Despite releasing music in the back of ambulances, and casually creating multi-sensory masterpieces, Jaguar Jonze makes clear she’s not a hero in her new EP.
Jaguar Jonze is undoubtedly extraordinary. A boundary-pusher across sonic, visual and performance art, as well as an outspoken activist within the MeToo movement, it’s clear that Jonze is taking music to heights it’s never reached before.
In the lead-up to releasing her latest EP, Antihero, Jonze humbled the team at Happy by sitting down and having a chat about coming down with COVID, removing boundaries between the arts, and the bitter-sweet feeling of moving past pain.
HAPPY: How was live at Enmore?
JAGUAR JONZE: It was great, awesome! Super streamlined, everyone’s like pro. It just seems so stressful but it was actually so nice.
HAPPY: What song did you do?
JAGUAR JONZE: We did MURDER. It’s a song that I released in November last year, I think, and it’ll be on my new EP, Antihero, that comes out next month!
HAPPY: Can you tell us a little bit about the song?
JAGUAR JONZE: MURDER is a song I wrote about, I guess like, toxic relationships. Being inside those toxic relationships can sometimes feel like you’re really attempting to kill each other, and break each other down. So, that’s essentially what MURDER is about.
HAPPY: Yeah. Is that kind of a theme that runs through the entire EP?
JAGUAR JONZE: No, not really at all, actually. I think that each song is actually quite different to each other, and I’ve kind of built this EP in a way. So, I planned this EP when I was under hospital care with COVID.
HAPPY: Yeah wow.
JAGUAR JONZE: Yeah, so I’ve kind of stitched these songs in a way that could tell a story, together. So, I’ve planned the music videos, and am going to release like, a short film for the EP. So, it’s just kind of stitched together. The songs existed already, out of like personal feelings and situations that I had, but I’ve stitched them together into a story for the EP. And, so they kind of just tackle different things.
HAPPY: That’s so cool! Is that something you’d always wanted to try out?
JAGUAR JONZE: Yeah! I thought maybe after this EP I would be attempting a debut album, maybe, maybe not. And so I thought it would be one of my last chances to kind of do this short film concept that I wanted to do for an entire EP, a body of work, like start to end. So I thought ‘this is the one’. Plus, I had time in hospital so I started just dreaming and planning it all out. I guess, escaping into concepts and ideas to offset what I was going through in my every day, so it was a really good escape for me.
HAPPY: Were the songs all written before?
JAGUAR JONZE: Yeah, and during. So, there’s like a song, which is DEADALIVE, which was the first one that I released off the EP. That was the one that was written when the band and I were stuck in New York. We were meant to do south by southwest, and all these other shows, and while we were in New York, the world deemed COVID-19 as a pandemic, so everything started like, locking down and everything got cancelled. So we started writing DEADALIVE about that, about this uncertainty and anxiety. And then when I got home to Sydney, well I don’t live in Sydney, but when I got to Sydney, and got the positive COVID result, I finished the second-verse more about that side of COVID. So yeah, there’s bits of those kinds of moments, that I had written during COVID.
HAPPY: Yeah (laughs).
JAGUAR JONZE: COVID, COVID, COVID – everything’s COVID at the moment (laughs)
HAPPY: Yeah well, even though you had such a huge year, you didn’t stop putting out anything creative. Like, you made so much during that year. Was it a real cathartic process for you to do that?
JAGUAR JONZE: Definitely! Definitely. I felt like everything was out of my control, and at the time, because I ended up releasing my debut EP on the back of an ambulance which was so unplanned and unexpected. But, at the time, you know, I was like ‘do I want to release this EP?’ You know, like even though I’m at the bottom. Like, everything crashed around me, and I was just like ‘that’s my one constant, and my one thing that I can still control and still release and still feel like I’m doing what I love doing’. So, I just decided to full-steam-ahead, and, try and pivot and be flexible with the environment that was constantly changing around me. It’s even like today as well!
HAPPY: Yeah, exactly. Have you noticed like, a difference or change in your art-making with these two very different times?
JAGUAR JONZE: Yeah, I think I’m a lot more ‘go with the flow’ almost. I think I’ve tried to lessen expectations on things, and not in a bad way, but more just like, opening myself up for opportunities, and not letting myself get too down when those opportunities also fall through. So, I guess it was like just a different kind of process of ‘we can plan as best as we can plan, but sometimes plans fall through,’ and secondly the best things come out of no plans, and just kind of run with that. That all sounds kinda wishy-washy, but that’s been my 2020, and 2021 as well, yeah.
HAPPY: It’s true though! It’s a good life lesson for everyone to break down those expectations and just go with it!
JAGUAR JONZE: Totally! I thought, because I had put so much into planning my 2020, and everyone has. Like, emotionally, physically, financially, like everything you could think of, I thought 2020 was going to be a big year, in a certain way. But, everything fell through and I was just like, ‘fuck’, it’s all gone to shit, and all of it was for nothing. But, I changed my mindset and realised that if I can be malleable, and pivot, and still, you know, do the best that I can, or think outside of the box, maybe I can still do things in a different way. That ended up allowing me to have a really big year, in a completely different way. So I still feel like I had the 2020 that I wanted, I just didn’t know what I wanted.
HAPPY: Yeah exactly. How do you feel going into this new year with all that stuff?
JAGUAR JONZE: I feel like… I had a very upsetting weekend where we had to pull out of a festival in Melbourne, and then Brisbane’s going into lockdown today. It’s just been a chaos and a fight, and just before I like, went to live at Enmore, like I don’t really cry but I just fell into tears with like, my guitarist and the band, and was just like ‘AHHH things are still out of control!’. But not in a bad way, it was just more of a ‘oh yeah, remember last year? Yeah, it’s still going into this year’. I just think that you just gotta keep pushing through. I think that the best things come out of uncontrolled environments as well. So, I’m just trying to grab that by the horns and see what can come out of it. A lot of the stuff that I’m producing or creating, you know, experiencing, are because we all have to innovate, and step outside our comfort zone’s, due to COVID-19, and they’re not experiences I’d want to trade. So, you just gotta keep running with that, and allow yourself to grow. I’m allowed to cry and be upset about things, but what’re you gonna do about it afterwards?
HAPPY: Yeah exactly.
JAGUAR JONZE: So I just have my moment of like ‘mahhhhh’ and then ‘ok, what now?’ (laughs) So that’s 2021.
HAPPY: (laughs) Plus, you’ve got the EP, a nice constant there for you.
JAGUAR JONZE: Yeah again! It’s gonna be a repeat!
HAPPY: It’s gonna be a great year!
JAGUAR JONZE: I’m gonna release my next EP again! Despite any environment, and it will be my one constant, yeah! It’s gonna be like ground-hog day, but ground-hog year!
HAPPY: (Laughs). Yeah, well over the past year you did so much. What was the most fulfilling project? Taking into account your art, and music and everything?
JAGUAR JONZE: It’s not a planned project, but I think one of my most fulfilling moments of 2020 was pushing the MeToo stuff of last year.
JAGUAR JONZE: And that’s not a project or anything. I guess it’s a movement that I didn’t expect to happen around the one tiny little post that I did. But, it made me realise that I wasn’t alone and isolated, and it was extremely difficult, and exhausting and traumatic, but I feel like 300 women have come together to be able to make a change. Hopefully, in this industry, beyond just it being a little moment of gossip. And also, 300 women are able to feel like they were heard, like they have each other, and that they are actually like, not isolated and alone – which is what I thought I was. So, I think that was bitter-sweet, in the sense that ‘bitter’ that it happens to so many people, and ‘sweet’ because it was fulfilling and the most connecting experience that I had in 2020.
HAPPY: Yeah, it was beautiful. I think it was one of stream music’s biggest moments in the last decade to be honest, it was incredible.
JAGUAR JONZE: And, I hope it just keeps going you know? And, I’m seeing it grow, and I’m seeing it in other industries now too, we’ve got everything happening in Parliament, and hopefully that’s able to push and shed light on, and start little fires everywhere so that it could actually just spark a change. Fingers crossed, just gotta keep pushing those balls, I guess.
HAPPY: I saw you did an interview with The Guardian. Did you go to the marches?
JAGUAR JONZE: No, in my Guardian letter I said I couldn’t go. I was sick with a kidney infection.
HAPPY: Oh, I’m so sorry.
JAGUAR JONZE: So, I wrote my piece, said why I couldn’t attend, but I’m really glad that happened.
HAPPY: Yeah. I guess the rest of the questions I had were about the EP but we pretty much covered that.
JAGUAR JONZE: Cool! Thank you so much!
HAPPY: Thank you!
Jaguar Jonze’s Antihero EP is out Friday 16 April.
Interview by Emily Elvish
Photos by Charlie Hardy