On Monday I was trawling through a weekly playlist from Nashville, and something jumped out. From Sydney.
Imogen Clark has been performing live for 12-13 years now, but I had never heard either of her or from her. Strange, because she was 13 when she started. And, now at the ripe old age of 25, she has pressed the reset button on life, after a mid-life crisis of a premature but no less traumatic series of setbacks, both emotional and professional. Cut the umbilical cord of that life, and do something that will be her making. Start acting like she was already where she wants to be. Collaborate. There are a few wise old heads in their thirties who can empathise. And don’t take that shit from no-one. No more.
And two days later, here she is, in her car (parked) in Sydney, zooming in with vivacious precocity, a most articulate and endearing veteran of 25, with a new album out today. It’s an EP, but it says a lot, and says enough about the new Imogen that I am not (yet) tempted to go back and pick up her earlier stuff. Which she is not renouncing, but looking forward, not back and she only half convincingly makes the point, indirectly, that I might like some of it.
So let’s go forward into The Making of Me, six gloriously produced tracks from Mike Bloom, guitarist for LA indie rock band The Elected. Mike plays lots of things, but his guitar playing on this record really stands out. Think of a Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac but with Taylor Swift vocals is how the first track sounds, starting with shimmering guitar and then bursting forth. And what follows is a mini smorgasbord of great Americana songs, each one with a story, which is what I focus on in my chat with Imogen, because you can talk about six songs in a 20-minute interview, and Imogen is happy and proud to oblige. It’s infectious and uplifting to hear such enthusiasm from a car parked in Sydney.
My Own Worst Enemy is the first track, co-written with Melbourne’s Alex Lahey and featuring Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello’s Attractions on drums. Inside Out is a song about her newfound confidence and independence, giving a finger to those who tried to put her in a place where she didn’t want to be. Shows off her powerful, mature voice and Benmont Tench drops by to add the Hammond organ bits which she was expecting someone else to emulate. But hey, this is LA, it’s a neighbourhood.
Collaboration hasn’t come naturally or easily to Imogen in the past, but the new “her” suddenly finds her co-writing with a bunch of Australian luminaries, whether in Melbourne or Nashville, including the aforementioned Alex Lahey, Clare Bowen (Australian actress and singer who stars in the TV series Nashville), Emma Swift, who works a lot with the legendary Robin Hitchcock. She wrote the next cut, Push Me Down, with Emma, a song about men, not all men, I am pleased to hear, but the ones you might find in big suits and big offices in Music Row everywhere, telling the little girls to do as they are told. And finally, there is Anita Lester, also from Melbourne, who helps her out on the standout track, Paper Boat, a delightful song which continues the drowning metaphor she often uses, but in this case, the fragility of the paper boat is offset by the power of her singing, which brings Enya to mind, and the most sublime of guitar solos from Mike Bloom as the song builds.
These are strong songs about tough times in a life already long-lived, but then again, just getting started. But the trauma and chaos of the circumstances which drove the creative impulse at origination paradoxically disappears when it comes time to record and arrange the songs in the studio. The contrast is striking and perhaps symbolic of the new Imogen, in control, on her own terms, but terms which emphasise soft skills and harmony, not harshness and conflict. That was then and this is now. And the outcome is enriched by the civilized nature of recording to a schedule in a relaxed fashion after a good night’s sleep.
The title track, The Making of Me, finds her alone in London at the piano resolving to be what she wants to become, and starting now. A gorgeous ballad, with more than a nod to the new Taylor Swift of Folklore fame. And the music ends with joyful pop, more mainstream country, in a song called Found Me co-written with Clare Bowen and Brandon Robert Young and we can rejoice that Imogen Clark has found herself.
I had resolved not to resort to the gaslighting thing which motivates the first song My Own Worst Enemy. Too Donald Trumpy. But then Imogen reveals she has travelled the world but never been to New Zealand. Well, that would light anyone’s gas. But she really wants to come here, she really does, and so I’ll soften (I’m so easy) my stance and be patient and wait. In the meantime, The Making of Me is out and about and you should do nothing else but hear it today. It will be the making of her day.
Listen to The Making of Me here
Click here to stream or buy
Released: 21 Aug 2020