As a 15-year-old high school student, Sydney’s Imogen Jones was immersed in a world of folk singer-songwriters and classical music. That was until the abrasive sonic edge of Grimes opened her mind to a world of electronic music. Alongside Claire Boucher, the discovery of acts like Radiohead inspired her to begin exploring a world of production. From here it wasn’t long before she began writing under the alias of Lupa J.
Over the past year, Jones has been building momentum with a steady stream of new material. Her debut EP My Right Mind reveals music littered with atmospheric production, driving rhythms and emotive vocal leaps. As more recent releases like Keep Back would suggest, she’s expanding as an artist.
Catching Imogen at BIGSOUND, we talk at length about musical influences past and present. She also provides insight into the impact of lockout laws on her local scene as well as tips for dealing with troublesome sound techs. Looking further into the future, she shares some new details on Lupa J’s forthcoming EP.
Taking cues from contemporaries within Sydney’s bustling underground electronic scene, Lupa J’s latest cuts also suggest she’s striving for a conceptual aesthetic akin to Björk or FKA Twigs.
HAPPY: Having discovered Grimes at age 15, the music of Claire Boucher has been a seminal influence. What was it about it in her music that spoke to you?
IMOGEN: It was really like the first electronic music I’d ever heard I think. My friend Mara [Schwerdtfeger], who now plays in my live band, I was at her house one day and she played her to me. I just hadn’t heard anything like it before. It’s hard to put my finger on it but it just really clicked, I think maybe because it was so different to anything I had listened to before and I was kind of in my life going through a period of change in a lot of aspects. It just really excited me how crazy the production sound is but also her beautiful her vocals were and stuff.
HAPPY: So it was a bit of a wakeup call?
IMOGEN: Yeah! Previously I had listened to a lot of folk singer-songwriters and stuff, things which were kind of gentler. It was something about the abrasiveness. It really excited me I guess.
HAPPY: She’s an ambitious artist, starting in the Canadian underground but slowly marching towards the centre of popular music in the US. Do you see yourself as being on a similar trajectory?
IMOGEN: I mean, maybe in some respects yes. Like, I guess she’s really crossing the line between alternative pop and mainstream pop. Not quite, but I feel I would like to kind of get to a point where I’m making pop music which is a little bit twisted. But maybe not quite so far as she’s gone into pop, but some point like that. It’s cool!
HAPPY: Besides having a classical background in music you’ve also said that you’re influenced by visual art and design. How does that play into your outlook on music? I’m guessing it goes a little further than a great looking album cover or cool press shot…
IMOGEN: I guess I really like artists that make an album and when there’s a concept to the album, they let that concept filter in to nearly every aspect of it; the photos, the release and the videos. Kind of how they have nearly as much control over that as they do with their music.
HAPPY: Can you give a good example?
IMOGEN: People like Björk, people like FKA Twigs and Grimes of course. I guess I have tried to do it a bit too. I’m trying to do it with my current EP. My last single I did the album art and did a lot of the video stuff.
HAPPY: Numb from your 2016 EP My Right Name has probably been your biggest release to date. It’s loaded with this real sense of teenage angst. Can you tell me a little about the song?
IMOGEN: It was actually the second song I ever wrote as Lupa J. I wrote the lyrics when I was 15 but I released it when I was 18. Putting it out, it was kind of looking back at the last few years of my life, the transformation I’ve made over those couple of years. I always liked that song but never liked the way I had produced it, so it made sense to have that song on my EP as well as my new songs.
HAPPY: I’ve just noticed that you are wearing one of those ‘I Have Enjoyed The Music of Enderie’ polo shirts. Enderie Nuatal is another Sydney-based electronic artist, is there a family or group of artists you associate with?
IMOGEN: There’s definitely a really good, very creative scene, of underground electronic artists in Sydney. Especially since the lockout laws have come through.
HAPPY: How have these laws impacted you as an artist?
IMOGEN: I feel like we’ve lost some really good venues, but at the same time people are now being more creative in putting on shows. You can’t just do it so easily.
HAPPY: Is that challenging in the sense that you can’t get your music out to a broader audience playing a DIY venue as opposed to a more established space?
IMOGEN: I launched my last single the other day it at the Oxford Circus, which is a great venue but there’s a limit upon how loud you can take your sound there. The other options for a venue that size are Brighton Up Bar and Freda’s. Neither of them have amazing PAs. They’re both good venues in their own way I guess, but it’s just that there aren’t many options. Oxford Circus seemed like the best option, but it still wasn’t ideal.
HAPPY: You’ve just dropped a new track, this dark groover Keep Back. How is it moving outward from what you’ve shown us so far?
IMOGEN: I feel like I’m changing how I’m writing, I’m trying to. For me, a lot of this stuff on this EP is different because I’ve tried to make it beat focused. Kind of similar but more bodily and danceable as well as kind of more accessible. At the same time, it’s more out there than what I’ve done, so I’m trying to find that balance.
HAPPY: Is there a gold standard example of a track that does that for you? Something that’s danceable and accessible but also really out there?
IMOGEN: So much stuff! Grimes in a sense and Enderie writes music like that as well, this crazy kind of crazy dance music that everyone goes nuts too!
HAPPY: I saw you play in Brisbane for the first time earlier this year…
IMOGEN: With K.Flay?
HAPPY: That was it! I didn’t know anything about your group but I was immediately pulled in by the classic instrumentation. Is it challenging bringing those elements into a live performance?
IMOGEN: In terms of doing it and working out what we’re going to play it isn’t, but in terms of sound and the tech stuff, it’s very hard. Violins easily feedback. We’ve ended up taking around the guy who mixes my recording live because most sound people don’t really understand how to mix violins into electronics.
HAPPY: It seems to be a big thing at the moment, that is people calling out sound techs for not having an understanding of the artists they’re working worth. It might not always be a gender thing but also what sort of genre of music is being played. Is it something you’ve experienced?
IMOGEN: Before my solution was getting my own engineer and taking him to the important shows, we’d have people who would only know how to mix a vocalist, two guitars and drums. They wouldn’t know how to do even the basic electronic stuff and then mix in violins. They hadn’t listened to my music so they wouldn’t know how to balance it.
Not everyone I’ve had is like this, but I have had a few experiences with gender stuff. Engineers being quite patronising and assuming we didn’t know how to do basic things. That kind of always happens I guess, but what I’ve learnt is that if there’s someone being shitty don’t get mad! (laughs) Stay really calm. You have to tell them what you want but tell them really politely, don’t get stressed out! I’ve had a few situations where everyone has gotten stressed and it wasn’t good.
HAPPY: As a music addict who are you into right now? Who have been some of the standout artists of the year so far?
IMOGEN: I have a few things like that. It seems to be a really good year for new albums. In terms of big releases, I’ve really been into Arca’s new album, the Perfume Genius’ album and of course the new Lorde album! They’re all albums I feel like I’m going to love for many years to come. Looking more at Sydney I don’t think there have been any huge albums this year just a lot of really good one-off tracks and singles from a lot of different artists. Gussy, Lonelyspeck put out a really good EP at the start of this year – stuff like that!
HAPPY: What are your future plans? Post-BIGSOUND, what’s on the cards? You’ve got this new EP coming out…
IMOGEN: I guess that’s the plan. When I get back from BIGSOUND I’m going to get together with my engineer and mix it then put out a single. I guess after that, on the basis of that, it’s figuring out what I can do next – hopefully another EP or album. Hopefully, I can play some summer festivals, there are few things in the works, but nothing confirmed yet. That’s as far as it goes!