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Jeremy Neale talks industry and introspection

Jeremy Neale is an award-winning singer-songwriter from Brisbane, Australia. Formerly a frontman to local legends Velociraptor, Neale has successfully carved out a solo career over the past three years. His latest album, We Were Trying To Make It Out was written across two cities over two years.

What do you think of melody generally? Do you think it’s the most important thing for a pop song?
I think it is. Well I mean, personally, but you know, I think we’re in a more of a ‘vibe’ time for music. But I do think that no, it is, it’s my favourite part anyway. I get really excited. I form a melody first and that’s where I’m quite – I’m very energised at that point. You know, like it’s just like, maybe had a coffee, I’m standing and playing guitar and then kind of like pacing or walking around and constructing a melody. So that’s my favourite part. I think lyrics are really important, I feel they’re more important as time goes on. Especially, you know, you get to know yourself a bit better and you know exactly what you want to say. But I’m still excited about the melody.

Do you think you were very personal on this album?
Yeah. This one, I think I finally got it right. I mean, I think I started taking lyrics seriously way back on that Velociraptor self-titled album (2014), but because I could hide behind a band name with those songs, you can be a bit more candid I guess. And then [when] it’s your own name on something, you kind of, I don’t know. Personally I’ve taken my time getting comfortable with saying exactly what I want to say and finding the right way to say it. So now this record, it’s incredibly personal, incredibly succinct as to what I wanted to say and very cohesive throughout as well.

Do you think it’s important for artists to be constantly trying to reveal themselves?
I don’t know. I mean, it depends what your aim is as well. It depends if you try and make a record for a bigger market or if you’re just trying to write a record for you and people like you. Because music for me is kind of – uh, you know, it’s not like music is what sustains me financially. I have a day job so I’m fortunate – well, it’s flip sides. It’d be cool if music sustained me, but the flip side is that I can just make whatever I want to make. And I think it’s really important for, you know, every particular voice to be able to express their situation honestly. Because music should contain a wide array of voices. It shouldn’t just be people in the top one percent of the music game where they’re making records from a point of luxury. It should also be people who are very much in the working class. And having those every day kind of struggles with, you know, uh, whatever it is.

It’d be cool if music sustained me, but the flip side is that I can just make whatever I want to make.

Talking about the top tier who are able to sustain their careers through music alone, versus people who have a day job, like as you said, yourself. Do you think that there’s a group of people who are being pushed out of music careers because they have to rely more heavily on their side hustles in order to get by? Perhaps they end up doing less and less music before finally giving up on it?
I think so. Like 100%, there’s this point where it’s not really sustainable, cos music I think is more expensive than a lot of people understand as well. You know, whether it’s recording or promoting it or like you’re pressing it to vinyl and then traveling to tour it, um, there’s just so many costs and there’s not a lot of ways for money to come in consistently for music I guess. So it’s just that thing where you do at some point – it depends when you call it, um, either what you’re calling is that your saying you can’t continue at all because it’s not feasible or what you’re saying is “I can continue but with a lot less forward motion”. So you do get left behind just because you can’t even keep up with your own writing output or the quality of which you want to present things, you don’t have the means to be able to do it. So if you are writing and you could do whatever you wanted in music, perhaps you would be able to put out a record every year. But if you’ve got to amass the funds to do another one, then maybe that cycle gets blown out to every two, every two and a half years. So I do think that a lot of people are getting left behind and in the future will get left behind. Which is sad as well because once again on that variety of voices thing, we need to have voices across the board in that arena.

What do you think needs to happen then in order to make sure we hear more of those voices that can get left behind? Is it all literally just government funding? Should people just be paying more for music? Is streaming the devil?
(Laughs) I think, I mean, I like the access to streaming. Streaming’s great cos that’s how I access music too. So I’m doing myself out of the job (laughs). I do think that maybe more so it comes down to maybe people understanding what the costs are behind music, so that it’s a bit more, um, you know, like if people are willing to maybe go to the shows or buy the records and understand, yeah, in a community kind of way. Like what it costs to keep artists they like in the business. Yeah. So I don’t really have a solution.

Now that we’re living in an era in which it’s so easy to be a bedroom producer or a bedroom band, do you think that’s affecting the live scene? Do you think bands aren’t getting their live chops the way they used to?
Yeah, I mean it’s interesting. And what I like about the current thing though, it’s like, there’s an accessibility to it. I like that music is not kept on a pedestal now. Like if people want to make it, you should have access to it. And I think that the live thing, I mean, I think regardless, like whether you get the opportunities to do it or you’re just thinking about it a lot, it just takes so long to get it right anyway. I think it’s just good that everyone’s got the opportunity to try it out, cos the best way I’ve ever figured out music was through trial and error. So give out more opportunity for that trial and error it’ll serve you better in the long run.

Do you still get inspired by bands? Like are there any bands right now that you’re listening to and go like, “wow, I wish I’d thought of that melody” or “man, I wish we could play a show with them”?
Well I’m the type, whenever I see a gig, I just want to make that music, you know, like I’m so easily swayed. I’m just like, “aw, wish I had a band like that”.

So you think like, “maybe I can make one”.
Yeah, you do that and you’re like, “wait a second. Now I know how much grief it takes from inception of the idea to releasing something. Maybe I won’t do that” (laughs). Yeah, I mean, there’s loads of stuff I like at the moment. My song of the end of 2019 for me was this band from Brisbane called Holiday Party and this song called “No One”. It was so beautiful. I was just like, “this is so far beyond what I’m capable of making”. And I love that too. I love that there’s still like – you know, like I have a fair idea of how music works, but like there’s still lots of stuff I hear, and I’m like, “ah, I don’t even know how you craft that”. Yeah, there’s still some mystery and magic and music.

With the way music’s going now, with a lot of bedroom producers and top-tier pop artists like Billie Eilish. I mean, talking about melody before, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of melody in Billie Eilish’s music, but there’s a lot of beats, a lot of production. Do you think that there’s a place for just straight up guitar pop bands anymore?
Uh, I mean there’s always going to be a niche, um, and I quite like it being a niche anyway, it’s fine (laughs). And you just gotta do what you gotta do. So I think there’s still gonna be these people that are drawn to it. And so long as there’s still people being active in it, keeping a scene alive, then there’s a place for those people to play. And you know, I do find other forms of music interesting. I just can’t find a way to succinctly say what I want to say in those things. And I think at some point I switched over from wanting to just make something that was super hooky and instead making something that had the hooks but said something. And I just can’t quite do that in any other genre, I guess. So I guess maybe I’ll be a bedroom producer in my retirement years, we’ll see.

Yeah, there you go. You might go all Gorillaz style and just have hip hop artists come in and do a verse here and there…
You can stay in the business forever if you’re an animated band as well!

Yeah, that’s it. Do you think there’s a such a thing as disposable pop? We were talking about how you’re very personal in your music now and you’re feeling more of yourself. Is there the opposite in the pop world, where it’s just a disposable pop song?
Well, I think there’s definitely people whose aim is just to make something catchy and broad… So you could call that throwaway pop, but then if somebody hears it and they find an in, even with a few basic lines that matches kind of how they’re feeling at the time, then suddenly that thing which may have initially been throwaway pop, that has actual value to somebody. And if there’s a way to find an in to pretty much any song, then I guess, yeah, no matter how something starts as an inception, could have more value once perceived and interpreted out in the world.

I think even now a record is a pretty tough thing. Even as a listener, I think my own ability to concentrate on one single thing is a bit diminished.

How do you think music is going to be consumed in 10 years time? Do you think people are going to continue streaming? Do you think artists will go down the King Gizzard route and release five albums a year? Do you think albums will even exist still?
So that’s a great question. I think even now a record is a pretty tough thing. Even as a listener, I think my own ability to concentrate on one single thing is a bit diminished. So I’ll like, you know, maybe I’ll listen to a record, but I’ll listen to it in two parts, listen to half a record, then I’ll take a break and do something else, come back to the other half. So, you know, I think that affects things. I think it’s also like, you know, I did read an article a while back which was saying that the way that people consume music now is more as a background thing, as background noise as opposed to super engaging with it. So I mean that could change things too. I don’t know. I think the shift you’re seeing now is that people want to be constantly releasing stuff. So if that’s albums, there’s that thing now where you want to be constantly in cycle, have some kind of content you can be pushing. So maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m going to get to that five records a year thing, but then that’s really hard to sustain.

You’ve always had some fairly good support from Triple J. Do you ever see a time when you won’t get that support and how do you think that’ll affect you?
I mean, I think, you know, in terms of that, like I was fortunate earlier on to have that support. I think now things have shifted to Double J as I’ve gone progressively more adult contemporary. Can’t help the passage of time. But because I guess I’m not like actively touring the same way I used to do and I’ve just taken a lot of the variables out so that I don’t crush myself in debt like I’ve done in the past. I often say that I am the diamond mine and I have to control the supply (laughs).

I’ve just taken a lot of the variables out so that I don’t crush myself in debt like I’ve done in the past. I often say that I am the diamond mine and I have to control the supply.

Yeah, that’s a great saying.
Yeah. So these days I’ll only do a tour when there’s a record coming out as opposed to maybe, you know, five or six years ago. I think in one year I did paid tours, not supports, and that was I guess just to get out there, but just really like cost-wise, just a nightmare. I guess I gotta just do my thing and hope that somebody else is kind of drawn to it or it’s empathetic to their own life situation or the sound is what they want to hear. And hope that I can sustain the operation of being incredibly niche.

Have you tried to do stuff internationally? Do you think that’s important for bands, Australian bands particularly, being so far away from the rest of the world, to try and branch out and tour internationally?
I did try, you know, I’ve been to the UK twice. Once with Velociraptor and once with the solo project, and Singapore and you know, got to engage, like a publicist and radio plugger in the US, but I just didn’t see the return on investment I guess. And cos I’m not independently wealthy, I couldn’t keep trying. I think it’s one of those things where, if you want to do it, you’ve got to commit to it. But that’s a huge commitment. DZ Deathrays are a really good example. They just kind of hammered those markets. Hammered the UK and Europe for years and years and years and now it’s paying off. But it’s tough. It’s a hard slog.

What was the hardest song to write on this album considering this was a very personal album in terms of revealing more of yourself and your music?
You know, I think maybe the title track. It’s why I thought the title track was so important… I had this big reflection time and had to stop for a bit and looked at my life and I was like, “why have I treated myself with not so much kindness over time?” You know, “why have I kind of pushed myself by like, not sleeping so I can get things done, and why was I so stressed out for so long?” And you know, “was there anything that I did really worth it with any of that, um, you know, brutality towards myself actually worth it in the grand scheme of things”. You don’t know when you’re in it because you’re just reacting. It’s not until you get that break and you stop and you look back and you can actually be proactive about, you know, the life you want to create and what kind of headspace you want to occupy. And so getting that, all those sentiments into the one song took me a long time to crack, I guess. I wanted it to be confessional and sad, but I wanted to have a lot of empathy to it. And then trying to get that in the chorus was a big thing for me. Um, yeah, so I think that was the hardest one for me to get right.

If you could collaborate with any artist in any medium, who would it be, and what would you create?
Oh, you know, before he gets out of the biz entirely, I would love to work with Phil Collins. He’s my boy.

That’d be great. Is there a particular era of Phil Collins that you want to work with or do you just want his powerful drums?
(Laughs) I’ve tried to rip off the powerful drums before, but I just, uh, I don’t know why – I just had him on a pedestal from when I was kid. Hey, it’s very early. Yeah, early influence. And then I just, yeah, I think he’s just interesting. I know he doesn’t do much now except covers and I did see his concert where he was in a chair the whole time, which was actually still awesome. But yeah, I just think it’s just gotta be Phil. Even the Tarzan-era Phil, you know, like that’s a cool challenge. Like, “hey, we need you to write something that’s very Phil Collins, but also ethically Disney”.

(Laughs) Well that sounds like that’d go well in a Jeremy Neale album I think. Phil Collins, but Disney.
Right. As long as he gets the Google alert about this, he may get into contact.