Such is the high quality of her songwriting that Melbourne based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jess Locke’s intoxicating brand of melodic indie-folk has been compared to the likes of Courtney Barnett, Cat Power, Laura Marling, Smog and even Elliott Smith. Freshly signed to The Smith Street Band’s label Pool House Records, Locke’s second record Universe is already winning her plenty of new admirers. ZACK YUSOF spoke to Locke about the album and her upcoming shows in WA which will see her playing Four5Nine on November 23, the Prince of Wales Hotel in Bunbury on November 24, The Fire Station in Busselton on November 25 and The Odd Fellow in Fremantle on November 26.
Congrats on your excellent new album Universe. Now according to your press release, your latest record represents a step forward for you. Can you elaborate on that?
Well, it’s been a little while since my last record. It’s been a few years and I’ve been playing with a new band since that time and so this record is more based around working with a band to flesh out the songs, kind of. We did it much more collaboratively this time and some of the songs are quite old while others are quite new. Thematically, I wouldn’t say it’s a huge jump from my previous songs but yeah, just in terms of the songs and the overall aesthetic of things, it’s a bit more experimental and I think – well I hope anyway – that the band comes through more than just a backing sort of thing.
Was the recording process different from your last record as you collaborated more with your band this time around?
Yeah, with the last record, I guess I had quite a lot of control over how the parts were going to be, kinda had the songs ready to go and had some friends come in and play different instrumentation. Whereas with this record, I spent the last couple of years playing the songs with the band and you know, they brought a lot to it, a lot of ideas. I had to communicate with them in a very collaborative way and I think a lot of the ideas that came through on the record are very much from Chris and Jim. Not so much just me on this one I think.
The older songs are more personal but the newer ones like Better Bitter are more outward looking. I think I’ve gotten mellower.
Could you talk about some of the musical influences on the record? Who or what did you draw your inspiration from?
I guess a lot of my old time influences are like Cat Power and Smog I think, definitely in terms of songwriting and just the sound of the recording. But you know, I think in the last few years I’ve also kind of absorbed a lot of local bands and people that I’ve played with. Probably also things that I’m not even conscious of and I think all those kind of things come through in the way that the record sounds and the kind of different aesthetics that are present on the record.
One of the things that I really like about your album are your lyrics and the way they stand out and grab the attention. What are some of the things that you are singing about on the record? Is there a general theme to the songs?
A lot of the ideas, I don’t really think about them until I’ve written them. I think they are (about) things going on in the back of my head and then I can look back and string together a scene? But yeah, it’s really just kind of me and what’s going in my head and then me trying to relate that to the broader world. I think that’s why I called the album Universe because I was struggling to pick an album title that would cover all the ideas and ‘universe’ is probably the word that – by definition – is the most all-encompassing so I thought, well, that’s what this is. I’ve always had so many songs that I wanted to record that I’ve always been catching up and wanting to put on the next album, kind of collecting them. So I’m actually kind of excited to sit down after this one and write an album from scratch and sit down with an idea and a theme.
I was wondering if the songs on the album were written from a personal standpoint or if they were about other people. I really like the first song on the album, Drive To Drink, and that one sounds like it’s coming from a very personal place…
They all definitely come from somewhere personal. That’s always been the function of my songs, I think. Like I said, I don’t often sit down with a concept or an idea. Usually, it’s something that means something to me in some way. Drive To Drink is the oldest song on the record. I recorded it on a homemade ep several years ago and that came out of a specific relationship and it’s definitely personal. I think I always try to take something that is very particular to me and then somehow try to make it bigger than myself. You know, that’s the goal.
Another one of my favourites on the album is the title track…
I can remember when I was writing that song. That was a song that took a while to come together. I had this idea and it didn’t go anywhere for ages… I remember sitting in this huge backyard with a lawn, I was living in Coburg, this suburb in Melbourne, and it was a lovely sunny day. So there was this element of like, the heat of the sun, and nature, and thinking about when you are a bit psychologically disconnected from the universe. So I was trying to balance those two ideas out. There’s a line in a song that goes, ‘I rub myself against the universe’ so it’s about feeling like we are part of the universe but also outside of it because of our complex psychology (laughs).
For Universe, you inked a deal with The Smith Street Band’s Pool House Records. You’ve toured with the band, sang vocals on their record and you are the first artist on the Pool House Records roster. How do you feel about this?
It’s so good. I mean, it’s a perfect situation. We are all friends and it kind of feels like a big family now. Yeah, it’s ideal and to be the first artist that they asked after their own record is awesome. It’s very special.
And lastly, you’ve got a bunch of shows lined up in WA…
Yes, we are coming to Perth which is very exciting. We haven’t done a headline show in Perth before so… we’ll be doing four shows in Western Australia so yeah, I’m very excited about that.