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Jen Cloher on making her acclaimed fourth album

Jen Cloher is an Australian Singer/Songwriter whose work has garnered critical praise, and along with her partner Courtney Barnett she started the Milk record label that is a leading light in the independent music scene.

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Clinton Little chatted to Cloher about creating her fourth record, a self titled work that has gone on to garner critical praise and a legion of new fans for the singer-songwriter.

The chorus of the lead track of the album is “oh god I forgot myself, oh god I forgot my health”. Was there a particular moment in your life that inspired that lyric?

That song is very much about my experience of having a partner who was away a lot, that was my reality of the last four years, Courtney had to tour, she had all this international interest and you have to go for it when those things happen.

It doesn’t happen a lot for Australian artists and it was a difficult one because I had such a full life in Australia, I had to pay the bills, I was running the record label (Milk Records) that we had together and it was a difficult time, but my mind would often go to where is she? What is she doing? So I’d forget myself and what I need to be focused on.

Every day there was an email from her like heres a photo of me with Neil Young or she’d met the women from The Breeders, and it’s easy to just forget your life and focus on this more exciting one that’s going on overseas and the real lesson for me was to keep focusing on myself and what I needed to do

You posted a photo of yourself on Facebook at the Wilco loft in Chicago while you were mixing this album with the quote “me, pretty much in heaven right now”. What part of the writing, recording and performing process is your favourite?

I think I definitely prefer the mixing part of it part of it, I was in heaven because I was in this incredible studio, full of the most beautiful instruments and it was incredibly inspiring and it’s like a musicians dream to hang out in a place like that.

One of your golden rules that you teach in the workshops you hold for self managed artists is to find your community, how did you find yours??

I think milk records is a great snapshot of of our immediate music community, a lot of the bands are in other bands on the label, we do a lot of collaborations and tours as a label, so I think milk records has been the greatest visual manifestation of a community that’s always been there for me.

You trained as an actor at NIDA but after graduating you shifted from acting into music what precipitated that change of direction?

It was about 20 years ago that I first picked up a guitar and started to teach myself how to play and one of my flatmates walked into the kitchen one day and played a song that he had written and I thought, that’s amazing, imagine being able to write your own songs and that’s the distilled attraction for me, being able to write your own story, there’s a lot more freedom in being able to record it and put it out.

When I was at NIDA there was a lot of waiting around for someone to cast you in a film or a play and there were no guarantees and it felt less empowered.

On one of the new album tracks Shoegazers there’s a line that goes success is a slippery eel, do you feel like you’ve caught that slippery sucker or is it a work in progress?

Success is a slippery eel that keeps on moving, and I think that even the greatest song writers have had their peaks and troughs, I’m sure that was a time when Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Patti Smith or Joni

Mitchell, all of them have had times where they thought it was over but my point is that it doesn’t matter, success is meaningless, what’s important is that you keep creating the art rather than focusing on the outcome.

The financial realities of being a self managed artist are considerable, how important funding bodies like Sound Australia and crowd funding for emerging artists?

There’s been a lot of people fighting to keep the arts funded in Australia, and the greatest hurdle as artists in this country is isolation, yes music can travel digitally but touring is where artists make the majority of their income.

There’s another song on the album called The Great Australian Bite which is all about that financial bite and isolation, what has changed positively is the ability to connect through social media so things like Sound Australia are so important because the financial realities of touring are so daunting,

How did your catholic upbringing and your sexuality inform your music?

They’re definitely a part of who I am, perhaps my sexuality is definitely part of who I am the religious aspect was something that was more imposed and was something that rejected in the end because it wasn’t for me.

There’s a song on the album called Strong Woman where I talk very directly about not fitting in and not identifying as a typical girl and was taught that to love was to live in sin and my rejection of those norms but it think it’s important to remember that it’s hard to not fit in and perhaps people from my generation,

I’m in my early 40’s now and back when I was at school you didn’t come out, certainly not in Adelaide if you wanted to survive, you weren’t openly gay in the 1980’s, not if you wanted to not die.

I’m openly lesbian, openly queer and I think artist of my generation who maybe didn’t talk about it

Fifteen or 20 years ago feel like they can today. People like Magda Szubanski who talks about it saying that its not that I’m ashamed of being gay so much it was that I wanted to work and I didn’t want my sexuality to be the reason why I wasn’t working because I was pink listed and I felt the same.

What was the first album you bought and why?

The first album I ever bought was Dynasty by KISS, because I was drawn by the theatrics of all the members in full make-up and with the song I was made for loving you baby and they were very big in my world, so that was my first investment in the music world.

JEN CLOHER – AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2018

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

Clinton Little


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