Interview: Lupa J on Finding Solace in Her Music

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

For Sydney-based artist Lupa J (the moniker of Imogen Jones), creating her debut album Swallow Me Whole, released in July, marked a pivotal moment in her career — leaving her in a place where she finally feels comfortable in her skin as an artist with a clear direction of the music she wants to make. Music has become her preferred method of exploring her identity and expressing the thoughts that are brimming within her mind. 

Lupa J’s music career started at fifteen and she released her first EP at sixteen, and her second EP at seventeen. Despite having gone through the process of working on EPs, she understandably didn’t yet feel comfortable with creating a full-length release. “I sort of felt like with my past EPs, I was trying stuff out and testing the waters and working up to doing a more coherent full body of work.”

For Lupa J, it was important for her to experience life before diving into the daunting process of creating an album, “I just think getting older and going through different experiences and learning what it's like to write about real-life experiences and how to do that has naturally evolved as I've grown older,” she said, “With this album, I was a lot more comfortable with being vulnerable in what I was writing than what I've experienced before.” 

Starting the process of working on Swallow Me Whole didn’t come without apprehension from the up-and-comer, who was spurred on to dive into the process by someone within the music industry, “I think it was an industry person, actually,” she admitted, “They said to me, ‘You should just do it. People wait too long before doing albums. Just be bold and show what you can do in an album’”. After a moment of clarity, she quit her job and spent approximately three or four weeks focused on sitting down and writing the album. “I guess I felt a bit scared to start, I was waiting for something to hit me”. 

In the beginning stages of the album, she didn’t intend on ever releasing the material  — instead, she made the music for herself and as a way of expressing what she was feeling inside and the changes she was facing internally. “Part of me was thinking, "No one's ever going to hear this." Though she felt nervous about what she was creating and sharing the music with both the world and those close to her, she persevered with the project. 

Despite the freeing feeling she felt from creating the music for Swallow Me Whole, part of her was worried about how she would be perceived as an artist. “With some of the stuff on this album like the track ‘Woman’, which is just really straight to the point, I was thinking, ‘Releasing this might be kind of making a statement and do I want to do that?’ I'm like, "It's going to change people's perception of me as an artist." She put her worries aside and decided that it was an important step for her own self-exploration to release the music. On her thought process, she said,  “I've written this because it's real and I should just honor that and release it.”

For the first time, she finally felt comfortable with showing her vulnerability to the world. “I wrote some of the more vulnerable tracks early on,” said Lupa J. “I feel like this is the first release I've put out where I feel like I know what kind of music I want to make.”. 

Originally, she wanted to create somewhere between 20 to 30 tracks, leaving lots of options. “That was a bit over-ambitious. I think I have like maybe three or four that didn't make the cut. I would've liked to write more if I could have. The majority of the tracks on the album came in one big burst.” 

Creating the album didn’t come without challenges, and at times, she felt overwhelmed by the project. When she felt uneasy about the direction she was taking, she stepped away and gave the album some breathing room — which ended up helping what she was trying to achieve even more. “If something started to feel too difficult or like I was forcing it, I took a break from it and just went and worked on other songs. So then naturally, I just finished the ones that were easy to work on.”

Writing the album was an intense process, and there were times she chose to stay within the walls of her home. “I barely left my house for a while. I didn't have a job,” she said, “A lot of it came out in that period of writing. Then after that, I did get a job. I started coming to Melbourne quite a bit more. Taking breaks from being in Sydney I think helped me and experiencing new things was important to get the last part of the album done.” To finish, she knew she had to step away from seclusion and experience life, “I think there's only so much you can write when you don't keep living and experiencing stuff,” Lupa J notes. 

The visual aspect of her artistry is another thing that motivates Lupa J as a creative. “The photos, the album art, and the music videos help construct the narrative I'm trying to present and make what I'm singing about more real,” she says. It’s also a process she enjoys immensely, “I find it really fun to try and create that, or create a different version of what I am trying to say in a song.” She co-directed the video for ‘The Crash’, and had an idea of what she wanted the visuals to look like when she was working on the song, “Once I wrote all the lyrics, I had all the images in my head, that then became the video.”

At the end of our interview, I asked Lupa J what she hoped listeners would feel when they digested Swallow Me Whole in its entirety. “That's a tough one,” she admits, “A lot of emotions went into making this record. There was an intense longing and desperation for something in my life to change and I didn't know how to do that.” 

After a slight pause, Lupa J concluded, “This might sound corny, but if people can feel that emotion, and that intense longing, and then take strength from it themselves, that's what I hope for with the record.”

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)
Photos by Kristy Smolcic (folio)

Listen to Swallow Me Whole:

Watch 'Woman':

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