Joe Jackson is an ambitious artist. She leads a Sydney outfit called Sloan Peterson and writes music that might even break your heart. Their debut EP Midnight Love showcases a group looking to take on popular music on their own terms.
Joe is coolly oblivious to her Australian peers but she doesn’t mind a bit of grunge.
While many contemporaries are busy mining this gritty influence to a fault Jackson is equally at home within a world of new wave and ‘60s rock or the sonic fantasia of ‘50s guitar pop. Her backward-leaning tastes probably align Sloan closer to acts like Foxygen and The Lemon Twigs, but she’s also looking to push outward from what’s come before. Joe even admits to taking a bit of guilty pleasure in Louis Tomlinson’ ‘Back To You’. To her it’s all just good music.
Talking to Jackson alongside guitarist Jesse Redwing at BIGSOUND it’s apparent that an obsession with music is foremost on their minds. Joe, who actually grew up in Brisbane before skipping town to Sydney in her mid-teens, loves Bowie and Sufjan Stevens. Jesse comes from a background in blues, but also cut his teeth with his now bandleader in punk outfit the Black Zeroes. The overall impression they give is that Sloan Peterson are a band with big ideas and a lot of personality. You could be forgiven for pinning a little hope and expectation on that.
Joe Jackson: We’ve only got the two songs out so far, but I used to play in a band before Sloan Peterson. I only really started Sloan Peterson at the start of this year. I recorded my EP the middle of last year but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it.
RR: Who did you record with?
JJ: It changed so many times. The first time was with a guy called Tim Dunn where we just did it live, like in his loungeroom. We’ve still used that EP but then we got a guy called Dave Tolomei - he’s done groups like Beach House and The Smith Westerns - to mix it. He’s a friend of mine, he really helped me out.
But then we’ve reworked them again with a guy called Chris Collins. When I signed onboard with Mirror Music we reworked them and put ‘Rats’ in there – which is a song I wrote when I was 17, but they loved it. There was a guy from Spotify there when we were recording, who knew my old band the Black Zeroes. He was like “I’ll only get it on Spotify if you do that song!” It was a joke, but it made my manager ask, “What is this song? You have to show me!”
RR: So you’ve been sitting on ‘Rats’ for a long time?
JJ: I forgot about it, I didn’t even remember it! But this guy had a recording of it, on his phone, of me playing it live.
Jesse Redwing: Joe writes so many songs and so easily, it’s easy to just forget songs.
RR: Is it frustrating being in that process, writing all this stuff and playing all these gigs, but taking quite a while to get it out there into the world?
JJ: Yes! That’s 100% it. I’m feeling like I’m just ready for it to be out there.
RR: Jesse when did you come on board?
JR: About two years ago, it was still the Black Zeroes at that time. We’d just played as a three-piece which was super fun…
JJ: We were punk.…
JR: It was really easy to tour and they were fun times. I’ve been involved with a few of the songs that haven’t come out yet. But a lot of the songs on this new EP are pretty old for Joe. But then she writes so many songs that she completely forgot about ‘Rats’! It took somebody outside the band to even point it out, but it turned out to be such a banger.
JJ: I’m not worried about the album either. I feel like I’m already ready for it.
JR: That’s kind of the frustrating thing, you’ve got so many ideas and it always takes at least a year for anything to get released you know?
RR: You’ve been playing live since the start of the year. Have people been receptive to what you’re doing?
JR: Yeah absolutely. We basically sold out our first headline show…
JJ: We sold out our first headline show! Which was really good. It was at a place called Botany View hotel. We’ve got some good momentum and people seem to know our songs. We’ve gotten some play on triple j and people seem to listen to that…
JR: the Australian Music Mafia!
JJ: … but it’s always really refreshing to see people reacting live, like yesterday, looking down and seeing people sing your lyrics. Because sometimes I’ll think something like “I’ll just cut ‘Rats’ out of the set list” but someone like my manager will tell me to leave it in even though I like other ones, newer ones more.…
RR: You’ve also dropped another single which is a little bit more psychedelic: ‘105’. Can you tell me a little more about that one?
JJ: So ‘105’ this was another one that was a spontaneous jam. I was just doing that riff, you know “der ner na new”. I sang “Took a one way street too far” and just wrote that down then and there. It was a song in the moment.
RR: Is jamming with the band a big part of your process?
JJ: That was the only song I’ve ever jammed with a band before. And that song I never get sick of for some reason. I usually just sit at home with a guitar.
JR: Joe’s style is very spontaneous. Usually, she just writes a song and its done in ten minutes.
RR: What’s the creative dynamic like in the group? Obviously, Joe is the principal songwriter…
JR: Joe has all the ideas for the songs. Me and the guys help fill it out.
JJ: Jesse helped me with ‘Stars In Your Eyes’, the only song we’ve written together - which I really love! I had a producer who kind of fucked me over before and I wrote this song called ‘Stars In Your Eyes’ because he’d always say things like “You’re a star! You’re gonna be a big shot!” This was when I was only 17! I left him last year. I just said “Cya!” and I went on my own path. In a year, I’ve already come this far.
RR: To go out there by yourself, was that a really difficult thing to do?
JJ: Yes! He was also like a brother to me and a really good friend. I travelled to New York with him for a really long time. I was in Melbourne with him in another band.
RR: There’s always a lot of praise in the music industry when you’re doing well. But you seem like you’re more receptive to, as you were saying before, people coming up to you after gigs and things like that…
JJ: I love that. I really love that. It’s really encouraging. I spend so much time alone writing and doing things. I write for people to enjoy so if I don’t get that feedback a lot of the time I’m thinking “Oh, they mustn’t like it.” I’d prefer people to say that it’s great or to sing along.
RR: So you’re a songwriter but also an entertainer. What do you do when you write something and take it to the band or even get to the point where you’re playing and people are just like…
JJ: Well there was this one song on my EP called ‘Good News Day’ and I wrote it the day we went in to record. I love it. I listen to that song so much. It’s like you’re at a bar, that kind of thing – any social situation – and you’re with your partner or just with someone right? And then there comes this annoying person that just keeps hanging around, the sort of person that thinks they’re the coolest person ever and you’re like “Just back off buddy!”
JR: “And I got news for you buddy! You ain’t!”
JJ: That’s what I love about the song. When I showed it to my managers, it wasn’t meant to be recorded. I cut it out another one they had asked me to do, ‘Midnight Love’. They were like “Okayyy you didn’t do what we said… but this is kind of cool.” They didn’t have that kind of like Oh My God moment I’d had.
RR: So you’re also working on a debut record. When are you looking to have that one out by?
JJ: Probably at the start of next year. The EP drops in two weeks and then we’ll start writing the album.
RR: Do you have an inclination on where you’d like to go with that now that you’ve gone through the process of doing the Ep?
JJ: I’m writing with a much more Strokes kind of vibe I think. But they similar even to songs we’ve been playing on the EP like ‘Stars in Your Eyes’. With ‘Stars’ I had the idea and I dropped it. I was like “I don’t even like this anymore.” But Jesse had filled in all the blanks for me.
JR: I’d literally just re-did the whole song and wrote these whole verses.
JJ: I was letting that song die, but now it’s become one of my favourite songs. It’s really country and it’s so fun to dance to.
JR: So there’s that vibe and then there’s the ‘80s new wave thing, then there’s ‘60s pop…
RR: Joe you’ve always said The Beatles were a big influence…
JJ: Everyone’s been influenced by them! They’re kind of ubiquitous.
JR: So there’s the ‘80s new wave thing and the ‘90s grunge sound and ‘60s top. That’s Sloan Peterson, those three things.
RR: ‘60s, ‘80s or ‘90s grunge. Give me your all-time greats.
JJ: My biggest influences when I’m writing would probably be The Strokes, but then I get influenced by everything! I get influenced by fashion, by people in general! I constantly watch documentaries on like The Who and David Bowie. Just to watch them and to see what they wore back then, to see how they acted on camera or to hear about their personas. That inspires me. I write about that, it’s not particular music. In a way, I find that it’s so hard because I love that idea of glam rock.
RR: So it’s more of an inspiration thing than even a songwriting thing?
JJ: That’s it. Bowie changed! He had SO many different outfits. He tried this and that. I think it is great when someone has their costume which you know they’re always going wear and you’re going to go to that show and they’re going to be in their underwear or they’ve got those white high socks.
RR: So you have that kind of ‘60s and ‘70s ambition where everything kind of has to be, maybe not always better, but a progression on what you’ve done before.
JJ: That’s exactly right. Sometimes, and I don’t like it as much -it’s mostly PR- I kind of get pigeonholed as ‘60s and ‘50s. But if someone came to my show its actually a lot more ‘80s! I’m very influenced by the fashion of the ‘60s and ‘70s and I love Elvis and Santo & Johnny’s guitar tones…
RR: So you’re almost sort of a pop junky…
JJ: I just genuinely love music.
RR: What’s an influence that might strike people as being completely left of centre?
JJ: I like pop music. There’s a song by a guy from one direction that just came out, the Louie guy [Louis Tomlinson]. It’s called ‘Back To You’ but its got weird Sufjan Stevens’ weird electronic vibes in it but then it’s a pop song. The lyrics really resonate with me and I would NEVER put on one direction! But this is my jam! (laughs) I accidentally found out about this song and Shazamed it in the cab I was in. I wouldn’t intentionally look them up! I was in shock that someone in One Direction had something that was that kind of cool.
RR: You might not think it but people from these big bands generally have pretty great taste in music, when it comes to their own music the know what they’re doing…
JJ: Someone is probably breathing down their necks! That’s the thing.
RR: BIGSOUND! Besides yourselves, who are you most excited to be seeing on the bill?
JJ: Only us. No!
JR: THERE IS NO ONE ELSE.
JJ: Other people playing?
JJ: (Laughs) But no. I’m really bad with Australian music and I keep stressing this. My music actually isn’t that well translated in Australian terms. The UK seems to like it a lot more. To me, Australia loves Courtney Barnett, that real Average Joe sort of thing. It doesn’t resonate too much with me.
JR: (Brightly) I’m looking forward to the Tesky Brothers!
JJ: We’ve played with them before.
JR: They’re just, they’re so real. They just play soul infused with blues.
RR: When I heard their record I just thought “How have I never heard these guys before?”
JR: They’re some young Aussie guys who really have soul. Like Van Morrison or something, they really have soul. It’s not fake white boy soul!
RR: And they recorded in their home studio as well!
JR: Their guitarist produces all their stuff.
RR: So Jesse what’s your other project?
JR: I play the blues.
JJ: Incredible blues! People call him ‘The King’ in Sydney (laughs). He’s been playing for years!
RR: Is it challenging turning the blues off and then playing in a more conventional band like Sloan Peterson?
JR: No not at all. The blues is everything! Every kind of pop music comes from the blues. Once you have that basis you can pretty much play anything.
RR: You’ve been kicking around the Sydney music scene one form or another for a while now, how did the Sloan Peterson project came together?
JJ: I like it. In fact, I’m pretty bossy when he’s playing.
JR: She’s very much the boss! She is Sloany P!
JJ: I’m very bossy. If Jesse starts to do something that’s a little bluesy – and I love his playing I do like the blues to a degree – but at the same time my theory is to keep it simple.
JR: We both grew up playing punk music thought so we’re on the same page.
JJ: Yeah, but sometimes I just have to say: “Jesse? Just chill. Chill on the fuckin’ licks!”
RR: Punk is very much an attitude. Is there an element of punk that still feeds through to your sound?
JJ: I think there is. When I’m out on stage I’m very much a frontwoman.
JR: After a few bevvies Sloan will just start hollering and I’ll be like, “Damn! I feel that.”
JJ: I’ve got a real growl. I try to have this Angel Olsen vibe sometimes, I want to be that, but as soon as I’m on stage I’m on my knees, it’s not happening!
JR: She’s got those three musical influences the ‘60s, ‘80s new wave and grunge…
RR: What’s the common thread?
JR: She’s Sloan! She’s got the talent and they all just mix together really well!
JJ: I’d like to hope. I just write what I like. I just literally write what I would want to listen to. Maybe it would be a bit bigger if I didn’t!