Jordie Lane is one of the most promising and respected songwriters to emerge from Australia in recent times. His songs are deeply personal and grounded in the heart and soul of human emotion. In 2009 Rolling Stone hailed Jordie’s debut album Sleeping Patterns as “one of the most assured records ever by a local artist”, while his 2011 follow up Blood Thinner was a finalist for Best Blues & Roots album at the Australian Independent Record Awards.
It’s taken 5 years for his follow up Glassellland to emerge, but it’s been well worth the wait. The album was recorded by Jordie and his partner Clare Reynolds in Los Angeles under unusual circumstances – building tear down studios in several transitory spaces while engineering, recording and producing the album in which they played every instrument themselves.
Trevor Jackson spoke to Jordie in the midst of his Australian tour and ahead of his performances at the Mullum Music Festival.
You know everyone’s going to ask you about the name of the album – Glass What? Where is Glasselland and why did you name the album after this strange sounding place?
I guess it’s not technically a real place, but it’s a play on words taken from a working class suburb of Los Angeles called Glassell Park. A visual artist decided to erect a sign in the suburb based on the iconic Hollywood sign, which originally was “Hollywoodland”. Apparently the sign only went up just before we got there – we saw the humour in the incongruity of it and the name just stuck.
Why record it in LA, why not Nashville where the heart of America’s songwriting community is now based?
We were toying with that idea – the last EP we made was recorded in Nashville, but I really don’t know, there was just something about doing this album in LA that really appealed to us. LA doesn’t feel as congested with people making music in similar genres and there was just a sense of having more freedom in LA.
The album was a collaboration between yourself and your partner Clare Reynolds. Why go to the trouble of not only engineering and producing the album but also building the recording spaces together from scratch?
We wanted to do it within our living space as well, so that we could record at any time of the day. There’s a lot of kitchen sounds in this record, we used anything we could get our hands on so things like the stove and the sink became part of the drum kit. With the production we didn’t want to make it sound too slick, we wanted to retain the raw elements of the music that I’m influenced by and the things I love, so that was a big part of our rationale as well.
What about the environment? How much of your experience of living in America shaped the songs and the sound of the album?
The themes and the concepts of the songs were influenced by it completely, although a lot of them are set in different places you can’t stop the environment creeping in to those songs. It was a really intense time there floating between different spaces and not having a home – being at the mercy of other people’s generosity and kindness in putting us up. And then in the middle of all that trying to figure out why America is the way it is – everything from the election campaign to gun control. Those things are very intense and crazy, so they couldn’t help but seep into the record.
What of your experience of living in a country where “there’s more guns than humans” as you point out on America Won’t You Make My Dreams Come True? Did that song originate from a personal sentiment or was it based on that broader perspective of a country whose mythology is so firmly entrenched as the land of hope and opportunity?
It started out as a little joke on a piano accordion. We’d been couch surfing somewhere and we were thinking about how we’d packed up our stuff and set sail for America to follow our own dreams. I really wanted to write something about all these millions of people from all different walks of life – all coming to America looking for salvation, freedom and a better life. It’s a beautiful country with some amazingly generous people, but I find it ironic that a lot of people are going there in search of freedom and yet there’s so many contradictions. It’s fascinating and scary at the same time. The gun situation is terrible and as an outsider it’s hard to get your head around that when Americans can’t fathom the idea of living without them – even though it comes with a terrible cost.
You Better Not Go Outside sounds like a cautious warning for those living in the land of the free:
“You better not try to outrun the truth
You can’t do that you’ll always lose
If you wanna play it safe just be advised
You better not go outside”
Lyrically it seems to be in step with the current climate in the U.S. mixed in with a cynical take on product marketing, which pretty much sums up the presidential race. Was it designed to be a political statement?
No, it was a personal statement of feeling, like being caught in a cycle of fear verses trying to be a better person and then getting scared again. Everything from the internet to being a consumer in this modern world can be so overwhelming at times. I started writing that song at a stage where’d I’d stopped going outside and was spending all my time indoors working. I’d become disconnected from the outside world – I wasn’t getting much sleep and that’s when you can get a bit anxious and maybe a little paranoid. That song really fed on its own little fears – I must have written maybe 25 or 30 verses to it before we edited it down in an intensely scrutinised process. It’s a song for all the people who are sitting inside doing nothing because they’re so scared.
To me there seems a real sense of reflection in the tone and themes on the album. Was it about having that sense of living in a foreign country and seeing things from an outsider’s perspective?
It definitely was. There are so many subtleties in what America is. On the surface it can seem really easy to show up and just hang out there, unlike other countries where it’s a different language or culture, but when you dig deeper you realize there’s so much more to it than that. The song is a reflection on learning the micro details about a place while at the same time feeling slightly detached. I was doing a lot of soul searching while trying to figure out my own identity in a foreign country, working out where you fit in as an outsider.
Jordie Lane plays the Woolly Mammoth in Brisbane on Nov 17 and then 3 shows across the weekend of the Mullum Music Festival, Nov 18 – 20.