One of the greatest thrills of Bluesfest is the unlikely collaborations between artists in the onstage performances. Australian singer/songwriters Jen Cloher, Liz Stringer and Mia Dyson have teamed up to present a very special three-woman show – something they’ve been touring for a few months now. Seven spoke with Jen Cloher.
What was the inspiration for the collaboration? I’ve always been a huge fan of Mia and Liz as songwriters and musicians. One morning I woke up with the idea of 40 shows in 40 nights – a slightly biblical number, I realise. Over the day I thought about who I’d most like to play 40 shows with in 40 nights and Mia and Liz were at the top of my list. I emailed them that day and by the following morning they had confirmed they were in. Then came the next two years of planning, organising funding, co-ordinating individual schedules etcetera until we finally hit the road in August last year. We did 35 dates over about two months – a bit more realistic and manageable than my original idea.
What are the strengths that you all individually bring to the table? The main thing is having three different perspectives; you can bounce ideas around rather than having to rely solely on yourself. Individually though I would say that Mia brings the number-crunching skills to the table; Liz is great at co-ordinating our band and locking in tour logistics; and I’m good at keeping the social media side of things rolling along. Musically – Liz is the queen of harmonies and can work out three-part harmonies on the spot; Mia is great at working out guitar parts and arrangements; and I’m great at playing tambourine.
Years ago I read a book called Anything She Can Do, I Can Do Better – by feminist author Rachel Oakes-Nash – it investigated female competition and how it undermines women’s self-worth. In your experience, do you feel that the mainstream music industry sets women up against each other as competitors rather than collaborators? Perhaps. I think more than anything the media have a tendency to heap women songwriters together as a ‘genre’, which I find lazy. Who cares about the media anyhow (present company excluded)? All three of us have built careers through playing live and releasing the best music we can make. Our connection to our fans, the people who continue to make it possible for us to have a career, is the relationship we nurture. My experience of the independent music community has been supportive. We all know how hard it is to have a sustainable career when you’re self-funding and releasing, so we respect and support each other. Coming together as Dyson, Stringer and Cloher is another example of that community spirit.
What is it that you love best about the songwriting of Mia Dyson? It’s powerful, robust and full of heart.
What about Liz Stringer? Liz is an incredible storyteller and a natural musician.
How do you complement each other? We are all very different as songwriters and performers but for all of us the song is the most important thing. The strength of our songwriting makes for a powerful hour of music.
I imagine touring can be a very solitary and often isolating experience. What is it like having Mia and Liz along? What do you get up to off stage? Do you eat toast? Write songs? Stay up drinking wine? Do yoga? We cook meals together whenever we can; we all love good food. We also get excited when an old Meryl Streep movie is on the telly in our hotel room. And Mia lives for chocolate, which rubs off on Liz and me.
How do you craft a song with three songwriters on board? Essentially one of us will write a song and take it to the others. It’s at that point that the collaboration begins – we’ll suggest arrangements, play with different tempos, try harmony parts – things usually find their way pretty quickly, which I think has a lot to do with having known each other for more than ten years now.
What should we expect for your Bluesfest show? It’s a rock ’n’ roll show. People seem to think we’ll be there with our acoustic guitars singing pretty harmonies but once we’re onstage together we tear it up. I think people walk away surprised by how much we like to play rock ’n’ roll.
(Jen Cloher’s new album In Blood Memory just made the final shortlist for the Australian Music Prize.) Cloher, Dyson and Stringer at Bluesfest this Easter.
Visit bluesfest.com.au for tickets and info.
Find this and many other great gigs in Echonetdaily’s North Coast Gig Guide.