Interview: Jeremy Neale pushes through the rat race with sophomore solo album We Were Trying To Make It Out?

Balancing upon a pair of crutches, Jeremy Neale hobbled down Brisbane’s Brunswick Street towards the city’s iconic Ric’s Bar.

The Brisbane singer-songwriter had just played Sydney to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his 12-piece supergroup Velociraptor, but the excitement of the show has now left him with a leg tightly wrapped in bandages.

“It was in the last song of the Velociraptor set. We played ‘Ramona’ and it was really pumping in the crowd, so I decided to join the crowd, jumped down with them. But then, you know, in the ruckus I lost my footing and twisted my knee and dislocated it,” he laughs.

Since emerging from the Brisbane indie music scene with Velociraptor, Neale has shown his dedication to his craft and his hometown. He’s kept active with music gigs, hosting music trivia at local venue The Triffid, DJing weddings as Bris Springsteen, and his day job of teaching music to sick kids. However, his true love is still music, and his love burns bright with his new album We Were Trying To Make It Out.

Neale’s debut solo album, Getting The Team Back Together, proved a success, gaining acclaim for his craft for short, sharp pop songs. The first step in his music journey when that album made him the recipient of QMusic’s Grant McLennan Fellowship, named in honour of the late Go-Betweens singer-songwriter. The Fellowship offered Neale the chance to travel to New York to further develop his songwriting through a two-week masterclass intensive at New York University, and gave him perspective on his life.

“It was fantastic, man,” he smiles. “The best thing was the whole crew running the intensive were very experienced songwriters who have careers spanning 30-40 years. And then I made a bunch of friends doing that, so I had a lot of good music-industry connections. I was in my own space writing all the time or just resetting in a lot of ways, too. It’s a real hustle, and when you get away from that you can see your life from a birds-eye perspective, and you can see your writing and your music and what you want to do. It all just became very clear over there.”

Upon returning, Neale brought his new songs to The Plutonium, a Brisbane recording studio owned by local band The John Steele Singers. The songs were developed and recorded with what Neale calls his “award-winning combo”: producers George Browning (Babaganouj, Velociraptor), Aidan Hogg (Jaguar Jonze, WAAX, Hatchie) and Josh Coxon (Simi Lacroix, These Guy). Together, the team has made an album that flows and is cohesive like those of influences Prefab Sprout and Spandau Ballet, but the lyrics beneath the strong power-pop hooks all share a common theme. “There is a strong theme throughout it,” Neale says, “and it’s about how brutal it is to be in the working class.”

The desire to rise out of financial insecurity and survive the modern age drive the lyrics across the album. The album’s first single, ‘Everything I Do Is Replaced By Two’, reflects the overwhelming exhaustion of Neale following his dream of playing music while trying to keep on top of the rest of his life.

“You’re never free of a list,” he says. “As soon as you clear it out, you’re like, ‘Flip a page for tomorrow, what else have I got to do? Oh, a million more things’. You can’t just not do anything today because it’s there twice as big tomorrow. All you can do is clear out as much of it as you can to maintain and keep your head just above water, but it’s all you can really do.”

“There’s very dramatic imagery in there,” Neale says of the album. Song titles such as ‘The Strength To Carry’ and the title track show his desperation to climb out of the never-ending hand-to-mouth existence millennials have to face every day. “It’s like, ‘If I just do this next big thing, then maybe I can relax. Maybe I can stop butchering myself. Maybe I’ll work hard at this job for a while and maybe I’ll have enough money to take a holiday or maybe I’ll feel secure and safe for once’. It’s supposed to be: if you work hard enough you’re supposed to be able to get out, but you can’t if you’re in the working class. You hope to get your ‘Dance Monkey’ and you get out,” he laughs, referencing the Tones And I mega-hit.

Far from disheartened, Jeremy Neale isn’t down for the count. Alongside We Were Trying To Make It Out, Neale has co-written the upcoming anti-capitalist musical Absolute Objectivity, and has regrouped Velociraptor for a new album to be released this year. It’s a heavy workload, but Neale’s spirits are as high as he hopes those of listeners are when they hear his new album.

“As time goes on, you get a bit more comfortable saying what you want to say, and you want your music to say something. What I want to say is that I’m experiencing this, and if you’re experiencing it too then I hear you and you have nothing but empathy from me. I’ve been guilty in the past of writing very, I don’t want to say vapid, but not as lyrically dense songs. So, I just wanted to write something that’s real, and if it’s real to me, it’s real to other people because I’m not that unique that no one else is going through the same experiences as me.”

We Were Trying To Make It Out is out now.

Catch Jeremy Neale’s record store performances:

28 February | Jet Black Cat | Brisbane, QLD

5 March | Red Eye Records | Sydney, NSW

19 March | Summertown Studios | Adelaide, SA

20 March | Rocksteady Records | Melbourne, VIC

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