Mungindi singer-songwriter Jess Holland is hitting the road for a tour through coastal and regional Queensland.
‘I did a tour in 2012 from Mudgee to Melbourne,’ she said when I spoke to her recently. ‘This time I wanted to change it up a bit and I know I’ve got a few people busting to see me in Queensland, so I thought I’d head north for the winter. I’m really excited to be heading off.’
Jess picked this time of year to tour Queensland because the weather will be at its kindest – while she’s used to heat, as Mungindi regularly hits 45 degrees in summer, humidity is harder to bear (and harder on instruments too).
The tour takes in some towns that many country artists may not have even heard of, let alone played in. In planning the tour, Jess says she ‘approached as many towns as I could up the coast and out west. A lot of them were either already booked or didn’t have the dates available. But – and I know it sounds silly – the towns sort of picked me. I sent out as many emails as I could and got a huge response back and they’re the towns that I picked. I picked a few of them because a lot of people have approached me to say, “We’re all the way out here and we’d love to have you out here”, so they were my first points of call, and I tried to connect the dots to keep it flowing for my travels through there.
‘I’m trying to visit smaller towns because a lot of [people there] can’t pack up and leave to go to Brisbane, Toowoomba or Mackay to see a touring artist. I wanted to go and meet the real country music fans.’
Jess is touring solo for the first time. Although, she says, she often travels on her own, this is first time she hasn’t toured with a band.
‘It’s a huge unknown,’ she said, ‘and that’s maybe what I love about it so much – it’s so unpredictable, heading off into the wild blue yonder and playing all my music, having a good time and hopefully everyone else has a good time too.’
Playing alone also means playing three or four sets a night – not that it sounds like she minds. And Jess won’t be entirely alone, either – she’ll be taking ‘a bit of a menagerie’ of instruments: banjo, mandolin and guitar. As all stringed instruments can be affected by climate and weather, Jess will have to keep them in line, especially the banjo and mandolin, she said – ‘they’re a lot more sensitive even than guitars. There’s a lot of tuning.’
Flying solo means she can adapt her set list to suit the audience each night. Between her own songs and the covers she ‘loves to sing’, she has a wide variety of songs to pick from.
‘You have to approach every gig as a brand new one,’ she says. ‘You have to engage the audience. Every gig is about making the audience happy.’
While Jess is on the road she’ll also be writing songs for her next album. And, of course, touring rural and regional Australia is a great place to get ideas …
‘You always meet fantastic characters on tour and hear fantastic stories,’ says Jess. ‘I’m certainly not cutting off ties to potential songs.’
On the subject of the next album, Jess has taken a route that is becoming increasingly more prevalent amongst Australian country music artists: she’s crowdfunding it. (Recently Melody Pool and The McMenamins crowdfunded their albums.)
‘I knew Melody Pool took this route,’ says Jess, ‘and for me I wanted control [over the project] and also to give people the opportunity to see what was on offer and be a part of the process. For me that was a huge thing. Not so much my own wants and needs, more that I knew I had a few fans out there and I wanted them to be part of my project.’
Certainly crowdfunding seems more feasible for country music artists – given the passionate, engaged community around country music – than for artists of other genres.
Says Jess, ‘That’s why I love country music – you do have your dedicated followers and I don’t know that many other genres do have that dedication from fans. It is community minded and community spirit. It is about the hard times and the good times. And to know that people will stick by you for your entire career is such a huge thing for an artist to know – to know that you’ll have those people behind you and supporting you. That’s the reason I did launch the indiegogo campaign
– to have those supporters feel that they are a part of my career and they’re the reason why I’ve got to where I am, because of their support.’
Of course, putting together an album this way means that even if Jess is not producing the actual album, she’s still producing the enterprise of the whole thing – she has to pull everything together.
‘One of the things about being an indie artist is you have to fend for yourself,’ she says firmly. ‘I am involved with every step of this process. I have sourced a producer. I will be there with them day and night when they’re mixing. I’m throwing myself right into the process and into the recording. I will put my two bobs’ worth into everything – the artwork, who’s mastering it. It’s very important to be involved, especially when it’s something you have to be proud of for the rest of your life, especially when you’re trying to get that music out there.’
Doing everything herself, though, is a job she took on when she decided to become a full-time musician, leaving behind the security – but also the restrictions – of her occupation as an agronomist.
‘At the very beginning I was very nervous,’ Jess says of her decision to make the change, ‘because a muso’s life can be very unpredictable and very unstable. But I can tell you that it has been the best move for my music career that I’ve ever made, because I can officially say that I’m a million per cent confident and definitely wholeheartedly in it for the long run. All the distractions are taken out and I’m focusing on that primary thing. It was something I had to do if I wanted to further my country music career.’
Jess says that she is very structured in how she goes about managing and organising that career, but that her songwriting moves in a very different way.
‘I’m not the sort of person who can sit down and say, “Today is Wednestly and from 9 until 12 I’m going to be writing”. My brain doesn’t work that way, unfortunately. I’d love it if it did. But I have to be in the right state of mind and the right mood, I suppose. The downfall of that is that I can be asleep and something wakes me up at 2.30 in the morning and I have to get up and start it there and then. I have to let it come. There’s no use forcing it because then I get material I’m not happy with.
‘I go with the flow. You’re going to get some crap and you’re going to get some good stuff but at the end of the day you can generally make sense of some of it, hopefully.’
It is no surprise that Jess needed to concentrate on her music full time: apart from her tour and the next album, she is still involved in the Hickory Sisters
with Allison Forbes and Greta Ziller. Although Jess says they are ‘more of a group that we perform in at festivals’, they are still hoping to write and record an EP soon – while still maintaining their own solo projects. And they are in touch all the time, as they’re ‘the best of mates’, as Jess says.
By Jess’s own reckoning she has a lot of work ahead this year: once the tour is over she plans to start recording the album and, hopefully, releasing it by the end of the year – just in time for Tamworth. And, no doubt, another full year of singing, songwriting and finding fans all over Australia.
Support Jess’s indiegogo campaign here.
Visit Jess’s website here.
Saturday 15 June 2013
Showgrounds, Eulo Polo Cross, EULO QLD
Pitherty Road, Eulo
Sunday 16th June 2013
Commonwealth Hotel, ROMA QLD
75 Wyndham Street, Roma | ph: (07) 4622 1286
Friday 21st June 2013
Porters Plainland Hotel, Ipswich QLD
Warrego Highway, Plainland | ph: (07) 5465 6547
Thursday 27th June 2013
Coal & Cattle Hotel, MOURA QLD
63 Dawson Hwy, Moura | ph: (07) 4997 1511
Friday 28th June 2013
Blackwater Hotel Motel, BLACKWATER QLD
14-16 Railway Street, Blackwater | ph: (07) 4982 5133
Saturday 29th June 2013
Tieri Brolga Hotel Motel, TIERI QLD
11 Malvern Ave, Tieri | ph: (07) 4984 8555
Sunday 30th June 2013
Jolly Collier Hotel Motel, DYSART QLD
14 Queen Elizabeth Dr, Dysart | ph: (07) 4958 1155
Monday 1st July 2013
Hotel Mackay, MACKAY QLD
179 Victoria Street, Mackay | ph: (07) 4951 1120
Tuesday 2nd July 2013
Blacks Beach Tavern MACKAY QLD
Cnr Blacks Beach Rd & Slater Ave, Mackay | ph: (07) 4944 4800
Friday 5th July 2013
Artesian Hotel, BARCALDINE QLD
85 Oak Street, Barcaldine | ph: (07) 4651 1691