Don’t be confused. Jack River isn’t your typical indie artist. She’s so much more.
Hailing from the New South Wales coastal hometown of Forster, River is the singer, songwriter and producer alter-ego of Holly Rankin. Or rather, she’s the “max creativity” outlet for Rankin, who also finds time to helm Hopeless Utopian, the events company behind Grow Your Own Festival and the all-female Electric Lady tours.
River’s recording career has been flowing along nicely. Her 2018 debut album Sugar Mountain, named after River’s favorite Neil Young song, won plaudits across the country and multiple award nominations along the way. A collaboration with Canberra electronic duo Peking Duk on “Sugar” earned a nod for best dance release at the Nov. 27 ARIA Awards in Sydney, with River soaking up the action in the audience.
A new EP Stranger Heart is slated to arrive early next year, featuring “Closer” which Billboard premieres today. It’s a pared-back number, showcasing River’s vocals over piano with a powerful dose of nostalgia. Production-wise, it’s from another zip code to “Sugar” and her dynamite breakthrough single “Fool’s Gold.”
Speaking to Billboard from her office in Sydney, River describes “Closer” as “probably the most direct depiction of pure feeling that I’ve written in a really long time.”
The followup to “Adolescent,” which dropped in April, “Closer” is accompanied by a music video filmed in a single afternoon in Santa Monica with her friend Tatjana Hamilton. “It was pretty magical,” she recounts. “We usually work on cool, big productions with my videos, but this suited the song.”
River — a pirate name Rankin inherited in her teens — revisited the song several times over the past two years. “So I only touched it and wrote on it when I was really feeling it,” she recounts. “I wrote it when I first started dating my partner and then finished it a day after we got engaged. It’s special to be able to do that with a song.”
Stranger Heart is due out Feb. 14, 2020 via Nettwerk in North America and I Oh You, part of the Mushroom Group, in Australia. All the songs on it, except for “Later Flight,” were recorded in the bedroom studio of longtime Jack River collaborator Xavier Dunn and the entire set was mastered by Mike Tucci.
River doesn’t fear reaching deep inside. “I’m caught between pop and super-close up reality,” is how she characterises her interest in producing and writing music.
On Sugar Mountain, a shimmery, empowering pop experience, River took the super-close-up route by exploring an alterative youth, a sideways look at those fun, formative years that were ripped away when her sister died in a tragic accident. She turned to music for self-remedy.
The album opened at No. 11 on the national albums chart and earned three ARIA nominations (including breakthrough artist of the year) and an APRA Music Award nod (breakthrough songwriter of the year).
With her forthcoming EP, River “set out to find songs that represented my heart in the digital age. Every song on this EP challenges me to be more real with my audience and myself.”
Looking back, much of Sugar Mountain embodied “strength, being independent,” she says. “I needed this EP to be restful and real” with a broad production range. “I did that on purpose because I think complexity, anarchy and chaos is key, you’ve got to be at peace with it. That’s where the production comes from, the idea of being imperfect. I need to give up the idea of perfection at this time.”
River will take her show on the road next year in support of the new set, with dates in the U.S. and, of course, Australia to be announced shortly.
Away from the studio and the stage, Rankin partnered her company Hopeless Utopian with Secret Sounds for both Grow your Own Festival – a celebration of music, art, food and agriculture in her hometown that’s entering its fourth year in 2020 – and Electric Lady, recognized as the country’s biggest female-fronted concert and conference.
An agent of change, Rankin is also throwing her energies into finding solutions to climate change. She organized Climate Hour, which featured a panel of experts discussing the impact and science behind the crisis, and she’s part of FEAT (or Future Energy Artists), an award-winning initiative led by Cloud Control’s Heidi Lenffer, the goal of which is to counteract artists’ carbon footprint.
There’s no time like now. Her homeland is entering a summer season framed by drought, bushfires and heatwaves.
“I’m really aware that the environmental impact of touring is insane. We’ll see more bands talk about that in the next couple of years,” she says. “It’s a complex question the music industry will need to ask itself.”