Interview: We Talk To Jodi Phillis About Her New Album, ‘We Need To Be Free’ And About Being A Polymath

Jodi Phillis

Jodi Phillis has just released her new album, ‘We Need To Be Free’ via Cheersquad Records and Tapes.

Buy the album HERE.

Backseat Mafia was incredibly privileged to speak with Jodi about the new album and her career.

You have said that ‘We need to be Free’ deals with “the aftermath of stepping into the new person that I have become due to that loss” and that was the loss of your parents, how do you feel about bearing your soul to people as you have in this album as well as in ‘Becoming’?
It is something that I have always done quite naturally. As I’ve grown older, experienced
more challenges in life, and started to taste true freedom, it seems like an important duty…to share my truth in the most beautiful way that I can. I feel compelled to speak from the deepest place that I can access. I don’t know why. The songs aren’t always literal. Sometimes they are surreal, or more universal rather than personal.

You have a large catalogue of music now, what song are you most proud of and why?
For me the song that stands out the most is ‘Ivy’ by The Dearhunters because it sounds like it is alive and growing. The melody is like a climbing vine and the words ring true for me. It is about becoming a mother for the first time in the best possible way. I was very ready and willing to have this child and the song speaks of the bliss and utterly mind-blowing feeling I had when my eyes met hers for the first time.

Other songs I’m fond of…Silver Stars, It’s Not Love, Song For Georgia, Birth, Mamma Told
Me a Secret, Little Sips, Vali, Washerwoman Pool, Follow My Heart, Domino…this list is
getting long haha!

After all the ups and downs of the last few years, including Covid and little or no support from government, what is it that makes you persist in this very tough industry?
Fuck knows! I feel relieved that I have released this record and that I’m happy with it, but I
feel like I need to give myself a good break after this one. Being a self-managed artist, I’m
utterly exhausted from the whole process…mentally, physically and emotionally. The music
industry being brought to its knees by the pandemic has probably exacerbated that feeling. It was hard enough as a muso before Covid!
Writing songs is the easy part. Applying for grants, organising recording, doing the recording, getting people on board to help get it out into the world, making videos, touring, interviews, yada yada….It is utterly time consuming, expensive, and there is no guarantee whatsoever that anyone is going to notice, or care, or pay you any money for your efforts. Please stop me now!
A friend said to me yesterday that they imagine making a record is like having babies. You
have one and think omg I am not going to have anymore! It’s too hard! But then you forget
how hard it is and feel inspired to give it another go. I’m sure that will happen to me. It
always does. I’m talkin’ bout albums here, not babies!

Who would you regard as your greatest inspiration, from a musical point of view?
There isn’t a short answer to that. It is the people who I have collaborated with who probably have inspired me the most…all the wonderful musician friends I have made along the way, from the members of The Clouds through to The Dearhunters, Roger Loves Betty, The Glamma Rays and more recently Amanda Brown and Damien Lane are people I have
worked with and learned a great deal from. Tim Oxley taught me a lot about becoming a
better musician and songwriter.

The musicians who I truly love, and inspire me by their genius are Brian Wilson, Judee Sill,
Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Kate Bush, Nina Simone, Scott Walker, Stevie Wonder,
George Harrison and all the Beatles. Contemporary artists I love are Weyes Blood, Aldous
Harding, Grace Cummings, Stephanie Cherote for a start….and that’s just pop music. I draw a lot of inspiration from classical and jazz music too, scores by Ennio Morricone, Danny Elfman, Michael Nyman, Leonard Bernstein…the list goes on and on……

What does it feel like to be now be revered by a younger generation of musicians and to be referenced like in the Dyson Stringer Cloher song?
I don’t know. I guess it’s a nice thing to hear but I am still my own harshest critic. Those
kinds of acknowledgements are cool but I still manage to put myself through the ringer!

Now that you have taken up painting yourself, who is an artist that you find particularly inspirational and why?
I am learning about new artists everyday on Instagram which is so exciting but my favourites out of the heavy hitters are Georgia O’Keeffe, David Hockney, Brett Whitely, Cressida Campbell, Margaret Olley, Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vali Myers, Mary Leunig….and many others. Basically I like a good picture that looks like something real, captures the light well and the sparkle in the eye, or says something beautiful, mysterious, bold and brave.
‘Song For Georgia’ on the album is about Georgia O’Keeffe and her fearless way of life,
painting every day in Santa Fe, a place she loves. I aspire to that way of life…to organise my world so that it is conducive to doing my best work. I’m getting there.

Your songs pack a political punch – you have said that ‘Summer of Fires’ was directed at Scott Morrison’s inaction during the 2019 bushfires. What are your thoughts on the recent rulings by the Supreme Court in America and the erosion of women’s rights?
I am half American. My brother, many aunts, uncles and cousins live right across the USA. It is devastating and surreal to see your family living through that kind of hellish insanity. What a mess. I feel in shock, I am angry, despairing. As if we don’t have enough issues to deal with already. It’s unbelievable and sickening.

In recent interviews that I have seen with Karen O. And Alanis Morissette those two artists said how difficult it was for them when they started out, because they had no female role models that they felt that they could relate to or learn from in a male-dominated industry. Did you feel the same pressure when you were in the Clouds? Do you think that it has become easier for women in the music industry since you were in the Clouds?
Trish and I had each other in The Clouds, so we were buffered from that a bit. We also had
Suzie Higgie from Falling Joys, Allanah and Robyn from the Hummingbirds, Club Hoy,
Frente, Rebecca’s Empire, Do Re Mi, Amanda and Lindy in the Go-betweens, Chrissie in the Divinyls and many other great women, playing, singing and writing songs who paved the way for us. I do think that women have taken over and are at the creative edge now. About time too!

Does how you write songs differ as a solo artist, from when you were in the Clouds?
Yes it is very different. I write songs that I can sing on an acoustic guitar for my solo albums. They are basically folk/pop songs. With the Clouds there is a bit more experimentation and abstraction and I tend not to write lyrics that are as personal as I do for my solo albums. But that can change.

I love the story of how the poem by Martha Sear resulted in you composing the music for ‘You Are Loved’. Do you envisage that you and Sear will do more work together?
I would love to write more songs with Martha! It’s on the list!

The Clouds will be touring again at the end of the year, can we expect a new album from the band?
It isn’t in the works right now, as we have all been so busy doing our own thing. We live all
over the country too….but hey, you never know. If it feels right one day, we will. The tour will be a lot of fun I reckon.

You are a polymath Jodi, you have been in a successful band, written film scores, started painting, where do you see your muse taking you next? (If indeed, we can predict where our muse will take us?)
I had to look up what a polymath was! I don’t know that I’m actually knowledgeable about
anything. I just have a lot of passion for creativity. I’m a high school drop-out with a bit of
musical and artistic talent and a huge drive to do creative stuff. I love a challenge. I love
pushing myself to learn more about how to express myself, whether in music or art. Nothing else really gets me too excited…except for the natural world. As long as I’m being creative I’m fine. To make music and paint is like wearing a suit of armour against depression and anxiety.
I look forward to doing a lot more painting. I plan to spend time in Positano, Italy early next
year writing melodies for the poems of Gianni Menichetti, all written for and about Vali
Myers. And we shall see what else transpires. Maybe some down time??? I doubt it!

Thanks so much for talking to us Jodi.

Photo Credit: Tony Mott

Jodi will be doing a tour in support of the album in August and September.

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