With every song you write, and with every experience that you have, it all brings you closer to identifying what it is that you really want to do
I saw Sir Jude play a set at the Listen Up Songwriting Competition, and I was pretty blown away by her ability to command the stage with such vulnerable but powerful songs. I was interested in hearing a little about her journey, and how she and her electric songs have developed over time. We sat down at Manchester Press and jumped right in chatting about the integrity found in being honest, the emotional turmoil the music industry can bring, and how hot Dua Lipa is.
Music tends to tie together two different identities; this business savvy hustle brain, and this extremely vulnerable creative self which can often need validation and support. How have you found navigating those two thought processes?
You’re always going to wear two hats, which is something I was lucky enough to have been immersed in at a very young age, and it’s something that became a kind of second nature to me. However, I never separated the two, and only now am I coming to the point of realising I might not have to wear both hats every single day.
When you do music, or any other creative pursuit, it’s almost like you’re not wired to do both, and when you can alleviate that burden then you’ll flourish, as long as they are the right people around you
I’ve seen plenty of people get swayed or distracted from what it’s really about, it’s so easy to!
I think a lot of people aren’t expecting to get swept up in success, so when they get that success, they don’t really know what to do with it. I think that’s why when people can face that head-on and be really clear-minded it’s so inspiring
And people will say that because they went through the hard yards and struggled, that means you have to also struggle to make it, and there’s no helping hand reaching out to people. Everyone grows together and it matters to help along the way
Especially in Australia, you can only benefit yourself with that sense of support. It can be challenging to notice when you fall back on this ‘I had to struggle and you have to as well’ mentality that brings everyone down. We all just want to create and there’s no need for that kind of hostility. If people were kinder and more supportive then everyone grows and benefits
Sometimes it feels like a community and other times it’s every man for themselves. It’s debilitating at times, you could be working just as hard as everyone else. You have to find that balance and a safe space within yourself that doesn’t rely on that kind of validation from other people
It can be hard to approach things with a community mindset when there is a need to be business savvy, so having people help you with that can be really important
I think that was something I definitely felt for a while, I did my own thing for a couple of years and came back here realising I didn’t really know anyone
Do you feel more on top of it at the moment?
I’d be lying if I said I was 100% happy! I do feel that I’m at a place where I haven’t restarted, but I’ve had to ‘rebrand’ my brain- what do I need, what do I not need, where do I want to be, what’s my 6 month plan, what’s my one year plan, what’s my 18 month plan, who can I trust around me, who is supporting me, who am I supporting. A lot of that has come with working with friends, and seeking advice from mentors and people who understand me and what I’m trying to achieve, and what’s important is that we all have a common goal
People who have your best interest
Yeah, and with those who aren’t aligned with it, learning to say like thanks but no thanks! And that’s okay, it’s okay to say that. I’m not Lorde or Lady Gaga, but something I’ve come to learn is that no matter where you’re at, it’s always okay to say no- you don’t have to do anything that doesn’t align with your values, or if you don’t have the emotional energy for it that day. I felt a lot happier when I prioritised what I was comfortable doing. That being said, you have to listen to others and not become too much of a control freak, but it’s bigger than that…
And there’s so much pressure when you’re starting out to just take every opportunity and say yes to everything, and in some ways, it can become unrealistic to be able to stay true to your vision when you do just say yes to everything that comes along
It’s okay to say no to things you aren’t that interested in representing. There are a lot of people who preach the whole ‘seize the opportunity’, ‘it’s all about the hustle’, ‘do do do do do’, which can be fine, but guilt can sometimes become attached- like if you’re not doing that then you’re not working hard enough. That’s something I’ve definitely suffered from. I can never really reach my own expectations….
And it can feel like it doesn’t matter what you do because when you take that time to rest you just end up feeling guilty. You can’t win! If you’re in the mindset where you have to do in order to be happy with where you are, you won’t ever be happy
I think the term ‘living and breathing what you do’- like I definitely have music within every fibre of my being, and it’s what I am all about entirely- but it isn’t about literally living and breathing it. You need to give yourself time- I’m still learning what that looks like
And being focused doesn’t equal being exhausted all the time
It doesn’t mean you can’t hang out with your friends, or just enjoy life. The same rules can’t apply to everyone- we’re all on different timelines with our success. Some people have a song go viral overnight, and others work for 10 years and study medicine at the same time before getting their first gig.
You can’t give them the same advice. And not everyone’s advice is going to help you either
Yeah, personally and musically!
When you’re writing a song, how do you make sure that your authentic voice is being communicated?
I try to not think about it. I know I have a lot of growing to do, but I used to write songs with the absolute intention of making it sound poppy or ‘consumer-friendly’, but I try not to think so hard about that anymore. It’s important to write and write until something clicks and it says what you want it to say. If it turns out that it is a ‘consumer-friendly’ pop song, then so be it
Getting to that place is pretty vital so you can feel satisfied with what you’re making- so you don’t look at it and wish it was something else
I felt like I had a lot of people around me telling me what music I should be making in order to ‘make it’, and I felt like I just didn’t believe in what I was making. I was hiding the things that I felt like I really connected with, but it didn’t really fit this ‘criteria’, but now I just don’t think about it as much!
Do you feel like you’ve found that sound you were waiting for?
Yeah, 100%, and I can kind of see where it’s moving and where it’s going
What does that development look like- where is it now and where is it going?
Genre-wise, I’ve always kind of identified my music with cinematic pop, with a bit of a grunge flare. My all-time goal is to work on a James Bond film. Some of the music I’m holding onto is a little more bold, and the soundscape is a bit of a different direction in general- using more vintage synths and playing with interesting instruments
So you have a real hand in your music from a production standpoint, are you the main producer?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. ‘Like You Mean It’ started with me, I set up the soundscape and the body of it before collaborating with a composer friend of mine. It was really important for me to have a composer work on that one- it needed this film element to it, which isn’t necessarily going to be natural sensibility for a producer who keeps within the realms of pop..
It can be a totally different brain! It’s all music but a composer and a producer are totally different things
Yeah, and I felt like I was able to communicate some of my more vague ideas with the composer and they understood it- I want the second verse to feel like Bladerunner 2049– so we had this pulsing synth that’s at a different cadence to the first verse because I wanted it to feel like Bladerunner! The structure really developed as well for that song. I originally planned for it to be more of an interlude, but my composer friend, Evan McHugh, helped me see how much potential it had as a pop song, which I guess is an example of knowing when it’s necessary to take on other people’s advice. I don’t do everything myself, I can’t! It’s silly of people to expect that of you…
Absolutely, and it’s okay to get other people on board. There’s a pressure to do everything yourself. It’s good to have a hand in the production because it can open up your perspective on songwriting
The crux of the songwriting is your values, and the production can give an identity and dimension to that. When I listen to artists like FKA Twigs, Imogen Heap, and BANKS- those three women have such a defined style and you know when it’s them. When you dive into their music there are just so many layers…
It’s so inspiring when a musician makes that effort in that way, and their music becomes this puzzle with so much in it. That can also expose insecurity in your own music, and can make you feel like every element needs to be super interesting and intricate and something that can be injected with feeling- when really that comes down to the listener. We can point out something that feels so amazing and perfect in a song, that the artist or producer themselves thinks could have used more tweaking- it can end up being pretty subjective
Everyone consumes music differently, and you’re not meant to please everyone. I’m here doing what I do, and at the end of the day, all that matters is that I’m happy with what I’m creating, and that in turn, people connect with it. As musicians and writers and producers- we’re just the vessel of the feeling. Once it’s out there it’s not ours to hold onto anymore
Music can take such a long time to finish as well, often you’re so ready for it to be out there
Yeah, and you have to let it breathe as well
How do you let your songs breathe?
I listen to them, and then not listen to them, and then listen some more. When you’re so heavily a part of it, it can get soul-consuming, and for that reason, you need other people to work with and bounce off of. With ‘What The Hell Have You Done’, I was in the room with Sam when he was producing it. He then left me in the room with the harmonizer for a sec and everything just flowed out. It was truly magical. Like a chemical reaction… Sam and I were working towards the same goal, and we were on the same page. He pushed me and was vital in facilitating that creative process. Connections like that are ones you need to hold on to!
How do you find the right people?
It’s hard! It’s hard to navigate, and you have to collaborate with people all the time and see what works. Sometimes it’s a great session, sometimes it’s okay, sometimes it’s just for fun. With every song you write, and with every experience that you have, it all brings you closer to identifying what it is that you really want to do
Hearing ‘What The Hell Have You Done’ live at the Listen Up Songwriting competition was pretty awesome, and your whole set was really special. That song, in particular, had a lot of vulnerability that you approached with a lot of strength, which is what music is all about! Owning your insecurities and your story
That’s really been a recent transition for me- to really own my insecurities and present myself like that, and to turn my vulnerabilities into strengths.
What were you wanting to communicate with that song?
I didn’t want the song to come off as entirely accusatory, because the song is as much about self-reflection as it is about the other person. I needed to communicate that it’s about two people who love each other so much- to the point that it hurts- and about finding that mutual respect in that love even after you’re grieving it. And it’s really hard! And it’s hard to feel 100% healed after you lose something like that
And that breakage can define you for a long time
And that’s okay! That was a song I had to write for a really, really long time, and when it was finished it really felt like I could let those feelings go. It’s an open letter to vulnerability and heartbreak, as well as a moment of self-reflection and getting to the point of understanding why it had to happen
Do you often write from feelings like that?
Not all the time, I get asked why I don’t write songs that are more triumphant but I just wasn’t really feeling like that at the time- which is okay!
Do you feel like ‘What The Hell Have You Done’ captured the whole experience for you?
Not completely- I’m bad at closing doors, and I like holding onto things that are special to me. I’m not the kind of person who can cut things and feelings off. I think I’d be lying if I said I could capture that emotion fully because I’ll probably feel like that again. In the meantime though, I feel like I did capture how it felt
It’s not to say you won’t feel it again or that the feelings won’t arise in you again, but maybe the loose ends are a little more tied up for that situation
And it’s exciting because you finish the thought, and then you can move on and do the next thing. It’s a bit of push and pull though because sometimes I’ll hold onto a song for a while before releasing it, and others I’ll write and release a little quicker so the timeline of my feelings are a little out of order
When you release something you’ve held onto for a while, do you feel held back by it?
Sometimes, especially when you’re trying to get it to sound ‘right’. I’m learning to worry less about how well a song does or doesn’t do- if 12 people listen then that’s great, if 20,000 people listen, that’s also great! There’s this quote I came across,
I don’t define success by what I’ve done, but by how happy it makes me
It kind of blew my mind… When we have things like Spotify numbers and followers on Instagram to worry about, our true intentions when releasing a song can get a little blurred. Like yeah, we need to look at the numbers and wear a business brain, but when you are an artist you don’t just do things because they’ll be successful, you do things because you have something to say.
I look at someone like Dua Lipa-
I saw her when she opened for Bruno Mars!
Don’t even talk to me about that oh my gosh. She’s basically the most gorgeous human being I’ve ever seen in my life, and she’s an absolute pop star! You look at her and her success, and a lot of people would assume her music is inauthentic and overly calculated. But she is a writer! She worked her ass off, and her songs come from a real place. And how cool that they’re number one tunes! That’s awesome! She’s honest and those songs are honest
It’s like people think that just because a song is catchy, that it mustn’t have a backbone
Exactly, it’s the same for someone like Taylor Swift. I respect her so much, and she has and always will be killing it. No one is that successful for nothing
She is clearly connecting with people and filling a space and a need that listeners have. Someone like Tones And I releases a fun dance song, and now the world is against her because it’s too catchy?
And people view someone like her as an overnight success, but I’m sure she has been working just as hard as anyone else! She was in the right place, and she made the right song, and good on her!
Overnight success doesn’t happen overnight. Overnight success doesn’t exist!
And even for people have ‘overnight success’, there is so much growth and effort that goes into maintaining that success that can make it almost harder to develop because you’re figuring it all out with a thousand eyes on you. I think the ‘here for a minute’ culture in music is being phased out. If you’ve got something that’s real, then people will feel it. You do need a team to really be seen, but there’s no such thing as having nothing and no one anymore. You’ve gotta stick to what you’re intentions are and what it is that you want to do
Is that something you come back to when you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all?
Sometimes yeah, but sometimes I’ll just watch a movie! I have good days and I have bad days- everyone does. Even those who are at the peak of their success are still having bad days, days where they feel like they aren’t doing enough- it just comes with the territory. It’s about managing that and finding a community in that place
When people listen to your music what are you hoping they walk away with?
I just hope they believe what I’m saying, and that they have an independent connection with that. When people hear what you do and they have different perspectives and feel things you never even intended- it’s so cool. When you create something your passionate about, and you do it from a real place, you create roots and branches for others to connect with too
It’s so special when someone can connect with something that you made, or when you make something that unlocks something in another person
If it weren’t for Imogen Heap- if it weren’t for me hearing ‘Hide And Seek’ at the age of 12 or 13, I wouldn’t be creating the music I’m creating now! Musicians have a serious job in ensuring that somebody else feels inspired and that people feel heard.
When you hear a song and it says what you’re feelings, and it says it better than how you could ever say it, that can change your life
You feel heard!
If you could tell yourself from 5 years ago something that you wish you knew, what would it be?
Trust your gut, and just keep going. I would say the same thing to future me- next year, 5 years time. Trust your gut and just keep going- It doesn’t change
Is there something in particular that you want to stand for as a musician?
I want people to be heard, and to know that there is always someone that they can turn to. I know I’ve always sought comfort or support from music, and I just want to be able to do the same for other people. There are people who will tell you that you can’t do what you want to do, so to be a voice that could empower someone and help them believe in themselves and their ability to achieve their goals is important to me
You can find Sir Jude below