Jen Cloher’s New Year is off to a great start. The indie rocker from Australia is about to embark on her first North American solo tour, which includes a stop at Johnny Brenda’s on Jan. 31.
“I never thought I would get to tour my music around the world,” Cloher wrote via email. “It’s not lost on me that I’m a 44-year-old woman about to play her first-ever headline tour in America and my shows have sold out.”
Luck may play a part, but Cloher has worked hard too. Since 2005, she’s put out a steady stream of EPs and albums. Her 2013 record, “In Blood Memory,” was even nominated for the Australian Music Prize.
Cloher also helps to run Milk! Records, an independent label that she co-founded in 2012 with her wife, fellow indie-rocker Courtney Barnett. Its roster includes the East Brunswick All Girls Choir and Fraser A. Gorman.
Between the record label and Barnett’s breakout success, it’s been a few years since Cloher’s last album. Fortunately for music lovers, it was worth the wait. Her self-titled 11-track LP was released in the fall. The songs tackle topics such as loneliness, love, envy, success and being an artist in Australia. Cloher’s music also includes backup from Barnett on guitar, Bones Sloane on bass and Jen Sholakis on drums.
Overall, the album has a loose, natural vibe. That’s partly attributable to where it was recorded. Engineer Greg Walker’s studio is a converted bakery in a small, rural town called Jumbunna. According to Cloher, “It was idyllic for making an album, firstly because there was no cell coverage when you were in the studio. A godsend!”
Cloher’s approach to recording in the studio kept things fresh. The band would perform four takes of each song live and would then select the best one for the record.
“I believe this is where the magic lies, when everyone is listening and playing the same song,” Cloher said. “I don’t like to rehearse too much and become too comfortable.”
Cloher also avoids getting too comfortable when it comes to her lyrics. Whether it’s the topics she addresses or the emotions she explores, she’s unflinching. On “Forgot Myself,” she addresses the downside of having a successful partner.
Cloher has discussed how Barnett’s success initially led her to question her career. Fortunately, she’s come to terms with that and found renewed purpose as an artist. Today, Cloher views these songs a bit differently: The feelings are still there, she explained, but now those emotions are less raw.
“That’s the funny thing about songs. You write them and then release them and you change. It’s almost as though the process sets you free from the feelings,” she said.
Some of Cloher’s work examines the creative life in Australia. “Regional Echo,” for example, is a melancholy song about provincialism and crushed ambition.
“Great Australian Bite” approaches the same topic from a different angle. Referencing earlier Australian bands like the Go-Betweens and the Saints, she sings, “Our giants have to bend / Just to make the ends meet.” As the song pushes toward its conclusion, the guitars get noisier.
Cloher also addresses LGBT issues in her songwriting.
“Sharing my experience as a lesbian woman is the most powerful thing I can do, because people listen,” she said.
On “Strong Woman,” a driving rock number, Cloher sings about being a tomboy, wanting to kiss girls and gradually accepting her sexuality. “To love was to live in sin/So I stood out/I was born to let it out,” she sings.
“Analysis Paralysis,” written before Australia legalized same-sex marriage, is suffused with righteous anger. As the song proceeds, Cloher’s vocals become increasingly angry and the guitars get louder. “I pay my fines/Taxes on time/But the feral right/Get to decide/If I can have a wife,” she snarls.
“I know young women and GNC folk are listening to my music and I hope that having a platform to say something meaningful gives them the courage to do the same in their lives,” Cloher said.
Of course, rock ‘n roll should also be fun for performers and audiences. Cloher hasn’t forgotten that.
“I always want to give people my best show,” she said. “I want people to leave feeling different. That’s what good art should do.”
For more information, visit www.jencloher.com.