For those that know the quaint, reflective and beautiful indie rock as penned by Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Jess Locke, they know she's spent basically her entire career being one of the country's most underrated performers. It's something listeners and supporters wish wasn't the case, insofar as her uniquely-personal take on the genre deserving wider recognition. Ahead of releasing her second album Universe, it may not be for much longer. Locke speaks excitedly of Universe's impending release from her Footscray homestead, fresh from a run of dates with American punk veteran Jeff Rosenstock.
“It feels like it's been so long coming,” she says. “We finished recording what feels like forever ago now, so the fact that it's almost out is such a relief. We're really excited to see how people respond to this record, and we really hope that people like these songs and get behind them. Once it's out, we'll be right back out on the road again and it's going to be just awesome. It's a really exciting time.”
Readers will note Locke's use of “we”, which is indicative of her long-serving backing band and collaborators: Jim Morris, formerly of Anchors, on bass, and former Ribbons Patterns drummer Chris Rawsthorne. Having come on board around the time of Locke's debut album, 2015's Words That Seem to Slip Away, the rhythm section is now a permanent fixture of Locke's music both live and recorded.
“Most of the songs on this album are ones that we've been playing together for quite a while now,” says Locke. “It made sense to record them together and get them as close to how we sound live as possible. I feel like we've developed a really strong working relationship. They bring so much to the songs – I think they have just as big a part on this record as I do.”
Locke has always been an advocate and active user of unconventional recording spaces. This did not change for Universe, as Locke and co. found themselves recording between the band room of The Reverence Hotel – where Locke herself works part-time – and in a North Melbourne apartment owned by the parents of Universe's engineer and producer, Michael Fitzgerald. If that name isn't instantly familiar, he's perhaps better known as Fitzy, bassist of The Smith Street Band, with whom Locke has recently found herself as a touring member.
“This apartment literally used to be a biscuit factory,” says Locke. “The apartment was built in this empty space, and it's really cool. Fitzy's parents were nice enough to let us use it for our little DIY operation. He was great to work with. He's happy to put in his own ideas and open up to that side of things, but he's also happy to just let us plug in and do our thing. It's all about what's best for the song. You couldn't have a more chill guy on board to make a record with.”
Fans will have already heard three singles from the album prior to its release – 2016's lead single ‘Paper Planes’, follow-up ‘Better/Bitter’, and the title track, ‘Universe’. Even from these teasers alone, it's easy to note the progression made from Words to what you hear on this record – for one, there's a deeper focus on Locke's own guitar sound.
“The last record was one clean guitar through the whole thing, with maybe one solo in there,” she says with a laugh. “I think the playing is a lot more refined on Universe. There's a few more chorus pedals in the mix, a bit of fuzz, a bit of vibrato. I play a 12-string guitar that we borrowed on a couple of songs, too. I wanted to experiment with the layering of it a little more – with the way that it sounds.”
Universe is out Friday October 20 via Pool House Records/Remote Control. The Universe album release tour starts Friday November 3 in Brisbane for more information visit jesslocke.com.