Jess Locke - Don't Ask Yourself Why

We chatted to Jess Locke ahead of her album tour as she touches down in Canberra on May 28

It feels like we're well and truly back into the swing of things now, particularly when you look to see a whole new record and album tour from an old favourite like Jess Locke, who's set out across parts of the country to celebrate her new album Don't Ask Yourself Why.

It's a momentous and new album from the Melbourne/Naarm singer-songwriter. "New" in both the sense that it's her new record, but also new in that it's a record that was written differently from her others. Unlike her previous releases, Jess Locke set out to write this record, as opposed to writing songs for the live stage that then get bundled into a 12 inch release.

The outcome is a Jess Locke we're both familiar with, and one less so, but more so intriguing. Her previous record Universe is riddled with light guitars and folk composition. But this time around we're introduced to more grungier tones and melancholy sounds. Look at tracks on the record like Blowfish, Halo, and Little Bit Evil and you'll see what I mean.

There's such a clear separation between this record and her previous in 2017, which is why it's no surprise to hear how different the writing process was between the two. Don't Ask Yourself Why gives us the Jess Locke songwriting we know and love but over a different sound that we're yet to dive into.

That fact makes this record such an interesting and new album to consume. It's also setting up for what will surely be an equally interesting performance of the album.

This Friday down at Ainslie & Gorman Arts Centre is where we're next going to see Jess Locke as she touches down in Canberra to debut this record live to us. I still remember her last album tour so well back at the old Phoenix Pub (RIP). That show I reference regularly as the first time I came across a community of DIY music lovers in this city.

So with her Universe album tour performance painted in my mind, I'm keen to see what Jess Locke will do this time around for Don't Ask Yourself Why.

But to celebrate the album and tour, and find out the burning questions I had about them, I got in interview Jess Locke earlier and fire away. You can read what was said below.

First of all, congratulations on your new album Don’t Ask Yourself Why. How has the past couple of months been since its release and with the tour so far?

Thank you! It’s been lovely to have it out in the world and hear nice things from people who’ve been listening. And very exciting to actually start playing the songs live after not being able to do much last year.

In regards to the album, you said this was very much a “written record”; songs written over a contained period of time, and that affected the sound a lot. Is this where we get these more solemn, low-tempo tracks like Blowfish and Halo? What was the writing process like for those songs?

Yes, it was quite a different process compared to the last record, which was recorded after we’d been playing the songs live as a band for quite a while. I wrote most of the new songs when I wasn’t playing many shows and didn’t put any constraints on myself to write things that were easily reproduced live. So there is a lot of variety stylistically, and when it came to recording we really just went in all directions with arrangements and layering sounds. Overall, I think I really just let myself write whatever songs came out of me without thinking too much about the overall direction or style of the album.

Expanding from that, you said in the past you would write songs to be played live, then go and record them. But this time it’s the opposite - you wrote the songs for the record. How has the process been translating these songs to be played live?

Exactly, so now that we are at the point of actually touring the album now, it’s a bit more of a challenge because the songs are more complex than just a three-piece rock band. But it’s been quite fun and also quite gratifying to be able to boil down a song to it’s most important elements. I’m bringing a few different guitars on the road with me and I’ll be playing a bit of keyboard so it will definitely be an expansion on the usual live set.

Do you think you’ll continue writing songs this way in the future?

Sure, I mean I think the general attitude of trying not to box yourself anything before you’ve started is a good one. But at the same time I am always trying to grow and change as a songwriter so maybe the next album will come out of some completely different idea. I think the most important thing is that I keep an open mind.

It’s been four years since the release of your previous record Universe, and in your eyes, what are some of the biggest differences between these two records, other than the songwriting process?

I think the level of preparation before recording was quite a lot more for the new album. We spent a couple of months as a band going through all the songs together and making demos and thinking about arrangements. Also, working with Rob as co-producer meant that it was quite a collaborative process once we actually went into the studio. His input comes through pretty clearly in the sound production but he was also very involved in the arrangements and the little creative details. I guess to me this album is just a bit more of a journey than Universe, we pushed the ideas just a bit further, let ourselves go on a bit of a rollercoaster of sounds and feelings if you like.

I’m a big fan of albums that are well structured with strong track listing. What are some records that jump out for you as inspiration behind the structure of Don’t Ask Yourself Why?

I wouldn’t say I had any particular albums in mind, just that I wanted the record to flow as a whole, and the final decision to put which songs where was pretty intuitive, just something that we figured out after listening to the songs over and over again.

As mentioned, you've just kicked off the album tour, and you’re touching down in Canberra  at the end of the month. What can fans expect to see at the show?

Well, as I mentioned, I’ll be playing a few instruments to cater for all the different styles on the album. I’m bringing a couple of guitars and I’ll also be playing piano for a few songs and as usual I’ve got Chris and Jim with me. It’s definitely a more diverse show that we are used to do which is really refreshing and a lot of fun!

Lastly, but no less important, where do you keep your tomato sauce? Fridge or cupboard?

I think it creeps around, but currently it’s in the fridge.