Meet Jess Jocelyn, who makes striking folk-pop about COVID and climate anxiety
With her debut EP Foetus and Fossil, the Perth-based musician creates captivating reflections about the world around her.
Header image by Emily Willock.
There's a lot going on in Jess Jocelyn's life. The Perth-based musician has her fingers dipped into many artistic pies, playing synth for nostalgic alt-pop band Yawn Vibes and writing alongside multi-genre experimentalists META IIII in addition to her work through her own solo project and in theatre. Then, there's the fact that she's been doing all of this amongst the anxieties of the last few years; a worsening climate crisis and continued socio-economic prejudices drowned out by a global pandemic, one that continues to linger two years after its initial entry.
It's enough to shake any musician, no less one navigating a breakthrough amongst all of this. Over the last year, Jess Jocelyn has emerged as one of Western Australia's most exciting newcomers, with a string of singles throughout the year - Another Little Thing To Hold, Something Good and For My Sweet Princess Ruby - strengthening her knack for intimate bursts of emotive folk-pop that have captured hearts across Perth numerous times over, especially when reinforced on the live stage alongside shows with Ghost Care, Noah Dillon and more.
Now, she's doubling down on her breakthrough year with her strongest-affirming release yet - a five-track debut EP titled Foetus & Fossil. It's a collection of tracks that emphasise Jess Jocelyn's touching and anxiety-riddled sound, navigating the turbulence of the last two years through powerful folk, indie and alt-pop that captures the same intense passion and potency as you'd expect from someone like Angie McMahon or Julia Jacklin - albeit with Jess' own distinct stories at the forefront of her sound.
It's those stories that elevate Foetus & Fossil into a late-comer for Perth's best local release; bouts of reflection turned into dizzying folk that come to life over often-long-winding, near-five-minute (or longer) durations, which give Jess Jocelyn ample space to delve into the depths of her emotions and capture them through the music that's aided her processing throughout this time.
"2020 was an extremely tough time for everyone and we're still very much in the aftermath of it," she writes on the release. "I wanted to make somewhat of a mini time capsule, in hope that it'll give ya'll a little bit of space to reflect over what we've lost and more importantly what things we can be hopeful for." There's a beautiful balance of both sides in Foetus & Fossil, as Jess Jocelyn is sure to relish in the hope that circles amongst much of the darkness the EP was written in, giving that slither of optimism that shines for years to come.
It's a beautiful introduction to an artist with plenty more to come, so with that in mind, dive into the EP below, and introduce yourself to Jess Jocelyn underneath. Also, be sure to catch her play alongside Ghost Care (again), Ra Ra Viper and more at our upcoming SPOTLIGHT 004 show, going down on December 3rd at Lucy's Love Shack - more information on that here.
Tell us about yourself?
I live in Perth/Boorloo, in a one-hundred-year-old house with my partner, my dog and two housemates. Make coffee and talk shit at a real cute café for a living. Currently play synth for a band called Yawn Vibes, sometimes I write lyrics for META IIII. I’m an associate artist for a Perth theatre company called Squid Vicious; I try to write, perform and sound design as much as I can because making theatre is so goddamn fun (when you’re with the right people). I’m a 2nd gen Filipina migrant; missing my family a lot, especially during these times. What else... I love dumplings, play Netball on most Wednesday nights (I’m short but I play a mean GK), bit too obsessed with footy and I watch way too much trashy reality TV.
What’s your music like? What does it sound like? What kind of themes does it usually cover?
My music has always been lyric-led. Its sound changes with the story or message I’m trying to articulate. I guess you could say for now that it's folky but with pop and rock elements. I’ve written songs about identity, home, co-dependency, mental breakdowns, HEAPS of stuff. I usually write about things that overwhelm me; if I can give it shape, it makes it almost possible to digest. But right now, I’ve mostly been singing about covid and climate anxiety, yanno the dreaded c words haha
I feel like what I record and how I play live is quite different. I’m definitely still trying to find my feet in terms of my own sound. Still trying to get more comfortable in the studio and more confident in recreating my songs onstage. I’ve spent most of my time performing solo but I’m really enjoying having a band behind me now; love my bandie, they bring so much to the table.
What are your production and writing processes usually like?
Writing music has usually been quite private for me. It’s kind of like making a collage. I always carry some sort of journal around to document/steal snippets from articles, poetry, films etc. And I’ve lost count of how many shitty voice memos I have of me humming a melody that chose to say hi while I was washing the dishes, in an aisle at Coles, or some other ridiculously inconvenient place. From there it’s just piecing it together, running with ideas that stick and saying fuck you to that critical internal voice that wants to sabotage everything you make.
Production-wise, it has been a meticulous but incredibly rewarding process of just learning how to trust other people with my work. I’ve been in a studio before a few times but the producers I worked with weren’t really collaborators. They were there to record the track as quickly as possible (and fair enough that’s their job). But the songs suffered for it; I didn’t feel comfortable trying an idea or saying no to one of theirs. Working with Ryan K Brennan was just an absolute joy, he really fucking cared aye. He gave me a lot of space to run with ideas, was super gentle with his own suggestions, and always made sure that I was happy with where the songs were going. Cool guy that Ryan.
Can you tell us a bit about your debut EP, Foetus & Fossil?
The title was the name of the folk duo my partner and I used to sing under. It is a bit on the nose (fossil fuels haha) but the name really stuck for me, and kind of encompassed the death of things, the possibility and hope for something new and better than what we have now. The EP itself is my reflection on 2020, mainly the beginnings of covid and watching the Black Summer Bushfires unfold. Things were pretty fucking dire, but now it’s such a strange feeling after so much destruction; are we just carrying on like we did pre-pandemic? Are we just waiting for the next fire season to come around?
The EP feels like a series of questions: How much destruction do we have to witness before we make changes? What can we change within our personal spheres? When will I see my friends and family again? How do we rebuild for a better future? What does that future look like? And I can’t offer any answers, I don’t know shit haha. But being able to sit in that discomfort and uncertainty, and to find joy within that space is a pretty important ability to have right now.
The whole recording process I was just surrounded by mates, and mates of mates. Ryan recorded, mixed and played drums. Taylah Mclean and Chris Grunwaldt (Yawn Vibes) added gang vox, and Chris played bass all through the EP. Ryan got in touch with Blain Cuneen in NSW, and he was sending through lead guitar tracks and Claudia Tero (Claudie Joy and the Joy Boys) played strings. And of course, Mark Neal (Odlaw) sang back up for Something Good and he’s been helping promote my music through Blue Grey Pink. They’re all such generous, talented and kind-hearted people, I feel so so lucky to have this community around me.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2021 and beyond?
In early December, I’m planning to release a very sad Christmas song titled Still I’m Wishing, it’s definitely no How to Make Gravy but she does alright. That one was recorded with legend Michael Strong from Alyosha and You’re Weird studios. Around about that time I’ll be jumping back into the studio with Ryan and the band (Aaron Graham, Courtney Hardy of Vacuum Dreamer and Joshua Rospondek) to start recording the next body of work. The songs are all critiques on Australian culture, toxic masculinity, and ageism in the music industry. Can’t wait.
And more gigs. Gigs gigs gigs.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
Foetus & Fossil was me processing 2020, and the anger, bewilderment, despair and hope that I felt through it. We’ve gone through a pretty massive trauma, and we still need space to reflect on that. More importantly we need to reimagine a better future for us. I guess I want the work to give space to those larger feelings and contemplations. And if it doesn’t achieve that... well she has some damn catchy songs. So, she’s got that going for her.
Where can we find more of your music?
I’m on Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud and I have a cute music video for Something Good out on the Youtubes.