Jack River is the moniker of Holly Rankin, a talented songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist who hails from the small coastal town Forster in New South Wales. Not happy just to share her musical talents, Rankin’s creative roles extend to producer and director as the mastermind behind Electric Lady World, a platform focused on amplifying the strength of women in music, politics, science, sport and beyond which has has dedicated nights across Sydney and Melbourne, as well curating stages at the Mountain Sounds Festival and the recent Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Festival. With the release last Friday of her debut album Sugar Mountain, MICHAEL HOLLICK sat down with Rankin to find out more about the record, what drives her musically and what audiences can expect on the upcoming tour hitting the Rosemount Hotel on Friday, September 21.
How did the name Jack River come about?
My friends and I made up pirate names, like when I was 16 or so, and we used to go out around the town with these pirate names and we just felt invincible. So I wanted those feelings of limitlessness and invincibility to extend into my music, so it made sense to put that name on my music. And as my music grows and morphs, it’s kind of nice to have another vehicle to be able to explore things through without having any pressures of who you are as a person.
How did this album come about? What were it’s origins?
I’ve been working on it (Sugar Mountain) for about five years, so it’s been made over many phases of life and made quite naturally. I didn’t just get into the studio and write and record a batch of songs over a couple of weeks.. Each song on the album was recorded when I wanted to record it, and as a result, each part of the album was recorded in separate steps and it’s been a long and complicated journey. It has been incredible to get it out – a real, consolidated thing.
There’s a range in the styles and sound on Sugar Mountain. Is that because it was done over five years?
I went through such a journey making this record, I was evolving and trying new things as an artist and finding out the gap between what I wanted to make and what I am able to create. It’s definitely my awkward musical journey that is riddled throughout the tracks on the album. Like, for example, the songs went from very folk, stripped back, country kind of music and morphed into this sort of mega pop vision.
By pop, do you mean something like your latest single, Limo Son? That has a real country-tinged, pop bangin’ vibe, and it reminded me of The Dandy Warhols…
Yes, that is definitely one of the ‘pop’ songs. Limo Son was actually the last song that was recorded for the album. That and the track Confess. On both tracks, you can definitely really hear the influence of The Dandy Warhols, or The Shins, like something off The O.C. Soundtrack, coming out towards the end of the album.
Did you find it a challenge as a songwriter to get the sounds out of your head, to get them out and produced on record?
It’s definitely difficult but I really enjoyed it. During this album I realised that you can create that pop song and that was a real ‘a-ha’ moment for me. As a kid you just imagine that someone else just creates it. So once I realised that, I would put each song against the best pop songs out there at the moment. And I think that’s a really great way to create, just comparing your creations to the things you love.
Lyrically, there is a lot about falling in and out of love on the record. Do these lines come from personal experience?
The lyrics are all very personal. Take the song Fool’s Gold, when I was writing that I was going through a process of not actually getting what I wanted, and coming to the realisation that you probably stop chasing for things that aren’t for you. So that song is about many things rolled into one, it was a love relationship but also my career. There is so much to chase after that is shiny but at the end of the day there are only a few things that actually matter. So, that song is trying to articulate the push and pull of working out what is good for you and being proud of it and owning it and knowing why something isn’t the right thing.
What track are you most proud of off the record?
I really love Constellation Ball. That track took so many years to come to fruition. The lyrics came from all these different moments in my life that happened to really stick with me. It’s pretty cool to hear that in the final form.
What is in the pipeline for Jack River in the future?
I am touring Sugar Mountain in September all around the country and am super-excited. I’m playing venues where I’ve seen some of my favourite bands, like the Metro in Sydney. I’m also playing Splendour in the Grass in July, so there’s some really big things coming up. I am coming to Perth, playing the Rosemount Hotel, and that will be a new thing for me. But a lot of it is new to me! I am still getting used to it (touring). Like, having people sing your lyrics back to you, well, I don’t know if you ever get used to that. Just playing my music is an incredible experience for me, so to share that with others is just something else.
What we can expect from the tour?
I’m in the process at the moment of designing the show. I am trying to bring the colours and some of the visions that I had when I was writing the songs. There is a lot of colour and light and I want to try and take audiences on a journey, from the small folk moments to the big, pop-rock moments. It’d be awesome to make those songs really pop.
Well, you could go all out pop-rock diva… Maybe costume changes during the show?
(laughs) No, not yet. I am not cool enough for that just yet (laughs). Maybe some confetti if I get rich.