Track x Track: Jess Locke - 'Real Life'

Track x Track: Jess Locke - 'Real Life'

Naarm/Melbourne songwriter and poetic wordsmith dives deep into her introspective (and very relatable) fourth full-length

Image credit: Ian Laidlaw

Feeling confused with the direction society is heading as one ages is an inevitability, with each successive generation thinking things are worse than the one previous… but when it comes to 2024, where is the lie?!

Someone channelling these feelings of confusion as she tries to make sense of an ever more unreal feeling world is Naarm indie-rock-pop-alt-folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jess Locke, on her melancholic-yet-catchy new album, Real Life.

During the writing period, Locke found herself preoccupied with thoughts of what it means to live knowing that you will one day, not just as a species, but as a planet - you know, just some light ponderings. Rather than dwelling on this heavy inevitability from a pessimistic perspective, Jess instead found freedom through these thoughts, having the liberating realisation that the present moment is the only reality, and the only purpose of life is to experience it as fully as you can.

Having said all of this, the eleven songs that make up Real Life aren’t all downtempo, minor key, depressive affairs - quite the opposite, in fact, with uplifting, upper tempo rocking jaunts sprinkled amongst the slower, more introspective moments.

Speaking on the album, Locke explains "Music is possibly one of the most effective tools for grounding yourself in the present and, in making this record, I found that, along with the darkness, I found moments of revelation - an escape from the fantasy of what life could be into the reality of what it is."

To celebrate the release of Real Life, Jess was kind enough to take us through it,track by track:

Everybody’s Going To The Same Place

This song is sort of about death. When I sing ‘everybody’s going to the same place’ I mean we’re all going to die. I don’t say that to be a bummer, but to emphasize the commonality we all share. We’re just these weird animals and we aren’t going to be here for very long, so let’s just enjoy the moments we can and be good to each other. It’s a theme that pops its head up a lot throughout this record, so I think it makes sense to open the record with that sentiment. I wrote the song after I had been listening to ‘Strange’ by Galaxie 500 and I was originally imagining we would record it as a kind of sardonic slacker jangly thing. Based on listening to my solo acoustic demo, Rob was hearing a way more laid back, heartfelt Mazzy Star kind of thing. We both pushed for our vision of the song quite hard, so it ended up being a weird hybrid of both ideas, which actually ended up being quite cool, as it’s got this kind of lethargic sleepy feel while still being upbeat and sort of carefree but also genuine.

Red Moon Rising

I used quite a bit of free association while writing this record and in particular, while writing the lyrics for this song. I was experimenting with ‘random’ phrases and images, only they aren’t really random because I keep noticing the same themes pop up over and over again. The chorus is pretty obviously related to that overarching theme of death and impermanence I was already talking about. I don’t really know what I was referring to when I say ‘It’s not the end, it’s just the end of this’, maybe literal death or maybe just the death of some chapter. Either way, it’s about being part of something bigger than yourself, whether that’s the environment or a community or just an idea. There is some really cool production on the track. I love how it feels both stark and full at the same time. Rob put a delay on the drums that you can really hear in the second verse when everything else drops down and sounds sick and weird.

Piece Of It

I’ve written a lot about depression and anxiety and general mental struggles over the years, mostly from a very personal point of view. Maybe I’m in a better place now than I have been in the past or it’s because I’m getting older, but I feel like I want to impart some sort of advice or message in my music, particularly to younger people. I was thinking, what do you say to someone who is, for example, suicidal? It’s almost impossible to imagine anything being good when you are feeling that bad. So, I guess this song was my attempt at communicating some kind of hope to anyone that might be struggling with life. A lot of the time my songs are musically linked to the subject matter, but this song is a bit weird and really upbeat, even though I’m singing about severe mental illness. Maybe that’s me trying to say, ‘look, there’s this weird joy and fun and stuff just around the corner and I know it doesn’t feel like that now, but it’s there waiting for you, and I know a part of you wants to experience that’. One of my favorite bits on the album is Rob’s little guitar solo right at the end. It’s actually a comp of a bunch of guitar takes and so feels a bit awkward and unnatural and strange and it’s great.

Real Life

I had the chorus of this song as an unfinished idea recorded on my phone and I showed it to Rob and he was like, ‘that is badass, you should finish the song’. So I did, and it ended up being one of my favorites (not to mention title track) on the album. It’s about overcoming those ingrained ideas we have about our value being linked to our productivity, and bank accounts. It’s about not feeling like a ‘real artist’ or a ‘real adult’, even though there is no definition for those things, just the ideas that we have internalised.

I’ve noticed, in some of my recent songs, I write like I’m having a conversation with myself. There is the me with the emotions and the thoughts and questions and then there is the me that gives the advice, or consolations - a bit of self-therapising. A lot of this song is be airing my anxieties about nad probably using comedy as a bit of a coping mechanism but there is a bit of love and acceptance. When I say ‘my heart is beating, I’d say that’s real life,’ is the rational me telling the more anxious me to be kinder to myself because life is just happening whether you feel worthy or in control of it or not. And I guess I hope others can take on that self-kindness as well.

Not Important

This is one of the few songs off the record that I didn’t write in the few months leading up to recording in 2022. I wrote, at least, the initial idea for it in 2020 and the context of the bushfires, pandemic and isolation are pretty clear from the first line, ‘if the world is gonna burn, then let it be done’. I guess part of what the song is about is trying to find an appropriate emotional response to issues which seem so beyond our personal control and for me, that can often be resignation. I suppose the song begins as just a voicing of that feeling but I think I do try to instill some kind of hope, or at least reconnection, in it even though the tone is pretty dark. While the song probably seems pretty nihilistic, I think that nihilism is just a moment in a series of different responses to the world  and not a defining attitude. I think the writing of the song actually tracks the progression of that feeling from emotional withdrawal to acceptance and finally some hope: we are still here, it’s not over yet and it’s up to us how we chose to spend that limited but very special resource, time.

Uncomfortably Happy

As usual, I didn't really know what this song was about until after I wrote it. This phrase ‘uncomfortably happy… uncomfortably miserable’ just kind of came up out of nowhere and I think it gives voice to this feeling of awkwardness and alienation from the world and perhaps from the self as well. Regardless of whether things are going well or badly there is a sense that things don’t quite fit and also an anticipation of the next change to come. In retrospect, I thought of that quote from Mad Men when Don Draper says ‘My life is right there.. And I’m trying to get into it’ (not the first time I’ve referenced Mad Men… interesting). It feels a little sad but I think it’s just something that people who think too much eventually experience, because if you are thinking, you can’t just be living. Anyway, the chorus is almost like a sweeping away of all that anxiety and overanalysis - it’s just a celebration of chaos and letting go of control, a celebration of failure even, because all of it is just temporary. It’s something I write about a lot, maybe because I am still trying to become comfortable with the idea that life is temporary and meaningless and that’s a good thing.

Rocket To Ride

I feel like I have one slightly bratty, dissenting rock song on every album and this is it. It’s pretty fun and kind of cheeky but also quite sincere. At its essence, it’s just me airing some of my frustrations at the world ie. wealth inequality, the destruction of the planet, slimy politicians and the absurdity of luxury space travel (#protestsong). My favourite line is ‘we’re still paying off our old expenses/they’ll be mining Mariana trenches’. I thought that was really funny and I hope at least one other person does too. I wanted the track to be really dirty and heavy but still kind of poppy and tight, because I think even when the world is crushing us (or maybe especially then) we need to be lifted up and empowered (and dance!). There are some really sick guitars and synths in this song and I’m still not sick of listening to it.

Killed A Fly

This song almost didn’t make the album, I was a bit self conscious about my performance and I originally had this idea for a drum part which we never had time to do, so I thought maybe it was a bit unfinished or something. But Rob convinced me that the rawness and simplicity of it is actually what makes it good, and I think he’s right. The song is about healing and embracing imperfection and existing within ambiguity, so it makes sense that the recording should reflect that musically. Who knows, maybe I’ll do another version one day too…

Take It Back

This song felt really good to write. I was initially playing the chord progression really slowly and it made me think of the song ‘I made a lover’s prayer’ by Gillan Welch, and I loved the really sleepy drawly vibe of that. The finished thing ended up a bit faster and bigger sounding but retained that a bit of that laid back country influence I think. We also got our friend Andy in for a little guitar cameo which also just took the song to a whole new layered dreamy kind of place. I really like the lyrics for this song, although I don’t know what they all mean. This song feels, to me, more like a poem than others. For someone that isn’t religious, I use a lot of religious imagery. I just really find it fascinating and really useful for describing the human condition. In particular, I was thinking about our relationship with nature and how we see it (as a home, as a resource to be used/owned etc), and for me personally, I sometimes feel the disconnection from the natural environment as a kind of personal loss or exile, like I’m missing a family member whom I've never met. I think I was also doing a lot of gardening when I wrote this song too, which possibly explains some of the lyrics in a less profound way, but I think even planting some seeds in a city backyard can be enough to ignite that desire to not just visit that natural world but exist as a part of it.

Interlude

What’s there to  say? It’s a musical interlude! I wrote this little piece on a synth years ago (I think even before recording Don’t Ask Yourself Why, but was never really sure what to do with it. It had this kind of twin peaks theme song vibe and I always wanted to write more. Seeing as we were recording piano anyway while we were making Real Life, Rob convinced me to put it down and it actually came out really beautiful and raw on the upright. I’ve also always wanted to have an interlude on an album and I really like a lot of albums that go all over the place genre-wise, so it just felt like we should include this piece.

The Place

This is another song that I only finished writing pretty close to recording. I liked what I had come up with but I didn’t think it was necessarily going to make the album, but once we played it as a band, it completely transformed and came alive. The song is about being an adult and always searching for that feeling of being a child, even if you didn’t have the most idyllic childhood. Again, I found myself using a lot of religious language to talk about my relationship with the place that I grew up, which is near the ocean. So there is a lot of nostalgia in it, but that is also kind of at odds with the fact that growing up is hard and painful and traumatic and I feel like the song is me trying to find room for both the desire for that idyllic place and love for that awkward, shy troubled kid that didn’t appreciate the beauty of it at the time because they were busy growing up. So I guess the song is about that paradox - if only you could go back, but know what you know.

          - Jess Locke, May 2024

Jess Locke's new album Real Life is out now via Dot Dash Recordings / Remote Control Records

REAL LIFE Album Cover Large

Follow Jess Locke: Instagram / Facebook

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