent release (which is self-titled) is filled with her personal experiences and honest reflections. We recently caught up with Jen Cloher to talk about her 4th studio album.
You studied acting at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), which is a very competitive school to apply for what drove you to instead go with music?
When I was in University I lived in a share house with several other people who were musicians which is when I bought my first second hand guitar and started to write very basic first songs. When I left NIDA I just kept playing and it kind of became my obsession and it eventually took over. I was really young when I got into NIDA and by the time I graduated I was 21 and I was still trying to really work out what I wanted to do with my life.
Has much of that translated into the way you compose or perform any of your music?
I think it definitely gave me a confidence about being on stage, obviously doing so many plays while I was at NIDA you get used to being in front of an audience. I mean I still get nervous, I played Golden Plains yesterday and I still get nervous before I get on but once I’m on stage it’s not a terrifying experience I’m like “ok, cool we’re here,” and then off we go. I think also vocally, you learn as an actor a lot of vocal techniques and how to support your voice and I think that definitely helped when it came to performing music on stage.
Your song Regional Echo strikes a lot of important notes of regional Australia especially with lines like “never gonna be more than is expected of me” what was the inspiration for this song?
Well, I guess it’s that thing that we can all relate to of just driving around the suburbs and even a little bit out beyond the suburbs and I was trying to paint that picture of Australian summers so there’s that press of heat and everything feels a little bit like a ghost town and everyone’s inside. Sometimes growing up in the suburbs, like most of us I think did, you’re not encouraged to dream big and you don’t have any one important around saying “you can do whatever you want in your life.” It just feels like we have a very limited vision and we’re not taught to go to big things in this country. So I’m sort of just really talking about if no one expects you to do much with your life then you kind of don’t? I think a lot of people find it hard to be ambitious and motivate yourself in this country, and if you do people don’t like it. If you do have success there’s this backlash of “don’t get too big for your boots, who do you think you are?” rather than really celebrating people? I don’t know if you’ve found that.
Absolutely I would agree with that. How have you found the reception of your self-titled album in comparison to your earlier works?
I think every album has found an audience, which has understood it, but I think this album found a bigger audience. I guess through running Milk Records over the last 6 years we’ve sort of built a community around the label and the music that they release through the label so having that community to talk about the record is a really good place to start. I think the scenes on the album are very immediate and direct and spoke to people all around the world. I think a lot of issues we have in Australia are the same issues they have in America and Europe and the universality to what we’re saying - it’s a global problem and not a country-by-country problem. I think talking about what I’m concerned about definitely translated to international audiences.
Since your most recent album is self-titled is it safe to assume this is the most intimate album you’ve released so far?
Yeah, I think all my albums have been intimate, about my life and things happening around my life because that’s the place that I write from because it’s really all I know. I can’t talk to anyone else’s experiences so I’m happy to share my own. I think perhaps this album is self-titled and the reason why I’m sitting naked on the cover, is because it’s the most honest, so I sort of don’t hide on this record. I talk very openly about my experiences as an artist in Australia, my experience of watching my partner have big international success and not see much of each other during that time which was very hard. I also talk about my opinions, political opinions which can be risky because not everyone’s going to agree with what you think, so there’s perhaps more risk-taking on this record.
As an artist how do you feel about putting something so personal into the larger world?
I think it’s always a little scary because we all want to be loved and approved of. You can worry that people are going to judge, or judge you in a way where they get it wrong or think “am I revealing too much?” But I think really at the end of the day I just thought, everything that I’m sharing - I’ve got nothing to hide. This is just the human experience and if me sharing these things helps other people to identify and find comfort or relief in their own life, then it helps. I find when I read really personal literature or listen to songs speaking very directly from that person’s experience I find it really brave and I feel less alone. I think “oh my god, other people feel that.” It’s not just me that gets really jealous or it’s not just me that takes a really long time to get over a broken heart. I think that’s really important that we all remind ourselves that at the core we’re kinda really the same.
As an artist that’s been releasing music for over a decade what are the notable shifts you’ve seen in Australian music as well as the way international audiences perceive Australian music ?
I definitely think things have really shifted, and obviously due to technology it’s changed the way we discover music, share music, experience music and that’s been a very positive thing because I think it’s broken down a lot of the boundaries, or the invisible boundaries, or gatekeepers, that kinda stuff. So you can kind of release music independently and if it’s good and things go well there’s no reason why people won’t hear it you know? I think the other thing we’ve seen is as the world overseas is becoming more interested in the amazing music we’re creating in Australia we’re started to turn around and go “hang on, maybe what we’re doing is really good.” I think there’s always been that strange dynamic in Australia where we don’t have the confidence to really stand by our artists and go “this artist is incredible and the world needs to know about them.” It's always the world discovers them and now we go “oh yeah” and have the confidence to claim them and really stand by them. I mean you know, that is a broad generalisation and I know there are bands or artists that Australians are very passionate about who have never really found a big audience overseas but generally speaking I think that what hasn’t changed is that an international audience has to approve before we’re willing to really back them.