Joni in the Moon (Perth) on WAM fest, the importance of local support, recognition, and future plans

Mesmerising Perth artist Joni in the Moon took some time out to chat the AU review’s Larry Heath at length while at WAM Festival earlier this month, reflecting on the local music scene in Perth, the importance of community, the fear that comes with recording, and more. Check out the full transcript below.

You’ve done WAM fest before, what kind of weekend does this mean does this mean for the Perth scene?

We’ve got a pretty tight knit community here, so getting everybody in the same place is pretty cool, you get to hang out with all your mates, who are in other bands, and enjoy their music for a short period of time. So I think it’s a pretty big deal because it’s a really big community. We are fairly tight knit, it’s really cool. I love it.

That said, you’ve got 80 or so bands performing, it’s certainly nothing to be reductive about. One thing that struck me, is the first time I came over here in 2010 for WAM, I’ve said it then and I’ve said it ever since, is that there’s an eclectic nature, and this scene has always been incredible. You asked me before, how does this cities music scene compare to others and that really is the most interesting point, you’ve got a real melting pot of genres. Obviously Tame Impala have created a scene that’s perceived by the international community, but when you come here, there is no sound. That’s my perception of it. How do you perceive the scene to be, in the way it treats different types of music?

I think the genre blending stuff might be about our isolation, a lot of people use that word to try and describe how something like that could happen. We don’t have a lot of interaction with a lot of other closer cities, like you might get on the east coast. It’s been like that for quite a while, there’s more freedom, you see other people pushing the boundaries, just feels like there’s more freedom to go to those places. I see bands like KUČKA doing really interesting stuff with her production and as a woman as well, doing it all on her own, it’s pretty inspiring and really good. I feel really proud to be apart of it. We do have something really cool going on here. I’m glad that you recognise it.

Let’s talk about your music, I guess for starters where do you see yourself as fitting in the Perth scene?

I’m just doing my thing. I’m really lucky that people have embraced us as they have but a lot of that has to do with just making friends with the other musos. A lot of other women in particular that have really paved the way for somebody like me to have come up through the cracks, like Abby May, Katey Still, Ruby Boots and Felicity Groom. I’m a single mum and so I never thought that this could be a possible career for me until i saw other women going out and doing it. It is that mutually supportive thing that helps me to do it. In terms of where I fit in musically, I’m not sure, I’m just doing my thing and saying ‘hey what do you reckon about this?’

That’s a testament to the local community. When it comes to the sort of music you’re creating, tell me a little about the direction you’ve ended up going. it’s mixing in a whole heap of genres, it’d be easy to call it electro-pop but it isn’t really. It’d be easy to call it indie-rock but you couldn’t really call it that either, there’s a lot going on. I know you’ve cited Bjork as an influence, and there are elements of that. Seeing you this week reminded me of the first time I saw Sia, many years ago, just in terms of the energy and the eclectic sound. And having a great band behind you, as well, not every artist gets the opportunity to show themselves off with a great band behind them. Tell me a little about how you developed your sound?

I started getting into music in a really fanatical way to artists like Bjork and Kate Bush — all of these really strange and crazy women that were making music and experimenting a lot with sound. I get a really big buzz from things that sound a little bit different or are a little bit off centre. I really like weirdos and strange people and magical people, they’re my kind of people, that’s how I view myself as well. Seeing artists that are trying to make pop outside of the box and offering people something a little bit quirky and strange, that really turns me on.

Joni in Perth – Photo: Larry Heath

So I think coming from that place and I’m really lucky I get to work with such an incredible producer, who is also my brother Josh, who is a complete sound nerd and has just collected a cacophony of different samples and sounds over the last 20 or so years. Especially being a percussionist, a lot of world samples and sounds, being able to bounce off him in terms of trying to put my skeleton of pop songs into other realms of sound, that’s what I’m seeking. That’s what I seek when I listen to music. A lot of the time it is just me sitting down at my harmonium, my little push pedal harmonium at home, and just channeling the source and just letting it come through me. And then turning it over to other people that I trust that are going to be able to make it sound spectacular and magic.

So the harmonium is the origin for a lot of these songs?

Yeah it is. Especially for our next cycle. I’m obsessed with it actually, it’s my baby. It brings lovely things out of me and because it is an organic and acoustic instrument, you can be quite malleable with how much air you’re pushing though the bellows. It’s a keyboard read instrument, each note is its own little read, like an accordion I guess, but it’s like a little upright keyboard. It’s different and weird and strange and we have a beautiful relationship. We make pretty lovely music babies together.

You mentioned working with your brother, was that how the project started?

Yeah definitely, and he pushed me into it because I had just become a single mum, I hadn’t touched music for about eight years. I’d been writing but I didn’t really have any sense of direction. I didn’t know I wanted to take it further, I was very fearful, fearful of putting it out there. He took some of my songs and he made his little bits of magic with them and then all of a sudden it became this possibility; so he’s a massive part of me doing it. I love sharing the journey with him, I trust him implicitly with my music. I think it’s the same for him; it’s sort of like 2+2=5 with us. We’re happy to keep going at it that way.

The band I saw on stage with you, did they also work on the recording with you?

Not the recordings so far, our keyboard player, Terra John, she was up for the WAM for best keys as well, cause she’s just an incredible musician. Apart from being a really close friend of mine, we play a lot of duo shows, she’s arranged a lot of our music to just keys and voices and we play those shows a lot. It’s just something a little bit more different and little bit more low key. So she’s had a little bit to do with how I arrange my skeleton piano into something a little bit more depth, like in terms of the skill, musically. It mostly has just been me and Josh. Terra just because she’s just freaking awesome. She’s also just a really good friend of mine. And Josh has worked with our percussionist Steve. They share the same studio space, as percussionists in Fremantle, they went to uni together, they studied percussion together, so they’ve been working together for ages. So I think we just lucked out. I’ve just got some amazing friends and they all just love making music with me and it’s awesome.

You mentioned there was an element of fear that kept you from making the music that you were going to put out to the world. What was that like when you first created a piece that you put out to the world? Was there a sense of relief?

Yes, but it was petrifying, absolutely petrifying. I’m not afraid to admit that. I was very afraid at the time. I was a very anxious person back then, I was struggling with a lot of anxiety just in general. It takes a little bit of time and practice to trust yourself and back yourself. As much as you don’t want to be relying on how other people are responding to the art that you’re making, it gives you a sense of purpose if people like it, you think, ‘well okay I can keep giving this to them.’ You can get a sense of purpose out of it anyway. I’m really happy that it’s turning out in the way that it is, people want us to keep making music and keep playing — it’s cool.

You won the WAM award for best female vocalist for the year, or something to that extent which was proudly presented by us at the AU Review. Congratulations on the award. It must be things like that that keep you moving forward and working.

Recognition of course it’s awesome. It’s really awesome. I think I more view it as a tool to raise our profile a little bit, I know that sounds really business-ey and a little bit sterile but it is how I approach it. I don’t genuinely think I am the best female vocalist out there at the moment, awards systems like that are, I bring up the reductive thing again, whilst it’s amazing to be recognised, there’s just not enough spectrum to give everybody who deserves recognition.

For now it’s yours.

But it is mine! It is mine and I’m happy. I was very surprised as well. It’s quite cool, to be honest I don’t quite know how to deal with it, but it’s definitely a good thing.

And looking into the future what’s coming up for you?

We’re about to drop this single, it’s just been premiered, I feel very confident about it, I’m very excited to show people what we’ve been doing and where we are going to do with the album. We’ve just finished up and it went really well! And we’re going to be making an album and pressing it to vinyl. We’ve got a few festivals and then we’re just going to be in the studio finishing the album and getting creative. It’s going to be released in April. We will probably do a national tour mid next year, hopefully, if things go well.

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