Jen Lush Breathes Musical Life Into Contemporary Australian Poetry With Her New Album Project

Jen Lush is an indie musician, singer-songwriter living in Adelaide.
Anna Rose loves hard rock and heavy metal, but particularly enjoys writing about and advocates for Aboriginal artists. She enjoys an ice-cold Diet Coke and is allergic to the word 'fabulous’.

With the release of her new album 'Hum Of The Mettle', Adelaide singer-songwriter Jen Lush is wasting no time in giving music lovers a glimpse into her artistic vision.

After releasing two tastes of the record, by way of singles 'Lovers Parting, Dawn' and 'Icon - Song 1', it's clear that, with an almost unsettling type of calm and lilting vocals, her music combines a love of poetry and family, with a vibrant passion for entrancing audiences within marvellously elegant soundscapes.

Art rock, dark pop, folk noir and beautifully fragile acoustic indie tones benchmark 'Hum Of The Mettle', a nine-track album that weaves hauntingly potent poetry with emotive rhythms and richly-flavoured melodies.

'Hum Of The Mettle' is the result of a commissioned project for the Denmark Festival of Voice (WA), to create new songs around contemporary Australian poetry.

It features the words of five of Australia's leading published poets and crosses through the urban and desert terrain of South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia with poems that speak of love and desolation, loss and memory, the resilience of country and the stories held within it.

"With poetry leading the song-writing process, words conjure up the soundscapes and are the framework for the melodies to launch from, which takes the music into sometimes unconventional places," shares Jen.

"Poems featured are from Ali Cobby Eckermann, Maria Zajkowski, Kevin Brophy, Renee Pettitt-Schipp and Graham Kershaw, with collaboration from my band James Brown, Paul Angas, Sam Cagney and Mark Seddon.

"I want to share the poetry that roared, bled, whispered and sang into my skin and caused me to sing it back.

"As a collection they form a dynamic range from epic '70s rock soundscapes, sudden storms of explosive pop, driving indie folk-rock and whispering, sparse ballads that build to cathartic crescendos.

"The band blends vocals stark and spacious over sonorous acoustic and electric guitars, keys, bass, drums and percussion, with storytelling always at the centre."

Your new album combines a multitude of niche genres – folk-noir, acoustic indie, and more – was that an intentional or organic soundscape when you started writing your new album?
I wasn't ever aware (and still struggle to identify) what genres this music passes through so thank you for helping me with that!

I wasn't intentional with the genre of the music, but because the music was written to be performed as a show at a festival (Festival of Voice, Denmark WA) originally called the 'Music Of Poetry project, I was very intentional about making each song dynamically different so it would flow as a whole and have interesting light and shade.

Mostly, I was driven by each poem and the conundrum of how to represent it honestly with the tools that I have. It's only retrospectively that I wonder what it is.

And who do you cite as influences toward your sound?
I usually have a few favourite artists hovering in my periphery: Anais Mitchell, Feist, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Lucie Thorne, Bob Dylan, PJ Harvey, Jesca Hoop, Sam Beam – kind of like a vague assortment of muses that I might consult at a crossroads; sadly I don't sound like any of them!

Poetry has played a major part in this album – how do you go about giving a soundscape to the written word?
In my own songs I write the music and melodies before the words, so this is a reverse process for me where the words are fixed and take the lead.

Once I've chosen the poems I spend a lot of time staring at them, reading them over and over, listening for anything that suggests a rhythm or melody. It's very basic in the beginning. If a poem is too long or short I generally set it aside and choose something that isn't going to end up as a 15-minute mega-ballad.

It's a lot like a puzzle, problem solving with each new phrase – none of the poems are rhyming or in a traditional style of phrasing, so just as I have managed to get a grip on a musical structure or a melodic pattern, the poem pattern inevitably changes and I'm suddenly thrust into a new landscape without a map, looking for detours.

It's a lot of fun, and a massive challenge for me, and forces me out of my usual habits and progressions. Once I've figured it out and can play it passably on the guitar, I send a rough demo to the band and we begin to collaborate on the broader soundscape – what the dynamic arc is, what instrumentation, who does what!

The guys – James Brown, Paul Angas, Sam Cagney and Mark Seddon – are amazingly intuitive in the way they work, managing to serve the song in subtle and beautiful ways. We try out different things, gradually settling on an arrangement. I enjoy this stage immensely.

Your husband and children contributed to elements of the album – what was that experience like for you as a family?
My husband Tobin is always involved in the early production stage, he has a stronger sense of the sound design angle than I do.

He's also a visual artist who works with film, so he gets involved with anything to do with imagery: videos, album covers, photos, pretty handy guy actually! Our three kids have all been in a music video (our eldest is in the most recent video for 'Icon - Song 1').

Ryder (the middle one) has often drawn illustrations for my merch and they all have opinions on things. I don't really know what it's like for them – I guess someone is always making something at home, and we help each other when we need it. Saying that, I've started paying them for their art lately – they are old enough to demand a fee (no more child labour haha!).

Why is it important for you to share stories about your family?
I've been in the habit of draping my personal stories heavily in metaphors just to be safe. But sometimes, if something comes up that has particular resonance or feels important enough, I might find a way to share it.

I've always preferred to communicate real stories, and connect with others through them. And although this new album is other people's words, I have recently shared a little about our eldest son and how his performance in the 'Icon - Song 1' video held a particular poignance for me.

The poem/ lyrics by Maria Zajkowski speak about the decline and loss of her father to Alzheimers, and while this is a very different story to ours, there were some parallels that made choosing Orlando (he has right hemiplegia cerebral palsy) to help tell the story in this music video.

The resilience and power, the vulnerability, struggle and hope are all present. And if I can communicate something that might move us toward a shared understanding then that's a worthwhile story to tell.

How do you hope people relate to the songs on this album?
Hmmm. Well the album has been put together as a whole body of work, so I'm hopeful that some people might listen to it from start to finish – one of the nicest aspects to putting out vinyl; it really encourages that old thing of hearing an album in its entirety with the intended ebbs and flows.

The songs/ poems speak of love, abandonment, family, loss and connection to community and to Country, so I'm hopeful that people will connect with the poetry and be inspired to find more from these beautiful writers (Renee Pettitt-Schipp, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Kevin Brophy, Maria Zajkowski and Graham Kershaw).

How will the reception of this album shape your music in the future?
I'm not sure, but if people like it well enough it might lead to more wonderful collaborations and interesting places to share it more widely. I hope so!

As an independent artist, I'd love to be able to control how this music will be received or if it will even be heard, but I'll be so thrilled for this album to find its way to people who need it most, burrowing into the hearts of a special few.

Collaborating with others has forced me to stretch out and evolve as a songwriter, so if this affords me the chance to keep writing my own songs and working on cross-genre projects, I'll be one happy cat.

Any touring planned off the back of the release?
My band and I will play a few launch shows this year – some lovely local ones and then in November we'll head to the Maldon Folk Festival, with more interstate shows in the planning. I'll be searching out some quirky little venues off the beaten track (before the world-wide stadium tour kicks off, obviously!). ;D

Jen Lush 2023 Tour Dates

Sun 20 Aug - Wheatsheaf Hotel (Adelaide)
Sat 16 Sep - Wheatsheaf Hotel (Adelaide)
4-6 Nov - Maldon Folk Festival (Vic)
Sat 18 Nov - Stone Pony (Willunga, SA)
Fri 8 Dec - Queens Theatre (Adelaide)

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