Interview: Jack River
Big Sky Wire: Making Tunes Inspired by Morning of The Earth
Big Sky Wire is a regular Coastalwatch column produced by Michele Lockwood & Andrew Kidman. This week, Andrew Kidman speaks to Jack River AKA Holly Rankin about how surfing and the soundtrack to Morning of The Earth has influenced her musical life.
As I opened Holly Rankin’s musical submission for Spirit of Akasha, sweet white sand and shells from the beaches of Foster spilled out from the envelope. Along with her tunes she also enclosed pages of her poetry, typed on recycled brown paper. I read the poems, Holly’s musings on the sea and nature. Through her music and her written word I could tell she understood completely what we were trying to do with the Spirit of Akasha project, Holly is a child of the Morning of the Earth generation and she got the sentiment. We asked her to record one of her demos, Wavves for the new soundtrack, it was a wonderful experience hearing it come to life. I recently spoke to her about her connection to the sea and above.
AK: How did you discover the songs from Morning of the Earth?
HR: I remember seeing glimpses of the cover of Morning of the Earth throughout my childhood in my dad's and my friends dads’ record collections and the CD in cars/on lounge room floors. I had listened to parts of it growing up, but the first time I consciously listened to it was when I moved to the city – after living by the ocean my whole life. From that first time I listened to it in my little room in Surry Hills – I think I played some part of it every day until I left Sydney to move back to the sea. Morning and night, it took me back to the ocean. It made me realise all the little things that mean I can't be that far from the ocean ever again.
You were telling me the story about talking to Andrew from MGMT when he was in Byron. You guys were discussing Peter Howe’s song ‘I’m Alive’. It’s pretty incredible how it has resonated with people all over the world of different ages. Do you have any thoughts on why this is?
Some thoughts on I’m Alive – or Morning of the Earth? Here’s both…
Morning of the Earth is one of the only films I have seen that makes me feel like I'm there inside the songs and the film. I think it feels like that because it shows not only the surfing, but the lifestyle – the feeling, emotion and the world – the real life that Albe, MP, Nat Young & co were living at the time. And I think that lifestyle is one that a lot of us want and feel inside of us – and try to get closer to. Nature, shacks on the beach, morning swims and food from the ground. In the film, they aren’t telling you how or why to live like that, they are just living it.
Like the film, the soundtrack captured some kind of pure and simple, blissful easiness, love for life and oneness with nature. I don't think you could write about that (musically) in a fake way – and if you did, it would just sound fake. Songs like, “Bali Waters’, ‘See the Swells’, ‘I’m Alive’, ‘Simple Ben’, ‘I'll be Alright’ and ‘Morning of the Earth’, are all in some way about the Ocean or some part of Nature/the Land or the Earth. When you’re writing about something you love, that isn’t human, it is such a pure and uninhibited, unconfused feeling. And it makes you somehow feel closer to yourself. That's why I listened to the soundtrack in the city everyday. Getting to know myself through the Ocean.
On, ‘I’m Alive’….
‘I'm Alive’ feels like a place – it takes me to the beach where I grew up – a bay – everything is in perfect balance, in and out of rhythm, swirling, delicate and Alive. The wind knows your name.
What do you enjoy about surfing?
You've got to be so alert but you're so calm, there's a whole world of unknown beneath you. There is unknown beyond the waves and safety on the shore, but you are there, waiting for the next breath from the horizon, the next rush of movement and life. It is pure energy from the planet, and it doesn’t stop or wait for you, it is there and you've got to catch it or it’s gone. And when you are on it, you are purely there, in the moment. You are nowhere but on that wave. And then you fall off, and the waves energy is returned to the ocean or given to the shore.
How did you go about conceptualising the song you wrote? It feels so much like the movements of the sea.
The melody and words of the intro came to me as I was surfing at sunset at One Mile in Forster, on my mal. The surf was small – almost flat – so you could see the sets moving across the water – that was purple – because of the sunset. I was sitting on my board wondering if someone somewhere else along the coast was to catch the same wave as I did, would I somehow meet them one day - do people on the same wavelength choose the same waves? Hahaha... Dom & I came up with the bass line one day in the studio and the song just flowed from there.
There weren’t too many concepts involved after the intro – we just let the song be itself. It came with its own natural rhythm that we just followed.
Tell us a little about your music partner on the project Dom?
Domo is a musical unicorn Pegasus. Once he got distracted on the way to the studio and went to Alice Springs instead.
How did you get into music, was there anyone who inspired you or encouraged you?
Music has been there since I could climb up to the piano & writing has always been the easiest way for me to communicate with myself. Songs have wandered into my head since I was a little kid.
Meeting people like Dom (there aren’t many like Dom) made it irresistible to want to make the music in my head real.
Inspiration for me comes from every moment, leaf, thing, eye, animal, dream, cloud, nothing, person.
The people who inspire me are the ones who go out of their way to express the way they feel or see or hear the Universe, not the way that is accepted or the easiest way. Finding the music and words of Neil Young, the Chili Peppers, the Doors, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys, were all big moments for me growing up.
What was it like growing up in Foster on the beach, how do you think it’s informed your life?
Growing up on the beach has given me a life long friend in the ocean and nature. The ocean is constantly changing, and in that, she doesn’t change. You can always trust that she will be there and she will be wild in her own way. The creatures – the bottlenose dolphins, the whales, the seasons, the changing landscape – I feel so blessed to live in a place where my brother and sister and my dog and I have been able to live alongside nature like that. Drip sand castles, underwater mermaid initiations, secret castles in the rocks, endless shells and psychedelic rock pools and running down the sand dunes.
One Mile has also given me a family-like connection to the tribe of kids that lived along the beach – we all feel like the beach is a kind of parent figure. This has informed the way I feel about the Earth and the capacity of our race to feel as a part of nature once again.
Jack River is supporting Tom Curren at The Great Northern Hotel in Byron Bay on the 8th February
For more about Andrew Kidman's film celebrating 40 years of Morning of The Earth, head to the Spirit of Akasha blog here.
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