“It’s OK to do things however you want to”: Jen Cloher chats the importance of making music for yourself

The Sydney Beer & BBQ Festival are going whole hog this year, with a saucy lineup to boot. Not only is the festival making waves in terms of showcasing a wide array of Australian craft breweries and cideries, (yes, cideries are a thing), but they’ve also curated a musical lineup that’s quite honestly second-to-none.

With the talented likes of The Preatures, The Gooch Palms, Mojo Juju and Jen Cloher, this three day festival will surely tantalise the tastebuds of music and BBQ-lovers across this great nation.

We were lucky enough to speak some words with Jen to discuss her inspirations, identity, and vision within the realm of music.

Jen Cloher interview
Photo: Tajette O’Halloran

Going on one year since Jen Cloher released her acclaimed self-titled album, we revisit the ways she has slowly but surely found her place in Australian music.

HAPPY: I saw in a recent interview that you mentioned you grew up with early influences like Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin. Do you still listen to them today?

JEN: I do. I recently bought Aretha’s Lady Soul on vinyl and enjoyed it all over again. Songs like Chain of Fools and her version of Natural Woman are so full of feeling.
I’m always moved by her voice and passion.

HAPPY: Which other artists inspire you, musical or otherwise?

JEN: At the moment Sampa the Great, Evelyn Ida Morris, Laura Jean and Totally Mild are on high rotation.

HAPPY: The album artwork for your self-titled album is beautifully intimate, what inspiration allowed you to become so visibly vulnerable and allow us inside your space?

JEN: I’m not too sure? It just felt right to go in that direction with that particular release. It’s an intimate album lyrically so the cover needed to echo that feeling.

HAPPY: How important is your queer identity in your music and storytelling? For me personally being queer (especially during the plebiscite) sometimes I feel exposed, but once I saw those results, I felt at peace.

JEN: I think the postal vote was a ludicrous and cruel approach that backfired on our current government. That was the only thing about that process that felt good. Seeing them have to catch up with the Australian people and change the law. What the queer community had to go through to achieve that was result was unacceptable.

HAPPY: I love your workshops I Manage My Music, what was the main catalyst to get those workshops running, and how are they going?

JEN: I started the workshops as a way of finding out how other independent artists were managing to record, release and tour music in Australia. I was struggling financially to join the dots. The workshops have been running in Melbourne for seven years now and still going strong, our next is in July. They’ve been a great way for me to invite my peers to share their knowledge. I’ve learnt so much along the way, it’s changed the way I approach music.

HAPPY: Alright, here’s the serious one: you’re performing at Sydney’s Beer & BBQ Festival, what goes down perfectly with a side of cold beer?

JEN: Haha! I don’t drink and I don’t eat BBQ so I guess I’m gonna be the odd one out at this festival.

HAPPY: At the upcoming festival you’re going to be up with other amazing Aussies like The Preatures and Holy Holy, is this your first time meeting them?

JEN: I’ve met members from both bands over the years. The Preatures came to our Sydney album launch last year which was really sweet. We’ve never shared a stage
though so I’m really looking forward to it!

HAPPY: You really inspire a lot of my friends who are in the early stages of their bands, they’re queer and they’re struggling to perceive that identity in their music because they don’t want to just be ‘just another queer band’, what advice do you have for them? Should they wear it on their sleeve?

JEN: Wow, that’s a huge compliment, thank you. I think it always comes back to what the individual feels comfortable with. We all have different reasons for being visible or choosing not to be. The most important thing is that you spend time on your creative practice and develop as an artist. Often the work you create will determine how you want to approach presenting it. It’s OK to do things however you want to.

HAPPY: Strong Woman is an important song, it’s super empowering. It feels like a song that you’ve had under your belt since the beginning. How does your audience
usually react to such an incredibly self-affirming song?

JEN: It’s a song we love playing live because of the reaction from our crowds. There’s always a good number of young women at the front of our shows singing along and
I love delivering those lyrics straight to them. It’s a song that took a couple of months to write (which is quick for me) but you’re right, it was a song that felt like it had always been there waiting for the right moment to reveal itself.

HAPPY: If you had to go back and change anything from when you were young, to where you are now, would you do anything differently with your music/story?

JEN: I don’t think so. My life has been a real roller coaster ride but I think that’s what’s made my work relatable. You have to live to write work that has real depth. If it had all been smooth sailing I’m not sure the work I create would have much personality.

HAPPY: Courtney Barnett’s new album is gorgeous. It just dropped, and it’s already on repeat for me personally. I particularly love the opening track, Hopefulessness. Do you and Courtney write and/or collaborate on any songs together?

JEN: It’s a beautiful album isn’t it? Courtney writes these classic, timeless songs. They really get in there too, I’ve been humming them for months on end! Occasionally
we write together, Court is in my band so a lot of her style and personality shines through her guitar playing. I think we’d like to write more together but as crazy as it sounds, it can be hard to find that time together.


Jen Cloher will be playing a set of festival dates in Australia and abroad these coming months, kicking off with the Sydney Beer & BBQ Festival. Grab all the details below:

Jun 29 – Sydney Beer & BBQ Festival – Entertainment Quarter, Sydney
July 6 – Adelaide Beer & BBQ Festival – Adelaide Showgrounds, Adelaide
July 29 – Newport Folk Festival – Fort Adams State Park, Newport
July 31 – Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
August 4 – Pickathon – Happy Valley, OR