The Lightness and The Dark: Jess Ribeiro’s musings

Image by Georgia Wallace.

Within 10 minutes of meeting Jess Ribeiro, I had scrapped a somewhat offbeat question about her idiosyncratic stage persona. By this far in our conversation, it is clear that her simultaneously charismatically and self-deprecating stage persona is no act, in person, she is a self-professed deadpan larrikin who within a breath will talk about hard things followed closely by a cheeky joke. My comment about her obvious sense of humour onstage, she barely blinks as she dryly responds.

“Good, because I am aspiring to be a comedian”.

Describing our conversation as an interview feels inaccurate as the curious Jess seemed to be just as interested in me as she does about talking about her third studio album LOVE HATE. On hearing my dreams of being a tour manager, she exclaims that it would be great to have a tour manager for the upcoming album tour and we are back on track.

Jess: I am putting get awesome couple of bands to tour with so it’s just a big party…I love touring! It’s really hard in Australia because we are so limited, it’s so hard to get around. But I guess I have done a lot of touring in remote locations especially in the Northern Territory – we’d go to Alice Springs, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Tanami Desert. That was one of the advantages of living in a remote place, you got to all these places that you would never go to. How many people do you know that have been to the Tanami Desert and been to the mines?

This was such a long time ago but the tour manager said ‘you gotta go play in the mines’ and we said ‘we’re not into mines, we don’t support mining in Australia.’ But she said ‘you are going’ and it was one of the most educational experiences. There are a lot of similarities between a detention centre and a mine, it is very interesting from a psychological perspective particularly in regards to how they house people. They are like these Mad Max cities though, within the desert, they have cinemas, pubs, bars and little shops and they sleep in little bunkhouses.

Jess is full of these amazing stories and she explains the shifts in her musical sound in context of her relocations around the country and times spent overseas. She rattles off her geographical history to give me some context; after growing up in Armadale (which features in her ‘Stranger’ music video), she studied Jazz in Brisbane and then moved Melbourne to study Steiner education. She then moved to the Northern Territory, studying teaching and playing music there. This explains some of the country twang that I note in her earlier musical output.

Jess: It’s being influenced by different environments, so in Darwin I was in alot of great expansive and very remote locations, you’d have the vast desert and you would have the humid tropical climates.

Also living in the Northern Territory in my early 20s, it’s like I missed out on the kind of pop culture so to speak. I left Melbourne and lived on and off in the NT for 5 or so years. So I really had a different experience to a lot of my peers. I didn’t know who Eddy Current Suppression Ring were or any cool bands but I was surrounded by a lot of other influences especially Indigenous music and local music. It’s a different world up there in comparison to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

I think environment influences me a lot, so this album was influenced by the people that I was around and the location and settings which to begin with, was in Dave Mudie’s shed in Carlton. That’s very different to being out bush.

Watch: Stranger by Jess Ribeiro.

Jess is surprised when I suggest that this album appears more upbeat sounding and higher scale of production, opposed to the rawer and more personal 2015 album, Kill It Yourself.

Jess: Maybe I have a melancholy composition, maybe I am just a little bit aloof and sentimental?… When I decided to make this record I wanted to make something a bit more upbeat. Dave (Mudie) and Jade (McInally) are naturally really positive, light people and loving and fun! I thought you know, this can be fun even though I was going through a really hard time when we made it. So let’s just make it fun…but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a lot of depth to it or authenticity to it. We made it really quickly, within 10 days and then I came back to Melbourne and entered a dark night of the soul…

She talks candidly about a number of tragic losses that occurred over the next 18 months which put a pause on the album while also affecting the look and aesthetic of the artwork -which is more performative and glossily designed.

Jess: Originally I had different artwork, it was darker. This has been a different experience because this time I had a manager and a bigger team of people to work with. So you are correct in seeing that Kill It Yourself was more personal while this is something else…

I feel quite uncomfortable about that (performance) actually… That’s something that I have to work on. It’s like can’t I just be myself? I mean I am always myself wherever I go but it’s been different this time. So I just have to figure out…I just have to keep making stuff and be genuine about it.

Soon, we are talking more specifically about the sweeping subject matter that must be contained in an album so grandly named LOVE HATE. As I begin to ask whether she was inspired by the idea of seven stages of love as written in the press information, she is quick to correct me.

Jess: It’s the twelve stages of love… You bloody tell someone one thing and they use it for everything! But I am really into Carl Jung and archetypes because of my anthroposophical background as a Steiner teacher and I was looking into how everyone talks about the stages of grief. I thought ‘what about the stages of love?’ In Arabic literature, they say there are between 7 to 12 stages of love and they are very poetic – things translated into English probably don’t do any justice to these particular stages. All of them have a lightness and a darkness to them. You can’t have the lightness without the dark, you can’t have sorrow without joy, you know. In French literature, they have the stages of love; you are infatuated by someone you don’t know and then you get to know them and then you become addicted to them and it either, dies or it transcends. There is a lot of pain in being in love whether it is, not just you know, an intimate sexual relationship with someone or whether they are your friends.

In the making of this album, it seems Jess felt painful stings from all types of love, especially the end of a very important intimate relationship.

Jess: There is an element of humour to the record, like ‘Crybaby’ before a number of my friends died because I had split up with a long term person who I thought I would probably, you know end up getting married to and having some kind of conventional life and having to come to terms with reality. I was realising, oh I think I am a bit sad and realising how ridiculous I was in that sadness and you know moping about…like fuck, come on keep going.

There is an element of humour to the record, like ‘Crybaby’ before a number of my friends died because I had split up with a long term person who I thought I would probably, you know end up getting married to and having some kind of conventional life and having to come to terms with reality. I was realising, oh I think I am a bit sad and realising how ridiculous I was in that sadness and you know moping about…like fuck, come on keep going.

After Kill It Yourself, Mick Harvey [producer] and his wife let me go and stay at their house in Berlin for a few months and that was the start of the new album. While I was there I was trying to choose which path do I go down? Do I go home, marry this person and have kids? A lot of the the songs started there. I guess it was close to the end of something and start of something else. I had a lot of desire while I was over there. I started looking at chairs, being like oh god…I like having sex on chairs.

Watch: Chair Stare by Jess Ribeiro.

Anyway the rationale behind the album is I did a lot of reflection at the end of the relationship, and I thought about the phases that we went through and that I went through and a lot of it is unconscious stuff like ‘Young Love’. I saw some kids on the street at a tram stop and they were just entwined with one another and I remembered what it was like to feel in love for the first time and how serious it was and how much I believed in it. I looked at them and they are so sincere and they are so serious and it needs to be respected and those huge feelings.

Between tracks, there’s a series of 3 interlude-like vignettes. But in the grand scheme of the album, what role did they play?

Jess: Those three vignettes are all in the same key and tempo with different production primarily so I could get some people to make dance remixes and cut them up! On my last record, Mikey Young did a remix of ‘Hurry Back to Love’ so when I wrote this I was like ‘I am gonna get him to make one big megamix out of all these vignettes’ so that was like a kind of a structural element of it I guess. I really like dance remixes, like I remember when I was a teenager and you would buy a single and there would always be a dance remix of the song and originally because all of those vignettes, they go for up to 10 minutes. They all have big rants but they didn’t make it on the album. I wanted to offer the stems to people to remix, to whoever wanted too.

I comment that this is different from the answer I had expected and she goes on to explain that the songs have more depth then she is making out.

Jess: I wrote ‘Spirit in White’ when I found out that Lou Reed died, I just imagined an angel taking him away. I had more of them, they were all inspired by 60s music Dusty Springfield, Nancy SinatraVelvet Underground. The music that was part of my childhood. I always find myself making up ditties, so that’s part of it

As a final aside, I praise her recent mini tour on Record Store Day in which she played at four different stores which she was characteristically apprehensive to do but she really enjoyed.

Jess: It was fantastic, about connecting with the community. Like I played at Rocksteady Records and I get really anxious when I have to play solo. I always remember afterwards that it’s a really intimate experience and opportunity for me to tell stories and to give people something that I don’t give them at a live show with a band and it’s really great.

While the promotion continues and LOVE HATE receives widespread praise, Jess Ribeiro is evidently filled with a creative restlessness which transcends the music industry activity involved with the album cycle.

“Anyway, the next thing is the album tour. I don’t know what we do until then… Make another album?!”


Thu 11 – Sun 14 July – Bello Winter Music, Bellingen
Fri 12 July – The Bearded Lady, Brisbane
Thu 18 July – The Oxford Arts Factory Sydney
Fri 19 July – Frank’s Wild Years, Thirroul
Fri 26 July – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
Sat 27 July – Grace Emily Hotel, Adelaide
Fri 2 August – Rye Hotel, Rye

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