It has been five years since Jasmine Rae released her last album, Heartbeat, and while that was no doubt too long a gap for fans, it turned out to be the perfect amount of time to create her new album, Lion Side, because the events and experiences of those five years led Rae to make the most powerful album of her career, one in which she has made herself vulnerable to her audience and found the strength within that vulnerability.

Writing the songs were, Rae says, ‘a little bit … like therapy. It was like I was journalling. Music is how I deal with all things … Even when I’m not writing for a project I’m writing always. So these songs, one of them started 12 years ago, just as a thing in the back of my head. Because I have so many ideas and so many thoughts about things it’s like, Oh yeah, that’s something that I’ll one day finish, but people won’t want to actually hear it. It just feels good to create it and it needs to be created, but I didn’t know whether people would actually want to hear it.

‘So that’s the main thing about this. This was written with the people who love my music and love stories in mind but only to bring us together. I want people to hear it, but I want people to bring whatever they want to it. It’s “I hope you like it, but really, I just want you to hear it and just judge for yourself. Because it had to be made anyway. So just listen.” This was quite a different way of going about it compared to what my other projects have been.’

It could be said that Rae has built such a strong connection to her audience that she no longer has to flag to them that she made the album for them. She can instead make it for herself, but trust that the audience is there to hear it.

‘I wrote the songs for me,’ Rae says, ‘but when I was finishing them to release it I ended up rewriting a lot of the things that I thought, Well, people are going to hear this, let’s make it good. I did write it with a listener in mind, but more like a listener when you’re having a really good chat, it’s like we’re already on this wavelength. It’s assuming that somebody already wants to hear it and then telling them rather than assuming that they don’t know who you are.

‘So it’s written for the audience on a different kind of level, which hopefully just feels like the third cup of tea or the second whiskey and or whatever. It’s not the first drink, it’s the second one,’ she says with a laugh.

Some of the songs were begun by Rae on her own, ‘playing around with loops and things,’ she says, ‘because there was a little bit of time in there where I didn’t want to co-write with people. And I didn’t know if I wanted to talk about my ideas with people and talk about personal things with people, because I didn’t feel that kind of trust or connection. So I thought, well, I still need to write all these things because they’re coming out of me – I’ll just do it on my own with a loop machine. So that’s how some of these songs began and then I wrote them with other people or finished them a different way.

‘I think I work well when there are deadlines. And I think that’s why, a lot of these songs I did write and begin on my own because I was emotionally not able to write with people until the end. I’m over that now just FYI, everyone – I’m back on the socialising wagon! But there was a really antisocial year and a half there where I only wrote alone. But [that feeling of] “Oh god, we’ve only got three hours together, let’s write this song.” “We’ve only got three minutes to tell this story.” I like the challenge of that. That helps me get the idea out. And also whittling down. I have many different ways I want to say something, but if one way of saying something is actually making the other way confusing, it takes a little bit of whittling down. Chipping away at it. “You don’t need that. You don’t need that.” There was somebody who said, “Perfection is not how much more can you add, it’s when you there’s nothing left to take away.” And nothing is perfect anyway. I don’t care about perfect, but art is taking unnecessary things away, for me, this time.’

There’s a certain amount of discipline required to take away the unnecessary things, as Rae acknowledges. ‘I think there was a lot of that when I was writing on my own, not necessarily for a project. There were so many of those kinds of lines where I’m thinking, Oh, that’s so clever and feels so right to me. But then it’s, No one else understands it, Jasmine. You’re going to just have to cut it. No one knows what you’re talking about. When I get it prepped for other people’s ears, I listen to it with different kinds of ears and think, No. Or yes. You know? And so that’s where with editing, I think you do put on a different hat.’

As for the year and a half that Rae spent not wanting to write with anyone, and staying mostly at home, she says that now it’s nice to look back and think that she needed that time away from others. ‘But at the time it really, really felt like, Why is this happening?‘ she says. ‘It was around the lawsuit time. It was circumstantial, but then it became physical. My body started getting sick all the time and that was probably because I was stressed. I didn’t feel strong enough to go out there and do things. So, yes, I probably did need some time away to get stronger, but at the time I didn’t think I would get stronger. I thought, Well, I’m too weak to go out there. I’m just going to write in the corner until I fade away to dust. I just didn’t realise that I’d get stronger from it, which is funny, to look back now.’

The title track embodies the energy for the whole album, and when asked when she found her ‘lion side’, Rae says, ‘Do you know what’s interesting – what is a lion side? Lions are vulnerable and lions lose the fight sometimes too. But definitely they’re less hesitant. And so it was during a Granger Smith tour, actually. I was offered a tour with [him], which came out of the blue because usually you get offered tours when you’re promoting new music but I didn’t have any music out there. I was weirdly journal writing on my own in the corner. And then this call came through to do this incredible run of shows with Granger Smith, who’s an international artist. He’s actually two artists. He’s Earl Dibbles Jr, which is his alter ego and then he’s himself. And he’s amazing.

‘Then we did the Groundwater Country Music Festival, part of that run, but it wasn’t something I was expecting. We played a couple of the new songs live that I’d just been playing around with. I played my band the things I’d been playing around with on my computer. And that’s just something that I never got to do before. I never got to just play around with stuff without an actual album in the works. This was just me being creative. I got to talk to music fans and they were saying, “When are you releasing music?” And I said, “Oh my gosh, you actually want to hear it?” I just forgot that people wanted to hear it. I forgot that I liked playing music and this whole tour reminded me that I loved it. So then it became a fierce mission to figure out how to kind of do it.’

Also part of the core message is the song ‘Don’t Do it for the Haters’, which has the rejoinder lyric of ‘it’s the love that does it for me’.

‘The back story behind the song is a lawsuit with a song that I wrote and sang,’ explains Rae. ‘I wasn’t involved in the lawsuit, but I copped all of the hate from all the fans of all the artists who were being sued. And then also hate from people who were saying, “Why are you not involved in the lawsuit – are you an idiot?” And then other people were saying, “Why are you involved in the lawsuit?” People just misunderstood it completely. But I chose to not be involved. I didn’t want to sue a bunch of people. But I got so much hate for something I actually didn’t do. And I’d never experienced that before.

‘I’ve copped hate for things that I have done, like, “You look terrible in that.” I’m wearing something, I cop hate for that – well, I’m wearing it. That’s your opinion. Yes, I did break that person’s heart. But I’ve never actually copped hate for something I didn’t do. And that was hard. I felt so alone and misunderstood and hated. So “Don’t Do it for the Haters” is a song that was born out of that, but people have their own things that they’ve had to come up against hate for and to be reminded about why you do it is the best feeling ever. So there are lyrics in it: “it’s like a sugar-coated, bitter pill, nothing shows the good like a bad day will”. And that is true!

Being targeted by vitriol is, unfortunately, a routine part of life for so many artists who have to active online to let people know about their music – because, as Rae says, ‘there’s always new music out now. I find that there’s just so much new stuff out and some of it is fantastic stuff, and I think, Do people even know what I’m doing? Maybe I’m just going to make this music because I have to make music because that’s what I do. It’s how I deal with things. But maybe people don’t need to hear it. Maybe I’m done with the releasing of the music. That’s truly what I thought. I thought, I’ll play the old songs, but people don’t need the new music.

‘But then the tour happened and we played a couple of the new songs and people said they liked them and wanted to hear more. So it was very cool. Reconnecting with people and having people who support you – they’re already supporting my music, but they also dragged me out of this really dark place, not even knowing that that’s what they were doing, because they didn’t know how dark it was. But I’m so grateful now that this connected on a whole other level that COVID will not take away. I’m not able to tour with you guys but I still feel so connected. We were saying, “Should we push the release back? Should we not?” “I’ve already gone through that in my head about not releasing this and I’ve decided I am. So no, we are. We’re going to keep the original date. We are doing this.” Because once I’ve decided it, well, that is happening.’

Rae has said in the past that being real is a super power, and it’s certainly something her fans have come to expect from her. It gives rise to a question, too: what has she had to leave behind in order to be the real her?

‘Maybe leaving the idea behind that there’s a real me,’ she says. ‘Because I change often and I learn new things, like, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have done that.” Or not that I shouldn’t have done it but maybe next time I’ll do it differently. There are definitely things that show there’s consistency there. I am a person who cares a lot and feels a lot and all that. But, I guess, [it’s] letting go of the definite boxes that you put yourself in. For example, people see themselves as a non-parent, but then when you’re a parent you’re a parent, you know? You can change overnight. So be so fixed on those boxes. Maybe the real you is measured by different things.’

Letting go of that fixed idea of who she is liberated Rae when it came to recording the album.

‘Singing it felt different,’ she says. ‘I wasn’t bothered by sounding pretty at all or thinking I had to hit really high notes. There was a time in all pop music actually and country music, like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, if you hit those really high notes then it’s a good song. No – it could be a good song with those high notes, but it could also be a good song just actually singing the song the way that it wants to be sung. So I wasn’t worried about sounding pretty or good or technically good. I’ve trained my voice. It knows what to do. So therefore just tell the story, don’t worry about sounding good or better.

‘And, also, I wasn’t interested in singing any other way. I have changed quite a lot, as we all do, but I just don’t care about singing the highest note, even though the more you use your voice, the better it gets. I can probably sing higher than I’ve ever sung, but that doesn’t matter anymore. It is liberating. But I didn’t think about the liberating factor. I just thought, I don’t care.’

When Rae’s career started, she says that she had goals but ‘I only like to set goals for things that I can achieve. I didn’t want it to be like a comparison thing – “I want everyone to know my name” and things like that. It was more, “I want to make an album at this time”. Then that occurred. I won a competition in 2008 [Telstra Road to Tamworth]. I was 20. And got management and an amazing record deal that I’m still with now. ABC. So much happened and then the album was out and I thought, Oh, well, that’s kind of what I planned for the next year, 15 years. So I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have like big plans. I just went bit by bit … so I had to make it up as I went along. I didn’t think too far ahead. I didn’t know whether an album would take 20 years and I didn’t want to disappoint myself. I thought, It might take 20 years to get a record deal, Jasmine – just calm down. Make one album. But then I didn’t really have bigger thoughts as to what would happen after that.’

Of course, more – much more – did happen after that and while Rae is still young, she’s already had a rich and long career. In terms of what keeps her going, she says, ‘My motivation changes a lot, often. I feel like what has motivated this album has been the kind of motivation that helps me. It’s actually the love of people rather than wanting to compete with people or wanting to compete with myself, or it’s wanting to express these things and be willing to connect with people. I respect people for their journeys and want to know it. If they allow these songs to be part of their story, that’s an honour. Whereas previously it’s been, “I want to be the best singer at that show” or whatever. So what’s motivating me now is to connect with people and be real and keep my heart open, because I closed it for a little while and it got ugly.’

Rae is managing the balance of keeping her heart open with protecting it when needed.

‘I think you have to have tools that help you to allow that to happen,’ she says. ‘And I feel that’s my goal at the moment. How can I keep getting tools to keep myself open in a safe way? I don’t know if people will understand me when I say that. But I just want people to hear this music and hopefully they like it. But really just hear it and let me know how it affects them.

‘Music is something that’s bringing us together and the fact that I can provide some music, that feels really cool. It makes it feel like there’s something we’re doing together, you know?’

Lion Side is certainly an album in which many people will find their own experiences, because Rae has been willing to be open about hers. It is loud and quiet and soft right when it needs to be, as Rae allows listeners space to hear what they need to in it. And, as she says, she hopes people will let her know how it affects them – she is there for her audience, as they are they for her.

Lion Side is out now through ABC Music/Universal Music Australia.

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