Australia’s Imogen Clark believes she became a songwriter because she feels so deeply. One of the benefits of expressing emotion through song is that those feelings then become a shared experience for both the performer and the listener, something Clark has witnesses firsthand.
“I try to be honest about my struggles with those feelings, because I want others to remember that it’s completely okay to not feel okay during difficult times,” she said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.*
With her new EP Making Of Me set to release on August 21, we sat down with Clark to discuss the evolution of her sound, making music without boundaries, and being productive in a time of isolation.
*Due to our own complications during the pandemic, this interview was originally conducted in May and is just now being posted as we return from hiatus.
TrunkSpace: We are all experiencing uncertainty and a cornucopia of emotions given the current state of the world and the varying levels of quarantine we have been all been in these last few months. How has that impacted you as an artist? Have you found yourself to be creatively-inspired during this span?
Clark: Every day seems to be a little different. Some days I feel really productive and I’m using a daily working-from-home routine and exercise regime to keep myself on track, but other days I feel pretty overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and depression. The reason I became a songwriter was because I feel a lot of things very deeply all the time, and that can be both a blessing and a curse, especially in times like these. I try to be honest about my struggles with those feelings, because I want others to remember that it’s completely okay to not feel okay during difficult times. I feel so grateful that some of my favorite artists are still releasing music, as I’m always inspired to keep writing and honing my trade when I find new music I love. The loss of the experience of playing and watching live shows has taken its toll on me, so I’m glad there’s still creative energy to be found in records. And I hope that’s what my new music can provide for someone else too.
Something I have found really great during isolation is doing some skill building. I’m trying to improve my piano and lead guitar playing by taking Zoom lessons in both, keeping my brain healthy by reading a lot, and listening to/writing more music.
TrunkSpace: In the middle of it all, you recently released a new single, “Found Me,” and you’re preparing to unveil your EP, The Making of Me, in August. How have you had to change your promotional focus during this time to ensure that this work you’ve poured so much of yourself into has the best chance at finding an audience?
Clark: We made the decision that, rather than put everything on hold during this pandemic, we’d release this music and make the most of what we can do safely right now, which is share music with people from afar. I think now more than ever people need something positive to brighten their days, and I hope these songs can be that for some people.
While I’d love to be out there touring these new songs, in the meantime, we’ve got a fun virtual tour going on. Starting this Saturday (16th May), every fortnight I’ll be live streaming a professionally produced show from my backyard in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia. The show is open to anyone across the globe, and it’s a “pay what you can” ticket price, so anyone doing it tough right now doesn’t have to miss out. Each show will have a different theme; acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano and an “all request” show, and the shows won’t be archived so folks will have to tune in live to catch them. If you tune in, you’ll get a full preview of all the songs from the upcoming EP, as well as some old favorites and new covers. Once it is safe to do so, we definitely can’t wait to get back out on the road to venues across Australia, the U.S., the U.K. and Europe.
TrunkSpace: What could someone learn about you as both an artist and as a person in sitting down to listen to the EP, front to back?
Clark: I hope that listening to this EP shows people that I’m someone who is feeling a little more comfortable in my own skin after years of self-doubt and feeling beholden to other people’s ideas of who I am, or what authentic art is. I worried for so long about the box I fit into musically, and perhaps who others wanted me to be. There’s a feeling of liberation and self-discovery to this record that I’m very proud of, and that reflects how I felt while writing and recording it. It’s a collection of songs about building confidence through adversity, and becoming the person you always wanted to be, or who people told you you couldn’t be.
TrunkSpace: As we understand, putting this EP together took its emotional toll on you because it represented a lot of what was going on in your personal life, sort of worked through in song form. Do you ever worry – or at least, take pause – when you put that much of yourself into a song or album? In the age of social media and everyone having an opinion they speak out loud, is it scary exposing yourself to that through your music?
Clark: Especially as someone who suffers from anxiety and is a chronic people pleaser, putting yourself and your feelings out on the line for a living is absolutely terrifying. But it’s also exhilarating and gives me a sense of strength and happiness that I live for. Having started playing music professionally at 12 years old, I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling underestimated or patronized, constantly seeking the approval of others who saw me as just a little girl. For the first time, I’m unafraid of what people think of me, or whether they think I’m good enough to be here, and I think that shows in this new music. I’m embracing all the kinds of music I love and want to write now.
TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the EP?
Clark: I’m probably most proud of the evolution of my sound, and the sincerity of the lyrics. I’ve always had so many pop sensibilities in my songwriting, but I was always afraid of letting them live in my recordings. I worked on this album in LA with producer Mike Bloom (Jenny Lewis, Julian Casablancas), engineer Will Golden and my manager Jeremy Dylan. It was one of the most freeing experiences of my life because we let each song flow naturally and become exactly what it wanted to be, without asking ourselves “What genre of music are we making?” Musicians are used to living in a box defined by a genre category that they’ve been placed into, usually by someone else, and this can be so frustrating and limiting. But with this record, we used wildly different production references – everything from Chris Isaak to Christine and the Queens to Prince – and for the first time, I felt like I was making music with absolutely no boundaries for where it could go.
Lyrics have always been my favorite and the most important part of songwriting for me. All the lyrics featured on this record feel very raw and honest to me, and are at times painfully autobiographical. I’m proud of having the courage to share so much of myself in my music.
TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and did that manifest during the creation and recording of the EP?
Clark: I tend to always be hardest on my own vocal performance in the studio. I’ll usually get up in my own head too much about it, and I’ll start thinking so much about making the vocal performance sound perfect (I think this comes from 10 years of classical training!), that I can barely think about the emotion I’m supposed to be conveying. What Mike, Will and Jeremy all helped teach me in the studio this time around, was that a perfectly performed vocal in a song isn’t going to make anyone feel much of anything. What will make them fall in love with the song is the emotion you convey through your voice, so that’s what I tried to focus on most during these recordings. I really let loose in the vocal booth like I never had before, and we tried so many things that put me well outside of my comfortable zone.
TrunkSpace: How has where you’re from impacted you as an artist? Would you be a different artist if you grew up in a different city surrounded by different people?
Clark: I think where I’m from made me a more down-to-Earth person. I come from a tiny rural town called Bowen Mountain, on the very outskirts of the Greater Sydney region. There are no street lights or shops here. Everyone knows each other’s names, and the names of their dogs. We all say hello in the street and we all pull together in times of crisis, as we showed with our amazing Rural Fire Service volunteers earlier this year during the Australian bushfire disaster which impacted my town. I think if I’d grown up in a city, I wouldn’t have developed that sense of small town kindness and friendliness, which I feel is a wonderful and helpful trait to have when it comes to meeting so many new people on the road. When you come from a town like this, you can never develop a swollen ego because the people around you remind you pretty quickly where you came from!
I think coming from a small town also gives you classic small town big dreams. You want to do your little community proud by leaving the town and going onto bigger things, but you never forget that was the town that made you into who you are.
TrunkSpace: If you sat down with your 10-year-old self and gave her a glimpse of her future, would she be surprised by where her musical journey has taken her thus far?
Clark: I don’t think 10-year-old me would have believed it if you’d told her what she’d have achieved as a 25-year-old. My music has given me experiences I never believed I’d be privileged enough to have. On this record, we had Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello & The Imposters) come into the studio to track drums, and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) come in to track keys and organ. These are musical heroes I admire hugely, and people I thought I’d never even get to meet, let alone get to work with. I’ve had the opportunity to play in cities all around the world and connect with fans at huge gigs supporting some of my idols like Shania Twain and Clare Bowen. I’m so proud of these experiences, and I think 10-year-old me would have been super excited too.
TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Clark: I don’t think I would. I think a big part of the magic of life is that you don’t know. You don’t know where you’re going or who you’ll meet and when, and how that will change your life in the long run. Five years ago, I sat in my favorite venue, the Enmore Theatre in Sydney, and fell in love with Jenny Lewis’ music for the first time. She was playing her song Acid Tongue, and singing and playing guitar beside her was Mike Bloom. As I sat in that theatre drooling over the stunning harmonies the band were providing, I had no clue that five years on, I’d be working with Mike in the studio. For me, the thrill is in the surprise and the unexpectedness of it all; in my career but also in life in general. If you know where you’re going to end up, the journey isn’t quite as fun. I’m sure as hell excited to find out as it comes, though.
Clark’s latest EP, Making Of Me, is due August 21.