Laura Jean
Laura Jean | Image: Rochelle Marie Adam

Laura Jean: “I’m Really Interested in My Audience Coming From All Walks of Life”

After 2018’s synth-centric DevotionLaura Jean engaged with guitar-led full-band arrangements for her sixth album, 2022’s Amateurs. The record begins with ‘Teenager Again’, which pairs indie rock dynamics with Jean’s winding, folk-like vocal melodies. Throughout the album, Jean affirms herself as one of the country’s most captivating melodists, prone to bending vocal phrases into unlikely shapes as a way of representing the untidiness of one’s inner life.

‘Teenager Again’ also introduces us to Jean’s psychoanalytical lyrical tendencies. Although not a concept album in the prog-rock sense of the term, the songs on Amateurs all attempt to unravel the connotations of the album title. The word “amateurs” means “to do something for love,” says Jean. “But it’s kind of become shorthand for being shit at something.”

Instead of bemoaning the conditions for people who choose to make art under accelerated neoliberal capitalism, Jean finds a way to celebrate unrealised dreams. As the album progresses, she mounts a compelling case for resisting the imperative to commodify your passions.

“There’s a child in me who wanted to be the star of the school,” she sings on ‘Too Much to Do’. For Jean, it’s this child who deserves to be listened to, not the external arbiters of success or excellence.

Music Feeds spoke to Laura Jean ahead of her three-date Amateurs launch tour, which includes shows in Melbourne, Brisbane and her home city of Sydney. The conversation took place a few days after the album was named on the nine-album shortlist for the 18th Australian Music Prize.

Laura Jean – ‘Too Much to Do’

Music Feeds: Congratulations on making the Australian Music Prize shortlist.

Laura Jean: Thank you. It’s really special.

MF: It still feels special? You’re not desensitised to these sorts of accolades?

Laura: I definitely am, but it’s definitely self-protective. You know, when you first start out, it’s a bit of a rollercoaster and the ups and downs are intense and it kind of fucks with your life a bit. So, I think as you get a bit older, you go, “Oh, I’m not really going to get carried away with the ups or the downs.”

It’s hard for me to believe that the last three albums have all been shortlisted. It’s like, what kind of luck is that? It’s just really amazing.

MF: I get that, and obviously luck plays some part in all career success, but three in a row suggests that it’s more than just luck. 

Laura: Maybe there’s just a few judges on there that are big fans and maybe they just keep pushing me through?

But I hope that it’s something to do with the fact that the albums are designed for repeated listen. They’re not always immediate, and some of the treats I put in are only apparent after several listens. So it’s really nice that that has translated to people; the kind of effort I put into layering treats in for people.

MF: It’s a very dynamic album. ‘Too Much to Do’ reminds me a bit of Turkish psychedelic music. That’s one of the songs you worked on with arranger Erkki Veltheim.

Laura: To be fair, on ‘Too Much to Do’ I guess I co-arranged the strings – he based his arrangement off what I’d already arranged but he added a few little flourishes. And then he arranged all the other songs himself from scratch. It was an honour to work with Erkki. He’s one of the best.

MF: The lyrics on the album mostly revolve around the theme of amateurs. What led to this thematic focus?

Laura: I was thinking about the word “amateurs” a lot, about how it means to do something for love, but it’s kind of become shorthand for being shit at something. That’s interesting to me.

I was watching a lot of free-to-air telly when I was writing Amateurs. I’d just started studying law, so I was at home a lot reading and then watching free-to-air and going for little walks around my suburb, in Meadowbank, which is right near the Parramatta River.

So, what happens is, I might write a song that seems to have this strong idea. I think that might’ve been the song ‘Amateurs’, where I was just describing things I saw on TV that made me think about where music exists in our culture at the moment– what place does songwriting have for people in society? What role does it play?

MF: What did you learn about that from free-to-air TV?

Laura: All I saw on television about music and songwriting was through this filter of other mediums. So, like a sporting person playing the guitar or a comedian doing a take-off of a singer-songwriter or a reality TV guy who had written a song – Paul West from River Cottage Australia.

All these things were floating around in my brain, and I thought the idea of amateurs was a strong theme. So what happens then is that my subconscious is kind of trained on that idea and then [the theme will] just pop out. And I’ll find a reason as well – like if I can put the word amateur in somewhere, I will. But it also happens naturally.

Laura Jean – ‘A Funny Thing Happened’

MF: How did it make you feel, seeing how underrepresented songwriting is in mainstream Australian culture?

Laura: I found that sad. I found it sad that in mainstream culture, Australian songwriting doesn’t really have a place. I’m not someone who wants to make art for the precious few. I’m really interested in my audience coming from all walks of life.

I also think the mainstream deserves Australian music and Australian songs. But it’s just hard to find a way to get it through all the consumerism filters that you have to get through. Right now everyone just wants to go to nice restaurants and watch people making food – me included.

MF: The final song on the album is ‘Something to Look Forward to Forever’, which ends with the lines “That’s what magic is / Something to look forward to forever / And never ever getting it.” Is that an accurate reflection of the way you feel?

Laura: I was thinking about being a teenager and how much more powerful music was over you when you’re a teenager. And a lot of that’s to do with the fact – I know it’s a bit crude – but a lot of that stuff’s to do with the fact that you haven’t had sex yet.

There’s this potentiality to life. It’s something that hasn’t happened, and you know it’s around the corner, and it gives life this sparkle. And I think it kind of goes away when you have your first sexual relationship. Before that you’re really on your own as a teenager. I mean, I was – I didn’t date anyone at all. I was quite a young teenager, and I didn’t want to be a normal teenager.

The song is kind of about the beauty of never getting what you want and the beauty of people that have dreams and never achieve them, and how that’s actually very useful in your life, to have dreams that you will never have. It can be a really amazing source of energy in everyday life.

Longing, if you take the feeling away from the circumstance, it’s energy, it’s beautiful, and it can be used to make beautiful things. A big engine for a lot of people is this longing for childhood or longing for their mother, longing for that love.

So, I guess it’s my way of saying there’s no need to achieve your dreams, there’s no need to monetise, there’s no need to be successful, because not being [successful] is a whole other world of joy.

Laura Jean Amateurs Tour 2023

  • Friday, 10th February – Melbourne Recital Centre, Melbourne VIC
  • Tickets
  • Saturday, 11th February – Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane QLD
  • Tickets
  • Friday, 24th February – Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW
  • Tickets

Further Reading

Shortlist Revealed for the 18th Australian Music Prize: Body Type, Tasman Keith, and More

 The Best Australian Albums of 2022

Chapter Music Turns 30 – Ten Things That Define the Melbourne Indie Label

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