Jen Cloher's debut album 'Dead Wood Falls' was released on Monday March 20th. It is already receiving stellar reviews from the music press. Jen is scheduled to showcase the album along with her band "The Endless Sea" at Jive on Saturday the 10th of June. SARB was fortunate enough to catch up with Jen and chat to her about her music.

Jen Cloher

SARB. Hello Jen. Thanks for taking the time to chat to “SA Roots and Blues”.
Your new album “Dead Wood Falls” certainly has an engaging energy about it. The immediacy and intimacy of the sound …you must be pleased with the recording and production side of it? Care to throw some light on how the band went about things in the recording sessions?
JC. I am happy with how it sounds. Before I started working with Paul McKercher (our producer) I told him that the songs I had written felt intimate and personal and that I wanted the ‘sound’ to convey a very one on one immediacy with the listener. So many people listen to music ‘alone’ these days now that mp3 players have become the norm. I think the record works as a listen but as you know we are very different live.
We approached the recording by spending a week rehearsing the songs together. We then spent two days with Paul listening in as we rehearsed. He would make small suggestions about how we could approach songs differently. I guess in theatre terms a music producer is like a director – so he directed our performance for some songs. We then went into Sing Sing studios for a five day lockout and recorded live to tape. I felt so relaxed that 80% of the vocals are live vocals recorded while I was playing with the band. It ended up sounding good because I’m not ‘trying’ to perform.

SARB. Many of the tracks are “orchestrated” in a dramatic way. By that I mean there is often just an acoustic guitar at the start …the vocals initially are hushed and whispered …then as the tracks unfold the guitar strums are joined by other instruments …and as the sound builds your vocals become more emphatic. These absorbing arrangements …tell us about them?
JC. I think because I write the songs before I take them to the band – I am always thinking about them as being complete with just voice and guitar. Good songs should work by singing them acapella. A band is a luxury and I guess I am of the opinion that if you can work together to take a song through it’s natural journey then the audience is going to go with you. What I have learnt is that songs are waiting to be discovered by the musicians playing them. A song will dictate what it needs. I only discover a song by playing it a lot. I’ll start to hear a harmony line or a guitar or violin part. In that regard it’s a very organic process, it’s about serving the song that is there not enforcing your ideas of what it should be.

SARB. The EP “Permanent Marker” has quite a subdued pulse and almost mournful tone to it. I thought the rhythms of “Dead Wood Falls” were more intense and upbeat. Is just the track 1 and 2 influencing my perception? On a closer listening I think the mood and rhythm of the EP also permeate the album. Any contrasts and changes from what you did on the EP to what evolved on the new Album?
JC. On an album you are given more scope to take the songs in different directions. I was conscious that I wanted a unifying ‘sound’ or ‘feel’ to hold each song together as an album but still show a bit more of my songwriting range. For me an album is a journey where as an ep is a taste of what you are doing. Aspects of the Ep find there way onto the Album but as you noticed there is a bit more light and shade on the Album.

SARB. You did a fair bit of touring in 2005. Pleased to hear you will be coming to Adelaide later in the year. You have played “support” for some high profile artists. How did you and the band find this? I ask because I’ve seen some support acts drown in a sea of audience apathy …they just want to see the main act. I remember your set last year at The Gov’ as support for Mia Dyson … in the end you had certainly won over the crowd!
JC. We were very lucky to tour with Mia because even though our styles are quite different our personal music taste are very similar. It was no surprise then, that her audience was going to ‘get’ what we are doing. We found that to be true everywhere we toured with Mia. Also because Mia has so much integrity and pride in her work she attracts a very special audience of music lovers who are there to listen.

SARB. Just returning to the album …you must tell us about some of the lyrics and the stories they allude to! They are a bit like the photo on the cover …one is alone in an urban landscape where the darkness obscures the details …one is not able to see or understand the whole picture. Take track 2 for example …”9 long years …you gotta break the chains, you gotta take a knife, you gotta cut it open, you gotta tear it out …”. Love it! You must give us the background here!
JC. Sure – Peaks and Valleys – is about living in Sydney for nine long years (it was close to seven but nine sounds better phonetically!) and needing to get out! I was starting to go a little bonkers living there…so when I moved to Melbourne with some time to look back in retrospect I wrote the song. Being an Adelaide girl I find my bio-rhythms are much better suited to Melbourne!

SARB. The songs are …hmmm …”dark love songs”. They are about unrequited love. That sounds old fashion and romantic. I don’t mean that all. The songs are about the alienation one suffers when their affections and yearnings are not reciprocated. Care to tell us about your inspirations and influences on this side of things?
JC. Certainly. I think we write about what interests us at the time. I was going through a lot of learning at the time of writing the album about ‘love’ and losing love and realizing in some situations that ‘love’ isn’t always enough to keep two people together. Nick Cave writes a great essay about the love song as a form. He pays a lot of respect to it which I find heartening because I think sometimes the love song gets a bit of a hard time! The next album will be very different topically I can assure you. I feel like a very different person to the one that wrote a lot of those songs.

SARB. On a more personal note …you’re an Adelaidian expat! You spent your formative years here. Care to give us a glimpse into those years?
JC. They were fantastic years. One of my favourite memories of Adelaide life was going to Carclew (that beautiful heritage listed building in North Adelaide) and doing acting classes with my friends when I was about 13. I also had a passion for Rundle St - sitting alfresco and drinking excellent coffee. I loved the Fringe and Arts festival when it came around, Adelaide really comes to life during those weeks. I also loved sitting down at the Exeter or Austral and listening to good bands with a pint of Coopers. Bliss.

SARB. A bit of prying here Jen …there is an incredible sensuality about the tracks. Those intimate whispered vocals and the openness of the lyrics really brings that sensuality to the fore. Now come on …you must comment on this!
JC. If you are writing love songs you are generally writing them to the object of your affection. Lovers speak in whispers and hushed tones – it’s all part of the seduction process!

SARB. Tell us about your NIDA …interlude? I’m curious as to whether its legacy was to help you with your “stage presence” and it perhaps it even influenced and shaped the drama of your music?
JC. I auditioned for NIDA in Adelaide and got in when I was 18. I was very green and NIDA and Sydney were a HUGE change for me. NIDA asks you to expose a lot of yourself – it’s a very confronting process. I think I picked up a guitar while I was there as a form of rebellion. To have something of my own that they couldn’t examine. I am a believer that some people just ‘have’ stage presence. I don’t think you can work to have it. I think you can learn to be more relaxed on stage which certainly helps. If you write good songs that move people they will project stage presence all over you whether you like it or not!
I think most song-writers have a good dose of drama whether they went to acting school or not. It’s all the same thing – performing and storytelling – whatever form you choose to express it in.

SARB. There is a wealth of female singer songwriters that one can listen to at the present time. A healthy sign. I must say that some overstate the “sexual” side of things, others that seem overly concerned with their appearance to the extent that their makeup artist and hair stylist rank a mention on the album credits! It might be the PR and Recording Companies pushing this. Where am I going with this? …You are to be commended on evoking a persona through your music that goes down a different path. The persona? Well someone that draws …lures you closer ( “I could be plastered on your body”) …only to be deliberately distanced ( “I am the murderesses daughter”). I would like to think that it is something that has evolved out of you and your creativity unhindered by “market forces”.
JC. Sure. I have never felt comfortable about projecting myself in an overly ‘sexual’ way. I think sexuality is a big part of performance and I think great performers draw on it. We just have a warped perception of ‘sexuality’ being skimpy clothing and overt displays of desire. But when I watch tapes of Hendrix live or see a PJ Harvey concert there is a sexuality there that is immediate and animal and alluring. They aren’t thinking about it, they are just possessed by the moment and that’s sexy!

SARB. Appreciate the opportunity to chat to you Jen. I certainly recommend the album to our members and urge them to catch your gig in Adelaide later in the year. Just to conclude, tell us what has the remainder of 2006 has got in store for Jen Cloher and The Endless Sea?
JC. Like wise and thank you for the opportunity to chat. You ask great questions that have made me think. As far as the year remaining we have a couple of launch parties in Melbourne and Sydney at the end of April. We then head off on a national tour through June. We will be playing the Jive on Saturday the 10th of June in Adelaide and I mean it when I say that it is one of the shows I am most looking forward to. Our reception in Adelaide has always been warm and it will be a pleasure to play our first headline bill. Beyond that it’s hard to say – we’ll just have to see where the wind blows us.

SA Roots and Blues.
30 March 2006