Track By Track: Jen Cloher
JEN CLOHER and band recorded her third album, ‘In Blood Memory’, live. Below, Cloher praises specific contributions by her collaborators, gives funny backstories on certain songs and shares a heartbreaking anecdote at the end.
“To climb Mount Beauty!”
There is no Mount Beauty. There’s a town [in north-eastern Victoria] but no Mount as such. What a letdown. At a recent show a Mount Beauty resident let me know (by way of heckle) that there is “a small hill overlooking the town,” which was no consolation. Clearly I didn’t know this when I wrote the song.
We recorded ‘Mount Beauty’ about 10 times, weren’t happy with it, then listened back to a rehearsal take and realised we had captured the song when we weren’t trying so hard. In fact, when you listen closely to the beginning of the song you can hear me announce to my friend Tajette [O’Halloran], who was taking photos, that it’s all sweet, she can snap away, because “We’re not recording.” There is no Mt. Beauty, but we were recording.
‘Name in Lights’
“I looked into the dark abyss but all I saw was Narcissus, receding hairline, tailored suit. Indie rock is so obsessed with youth.”
We recorded the album live at Melbourne’s Head Gap Studios with Nick Huggins. We stood in the big room together and played each song until we got a take we liked. There are limitations to this way of recording but limitations can be good. What I discovered is that when you record a take that feels good, you don’t need to do much more to it. You have this wonderful strong foundation in the performance so anything you add is icing. Enter Michael Hubbard, who adds the icing to this epic rock song. I’m not sure what he’s doing to his guitar in the last minute of ‘Name in Lights’ but it’s glorious, out-of-this-world, passionfruit icing.
“I was cynical at first, if you looked at us on paper we would never work. But paper’s paper-thin, Kamikaze Origami threw it in the bin.”
There are two things I love about this song. The first is Bones Sloane’s hypnotic bass line. It’s a rare but beautiful thing when songs (‘Walk on the Wild Side’, ‘Stand by Me’) open with a bass line. The other is Courtney Barnett’s skewed dreamy guitar solo. A few people have mistaken it for pedal steel but it’s classic C-Barn slide all the way.
‘David Bowie Eyes’
“You make me feel like I’m 17, listening to the Lizard King, ‘Break on Through’.”
I grew up in Adelaide. When I was 14 I got suspended from school for having a boy’s haircut. Shortly after, my parents moved to Henley Beach and enrolled me in a new school, where I met Alex Frith. His parents were sculptors, cooked Malaysian food and let him do whatever he wanted. He introduced me to The Clash, Black Flag, The Doors and Pink Floyd. I fell in love with Jim Morrison. For the next couple of years I would come home from school, get stoned and listen to Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine and The Soft Parade.
Then one day a classmate observed my clumsy attempt at stencilling The Doors onto my pencil case and told me “The Doors were a band for blues-loving bogans.” So I shelved my love for Jim, put away my paisley shirts and stubbed out my Nag Champa. Until last year, when I read Patti Smith’s autobiography Just Kids and discovered that when she was a teenager she saw Jim in concert and was so inspired she started to recite her poetry to music, thus beginning her extraordinary influence on rock ‘n’ roll.
“All the praise and the glory it showers, down on you from radio towers.”
Jen Sholakis is one of my favourite drummers and her opening fill to this song is no exception. She’s played with all sorts of bands, including Laura Jean, The Orbweavers, Biddy Connor’s Sailor Days and East Brunswick All Girls Choir. We’ve been playing together for 10 years and I can’t imagine recording with anyone else. Her drumming is the perfect balance of discipline and passion – she knows when to hold back and when to let go.
“Everybody has an unmet need, something that they want just out of reach.”
As the songs came together for the album, I knew I would record it live. With technology there’s always the temptation to keep perfecting and I wanted to let go of that as much as possible. Once the songs were written, we rehearsed just enough to agree on tempo, feel and a loose idea of the arrangement. We then put the songs down over a couple of days while they were still new to us. I love recording this way, when you’re not too sure of yourself and things feel like they can fall apart at any moment.
‘Hold My Hand’
“Hold my hand, morning sun, soon we’ll be forgotten. How did we meet again?”
I was making lunch for my parents one day at their home in Auckland. They were sitting outside in the sun when Mum asked Dad how they first met. Mum had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years earlier and her memory was starting to strain. Dad spent about 15 minutes explaining how they met and the details of the courtship that ensued. It was beautiful. I’d never heard Dad tell their story before. Once he had finished a minute passed in silence. Then Mum turned to Dad and asked, “How did we meet again?”