Jess Harlen recently released her second solo album, Parkyard Slang, produced by award-winning producer, Plutonic Lab.A former backing singer for the political roots band, Blue King Brown, Jess released her EP Neon Heartache in 2011 and has since been on the rise. The uplifting and soulful lead single, ‘Let You Down’ is the first taste of the impressive musicianship displayed throughout Parkyard Slang. Whether or not you are a soul music lover, Jess makes an impression with refreshing originality and humility. Wordplay chatted to Jess while she was on the road amidst a promotional tour of the East Coast.
W: How do you feel so far about the release of Parkyard Slang?
J: I’m nervous and excited about it still, actually. It’s been wonderfully received online. I’m really hopeful about it going further and getting more radio traction and hopefully reaching more people.
W: How long did the album take to come together?
J: About a year and a half in the making. We started writing after we finished Neon Heartache. Some songs came from the studio and writing together and some came from outside of that.
W: Apart from your music awards including ‘Best Female Artist’ at the Age Awards in 2010, what has been your best moment in music to date?
J: That’s an interesting question. I think the highlight for me was my first album Neon Heartache. We held it (the launch) at the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne and sold out the venue. It was just such a wonderful warm crowd and the whole night was friendly yet intimate. I felt like I was in full flight doing what I wanted to e doing.
W: What or who inspired the track ‘Let you Down’?
J: I wanted to write a happy, uplifting pop song one day. It was a beautiful sunny day and I had just bought a new Gibson. So I started strumming away. The lyrics are inspired by taking something you really can’t get, that you think will just be there right round the corner and then realizing that you are more than what that person wants you to be. It’s inspired by a relationship where I was chasing that person and trying to convince I can be certain things and then realizing that I should just be myself.
W: What are your musical influences?
J: I grew up with a lot of Motown and soul and funk and then later on I started listening to hip hop in my teen years and then a lot of folk like Tracy Chapman and other acoustic and blues artists. So I guess subconsciously they all influenced the way that I write music….but in my life I’m inspired by everything. I write about hope, I write about reflection, sadness, heartache…I also write about dreams and glorious things…anything I really feel, I write to music.
W: Do you have any other musical projects on the side at the moment or are you focusing on promoting Parkyard Slang?
J: I’m focused on Parkyard Slang at the moment because there’s so much work to do. I wake up and start working on it straight away until about 3am in the morning; there’s so much going on. There are a couple of songs I’ve started working on with my bass player Camilla Charlesworth. She’s an incredible bass player – she just got a scholarship to Berkley in the States, she’s that crazy good. We’ve been writing together and coming up with some really good stuff that’s completely different to what I usually do and chipping away at a project that is yet to be named.
W: What are your hopes for the future as a singer?
J: I just want to keep releasing records…all I want is for music to be a self sufficient career where I don’t have to have a day job to back it up just to pay the bills and get through. I don’t want to necessarily be rolling in it; just enough to get by and make ends meet, which I’m finding pretty difficult to do right now.
W: What do you hope listeners take away from your album?
J: That they know who are they are a little bit more they have a place of reflection when they listen to this record. I read something interesting today, that someone wrote on a blog called Little Fish…she said the CD’s been playing in her stereo for a month and that she feels like it’s the soundtrack to her life at the moment. So I thought that was a pretty cool way to sum things up. She’s said there’s a song for every mood. I think she’s definitely right in that. There’s some slow jams, some cranking dance tunes and songs to drive to. There’s just an array of feelings; I said I’m influenced by everything and hope that people feel like it can be their soundtrack as well.
W: What is the meant to be the main message or interpretation of ‘Beautiful Struggle’ for you?
J: It’s open to interpretation but it came from a place of somebody not believing in me but I believed in myself. Saying that, there is loss if you give up on something so soon and that even though things are tough and it can be a struggle it’ s the journey that counts not just the destination – so although it’s a struggle it’s beautiful anyway.
W: Finally, what was your favorite music release of last year?
J: Something I’m enjoying the most at the moment is Beyonce’s latest album. I think she’s an incredible vocalist -even though she is a billionaire superstar she’s still very real and genuine and has such amazing musicianship.
Parkyard Slang is available online from iTunes and from selected music stores and is this weeks ABC Radio’s feature album. You can catch Jess’s live show at Bohemia Central, Cairns on May 11, The Laundry, Melbourne on May 12 and Notes, Sydney on May 17.
Interview by Claudette Rizzi.