Melbourne-based Aucklander Joanna Jones has already enjoyed a life rich in experiences and opportunities that include living in Thailand over her high school years. She’s studied jazz and fronted bands of a variety of genres, but looks now to have found her happy space in the good-looking energetic realm where pop meets dance music. Her decision to embrace music full-time wasn’t made easier by the emergence of the Covid-19 virus, however strong-willed as she is, Joanna stuck with the planned release dates of singles ahead of her debut EP, sharing Disaster at the start of August, and celebrating the release of its counterpart Step Outside today, in mid-September. Richard Thorne caught up with her for the occasion.
You’ve got family in Auckland but are currently living in Australia. Why and when did you choose to make Melbourne your home?
I had always planned to move to Australia or Los Angeles to pursue music, because of the opportunity/larger markets and access to people in the industry within the pop and dance genres. I studied jazz in Wellington so was inevitably in that scene, surrounded by jazz enthusiasts whom I often found be closed-minded, and despise anything remotely pop/commercial.
As much as I myself love jazz and blues, my heart lies in pop, and I found it difficult to find people with similar taste and goals to me, so naturally, I started looking abroad. I met a guy from Melbourne at the Ellerslie Races when I was living in Auckland, so it seemed like a natural next step.
Pop/EDM is a tidy genre analysis of your music. Has the Melbourne music scene been a strong influencer?
There are definitely Melbourne artists that I admire such as Kira Puru and up and comers Evangeline, Sir Jude and Raria. I love M-phases too, but he’s in LA these days. However, I wouldn’t say the Melbourne nightlife or music scene has had a huge influence on me as it’s more of an underground scene here, whereas my taste is predominantly more commercial, which is more prevalent in Sydney.
There are many Sydney artists whom I love that have inspired and influenced me, such as Hermitude (my ultimate faves), Thandi Phoenix, KLP & Stace Cadet (their new dance single Energy is killing it), Gia Vorne, Kota Banks, Cxloe, Alison Wonderland & Flume to name a few. I’m in love with Brisbane artists The Kite String Tangle and Joy. If heaven were a voice it would be Joy’s.
I would say that I’m definitely more influenced by songs these days than I am by artists, and most of the music I listen to is discovered through listening to Pop & Dance Spotify Playlists. However, I do feel inspired by artists that have sustained long-spanning careers such as Aussie artists Tina Arena, Kate Miller-Hike, Kate Ceberano, Delta Goodrem, Paul Kelly, Kylie Minogue and Guy Sebastian.
Disaster and your other songs on Spotify reveal a polished recording artist and songwriter. What’s your creative process and who have you been working with in the last few years?
All of my songs are written and sung by myself. I also produce on Ableton, DJ, play guitar and piano. I typically start the writing process by coming up with a chord progression on the piano/synth or with a beat and build a vibe around that, depending on what I’m feeling, going through or want to write about at the time.
I then create the melody and harmonies then add the bells and whistles. Bridges are always my favourite part of the song to create because of the surprise factor. Other times I will create a Spotify playlist of reference songs I like, figure out what it is I like about them and then try to create something similar or with a certain characteristic in mind.
Over the past couple of years I’ve worked with Melbourne pop, hip hop and RnB Producer Stuart B, who’s produced for Kylie Minogue, ILLY and Thandi Phoenix. I have also worked with Melbourne EDM producer Alex Braithwaite who’s worked with Slumberjack, Golden Features, What So Not, Panther, Carmada and Enschway. I actually have a dance single, Something Good, produced by Alex, coming out within the next couple of months.
With several new singles in the last while 2020 is clearly a step up year for you. Have you only recently decided to go hard with your music?
Music has always been a huge part of my life and my only long-standing passion. I have released songs and music videos in the past, but I never got behind them and pushed them. Last year I decided I wanted to make it my career and live my passion full-time. Since then I have been experimenting with different sounds and releasing songs, improving with each release and building my career brick by brick.
Disaster and Step Outside you’ve described as ‘two-part singles’. Is it easier to compare or contrast them?
I was remixing one of my unreleased tracks and I wound up liking the remix more than the original, so I started coming up with new melodies. But the problem was I came up with two that I loved and I couldn’t choose between them, so Disaster took the remix production and I had to come up with a new production for the second melody which is Step Outside.
What I mean by two parts is that Disaster is written from the perspective of a party that feels as though their relationship has run its course, but respects and values their time shared, however feels it is now time to move on. In contrast, Step Outside is from the perspective of the party whose love is no longer requited, who feels betrayed and blindsided by their other halve’s change of heart. They both contain the same melody in the outro, tying them together in a way.
It’s quite funny really as the chorus of Step Outside which was written in July last year goes, “So open the door and step outside with nothing to fear and nothing to hide, I didn’t prepare so I wanted to share it with you and me instead,’’ – which when put into the context of our current Covid crisis is totally inappropriate. Haha. However, what the chorus is actually referring to is stepping out into the world after being betrayed and blindsided.
Digging deep where no one else dwells, knowing your worth (even if others can’t see it) and stepping into your power, outside of the judgements and expectations of others to flourish into your truest self. No matter how many people let you down, you always have the ability to rise up and see the beauty in the world. No one can take that away from you. But because you didn’t see it coming, you weren’t prepared to face the world and this life alone, because you always saw yourself sharing it with your other half, but still being willing to step outside of your comfort zone and push forward despite it all.
Disaster has a dreamy, but busy sultry fifty shades of grey vibe and the vocals are totally reverbed out, whereas I wanted Step Outside’s chorus to slap really hard and be empowering in an uplifting, but dark edgy way, which I think it does. Both vocals were recorded from my home studio.
You were in ‘a special choir’ while at primary school in Christchurch? You didn’t come across Marlon Williams back then did you by any chance?
Yes so, the best voices from each school in Christchurch were put forward to audition for selection into the Christchurch Schools’ Music Festival Special Choir each year. It was just myself and one or two others from Windsor School that would get in each year.
From what I can remember we would have a couple of weekly practices for months leading up to the festival including on weekends and would get a couple of weeks off school closer to the time to practice with the orchestra and concert band. The festival spanned over two weeks at the Christchurch Town Hall. I absolutely loved it, the energy and the harmonies.
I miss it actually now I think about it! I remember being so proud when my grandparents would fly down from Auckland especially to watch me, haha. No, I didn’t come across Marlon Williams, but I know Hayley Westenra was in it at some point.
Before embracing music you had a ‘corporate career’ for a while. For many artists the business side of things is anathema, are you now looking after your music career?
Yes, I am currently self-managed, which means that I do everything other than the distribution (for which I have a contract with MGM) and publishing, which is through Songbroker. I’ve actually just had one of my songs licensed to a feature film which is cool. It’s a lot of work, I would say music creation is less than one third of the job.
It’s not that I loathe the business side of it, it’s just that I would prefer to spend every day all day in the studio writing, creating and collaborating instead of sending emails and creating content. Hopefully, that will be my reality in the not so distant future… Having worked in sales has definitely made me resilient though, which is key in this line of work.
And finally, being Melbourne-based right now has some significant drawbacks. Has the Victoria State Covid lockdown scenario got in the way of your 2020 release planning at all?
Life has been extremely limited since mid-March. The only two reasons I have been allowed to leave my house in the last 6 months is to (one) exercise or (two) do my supermarket shopping. (You must stay within a 5km radius when carrying out these activities and wear a mask as soon as you step off your property.)
We also have an 8pm curfew and only one person can leave the house at a time. It’s meant I haven’t seen my family since Christmas, nor have I seen friends in person since March, which is tough. I got through the first three months without a hitch, but six months in with no clear end in sight it definitely gets me down from time to time and has affected my motivation levels at times, but I try to snap out of it and distract myself.
With no gatherings of two or more people until October 26 I really feel for those living alone. In terms of releases I have stuck with my initial release plan for my singles despite not being able to do live performances or shoot music videos, however I have had to push my EP release back till early next year.