Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Jesse Locke brand new album Don’t Ask Yourself Why hits the shelves Friday. Known for penning indie guitar-pop tracks that are at times subtle and full of melancholy, and at times delivered with an acerbic tongue, but always steeped heavily in narrative. Locke shared the first taste of the record earlier this year with Fool – a simple and raw track, seeking to partner dirty grunge guitars, a fuzzy lead, gritty vocals and a punchy rhythm section. Don’t Ask Yourself Why was recorded by Jess Locke and her bandmates James Morris and Chris Rawsthorne, along with producer Rob Muinos (Saskwatch, Julia Jacklin). Jess answers a few questions about the album for Hi Fi Way.
Has the build up to Don’t Ask Yourself Why been exciting?
Yes, very! We recorded the album at the end of 2019 so we have had to wait more than a year to get the full satisfaction of putting it out into the world. It’s been nice to be able to share a few of the songs in the lead up, particularly as last year brought live gigs to a halt.
Have you been pleased with the reaction to the singles?
Definitely. I’ve had some nice feedback from people and it’s always nice to hear that a song has had some kind of positive impact on someone. That’s really all you can hope when you put something out into the world – that it means something to someone! Not being able to interact as much with people face to face recently has made all of those little comments and shares all the more significant. I saw a video of a Fremantle based artist, Claudie Joy covering Dead And Gone a week after it came out, which was incredible, particularly because we hadn’t actually had a chance to play it together as a band since recording it and there they were doing the whole thing.
What is the story behind the singles Destroy Everything and Dead And Gone?
Destroy Everything was one of the first songs I wrote for the album. It’s funny because so many people have commented that it captured how they were feeling about 2020, but I actually wrote it in 2018 I think. It was inspired by how I felt about the growing divisions and reactive nature of politics and certain social issues. Outrage begets outrage and often becomes counter productive, not addressing the issue at hand. On the flip side, some destruction is devastating, environmental destruction for example, and I suppose there is also an attempt from me to remain hopeful in saying what is destroyed will come back again. So it’s a little bit of a two sided coin.
Dead And Gone is a far more personal song, something that I wrote without thinking too much. I think I just needed to get it out for whatever reason. It’s about letting go of what you can’t control and focusing on what’s ahead – another sentiment that seems fitting for the year we’ve just had. I didn’t intend it but for me the song itself is a catharsis. I really enjoy singing it.
What comes first – the lyrics or the music?
Usually I’ll be messing around with chords and at least have a basic idea of where the music is before I write lyrics, but I never write all the music and then start on words. I’ll hum and sing what ever comes into my head while I’m playing and then respond to that, so they really happen together. I find the music and the words inform each other so to me it seems natural to be writing them both side by side.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
That’s a tough call. I don’t think there’s a single person as at different points in time different people had a big impact on me. In terms of style, there are a few big names that are my forever go to artists – Cat Power and Smog are some of the big ones. When I was fifteen I listened to Jewel and Ani Di Franco and covered a lot of their songs and I was also obsessed with Silverchair. I probably wouldn’t play music at all if not for my dad or brother who are both quite musical and taught me my first chords and riffs. From memory Creedence Clearwater Revival and Rage Against the Machine were some of the first bands I played on guitar.
Has the COVID situation slowed your momentum at all?
Yes, definitely. We always planned to put the album out in 2021 so that wasn’t really affected by COVID. However we did want to spend last year playing a lot of live music in the lead up to the new record and that obviously didn’t happen. At the same time, I got to release some songs and I spent a bit of time working on other things like art, so it wasn’t a total waste of time. But yes, I can’t deny that things would be quite different for me if COVID hadn’t happened!
In this COVID haze what has been the biggest thing you have learnt about your own resilience?
I suppose it’s just that… that I am resilient. It’s something I’ve been learning for the past few years actually. I mean, I suppose the lesson is more about control. Things can and do happen that are out of our control and for many of us that is a bitter pill to swallow. We are used to living our lives with our routines, having things exactly as we like and then something comes along and changes everything. We look for someone to blame, to try and make sense of it, but that’s not going to change anything. For your own well being, you just have to be adaptable. If you can do that and focus on the things you have and are grateful for then you’re going to weather the storm a lot better.
Are you looking to being able to get on the road and start playing shows?
Yesssss. It’s still a little tricky making plans at the moment, as everything can change at the drop of a hat, but we are working towards some interstate shows. It’s been too long and me and the band are so keen to get out there!
What’s the next challenge for Jess Locke?
I think the biggest challenge for me and all other musician’s out there will just be trying to get back to some kind of normal and get back on the road. Before COVID, I had plans to tour internationally. It could be a while before we get to do that, so for now I’ll focus on planning some shows in Australia. Aside from that, the next thing for me is just writing some new songs, working on the next album!
Interview By Rob Lyon