One of the most critically acclaimed releases of 2017, Jen Cloher begins her second Australian tour in support of her self-titled album this weekend with a performance at Golden Plains. I had a chat with Jen Cloher about the album, Milk Records, and Australia’s rapidly changing musical landscape.
After your upcoming US tour dates, you have a bit of a second bite of the cherry album tour in Australia which must be super exciting.
Yeah, we’re doing a kind of follow up Jen Cloher album tour. We did a little tour last year but this will be at slightly bigger venues and then I lose Courtney and Bones to the Courtney Barnett band ’cause Courtney’s got a new record out this year, so they’ll be touring a lot for the record. So it’s kind of like my last couple of months of touring, then I’m sort of back in Australia, but also overseas doing a few festivals and things throughout the year so it’s exciting!
Look, it was great. The album was recorded live so we recorded just as a band in the studio to tape, old school analogue so taking it into a live context felt like a very natural step and I suppose the thing that I always find – I don’t know if you have this experience – particularly with rock albums, when you listen to the album it’s great but then when you see it live, there’s this extra element. I feel like the live shows are where everything gets to breathe and it’s probably just a little more immediate.
You have an incredibly forthcoming style of storytelling where your lyrics are really at the forefront. I know you write a bit of poetry, have you always been a writer?
Not really to be honest. I love writing, but I’ve never really sat down and written loads and loads of things, you know, I’ve never written a book. I guess I see lyric writing as a form of poetry but I’ve never gone, “Here’s my book of poems and now I’m going to write some songs”. All of the writing that I do generally revolves around it being a song at some point. I don’t know that I’ve ever necessarily seen myself as a writer but I feel like I’ve accepted that more recently and just going, “Yeah, I am a writer. I’m a songwriter, I write songs, I write lyrics”. I’m happy to accept that label.
Who are some songwriters that stood out to you growing up?
I guess some of my early favourites would have been PJ Harvey, The Breeders, Cat Power, I’ve always loved Gillian Welsh, Lucinda Williams – all sorts of people really. I think they’ve all had areally big impact on my songwriting.
When did you first pick up a guitar?
I started playing guitar in my first year at NIDA, I would have been about 19 or 20. I went to NIDA and did the acting course there and I went and bought a second hand guitar. I would cut class and go to the girls’ change rooms and play guitar and write songs – songs that have never seen the light of day which is probably a good thing. That’s kind of where it all started. Over the years, as I got more confident playing guitar and writing songs and singing live, I got to a point where I felt that I was ready to record and release an album.
Outside of making music, you’re very involved in the more business side of things, with Milk Records and I Manage My Music – what sparked your interest in this side of the industry starting out?
I guess after my second album, I had to really reassess the financial side of running my own business. I felt like if I continued to run things the way that I had been, that I was going to run out of music and not be able to pursue a career in the arts. I decided to start a series of workshops and invite other artists to come in and talk about their experience and I learned so much about how other people were doing it, the challenges, it was a really great forum and still is – I started it about seven years ago. I think from the process of having those discussions and learning so much from other artists and other people in the music industry, it really translated well into Milk Records. I took a lot of the things that I learned about small music business over to Milk Records and applied a lot of those ideas and saw that it worked. I’ve learned a lot of stuff about the reality of making music in Australia. Because it’s such a huge country and it’s expensive to travel around, if you fly to Perth with a band it’s really expensive. We have this massive country, a relatively small population, we have to figure out ‘How do we do this? How do we make sure that our music business is sustainable?’
What have you learned interacting with other artists in this way, how they can push through these difficulties and obstacles and managing expectations in this kind of climate?
A lot of creatives are disconnected from understanding how the musical landscape works or the business of music works, so they’re toiling over their amazing music and their craft and then they’ll release it and nothing happens. It might not have anything to do with the art, what they’ve made is probably fantastic but they just don’t have the tools or the understanding about how you need to really support that release and use the tools that are out there – use social media, use Spotify, use these things to draw an audience and build that audience so that you can keep making it. So I guess that’s the thing, the best way to manage expectations is for people to learn about what the realities are. Often they have unrealistic expectations, they put something out and it doesn’t go the way they thought it would and they give up and that’s really sad.
You recently wrote a post about representation, diversity and inclusion in the Australian music industry and it was stirred by Camp Cope’s Falls tour. What do you think non- cis male members of the music industry like myself can do to not be discouraged by the backlash and hurdles that we see artists like yourself at the forefront of this change dealing with on a daily basis?
I think it’s really just a thing of continuing to have those conversations and I think everyone can contribute to that movement forward. Making choices about the music organisations that you support, making choices about the festivals that you want to play on because there is a good representation of women and non binary artists on the bill. I think also, creating events where there is inclusion, you can do a lot within your own music business where you employ people that are women. Really, getting behind and supporting anyone who does stand up and say something – that was really what my post was about more than anything. Everything that I said has been said, it wasn’t like I was coming up with any new ideas, but I really wanted to make a statement in support of Camp Cope and what I perceive their message as being and let them know that there is solidarity and that they’re not alone. They’ve been at the forefront of this movement in Australia, well before the #MeToo movement and the things that happened last year around H****y W*******n and the American film industry and it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to be someone who stands up and speaks out and has the courage of conviction and I wanted them to know and other people to know that they’re not alone. We can all do that, we can all step in and lend a voice in support, stand by each other and keep the conversation and the actions towards change moving forward.
Do you feel like we’re getting there? Have you felt a shift since you started out as a musician?
Yeah, I think so. Certainly, things have changed and it can take a long time. That’s what you discover, is that a lot of these conversations have been had again and again and again over the years but it feels like each time we have these conversations, things shift and move forward. Slowly but surely. That’s the thing about being part of any movement, is that you accept that that’s what you do – you keep moving with it and you keep supporting it and putting energy toward it and thing’s will surely shift if there’s enough of a collective conscious moving it forward.
JEN CLOHER TOUR DATES
Sunday 11 March – Golden Plains, Meredith
Friday 16 March – Rosemount Hotel, Perth
Saturday 17 March – The Zoo, Brisbane
Thursday 22 March – Theatre Royal, Castlemaine
Friday 23 March – Anglesea Memorial Hall, Anglesea
Saturday 24 March – The Croxton, Melbourne