London-based Australian musician Jess Chalker released her new solo record, ‘Hemispheres’, earlier this month via her own imprint, 528 records. She is most known for being frontwoman of the new-wave Australian musical duo We Are The Brave, as well as working with established artists such as Gold Kimono, Vintage Culture, Isamachine, and Passenger. She has also tried her hand at scoring music for TV, composing the track ‘The Darkest Hour’ for the Amazon Original show, Panic.
In ‘Hemispheres’, Chalker delves into heavy, emotional themes throughout, attempting to demonstrate the dichotomy between depression to hopefulness, as well as the struggle to balance logic and creativity through uncertainty. The album was co-written and co-produced by Dan Long, of Pavement and Local Natives fame, M83’s John Humphreys, and her former We Are The Brave partner Ox Why.
Chalker has used her creativity to help her to process her loss and struggle. After losing her day job and suffering some awful health challenges, Chalker turned to music to help her cope. She enlisted the help of her musician friends from Sydney, London, and Los Angeles to aid her in finishing the record, and has now come out of her tribulations proud, relieved, strengthened, and with a heartfelt LP ready for the world to hear.
“The release has been good, the album came out on Friday, and the response has been really strong so far. I am really pleased to hear that people are loving it and sharing it around with their friends, it's all I could ask for,” Chalker said, adding, “I think after living with it for so long, having it sitting on my harddrive and knowing it so intimately, it’s really nice to have it out there in the world finally. It's a huge creative relief.”
“The music that I create doesn’t necessarily sound like my day to day listening, but I suppose I am inspired by artists such as Arcade Fire and The National. I would say that The War On Drugs are definitely another key influence to me.” She notes that more modern artists that her music has been likened to include artists such as Florence and the Machine and Haim. Chalker describes the sound of her album as “quite classically inspired, really quite retro. Artists like Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac, those are the musicians that were my key influences growing up.”
Chalker mostly draws inspiration from her childhood, explaining, “I have this theory, that as kids of the 80s or 90s are starting to come of age and are creating music, it seems to be that whatever age that the producers are at, the music that they listened to when they were younger seems to be what comes through the most. It could be quite cyclical in a way, it definitely has a lot to do with what the artist has grown up with.”
The singer feels comfortable in the UK, she feels a connection to the culture and thinks that her sound appeals more to a European audience than that of her home country. “I think that the music that I make sounds classic, with a sprinkling of those European influences too. I suppose it is more European flavoured than Australian.” However, she states that living in the UK didn’t necessarily inform themes on the record, as she had spent most of her time recording while isolated. “In terms of whether the move helped me creatively, I'm not sure. I mean culturally, yeah, and with the album being completed during the pandemic, the isolation shaped the sound of what it was like being locked up in a studio in a new country during that time.”
Chalker doesn’t want to be seen as a ‘lockdown artist’, however. “It's funny, because there are a lot of people that seem to be creating this genre or theme of ‘lockdown albums’. I think that that is a bit unfair, because the way that a lot of artists cope with uncertainty in any aspect is through creation. The pandemic gave a lot of us a lot of time to be introspective, and from that comes productivity. For me personally, I wasn’t very prolific during that period, I was far from home and I was going through a fertility journey, which was such an upheaval for me and my partner at the time.”
Approaching albums as therapy is a common trait of a musician, and Chalker believes that it can happen at any time, pandemic or not. “The way I processed everything was through creating this album, not necessarily through writing songs, but by being creative by finishing the tracks I had. I think it is unfair to label something as a pandemic album or a pandemic single. But the time has been very therapeutic for me, it gave me the chance to finish an album that means a great deal to me. Now that the record is finished and out, it's like I can put that chapter of my life behind me. I am proud that I could encapsulate the way I felt in that period of time in the way that I did.”
“It took me a really long time to come up with the title of ‘Hemispheres’, but when I did it became so obvious to me. The name is quite symbolic of a few things, firstly, living a nomadic type of lifestyle, I have been living between Sydney, Los Angeles and London as a songwriter for years now. It is also symbolic of the left brain and the right brain, the idea of having an artistic side and a logistic side.”
The idea of balance and cognition is paramount to the album’s overarching theme, and seemed to come through naturally when Chalker was writing. It applies to differing aspects of her life, whether that be creative or professional. “I have lived as a musician and songwriter for a long time now, but have also led a double life of working in a more logistics based job and in the corporate world. The album represents the duality of life that I have been leading. We all have that side of us that has to pay the bills, I suppose our ‘sensible’ side, but everyone also has that creative side to them too, maybe a side that they have subconsciously suppressed, the record definitely expresses having to juggle both of those sides.” Chalker’s idols are artists such as The Cure, she explains “they have this bittersweet quality to a lot of their songs, they have a feeling of both the light and the shade, where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, and I think that that is something that I aspire to recreate when I make music.”
“I would say that my favourite track right now is ‘West Hollywood’. I think that it is because the song is a snapshot of a time whilst living in Los Angeles with my partner. It is quite an earnest song lyrically, and has got a lot of that classic style within it melodically,” she explained. Her tracks are incredibly reminiscent, and tend to display an immediate moment in time, one of the most heart-breaking songs on the album is ‘Cover Fire’. “I think it is maybe the least immediate of all of them, and people may even like it the least at first, but will hopefully end up liking it the most eventually. It is a song that is incredibly special to me. I wrote it for my partner, it reminds me of the hard journey that we have both been through in regards to fertility and trying to conceive, and what he had to do to help me through that, the song certainly holds a special place for me too.”
Now that the record is out, Chalker has said that she is still going to be keeping busy musically over the coming months. “I’m planning on performing at a new album launch around February, so watch this space. I will probably be focused on some live shows, to be able to play the record to people and display it in that kind of setting. There are also some collaborations that I have up my sleeve, some people that I am going to be working with on a few releases planned for 2022 as well. I am fairly new to London, and most of the time that I have been here has been during the pandemic, so I will be broadening my community here and getting out and playing where I can.”
Shedding some light on how newer, upcoming artists can become successful within the music industry through collaboration, she said: “Find as many people to collaborate with as you can if possible, there are some great platforms such as Soundcloud. They’re such fertile places to discover talent and discover new artists you may end up loving, reach out for them and see if they would want a collaboration. When I started I was doing it all, the music, production, lyrics, and I still do occasionally, but you can be so much more prolific when continuously writing and improving, broadening your own artistic capability through others who you write with, and it can really help them out too. It broadens your community.”
Jess Chalker’s ‘Hemispheres’ is now available to listen to everywhere you can find music, it is a personal record abundant with raw emotion, and covers a variety of intense feelings in a retrospective and intimate way, it is well worth the listen.