June Jones is an independent musician and producer. Formerly the frontwoman of the trio Two Steps on the Water, and owner of the label Emotion Punk Records, she has just released her second solo album, Leafcutter, which was made in isolation during lockdown and was inspired in part by her experience of being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Based in Naarm (Melbourne), Jones is working on her next album as well as a Patreon campaign and a podcast series. She is interested in gaming, nostalgia, the future and political utopianism. When I visit her home studio for a cup of tea, she is reading music critic and cultural theorist Mark Fisher.
Thanks for having me, June. What are you writing about at the moment?
I’m working on some songs for a new record. I’m still writing about myself, and I’m diving deeper into some of my favourite electronic and art pop influences. I’ve always loved artists who do a different thing with every record, while always making albums that are recognisably theirs. There were moments while I was writing Leafcutter where I tried to write lyrics that were less personal and more conceptual, but those songs didn’t make it onto the album, because in the end I didn’t love them. So with this album, I’m trying to let myself write about whatever I’m thinking about or feeling, and to allow new concepts to come through rather than impose them from above.
You want to have an organising principle, but you end up having to feel your way through it?
Totally. What’s been effective so far with this album is, instead of thinking, “Okay, this is my concept, everything that comes out needs to conform to that concept”, accepting that I have innate impulses towards doing certain things. At the same time, I’m trying to pull other things into the orbit – I want to get them to coexist. At the end I think, okay, this is still a record made up of many different things, it’s not uniform, but I didn’t want it to be. But the hope is that there are enough strands connecting each part of it, [so] that no song feels like it shouldn’t be there. I want it to be so that if you took one of those songs and you put it on any other record I’ve made, it wouldn’t fit.
So even if they might not totally fit the concept, you welcome them in!
They share things – some are cousins, some are siblings. I’m welcoming them in but dressing them up – giving these ones some earrings that match someone else’s earrings, teaching this one some mannerisms that their uncle has.
You’re interested in political thought about the future. How does that play out on this record?
I’ve been thinking about nostalgia and innovation. I’m interested in looking at different periods in musical history, thinking about when are people innovating in a way that reflects a hopeful sense that there is a future to be had? That there are new ways to be. I’ve been thinking about when the default position becomes a nostalgic impulse that looks back on a time and implies that there aren’t new ways to live. I’m interested in understanding why sometimes the market demands that we listen to artists that remind us of the ’60s, and when does it demand that we listen to artists that don’t sound like anything that’s come before, and what does that reflect about us and our psyche and whether we feel like there are different and new futures that are possible?
I realised with my first solo album that I’d ended up making some songs that had an underlying nostalgic impulse. The synthesisers we chose, the drum machines – there was a romanticisation of a past time in that sound. Now I find myself trying to make sure the sound is passing whatever my internal test is, that this is new and different enough. I want there to be hope in there, to feel that we’re not just looking back. I want to hear a recognition that looking back is not always useful and that sometimes it can be a trap.
I find this to be an interesting tool for looking at pop music, and with this next record that’s a big part of the sound. I want to make a kind of pop music with songs that are faster and more danceable, while still maintaining the kind of confessional lyrics that have been a constant throughout my career as a songwriter.
How do you make work?
Before Leafcutter, which I wrote and produced a lot of in lockdown, I’d test all my songs in a live setting before making decisions or recording them for the albums. That would give me a sense of if I felt like they were good. It’s not even that people would give me feedback directly when I performed. It’s more this exercise where when you’re aware that people are watching you, you kind of watch yourself in a way you can’t do when you’re alone and unselfconscious.
It sounds like experimenting with perception; you’re picturing yourself from their eyes.
A corollary of making Leafcutter alone was that the songs felt even more about myself than usual. I wonder if there’s less relating to other people on the songs on Leafcutter, but maybe that’s not true. It’s an idea I feel politically confused about. I don’t think there’s a problem with self-reflection in music, it’s inevitable, and I do a lot of it. But I notice an impulse towards “hermitude” [being a hermit] in myself. It’s tempting, but I don’t think it’s what I want for myself, to be this loner artist who just thinks I can do everything myself. I feel like there’s always this idea that artists shouldn’t care about what other people think, but I just don’t agree. I think it’s actually useful to my process to think about what effect the music is having, whether it’s meaningful to the audience.
My health has also impacted my process. I’ve developed reactive hypoglycaemia, which means I need to be really on top of what I eat all the time. It’s hard to juggle managing that with ADHD. I occasionally deal with these total physical and mental shutdowns – I won’t be able to form thoughts, and will need to lie down and sleep in the middle of the day.
I also experience derealisation, and tend to feel a distance between myself and the world. Things feel unreal most of the time. This can mean I have a pretty weird structure to my day.
I’m excited about working on this new album. The plan is to work with a friend as co-producer on all of the tracks, and they’re so talented, a real genius. So I’m hoping the process of making this album will be less intense than the last, when I did everything myself.
I’m trying not to be an exhausted hermit all the time. I don’t love art that much!
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 3, 2021 as "June Jones".
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