Jen Cloher is currently on tour with Courtney Barnett (her partner) and Kurt Vile, and they’ll be rolling through DC tomorrow night to play The Anthem; as such, I got caught up with her over the phone to talk about her newest LP, which is both political and eponymous, as well as about how she makes time for songwriting when she’s got a million other responsibilities (including running Milk Records) on her plate, what it’s like to write honestly when your partner’s a fellow musician and MORE, so internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, catch her at the show tomorrow night, and be sure to download a copy of Jen Cloher here.
So first of all, it’s getting very close to Halloween, and I saw that Instagram photo you posted where you’re dressed as ET as a kid, which is AMAZING.
[Laughs] I’m just laughing because we were saying last night that Halloween is coming up, and that photo will be thirty-four years ago. But we’ll be in America on Halloween, and I thought maybe I could dress up as ET again.
Oh my god please do it! I like, don’t understand people who are afraid of ET. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, but there are definitely people who are like, “NOPE!”
Everyone thought it was a weird choice, but I thought it was a great one, because it was the year that film came out, so I thought I was the coolest kid on the block.
I mean, it still holds up today! It’s a GOOD costume!
Exactly! What a classic. Everyone still knows who ET is thirty-four years later. So there you go.
Right! Is Halloween a big thing in Australia, too?
Not really, but it’s slowly becoming more of a thing. I really noticed that in the last couple of years. I mean, certainly the trick-or-treat side of things, but nothing like the USA does with the pumpkin lanterns and ghosts hanging off trees. It’s nothing like that.
Well, it seems like Halloween aside, it’s a bit spooky in Australia right now RE: this whole marriage equality vote. You’ll be in America for that decision, right?
We will, yeah.
Of course it’s crazy to you guys, too, that this is still a thing that’s being debated, but it’s just been such an insane year…or, I guess over a year now, especially here with Trump. It’s really, really disheartening.
Yeah, you’re seeing this sort of right wing ideology happening all around the world. But I don’t know. I guess my hope is that having these people come to power and then not deliver on any of the things they promise will be kind of a really good thing for people, to see that nothing really changed. And maybe they’ll see what an actually good job Obama did. Because I think people that don’t have an understanding of government or Congress would think that someone could just come in to power and change everything, but of course it’s a whole process for that to happen before any legally binding decisions are made.
Yeah, it’s tough. And you talk about some of these things on the record. Was that scary at all for you to get political?
Yeah, it’s scary because you never know how it’s going to be received, or if there will be people who don’t agree with what you have to say. You also don’t want to get things wrong, you know? You’ve got to be very careful if you’re going to start making statements, and you’ve got to know what you’re talking about, so I did a lot of research. In “Kinda Biblical”, where I talk about your current administration, and “Analysis Paralysis” where I really go in-depth and talk about the current non-binding public opinion poll and how it’s costing Australian taxpayers $122M, it’s the first time I’ve walked into territory to talk personal politics on some level, and the first time I’ve really had any political content in my songwriting. But I think it’s really hard to be a songwriter in the world and not be worried or at least having some kind of conversation.
Absolutely. And in terms of speaking about your personal life in your music, do you find that it’s easier or more difficult to be honest about relationships when your partner is a fellow musician?
It hasn’t been more difficult. We both really respect one another and our opinions, so I think there’s a lot of understanding that when we’re writing songs, they’re just songs. They don’t mean everything. We have our own relationship. So really, in a lot of ways, it’s fun having another artistic counterpart to bounce ideas off and be inspired by.
How is it touring together? It’s a lot of togetherness, I’d imagine, which is probably mostly nice, but any sort of close-quarters travel with anyone you love has the potential to be very intense.
We love touring together, and we haven’t done a huge amount of it outside of Australia, but it’s really fun, and I think we’re both enjoying spending time together and playing music together and meeting new and interesting people together. It’s definitely a different kind of life than when you’re at home in your routine, but in a way it’s very fun, and we love hanging out together. Yeah, I’m very glad we haven’t gotten on each other’s nerves. [Laughs] We’ve got more touring next year, so it’s working out well so far!
Good! Now, why did you decide to make this record eponymous?
Well, nothing really kind of felt like it would stick, and because the album covers a lot of ground, I just decided that Jen Cloher was probably the closest I was going to get to describing the album. And I think it has that real sense of coming into my world and listening to what’s going on for me right now in 2017. I think it just felt right.
Also, you’re so busy ALL THE TIME, and you’ve talked in previous interviews about how you really have to make time to sit down and write. Do you have any tips for people who want to make time to be creative? It’s kind of a weird concept to try to be creative on command; I’ve tried it before, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
Well, I think you do have to make time in today’s life; it’s so fast, and we have so many distractions, and people want things immediately. If you get on your phone first thing in the morning, you’ve wasted hours. [Laughs] And so I really try to make a time in the morning when I can write, and it doesn’t have to be the whole day, it’s just committing two hours, usually, making a pot of tea, sitting down and playing guitar, and just doing work. Otherwise, weeks can go by and you haven’t done anything. So I just try to do it in little bits, and chip away gradually. If you do that every day, all of a sudden you’ll have a song or two a month later.
Was there any song that came to you with a big immediacy but you couldn’t sit down and properly hammer it out right away?
There are definitely melodies or songs that just come all out sometimes, so I just record those straight away to my iPhone. I get the basic melody down so I can come back later on and start working on it.
So are you the type of person that can write on the road? Or do you prefer to do that when you’re at home and things are slightly less hectic?
Yeah, I find when I’m on the road I need to take care of myself and make sure that get enough sleep, eat well, answer emails and all of that sort of maintenance stuff that I need to do, and when I get home again, I’ll get back into writing. It can be a bit rough the first couple of weeks, like “How do you do this again?” but, you know, you slowly find your groove. So I’ll be writing again when I get back home.
Rad, we’ll look forward to seeing what comes out of that! And finally, do you have any unfinished 2017 bucket list items to check off before we cross over into the new year?
I’d love to get some more plants in our garden when we get home, because we’ve landscaped the backyard, which is very exciting, but we didn’t get to put all the plants in before we went on tour. So I’m looking forward to doing some gardening. But 2017 has been a great year for me, and has certainly surpassed my dreams!