There’s something extremely cathartic about the beach at night. Walking for hours with the landscape tinged blue by the moon, little in the air but wind and wave. As the sun creeps across the horizon your nose begins to fill with the smell of salt and sand, the sulfur of decaying fish tempered by the sweetness of red-eyed wattle.
You’ll have to forgive us for being wistful, we’ve had Jack River’s Highway Songs No. 2 on repeat for days and with it comes this strong sensory wave that can’t help but surface memories of the shore. We’ve written before about the power music has to invoke emotion, in more academic terms,the cross modal transfer of emotion by music. It’s an ability Jack River, otherwise known as Holly Rankin, wields in spades and it’s a skill that’s sure to carry her far into the national music conversation and beyond.
Growing up in Forster, NSW it’s no wonder Rankin has an affinity for sand and surf. What impresses us most is how that natural affinity extends beyond the peace and solitude of small town living. With the transition to Sydney, her skill at conveying emotion extends beyond the shoreline into more personal domains, something we’re excited to watch grow as the years move on.
“Living in Forster there was always time and space to do things. In Sydney, there is little space and less time. I live in a room that’s like two by three metres, and I live with half a dozen people. Things become obvious really quickly when there are lots of people and walls around – emotions are amplified quickly which is good for writing songs, or at least knowing when I need to write.”
That environment has clearly done nothing to quell the evocative nature of Rankin’s work. One of the first songs to come out of her city experience, ‘Talk Like That’ carries the heavy scent of tarmac as the saw-tooth buzz kicks in and spills over, filling your world with a rich, amber noise. Constructed after walking around Sydney streets in the early morning, Rankin describes the moment of “feeling the song”, and actualising it the instant she hit home.
“I kind of write songs from an experience (an overwhelming one that forces me to write a song). But as soon as that initial big bang happens, if the song is strong enough, my whole imagination goes into experience re-creation mode. I get really obsessed with researching the feeling that sparked the song and all the aspects of it, and then I get obsessed with translating that into production, and creating my own special version of that feeling, whatever it is.”
It does seem like a genuinely natural process for the young songwriter, not to discredit the effort she clearly puts in. Pursuing an artistic career is by no means easy, and it’s a credit to her skill and energy the success she’s already starting to see. We commonly find the hardest barrier, at least for young emerging talent, is fitting their skill into the established troughs of the industry, and we’re curious as to Rankin’s experience with this.
“I have these great worlds in my head, and it’s a constant challenge to tame them back down to reality. So, vision would be the greatest barrier. Hopefully it turns out to be a gate instead.”
The world Rankin’s built with Highway Songs is one that resonates with many of us here at The Wandering Lamb, helped in no small part by her consistent ability to perceive the more complicated aspects of feeling. In particular there’s a strong feeling of physical isolation, both in the geographical sense through ‘Palo Alto’, or the more personal sense shown through ‘Dream Girl’. Part of that likely stems from the small-town upbringing, but the careful and considered nature of Rankin as an artist also likely plays a factor.
“I think the biggest lesson [from the making of Highway Songs] is trusting my instinct and acting on it fast. The ‘industry’ is very tough, and you have to make decisions quickly in order to keep finding the right place to be in. I’ve learnt to face reality quickly and wrangle honesty out of people whenever possible, and avoid sugar coating at all costs. But all this can kinda just come down to instinct and trusting it.”
Honesty and sincerity are such important aspects of art, and more broadly of being a decent human being. When people can trust that the art is an honest reflection of the artist they’re more engaged in what you do, which creates a much healthier cycle of production and consumption (to put it in slightly more mechanical terms). When you have an artist as skilled as Rankin at drawing out and eliciting specific emotions and you back it up with integrity, you know you’re onto something good. With the increasingly overwhelming amount of talent rearing its head, it takes a certain spark to stand out in the way we’ve seen with Holly Rankin and the Jack River band. We here at The Wandering Lamb are more than happy to put our weight behind her and we eagerly look forward to watching her grow.