Some names crop up repeatedly if you pay attention to the Glasgow music scene. With a few, it’s all about connections. With others, it’s a ringing endorsement of their talent and what they bring to the table. Jill O’Sullivan is one such act, her presence marking whatever project she is working on as being worthy of your interest. The latest example of Jill’s craft is This Rock, the debut Jill Lorean album.
SNACK caught up with Jill to chat about reflection, Newsround, whether you should move beyond punching people in the face, and, of course, music. Sadly, the zombie-apocalypse-list chat has been squeezed into the outtakes!
Hi Jill, how are you doing?
I’m good, recovering from the dreaded Covid. I’m okay, not my best self, but I’m never my best self! I had the busiest week for a few years the week before I got it.
Your new album, This Rock, covers a lot of ground musically. Was this deliberate?
The three of us [Jill, Andy Monaghan (Frightened Rabbit), and Peter Kelly] have different styles, which is why I wanted to work with them. My particular being lends itself to folkier sounds, while Andy is guitar-driven. It’s a different style to mine, and I love it. Also, Andy plays bass on the album. He uses his pedals creatively. Pete is more into electro music, and that lends more depth.
I was hoping it would feel like a cohesive piece, but that each song has its identity.
How did the three of you come together?
I knew I wanted to work with them. I’ve been working with Andy for years; he recorded different things I’ve worked on, including an album called Do the Gods Speak Esperanto, with my friend Sean [Cumming, of John Knox Sex Club]. Andy recorded it, and I loved the way he approached it. He was open-minded, but focused and thoughtful. He respects the art and wants to do it right, but he has fun with it. He enjoys messing about with things. He calls himself a button pusher, but that doesn’t give him enough credit.
He said to me that if I wanted to go into the studio and get some demos done, we could. I also had Pete in mind for drumming. He and I worked on a dance project together. He’s very fluid and flexible, really emotional, and I like that combination.
I was happy to work with the two of them. Andy and I demoed up eight or nine songs, and six of them were really clicking. We got offered a couple of gigs, we played those six songs, and loved it. I asked if we could record them as a document, just so I have it.
Andy put up all these mics in the studio, and we recorded the six tracks. When I listened back, I loved it, and I asked the guys if they’d be cool with putting it out as an EP [Not Your First, released in 2020]. They were up for that!
We promoted it a little bit and then lockdown happened. It was a strange thing because people were being so supportive of vinyl and bands, people were buying the album, and there was so much warmth. There wasn’t much pickup on blogs and the media. We were new, and it was such a strange time that I felt weird promoting it, and avoided assertively doing that.
But people were warm, and I realised people needed music. It wasn’t me or Jill Lorean, but music.
Folk were stuck indoors and coping by listening to tunes, and this was reflected in the support we got. It put wind in our sails, and we wanted to do an album. When we were allowed to, we played about with ideas, but none of us had any money. We were all skint and scared! I applied for some funding [from Creative Scotland], and we were able to do it.
The EP was released in May 2020. It’s a different world to the one the album comes out in. As an artist, have you changed?
With the EP, everything was quick. I was starting to explore the idea of this act, this band. I had done so many specific collaborations; I was trying to get a better sense of myself. By the time the album came out, I was trying to grasp what was happening inside my head.
In Sparrow and The Workshop [Jill’s former band], it was really intense. We did 180 or so gigs in a year. A lot of that, I was in my 20s, I was angsty and angry. I don’t think the lyrics were selfish, as people said they related to them, but when you make stuff you need to be a little bit egotistical.
With Jill Lorean, I want to relate to people on an organic level. I was thinking about nature, and being kinder; lockdown made me think about that. We’ve been far apart at times, and I wanted to feel like two branches touching. Lyrically, I think the album is cohesive – there’s a lot of reflection. Of womanhood, of motherhood, thinking about my ancestors and what it means to be, and be better.
In the past, I would point fingers and say, ‘you suck’ or ‘I’m going to punch you in the face’ and now, like ‘Beekeeper’ on the record, it’s about making something positive that grows. As opposed to just punching something!
I feel I’ve become a bit more complex as I’ve got older, but strangely, seeking simplicity. You can control your emotions a bit more as you get older. Also, honesty and confidence in saying this is what I like, and this is the music I want to make.
I lost my confidence in playing guitar, and this was one of the nice things about connecting with Andy. When we demoed songs, I asked him to play the guitar part, and make it better. He’d say no, and said it was an expression of me and I should do it. I was buoyed by his support; he’s encouraging and I’m glad I played it. I also got my violin out, and explored that. Pete too, he wanted to be involved, and it was nice being in a room, working with them.
I’ve been lucky that everyone I’ve worked with, I’ve enjoyed. Even BDY_PRTS [Jill’s band with Jenny Reeve] was a left-turn, and it was enjoyable. That was an exploration of me and Jen’s friendship, and it was fun. I was out of my comfort zone, if I’m honest, but it was nice.
Working with Pete and Andy was a positive space, and when you think about life today, everything’s heavy, and feels bigger than us as individuals. War, a pandemic, a virus we still know nothing about. It’s easy to think what is my purpose? Social media is so fast-moving, and the way we communicate or absorb information, it’s fast. I think it’s faster than our brains can handle. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but it’s heartbreaking.
Art is important. With all the heaviness going on, if you’re not hurting people and you’re trying to live a decent life, that’s good. With ‘Anti-War Lullaby’, that actually happened, with my daughter asking me about war. It was me who cried. Most of us do want to live in peace, have nice connections.
Even with music. Music is beautiful, but the music industry is terrible. Within everything, there’s reflections of light, and reflections of dark. It’s all about looking for light.
The album ends with ‘Anti-War Lullaby’, it’s a title that will always ring true, but you’ve timed that well?
I didn’t mean to! Oh, man. My daughter watches Newsround, a lovely show for kids, and it’s presented to them in a way that gets them to think without being too scary. She was asking me about the war in Syria, and we had a discussion around that.
Is your daughter of an age where she engages with your music?
She is going to be eight soon, and she wants to engage, so I get her involved a little bit. If we have mixes, I ask if she wants to listen, and she gives her opinion. One of the great things about asking her is she still thinks I’m really cool! She says sweet things. She loved ‘Strawberry Moon’ from the EP and she asked if I could go on Eurovision and sing it. She’s a champion.
I put out a video for ‘Black Dog’ with a bunch of animations, and I got her to do ten seconds. She wanted to do the whole thing, but I’m sure that’s child exploitation. She was super chuffed to take part. It makes sense for me because she inspires me, so it’s good to see a small bit of her in what I do with Jill Lorean.
Some great artists will support you at Hug and Pint – are you able to stay in touch with new acts?
Well, yes and no. I love listening to music, and I’m always seeking out new stuff. I can fall into the habit of playing the same stuff over and over, so I ask people for recommendations about new stuff. I asked Hug & Pint for recommendations.
I like Raveloe. Before lockdown, she put a song out on Olive Grove, and it was brilliant. I think she’s great, and she’s playing, so that will be really nice. Her writing is sophisticated and she plays really interesting chords. It’s emotional, and I engage well with emotional music. I don’t know what her plans are, but I look forward to her show.
Also, Ali Sha Sha, who I don’t know, but I listened to her and she’s very unique and eclectic. I don’t know what she’ll bring live, if it’s just her or a band, but I love that. I get the feeling she does a different show every time, and I like that. It’ll be fun, and it’s good to support other Glasgow musicians who are great, and who are women.
Hopefully, there will be more gigs for autumn. I’m like a snail with an itchy foot, I want to get back out there. I’m also thinking about another album or EP. Jill Lorean is a labour of love, but I do music facilitating workshops for people in care, prison, and in community centres. I don’t know how I got involved with that, but I get regular work, and I love it.
I love helping people to write songs. I never thought I had a skill, but over the years, I’ve done this, and that’s nice. Also, some stuff for theatres. I had projects before Covid, and they were paused, but in late summer to winter we’re doing them, so I’ll be busy. And trying to write and perform more Jill Lorean songs, so I won’t have much time to come up for air!
And finally, with the album set for release, what are your general thoughts?
I’m really proud of this record, I hope it connects with people in some way, and that they dig it. That’s all I can ask for. It would be nice, if people were in a position to, to buy the album on vinyl, as that would really help us!
This Rock was released earlier this month on Monohands Records.
Jill Lorean will be playing The Hug and Pint on 28th May
Photo credit: Stephanie Gibson