Jen Cloher Interview: On Strong Female Role Models and Independent Music

September 12th 2017

  • Jen Cloher :: Interview with Grace and Al

Jen Cloher describes her new self-titled album as “intimate”, although it’s an intimacy that stretches far beyond personal confession. Cloher harnesses honesty to comment on Australian politics, suburban fatigue, and the modern musical landscape.

Jen Cloher’s eponymous fourth album debuted at number five on the ARIA charts. She’s appreciative of the attention her new album is receiving, although these days she judges herself by a different metric. “I guess to me success is longevity and just continuing to make art.”

It’s a mature approach to a profession that’s associated with fame and fortune, but that’s more more realistically experienced as sacrifice and struggle. Cloher runs the label Milk! Records with her partner Courtney Barnett to support artists who aren’t lucky enough to crack the mainstream, and to foster artistic integrity over commercial success.

Her new album is a tribute to those who share this commitment. “This whole album really is a love letter to Australia and to Australian musicians,” she tells Grace and Al on Arvos.

In her song ‘Strong Woman’, she embraces the strength of women throughout history. Cloher’s mother was a senior professor at Auckland University for Maori Studies, and was forced to fight to establish a senior role in a patriarchal institution.

She says that women like her mother are often forced to make a difficult choice. “My mother really made the choice to be respected, often more than liked…and we all know what happens to women when they command respect. I mean, just look at Gillard or Clinton; they get absolutely trashed.”

This harkens back to Cloher valuing longevity and integrity over acclaim. “At the moment I think it’s really important that people tell the truth and just be really direct and honest as a kind of antidote to where it feels like politics in this world wants to go, which is to do the opposite.”

The album also addresses Cloher’s musical relationship with girlfriend Courtney Barnett, whose own album ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I just Sit’, saw her shoot to international fame in 2015.

Writing from the oft-neglected perspective of the “rock widow”, the song ‘Sensory Memory’ merges the personal and political by simultaneously shedding light on Cloher’s experience of holding down the home front while Barnett is on tour, and intimating something more universal about women and domestic life. “There’s been a lot of women who’ve kept the home fires burning while their troubadour husbands travel around the world…This time I’ve lent a voice to, you know, what is that like, what might that be like?”

It’s a special talent to have personal truths resonate with a larger audience. Jen Cloher achieves just that.

Listen to the full interview above.