The owner of a soul-stirring voice that'll leave you with goosebumps, Melbourne-based Indigenous singer-songwriter Jess Hitchcock is an emerging talent who has already solidified herself as one of the country's most competent, versatile performers.An ability to connect with audiences across a vast breadth of genres – pop, country, folk, opera and music theatre – Jess has already built an impressive resume that has seen her collaborate with the late Archie Roach alongside Tina Arena, Kate Miller-Heidke and Lisa Mitchell as well as Paul Kelly (together they performed and recorded Paul's song 'Everyday My Mother's Voice').
Jess has also brought her mezzo-soprano vocals to productions from the likes of Bangarra Dance Theatre, Victorian Opera, Opera Queensland and Short Black Opera.
This winter Jess, whose heritage traces back to Torres Strait Islands and Papua New Guinea, will follow-up her 2020 debut album 'Bloodlines' with her sophomore record 'Unbreakable' (due 30 June); she's already teased the new album with the singles 'On My Own' and 'I Don't Have The Heart'.
Currently on the road with Paul Kelly as part of the Red Hot Summer Tour and ahead of her performance as part of Opera Queensland's 'Lady Sings Maroons', Jess sits down for an in-depth chat about her new album, artistry and the power storytelling has to heal the past.
G'day Jess; we're already a quarter through 2023 – how has your year progressed so far as you edge towards the release of your new studio album?
This year has been busy, but in the best kind of way. Back into the full swing of things and some after COVID; touring with Paul Kelly on the Red Hot Summer Tour while promoting my album and working on a new show with Opera Queensland.
The three, four years since you released your debut album 'Bloodline' have been tumultuous to say the least; but what have your learnt about your own artistry during this time that has helped shape your new songs and the creative paths you're on at the moment?
I have learnt a lot during the last few years, the biggest was that being a musician and telling my stories through song is at the core of who I am and is my gift to give to the world.
During that time it made me proud to see all the musicians in Australia finding new ways to keep people entertained in their homes and now that we are out we can continue to that live. I will never take for granted the feeling of singing in front of real live humans ever again.
You'll be releasing your next solo album end of June; how does 'Unbreakable' showcase the current incarnation of you as a songwriter/ artist?
'Unbreakable' is a new sonic direction for me, but with the same melodic writing and featuring my vocals. I'm excited for people to hear this energy in the music and get audiences bopping along to my music.
How do the two album singles - 'On My Own' and 'I Don't Have The Heart' – showcase the album overall stylistically, thematically?
Both these songs and the entire album is about overcoming your inner and outer life battles. Whether that be leaving a relationship, living through a traumatic experience or reclaiming space that was taken up by hurt. Overall the album is about resilience through a female lens.
The songwriting on 'Unbreakable'; is there a thread/s running through the material that binds it altogether?
I wrote a lot of the tracks whilst I was in lockdown and observing what was happening to people around me.
There was a lot of reflecting on the past and testing of the relationships we have with each other in the home. I guess the through-line for the album is about overcoming any hurdles we face and being confident in yourself, becoming 'Unbreakable'.
Further to that, how important personally is it to present material that's focused on storytelling, canvassing material that can connect with a wide-range of personalities?
The beauty of song writing is that people find all sorts of ways to connect to lyrics or the melody without having to be to pointed about it.
It's one of the things I love about music, it's a universal language that is able to bring a wide-range of people together and we each find a moment in a song or story that really speaks to us. I write what I know and inevitably the human experience is a shared one, so I think people will connect with the raw and honest truth I write in my music.
Is there a deeper meaning behind the album's title 'Unbreakable'?
The title track means several things, of course being unbreakable and finding resilience is important to me. That's not to say we can't have moments of sadness or hard times, it's more just what I have learnt throughout my life and has always kept me putting one foot in front of the other.
The other is the story in the song of a young girl I work with who lost her brother over COVID to suicide, and watching the strength and struggle during this time; it's a love letter to/ from myself saying the traumas of youth don't have to define us, and that music has helped me heal and can help you to.
Is it a blessing as an artist that you can 'toggle' through a variety of genres to highlight your amazing voice (seriously those pipes are goosebump-inducing at times); that you're not limited by a creative scope?
I am so grateful everyday for my voice. I love being able to work across all genres of music. I get to see how the industry works from all angles. Commercial, classical, theatre, touring, composing, all it has a place and I enjoy the excitement it brings to be challenged on all fronts.
I also love that I can be the representation of a First Nations woman on stage for other young artist that are coming up and thinking about a career in music. No one is ever one thing, and I hope I am inspiring young Aboriginal and Torres Strait artists to find a path in music.
Have there ever been moments where you've been blow away/ taken aback by your own vocal performances?
Hahahaha. Um, on occasion, yes. There was one particular moment recently when I was singing at the Four Winds Festival; I was singing a set of songs by the late Uncle Archie Roach and I started to cry because I missed hearing his voice but also because I could hear myself telling his stories in this new way and people connecting to them. It was very emotional; one of the only times I have ever cried onstage.
Away from your solo endeavours, you're currently on the road with Paul Kelly for the Red Hot Summer Tour; how has that gone and can we expect another collab between you two to follow 'Everyday My Mother's Voice'?
The tour has been Ah-May-Zing! Paul and his entire team are such legends and also incredible musicians and just the best group of guys to work with. I hope Paul and I will release many more things together, but will just have to wait and see.
You're also part of Opera Queensland's Lady Sings Maroons production; what can audiences expect from these shows?
The show recognises everything Queensland. From Powderfinger to Dame Nellie Melba and beyond. It's a lot of fun and the team working on it are exceptional. It is really the most cross-genre all at once vibe I have ever done: rock, pop, opera, country and more. Definitely catch it if you can.
How special will it be to be part pf the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's upcoming production honouring the life/ songs of Archie Roach?
The performance will be packed with emotions and love for Uncle Archie. I'm looking forward to hearing his stories retold through the voices of my colleagues and hearing his beautiful poetry once again.
Thanks for your time; anything else you'd like to add?
Can't wait to share new music with you all and see you somewhere soon playing a live show. Yiew!
'Unnbreakable' is released 30 June, 2023. Pre-order it.
Red Hot Summer Tour 2023 Tour DatesSat 22 Apr - Broadwater Parklands (Gold Coast)* sold out
Sun 23 Apr - Harrigans Calypso Bay (Gold Coast)
Sat 29 Apr - Sandstone Point Hotel (Brisbane)* sold out
Sun 30 Apr - Sandstone Point Hotel (Brisbane)
Sat 6 May - Botanic Gardens (Darwin)
Sat 13 May - Cairns Showground
Lady Sings Maroons 2023 Tour DatesFri 28 Apr - The Events Centre (Sunshine Coast)
Wed 3 May - Brolga Theatre (Maryborough)
Thu 4 May - Moncrieff Theatre (Bundaberg)
Sat 6 May - Gladstone Entertainment Convention Centre
Tue 9 May - Pilbeam Theatre (Rockhampton)
Thu 11 May - Proserpine Entertainment Centre
Mon 15 May - Chinaman Creek Dam (Cloncurry)
Tue 16 May - Civic Centre (Mount Isa)
Thu 18 May - Festival Of Outback Opera @ Eric Lenton Memorial Recreation Grounds (Winton)
Mon 22 May - Festival Of Outback Opera @ Longreach Jockey Club
Tue 23 May - Barcaldine Town Hall
Wed 24 May - Blackall Woolscour
Sat 27 May - Baldy Top (Quilpie)
Tue 30 May - Charleville Racecourse
Thu 1 Jun - Goondiwindi Waggamba Community Cultural Centre
Sat 3 Jun - Roma Auditorium
Wed 7 Jun - Armitage Centre (Toowoomba)
Fri 9 Jun - Roma Street Parklands (Brisbane)
Sat 10 Jun - ADCO Amphitheatre (Gold Coast)