Music interviews Women in Music

Daring to be different: Interview with Imogen Clark.

Imogen Clark just wont sit still! As an eight year old, she took her first cautious steps as a budding musician. By fifteen, she grew to love country music, despite never really feeling like a straight down-the-line country musician. Soon after, she discovered the likes of Ryan Adams and Gillian Welch and found an enjoyable niche performing as an alt country musician. Having released songs independently thereafter for years, she eventually caught the attention of Lost Highway Records/Universal Music Australia, whom she signed a beneficial deal with, that encouraged her alt-country leanings. Today, Clark’s still reinventing herself as a singer-songwriter with the confidence of a music veteran, despite being only in her early 20’s.

A few months back, Clark released her highly anticipated sophomore album Collide, which has been steadily gaining traction with old and new fans alike. What is interesting about Collide is Clark’s daring scope to merge her love of different roots-based genres with her own distinct sound. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Clark about Collide, her musical influences and what she loves about touring, especially since she is about to embark on an extensive tour to promote her new album. Here is some of what we talked about.

You’ve said, “[Collide] is an album about learning about yourself, those around you, and your place in the world. It’s about the joys and the challenges of entering adulthood, and shedding some of your innocence.” Imogen, can you tell me about the story behind one of the songs from the album and how it has helped mould the young woman you are today?

You Got The World Fooled was a real “welcome to the real world” song for me when I wrote it. It’s about elements of the music industry, how there’s a lot of pleasantries on the surface but often underneath, it’s a different story. In general terms, the song is about finding out that you can’t always trust everyone your younger, more naive self thought you could. As you get a bit older, other people see you differently, and that causes you to see them differently in turn. You find out things that open your eyes as to the darkness in other people, and in yourself. Working in the entertainment industry from a very young age and learning these things really made me grow up quickly, and taught me to always back myself.

You have developed quite your own distinct sound over the past few years. But there is, of course, an underlining influence of genres like folk and elements of Americana, for instance. Tell me about how blending an array of different styles of music helped shape what ultimately became the album Collide?

Thank you – having a distinct sound is the ultimate wish of a songwriter! I have loved so many different genres since I was a kid. I was raised on rock music like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and even punk stuff like the Sex Pistols – that was all my Dad’s influence! My Mum educated me with Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, Elton John and Martin Sexton. My Dad’s own songwriting has always been very cross-genre, and that had a lot to do with it too. Somewhere along the line, as I grew, I found artists like Joni Mitchell, Neil Finn, Paul Kelly, Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. I believe from a young age, loving all these different kinds of music made me want to write in a way that couldn’t just be put into one category. I think the best songwriters are crossover artists, but I was afraid of that for a while. I felt like I didn’t fit anywhere, and that worried me. When we made Collide, I decided it was finally time to embrace the fact that I didn’t belong in one category.

I’ve always been a fan of Mark Lizotte aka Diesel. What was it like working with Diesel as your producer? What one thing did you learn about yourself as a musician that he helped encourage?

Mark is so wonderful, musically and personally. I learned so much from him, both on the stage while we toured together, and in the studio. Mark has an incredible ear and I couldn’t have asked for a better producer on this album. I learned from Mark that I could do more than I thought I could in the studio. Mark was so encouraging of me, and even though we both knew he could play the guitar parts amazingly himself, he wanted me to play as many of the instruments as I could, because he wanted me to be as invested as possible in this album. I ended up playing a lot of electric guitar, which was something Mark really encouraged. I was lucky to have him on board.

Your Anything At All is arguably my favourite track from Collide. What can you tell me about how it came about?

Thank you! I came up with the idea for that song while I was on stage a few years ago in a really rowdy dive bar in Western Sydney. It was early in my music career and I was making money by playing covers gigs for 3-4 hours in pubs where people would yell out song requests and sometimes fights would break out in the crowd. I cut my teeth in scenarios like that! Although I was performing, my mind was drifting and I was thinking about a recently ended almost-relationship where I’d been left feeling quite worthless and inferior. I decided that it was ridiculous to let someone else determine my worth like that (a thought which I could also relate to the very drunk patrons of the pub I was currently playing in!), so the song is about confidence in the face of vulnerability, especially when someone makes you feel you’re not good enough.

Too Late and Tear it Down are both melancholic. How does the approach to songwriting on these tracks differ from your most lively tracks?

I’ve always used songwriting as a way of mirroring my emotions at any given time, when I sit down to write. Too Late and Tear It Down both came from places of sadness and melancholic reflection on love and relationships, missed opportunities and regrets, and the devastation left behind when a relationship you’ve built your whole life around falls apart. But the sassier, more up-tempo songs on the album – Your Anything At All, Collide, Late Night Girl, etc. – they might still be about disappointment, longing, and life’s challenges, but they’re tackling those feelings with underlying optimism and strength. The songs just come out sounding the way I was feeling when I wrote them.

Are there any songs on Collide that almost didn’t make it on the album for one reason or the other? If so, what ultimate changed your mind about them?

Initially, Left Behind wasn’t on the list of tracks to record. We felt the track listing at the time needed a little added “oomph”, so I went back through some demos. We had about 40 songs to choose from because I’d been writing non stop since Love & Lovely Lies was recorded, so I dug up some of the discarded ones. The demo of Left Behind wasn’t quite right and I didn’t know how I felt about it. Mark had this idea of how we could change it up into this kick-ass rock (almost punk!) song, and once he got his hands on it, I absolutely loved what it became. Now I can’t imagine the album without it!

Is there anything different with Collide creatively say compared to your earlier work? Can you elaborate a little about it?

Collide was definitely a step up from my earlier stuff in many ways. My first album was recorded at my friends’ house (Harry & Jack Hookey) in Gippsland VIC over only one week, and it was raw, homegrown and rough as guts. That’s the way I wanted it to be, and I’ll always be proud of that record. Collide was definitely more thought about, the production value increased and we had more time up our sleeves to work on it. It took us maybe 4 months on and off, working around touring schedules, to record Collide, and it was the first album I’d made with support from my record label, Lost Highway/Universal. Love & Lovely Lies was recorded before I signed with Lost Highway, and then it was released after I’d signed, so making Collide was a totally new process for me from the very beginning.

Imogen, I was wondering if you could tell us something about the artists, in particular, the amazing women in music, who have inspired you? And how?

Absolutely! There are so many fantastic women in music. My all time favourite songwriter is Joni Mitchell. She taught me to not be afraid of being unique. She wrote about topics like love, which is of course covered by every single songwriter, and yet she said what she wanted to say in the most unusual and touching ways, which is what I believe songwriting is all about. Joni said “The closer you get to your heart is the closer you get to everyone’s else’s”, meaning that if you are honest with yourself and you write authentically, you will always capture people’s hearts and minds and connect with people through your music. I also adore Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Nicks, and in the male department, Ryan Adams, Springsteen, Tom Petty, Neil Finn, Paul Simon and Paul Kelly.

You are about to embark on an extensive tour, through Switzerland and the United Kingdom before heading back home for your Australian leg. What excites you about touring?

Touring is a brilliant, strange thing. What excites me the most about touring is the fact that I get to share my music with people who might never otherwise have stumbled across it, or perhaps people who have listened from afar and now want to experience it in person. I love that I get to share my stories and my thoughts on the world with people who I’ve often never met before, in towns I’ve often never visited before. I also love the routine of it – seeing new places, meeting new people, driving, flying. It’s all pretty crazy and not exactly a “normal” life, but it’s definitely something I love and wouldn’t trade for anything. A few years ago, I had no idea I’d be touring this extensively so soon – with Diesel throughout Australia, by myself throughout Australia, and in the UK/EU.

Finally, what can we expect to see you incorporate into your live show that might be different to your recorded work? Will you perform any new covers? I just adore your version of Times Like These by the Foo Fighters!

Thank you so much! I definitely have one or two new covers in the works for the upcoming live shows. I love paying tribute to artists who inspire me to do what I do, as well as of course sharing my own songs. I like to think that when people buy tickets to my live shows, they can expect a lot of stories behind the songs, a lot of casual banter (no doubt involving some over-sharing), and both energetic rock performances and melancholic ballads. Hopefully, there’s something in it for everyone.


Imogen Clark’s new album Collide out now through Universal Music Australia. It’s available through iTunes and all good record stores. You can connect with Imogen via her Facebook page. Follow her on twitter. Listen to her on Spotify. Watch her on You Tube.
Check out Imogen Clark’s extensive The Late Night Girl Tour dates via her website here. She just might pop into a neighbourhood near you!

Photo credit: The header image is courtesy of Imogen Clark. I am not the uploader of You Tube clips embedded here.

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