Part donkey, part zebra: Jade Imagine chats her endless career as a creative collaborator

Jade Imagine made an impressive debut with What The Fuck Was I Thinking? When it dropped earlier this April, released via Milk! Records, the EP collected six cuts of loaded emotive impetus but never lost its sense of cool.

Catching bandleader Jade McInannly at BIGSOUND in the company of co-conspirator Tim Harvey, we had a chance to delve deeper into the minds behind the music. Jade, it turns out, is no stranger to the Melbourne music scene, having lent her talents to Teeth and Tongue and Jess Ribeiro.

With the assistance of Tim, she reveals her views on everything from donkey zebra hybrids to the music of The Church. The pair also unveil some exciting details of a follow-up LP.

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Photo by Riley Fitzgerald

Laced with confessional lyricisms, Jade Imagine is a mess of shambolic fretwork, dense sonic detail, light touches of wry observation and shining moments of ironic intelligence.

HAPPY: Jade this one for you specifically. You started off fronting your own group Tantrums but spent the last few years playing in other Melbourne outfits. How are you feeling now that you’ve stepped into the limelight and fronting your own group again?

JADE: I guess I feel a bit more under the microscope from myself because I’m examining how I act as a lead singer. It’s been equally as scary and challenging as rewarding and fun.

HAPPY: Your debut EP dropped back in April, how are you feeling now that it’s been out for a few months?

JADE: It was a really fun, interesting process to make all these songs and kind of work together with Tim writing and recording. I feel like we learnt a lot in the process and I’m really proud of the result. It’s been really fun to play and just get stuck into live stuff.

HAPPY: Were these ideas that had been kicking around in your head for a while? Maybe songs you specifically couldn’t do within your other projects?

JADE: When I was in Teeth and Tongue and playing with Jess Ribero I did try and start writing for my own project, but I guess I needed to, kind of, take a step back before I could get stuck into writing. So it’s all pretty fresh to be honest. The songs that I wrote, none of them were more than eight months old when I started recording the EP.

TIM: It was sort of a process of discovering what Jade wanted to feel, how she wanted to present it.

HAPPY: Was there a lot of teasing out of ideas?

TIM: Lots of chipping away at things that weren’t what Jade wanted.

HAPPY: So Tim is a good soundboard for that sort of thing? Do you bounce off of each other?

JADE: That’s mostly what we do, we do a lot of bouncing of ideas. It changes, sometimes a song will come to me fully formed, ready to be played.

TIM: Ready to pump on the stereo!

JADE: But then other times it’s a very basic, skeletal kind of idea…

TIM: Or set of ideas.

JADE: …and we just somehow chip away.

TIM: We’ll be like, “What if we do it like this?” And you’ll be like, “That doesn’t quite feel right. Why don’t we try and put a bit of this into it?” So we kind of end up with something that is kind of part donkey, part zebra.

JADE: I think that’s how I work.

HAPPY: “Part donkey, part zebra.” Is that how you’d characterise the band in a sentence?

TIM: Sorta.

HAPPY: Who are the donkeys and who are the zebras?

JADE: It depends on the day!

TIM: I’m a donkey, I’ll own that.

JADE: I’m the part zebra part donkey.

TIM: You’re the parts.

JADE: But I’ve realised that, when it comes down to it, I’m such a collaborative worker.

HAPPY: Is that something you’ve always leant towards?

JADE: I’ve never really had any sort of solo career. I’ve always sort of done things with other people.

TIM: You’re like an unreal sounding board yourself, for other people.

HAPPY: So there’s a lot of back and forth in the group?

TIM: It’s a conversation.

JADE: I think pretty much my whole life is like that. Every problem that arises, music or otherwise, it needs to be discussed and worked through.

TIM: Strategised!

HAPPY: Is that tough when you’re working in a band environment, having these creative clashes with people who are also your close friends?

JADE: I mean everyone has got shit going on! It’s been a really weird kind of time lately, lots of changes and stuff going on. But that kind of squeezes the juice box to get more songs out in a way.

TIM: Just different stuff comes out.

JADE: We’ve been working on the album lately and sometimes we’re getting ideas out and sometimes we’re just there for three hours and cook a roast.

HAPPY: As you do. Where are you at with the LP?

TIM: We’ve got about 14 songs demoed and some of them are close to being…

JADE: Ready to go!

HAPPY: How would you situate the album in relation to the EP? Will it be following a similar thread? Tonally does it strike a different key?

TIM: In our heads, yeah. We’ve talked about how we want to develop some of the ideas we developed on the EP, some of the sounds and some of the tones.

HAPPY: It does have some really great textures!

TIM: Thanks, we sort of want to explore that a bit more and then stretch out in some other directions.

JADE: Especially playing live we’ve seen where we could elaborate in the set. We want to be able to sweat more on stage!

HAPPY: Out of what’s on the EP, what are people reacting to live?

JADE: You know it really depends set to set. Sometimes what I think is one of our strongest songs – I mean they’re all strong! (laughs) But no, when we play Tell Her She’s Dreamin live that gets the biggest response and what often comes back is people saying, “That’s my favourite!” But we were playing the song in Sydney I kept thinking, “Damn this is good!” But people were just talking over it. It was super weird!

TIM: (Provides a slow clap)

JADE: I guess it really depends on the vibe on the night.

HAPPY: Can you tell me about Stay Awake? To me the track gives off more of this impression of an insomniac bedroom philosopher. You seem really chipper Jade, but are you a brooder?

JADE: I guess that’s really my initial state of being if I’m meeting someone new or something but I can get (lowers voice for comic effect) lowwwww. I wouldn’t want to rock up to an interview and be like, “…whatever.”

TIM: “…I’m sorry I’m not wearing enough black today.”

JADE: (laughs) I think I actually am wearing a lot of black today.

TIM: Shit, oh yeah.

JADE: But I embrace all of my moods.

HAPPY: You put out the EP on Jen Cloher and Courtney Barnett’s Milk! Records. They seem to have been really excited to put it out, what’s your relationship with them?

JADE: I knew them before this project because I was touring with Teeth and Tongue who were supporting Courtney Barnett on the album launch tour, the CB3 tour. So I kind of got to know Courtney and met Jen as well as Jen Sholakis who ended up playing drums on the EP. We all kind of knew each other and we were kind of mates in the scene, playing in these bands together, but I didn’t expect for Milk! Records to be putting out the EP because I’d heard along the grapevine that they were too busy already with their own roster of bands. But then, just as the EP was finished and it had just been mixed, we got an email form Jen and Courtney being like, “We’d be really interested in talking to you about this.” I was like, “Whaaaat?” It was cool!

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HAPPY: Is there an album or song that you wish you had written?

JADE: Had written? Oh, gawd. Ah!

TIM: (Half hums the melody to Earth Wind & Fire’s September)

JADE: Stevie Wonder!?

TIM: September!

HAPPY: Earth Wind & Fire. You could buy a house with those royalties!

TIM: Sure! I would too.

JADE: Don’t Worry Be Happy? Nah, I don’t wish I wrote that! I’m glad I didn’t write that! For me there’s a million songs, but that song Destination by The Church. I think that’s a ripper.

HAPPY: Is there another band you’ve seen on the BIGSOUND bill that’s really stood out for you?

JADE: J-Ribs, Jess Riberio.

TIM: Totally. Name dropping our own family, but every time I see RVG it’s been like someone going boof!

JADE: They’re so good! Beautiful, so good.

HAPPY: That Go-Betweens influence! They hit that nail on the head.

TIM: I keep hearing Pulp and The Velvet Underground in them. But I’m also excited by Total Giovani. What a band!

JADE: Mmm!

HAPPY: What are you most excited about doing this year?

JADE: Making a record!

TIM: Going deep in the studio and hanging out. We’re really lucky and got a grant so we can spend time in a studio and kinda get to know the songs.

HAPPY: So the grant has lifted a little weight off of your shoulders?

JADE: Totally! It means that we don’t have to set up a control room in my hallway again.

TIM: Yeah, because we made that EP in Jade’s bedroom!

JADE: Pat on the back to Tim, but I think we did well. It’s a massive relief to be able to just hang out in a really nice studio. Just to chill and make some cool songs!