INTERVIEW: Seeker Lover Keeper (AUS), July 2011

In 2011, I saw Seeker Lover Keeper five times. I also met all three of them and welled up like an infant. It was three of my heroes from the class of 2004 (go check out all of their releases from that year and thank me later) making remarkably beautiful music together. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I get really happy when I think about that time in my life – I was super-close to finishing uni, I felt like I was getting somewhere with my writing and I had this goddamn album! So yeah, I spoke to Sarah Blasko and despite seeing all three of these women in public several times since I have never had the guts to go speak to any of them again. I’d probably bore them to death, anyway.

– DJY, October 2014

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Anyone can dream up a supergroup, but it’s very rare that these fantasies actually come to fruition. It’s also very rare to see it happen of late outside the field of big, burly rock – anyone for Chickenfoot or Hellyeah? It’s interesting that it’s taken something as left-field and unexpected as Seeker Lover Keeper to break this mould. The collaboration between Sarah Blasko, Holly Throsby and Sally Seltmann was first brought to wider attention upon their announcement as a part of the 2011 Splendour in the Grass festival, but the idea of uniting three of Australia’s finest voices has been in the works for quite some time.

“I think I saw Holly play live first – we had a common manager at the time,” says Blasko when asked to recall the origins of her friendship between her counterparts. “Sally, I remember hearing on the radio for the first time and really loving her music – that would have been around the time of her first album. After seeing each other around all the time, I guess it was natural that our friendship developed. We’ve all got a lot in common, and have the same kind of sense of humour. I guess it was only a matter of time.”

It was after a show that Seltmann showed the other two a song she had been working on entitled Rest Your Head On My Shoulder, which would go on to become the final track on the SLK album. “That was really the turning point,” recalls Blasko, “where we all genuinely wanted it to happen. Sally came up with the name, and we scheduled to record not long after all of that.” Considering that Blasko’s last album, As Day Follows Night, was recorded across a month in Stockholm, it certainly came as a notable change to record Seeker Lover Keeper in New York across a fortnight.

“We all wanted to have a really different experience from the last time we all recorded albums,” says Blasko. “We kind of set ourselves a few parameters for this record. We wanted it to be recorded in a really large way. The harmonies, the base of the sound, we just wanted it all to be really natural, really organic. We decided very early on that we wanted it all to be very simple. Kind of like a folk album – I mean, it’s obviously got other elements in there as well, but our sole intention was just to create a simple, beautiful album.”

Mission accomplished. Seeker Lover Keeper is an album of cohesive musicianship, strikingly honest lyrics and kind of freeze-in-tracks, jaw-on-floor close harmony that would normally only come through shared bloodlines. Blasko is particularly enthusiastic about just how liberating it felt to be singing alongside these women, describing it as a “really wonderful” experience. “I think probably the last time I ever really sang like this, in this way, is with my sister when I was really young,” she adds. “In a way, all three of us kind of become children again when we start singing together. It’s a really special, pure thing to do. All of us have had harmonies on our records before – Sally, especially – but I guess we’ve never really had the means to properly replicate our harmonies live. It’s been so fun rehearsing these songs, and finally being able to do it like this.”

Another interesting aspect of Seeker Lover Keeper was its songwriting process. Rather than simply penning songs for themselves to sing, each of the three women wrote songs for the others to sing. Blasko, who sings the most lead vocals out of the three, says that although it was certainly a challenge, the end result was more than rewarding. “I’ve often enjoyed doing covers and things like that,” she comments. “When you sing someone else’s words, you have to put yourself into their mind a bit. You have to draw on your own experience, but you’re struck by these words that you wouldn’t say yourself. It really makes you pay attention to the way it’s been constructed. To me, it was a real pleasure to sing those songs.”

With the role reversed, Blasko emphasises just how amazed she was with what Throsby and Seltmann did with her songs. “It’s really quite amazing to see your songs take on a different meaning when they’re in someone else’s hands,” Sarah notes. “People just have different inflections, different ways of saying the one thing. Hearing Sally do On My Own, I thought she just sounded so sweet and so pure. It was really lovely to hear it done so differently.”

The songs will be brought to life on the band’s first ever tour, extensively taking in most of the east coast of Australia. With Dirty Three drummer Jim White at the helm, Blasko is really excited to be performing songs from the album, as well as each other’s songs. “We’ll definitely throw in a few of our own,” she promises. “It’s going to be really special.”

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INTERVIEW: Jen Cloher (AUS), November 2008

Funny that I’m revisiting this literally a day after seeing the lady in question live once again. I’ve known Jen for years, and I count her as both a friend and a great inspiration. This interview more or less started that, although we’d briefly met once before in 2007 at a festival featuring Xavier RuddAsh Grunwald and The Audreys. Man, what a time hey? Roots takeover! This interview came prior to the release of Jen’s second studio album, Hidden Hands, which was one of my favourite LPs of 2009. She doesn’t turn out records often, but when she does… look out, son. Them’s some hot rekkids.

This was one of my favourite interviews from around this time – more for what ended up on the cutting room floor, interestingly enough. We were supposed to have a 15-minute interview and we just ended up chatting for a good 30 minutes. She’s just such a warm and interesting person, and I can never be in a bad mood when I’m listening to her music or seeing her live. We’re fortunate to have women like this around, folks. Anyway, enough from me. Let’s read on…

– DJY, July 2013

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Over the past couple of months, a familiar face has re-entered the collective conscience of Australian music after a momentary lapse into obscurity. For a while, nobody knew where Jen Cloher or her band, the Endless Sea, had gotten to. “I know, right?” the woman herself laughs. “People have been like, – ‘What happened to Jen Cloher? First she was touring and doing shows and then… she wasn’t!’”

The truth of the matter is that there is no big rock star meltdown story, or even in-band fighting. Jen simply took some time away from the limelight to visit her parents. “My parents moved back to New Zealand about fifteen years ago when Mum got work here – they’re Kiwis originally,” she explains. “I made the decision to spend some quality time with them and help out where I could.” Whilst in New Zealand, Jen also came to write the bulk of what would become the Endless Sea’s second album, Hidden Hands. The album’s title – from Cloher’s point of view at least – “sounds a little sinister.” There’s a lot more to it than that, however. “It’s based on a quote by Joseph Campbell, this amazing mythologist. – ‘Follow your bliss, do whatever you are meant to do on this planet. Doors will open where there were no doors before, and you will be lead by a thousand unseen helping hands.’ I love the idea that there are forces beyond what we can see that will help us on our quest.”

Recorded at Woodstock Studios in St. Kilda – which was, up until recently, owned by Joe Camilleri of Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons – Hidden Hands was swiftly recorded live over a period of seven days. The band chose once again to work with engineer Paul McKercher, who has also worked with artists like Sarah Blasko and Augie March. “We worked with him again because we were really happy with his work on the first album,” says Cloher. It is also interesting to note that Cloher herself, as well as singer-songwriter/touring partner Laura Jean, undertook the album’s production duties. “She’s a really great musician,” Jen enthuses. “I’ve stolen her to play some piano and sing, as an honorary member of the Endless Sea.”

Jean’s inclusion in the Endless Sea is one of three new additions to the Endless Sea line-up, which now tallies up as a septuplet. The others are Biddy Connor, a viola/musical saw player who also performs as part of Laura Jean’s Eden Land Band, and Tom Healy, a guitarist that Cloher met during her time in New Zealand. So what’s changed this time around for Cloher’s music? “The differences between the first and second albums are worlds apart,” she says emphatically. Elaborating on this statement leads Cloher to compare and contrast her two works back to back. “Our last album (2006’s ARIA-nominated Dead Wood Falls) was kind of based around lovelorn characters, and it had a distant romantic, blurred-around-the-edges kind of thing about it. It was very much your singer-songwriter album. You could hear that these were songs that I’d written by myself in my bedroom.” And now? “This record is much more of a ‘band’ album because we really developed our own sound a lot with all the touring that we did. When I was writing these songs, I was very conscious that I was writing these songs to a band’s strength.”

Conversation moves to what Jen was writing about during her time in New Zealand. “It’s not about romantic love or lost love. It’s about…” She takes a moment to attempt a vivid description, but shrugs and jokingly comes up with, “…big stuff”. By ‘big stuff,’ of course, Cloher means “mortality, relationships, family, friends, creativity… Really, when I was writing the album, I thought that the most important thing was that these songs were true to me right now.” With this in mind, it must be asked if there is a song that means the most to Cloher out of her sophomore batch. After a moment of thinking out loud (“They all are, so much,” she sighs), she chooses a song called Watch Me Disappear. Written about her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, she says that the song deals with watching someone very close to you succumb to the illness. “It’s death itself,” Cloher states. “It’s watching someone lose their memory, their concept of time… it’s a really weird disease.”

Certainly, even with a fuller and more realised band sound, this is the sound of a singer-songwriter tacking very personal yet universal issues. If you haven’t yet already, don’t miss an opportunity to bear witness to two of contemporary Australian music’s most formidable talents and hear the beginning stages of what is certain to be a popular release of 2009, Hidden Hands.