You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. In addition to releasing her debut EP Highway Songs No. 2 last year, Jack River took the music back to Forster, her hometown in New South Wales, via a specially curated festival called ‘Grow Your Own’ that featured local bands from the region.
River takes folk and psych elements, and fondues them in pop-sensibility to produce edgy, upbeat tracks. CONVICTS caught up with River in Redfern, Sydney to get her word on the music and rowdiness bred by her hometown, moving to the big city, talking in a Californian accent on tour, and her mixed relationship with Bruce Springsteen.
How’s it going? To start can you tell us who you are and where you’re from?
I’m Holly from Jack River and we’re in my room in Redfern, Sydney.
Where are you from?
I’m from Forster, New South Wales. It’s a little town four hours north of Sydney up the coast i had to move here for music.
Let’s switch gears a bit. Tell us about Jack River?
Well, Jack River is me. I write all the music and produce it and when we play live it’s three boys and I.
Where did the name Jack River come from?
I needed a name and wanted it to feel infinite, like I could do anything with the name or sail anywhere. Me and my friends made up pirate names when we were sixteen and mine was Jack River. It kind of confuses people. Which I like.
How did Jack River’s sound evolve over the years?
I grew up writing folk music then moved into psychedelic stuff and tried to write these big psychedelic anthems, then went back to basics with the current songs I have just released. I like to match elements of modern pop with older textures like grungy electric guitars, old pedals and heavy effects. I feel the world is at this collision between the natural world and this new tech life we find ourselves in, so that’s what I try to sonically build into Jack River.
There’s a number of bands out of Foster. You Skeggs, Los Scallywags-what gives? Are they putting something in the water in Foster?
The Foster thing is interesting in regards to recklessness. There’s something interesting about wanting to fuck shit up. Get not necessarily wasted, but wild. Foster is an isolated town, but also a really straight town. The generations before us have been pretty conservative and i think all of us just hate that and want to mess the town up. Now we’re in the city and we still want to mess things up. That happens late at night.
Tell us about Grow Your Own.
So I recently curated a festival in my hometown called ‘Grow Your Own,’ and it was made of all bands that have grown up in our area and are doing well on a national scale. We had Dope Lemon, Angus Stone’s new project as the headliner, and I played as well. The whole town and all of the surrounding regions (Newcastle, Byron and Sydney) got on board. We were overwhelmed with the way everyone felt about it and can’t wait to do it again.
When the best things happen. Did you have a fuck it moment, when you decided to pursue music and make the move to Sydney?
You have to have that moment a lot in music because you’re constantly risking so much stability. I had that moment when I was younger, with continually quitting uni. I was studying environmental science and loved it, but music kept tugging at me so I had to be like ‘Fuck it, I’m not doing university.’
What’s the most underrated part of Sydney?
Of this city? Strangely a lot of people don’t go down to Sydney Harbour. We tend to stick in the city or go to the Eastern Suburbs or the beaches, but going down to Sydney Harbour around Sydney Theatre Company you get real reality check that Sydney’s surrounded by water.
How do you escape?
My escape is to the ocean again with nobody around. Definitely my hometown, probably the beach i grew up at, really late in the afternoon when everyone’s gone or really early in the morning when no one’s there. Or in winter-I love the beach in winter when it’s really cold and you’re not meant to be there.
Do you surf?
I do, on small waves. I prefer up to two foot but beyond that more of a watcher.
What does that escape do for your headspace?
I’ve learnt so much about what i want to do from being alone, wherever that is in the world or whether it’s in my hometown. Just chilling alone gives you extra time for extra perspective.
Who did you grow up listening to?
So my dad literally only plays Bruce Springsteen. To this day, my whole childhood, he hasn’t played any other artist unless someone else puts it on. He’s quite a freak in that regard, my mum loves ABBA and Fleetwood Mac so those gals were in the house, which was really cool. Bruce Springsteen and ABBA mixed together is my perfect dream band.
How do you feel about Bruce Springsteen after that?
The Bruce Springsteen thing annoyed me up until I was around nineteen. Then I was like ‘Wow, this is going to go on forever, I have to stop and listen to Bruce Springsteen.’ Bruce is obviously such an incredible human. His role in American politics and music and in his hometown of New Jersey, along with his incredible music catalogue, is so inspiring. He’s definitely like a second Father figure.
What artists hold a special place for you?
I love David Bowie he’s one of the only-nah, I won’t say only-but few humans who seems to have made us so aware of ourselves in space in an artistic way, which is cool.
What about when you’re travelling? What do you listen to when you’re on the move?
Neil Young is a go to for everything on a plane. ‘Heart of Gold’ is a good taking off and touching down song. It makes it feel like you’re in a movie when you’re traveling.
What essentials do you travel with?
Probably a pen and a black book to write in. I love those black Moleskin diaries-if i have one of those i feel safe, because if anything’s happening or you feel weird you just write about it. And definitely headphones.
Any good tour stories?
Something funny the band boys and I do when we’re on tour: we go into sound checks in random cities all talking in this Californian accent, pretending to be this band that just flew in from LA. So that’s pretty fun, because the people at the venue are like ‘Oh my god, who is this band?’
Have you ever been arrested?
Nope not yet.. But one thing that comes to mind is when my friend Lee and I wrote ‘Happy Birthday’ to someone in the road with house paint we’d found in a building site. We wrote ‘haps bday lolz’ on the road and the debacle afterwards went on like sixth months. But it was worth it to permanently have happy birthday written on a major road.
What scares you?
What scares me? Running out of time to do cool things. Seeing people not believe in themselves hurts me a lot too.
How do you overcome that fear?
I do stuff! Right now I’m pretty confident in making something from nothing, and doing a lot of things at once, be it a song or a festival or whatever. That sense of trust in my own intention has come through a lot of rejection. People telling you over and over again that you can’t do something makes you have to believe in yourself. If you start to trust the haters, then everything feels weird.
That’s the truth, Jack River. Thanks for the chat, and best of luck with everything.