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Interview: Jen Cloher

Jen Cloher

Being a label manager at Milk! Records and working with artists like Fraser A Gorman and Courtney Barnett would be a busy enough time for most people, but not Jen Cloher. Herself a musician, she’s heading to the Barunga Festival in region Northern Territory to perform with a huge range of artists in June. We caught up for a chat about the festival, acting, and how she used to sneak away from classes at NIDA.

Barunga Festival gets its name from the community that its held in, which is 70kms south east of Katherine, what do you think it will be like to hold a festival in such a remote area?

Thats a good question. I’ve not been to the festival before, but from what I can gather, it’s been going for at least 20 to 25 years, so it’s a very established festival that we’re walking into. Talking to other friends who have played there, it is predominantly indigenous culture and communities, which I think is really cool. So its very strong within its own community, which I think is the exciting thing to walk into.

The festival is billed as a ‘cultural exchange’, what would you hope to learn and what would you hope to teach while you’re there?

It’s an interesting one because it’s very hard to know what you’re going to have to teach until you get into the situation. Rather than teaching anyone anything, I think it’s just that – an exchange of ideas and collaboration – and I’m more interested in turning up and listening and learning. I think the best contribution I could make is to listen.

How do you feel the festival will foster and encourage of music and the arts in indigenous communities?

I guess that a well attended festival is an opportunity for an artists to perform in front of an audience and find a new audience. I think a well-run festival like Burunga is a great opportunity for discovery.

How do you feel that the festival will live up to this year’s theme, ‘Celebrating Women’?

It’s really putting the spotlight onto female performers. Obviously there will be a lot of men and women performing there. It’s always a good thing to encourage women to take the spotlight and headline. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about women in festivals and how not many women are performing at festivals all over the world. It’s still a very male-dominated industry. I don’t know all the direct reasons for that, it’s not an area that I’m an expert in. I think Burunga’s choice to put women as the main headliners is a step in the right direction towards gender equality and just making sure that there is balance.

You studied at and graduated from NIDA, what led you away from acting to making music?

Music was always there as an interest, and while I was at NIDA I bought my first second-hand guitar. I would slowly teach myself a few chords and I would sort of sneak off and cut classes and go to play my guitar instead, so when I was at NIDA, I had a very keen interest in making music. When I graduated, I was still very young, about 21 or 22, and I think for me it was just trying a whole heap of new things. I think that whether its writing your own music, forming a band, making a record or putting on your own shows, I really love that proactive DIY side to being a musician, and I think that’s what drew me there in the end.

Does acting still have a special place in your heart, and could you see yourself returning to it later on?

For sure! Particularly theatre. I love live performance more than I think I would like being in front of a camera. I do love going and seeing theatre and I would definitely consider going and doing theatre again, In a sense, I think that being a musician and performing live is its own kind of theatre, theres a stage and lights. You’re just communicating through singing and lyrics. Its a slightly different kind of performance.

Milk! Records have had an absolutely mammoth couple of years, how has it been adjusting to the huge success with the international touring and TV spot?

Obviously having Courtney [Barnett] on the label has drawn attention to Milk! Records and we seized that opportunity to do as much as we could to keep the focus. We’ve worked really hard to make sure that we can meet the demand both online, with our store and also getting out and playing a lot of live shows. We had a big Milk! Records east coast tour earlier this year with about six of the bands. I think there was about 20 people driving around in an old school bus. It’s a real opportunity and we’ve just seized it and we’ve done as much as we can while people are interested.

Check out the video for Jen’s single Needle in the Hay and more info on Burunga Festival below!

Barunga Festival 2016

Barunga Community, NT

Get Tickets HERE

Written by Max Higgins