Out Friday 7 October 2016 via I OH YOU

“They arrive in my head and I make them,” says Jack River – aka Holly Rankin – of her eclectic song-writing vision. “I always want to create a feeling that’s completely original to the song. I think in our world right now a lot of things are so homogenised and repetitive that we expect repetitiveness. I want to avoid that.”

Rankin’s debut five-track EP, Highway Songs No. 2, introduces Jack River, not just as a fully-realised songwriting talent, but as an architect of singular design. “Palo Alto” swings on an indie-rock groove that opens to a cascading pop chorus; “Talk Like That” pivots into psychedelic electro territory; “Dream Girl” a kiss-off, bubblegum pop gem. ‘Head To Stars’ might be the most direct link to her NSW surf coast upbringing, a shimmering campfire lope that admonishes rather than lulls (“I don’t wanna know ya / If I can’t hold you like I’m meant to.”). A smoky cover of Cigarette’s After Sex’s cult lament “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” to close.

The constant through-line is Rankin’s voice – a chameleonic instrument that – whether in sly drawl, full volume, or heavy-lidded lilt – projects unerring confidence laced with sly personal reference. Jack River sounds no bullshit. These aren’t love songs, but just-past-love songs.

“I’ve built into them a kind of emotional resilience,” says Rankin. “Strength. Not giving a fuck. A sense of getting through it, moving on and forward. Looking back, but not giving in.’

Rankin has a lot to look back on.

Growing up in Forster, on the NSW surf coast, imagination was key to a vivid adolescence. Days were spent running around sand hills, or exploring the bush, which in turn fired her imagination.

“I was super overwhelmed by experiences as a kid, in a good way” says Rankin. “I started writing from a really young age. Poetry or stories, or diary entries. As soon as I felt something stranger than normality, I wrote about it.”

As a child Rankin dabbled with violin, piano, and trombone. But in guitar she found a companion for words. Meanwhile her connection with the environment was shaping her worldview –  she remembers penning a song at nine years old about a family farm being developed – and it led her to the protest-folk of Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell.

Then in her early teens, an idyllic existence was altered. Rankin’s younger sister passed away in a tragic accident.

“It was like a comet into my world,” says Rankin. “It affected everything as I knew it. Being a teenager and experiencing that, all my emotions had to go somewhere.” As she grieved, Rankin’s songs became heavier, grittier, darker, more passionate. She connected with the healing possibilities of music. “It became like a medicine,” she says. “That’s when I began to really craft music instead of just write it for fun.”

Shows in Forster led to Newcastle, then a burgeoning Sydney scene that included The Preatures, Johnny Took (DMA’s), and Spookyland. Rankin experimented with recordings both bare bones and lush, first with producer Govinda Doyle, then Tim Powles. She dubbed her fledgling project Jack River, a teenage “pirate name” given to her by friends – a name not bound to anything but itself. She finally released a psychedelic-tinged EP in 2013… then promptly removed all trace of it.

“It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do,” she says of the false start. “I realised I wanted to melt together that psychedelic production and instrumentation with songs that came from a place closer to my heart. Closer to that honest folk world where I began.”

The result is Highway Songs No. 2. Recorded and produced by Rankin, with assistance from producers John Castle and Xavier Dunn, the EP draws on Rankin’s life experience – from Forster, to Sydney, to frequent music-seeking trips overseas. It announces Jack River as an artist not beholden to any one genre. That’s intentional.

“Instead of some grand opening statement, it’s a mix-tape to take with you,” says Rankin. “It’s not the first set of songs I’ve made, and it’s certainly not the last. It’s a snapshot of life right now.”

Rankin’s past is already in the rear view – Jack River starts here.


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