It's a chilly evening in Sydney's inner-east, and Jen Cloher is sitting in the corner of a small beer garden, tapping out a quick message on her phone. "I'm so sorry," she says politely, firing off the text and tucking her phone back in her bag. "We just put out the first video clip from the album today, and I've been in interviews all day too, and it's just been full on."
You get the feeling that "full on" is just a normal day for the Melbourne-based musician, who juggles a solo career and numerous other projects with running Milk Records – the imprint she and her wife Courtney Barnett started back in 2012 – full time.
"I'm a bit of a time management nerd," she admits, sipping on a cranberry soda. "It's the classic Australian story of being a full time musician, and also having a full time job. I have to be cautious that I respect my time as an artist."
The heavy workload goes a little way to explaining why her latest album, Jen Cloher, had such a long gestation. Cloher began writing around two and a half years ago, not long after the release of 2013's Australian Music Prize-nominated In Blood Memory.
"I like to ruminate," Cloher says. "Probably more on this album than any other. I wanted to have a point of view on this album, I wanted to say something. It's very frank, and quite challenging."
It's also powerful, open, raw, stark, and unflinchingly personal and honest. Within the 10 muscular tracks there are painful admissions of loneliness and isolation ("Forgot Myself") alongside searing indictments on Australia's current political climate ("Analysis Paralysis").
"I went through a period last year when I just felt really depressed," Cloher says. "I looked at everything that was happening around the world, whether it was climate change, refugees, senseless wars... Every day we're faced with another terrible thing. I wanted to write about that experience of being helpless, of being useless."
Coming out the other side, she remains doggedly optimistic.
"We live in a time where we have to be generous. We have to care about other people, we have to care about what's going on out there."
"We have to stay sane somehow."
From issue #790, available now.
Topics: Jen Cloher