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Shout Sister Shout: Jess Green (IWD 2024)

By: undefined undefinedMarch 30, 2024

Motherhood & Music – Not just the Lullaby

Approx. 5 minutes to read

Jess Green is a creative force. Her career spans so much between her Art-Pop project, Pheno; her post-grad research for the Equity in Jazz Program at the Sydney Conservatorium; connecting with young music lovers in children’s programs such as Musica Viva’s Two Wheel Time Machine and stints on Play School ; and helping Skywhales soar with her sonic mastery. 

Musician, Jess Green

I’d like to thank Jess, for making the time to join me in this Shout Sister Shout: Motherhood & Music – Not just the Lullaby series. Limited time and other worldly time management skills is a recurring theme for many of the musicians I have interviewed and it is not lost on me that mothers have to prioritise, brutally.  In this interview, Jess tells me what we need to do to support parents in pursuing their art, the limitations of gender roles and why motherhood has made her ever more grateful for music.

Sonia de Freitas: Hi Jess, how are you and where does our interview find you today?

Jess Green: This finds me in my home studio in Canberra, catching up on deadlines. I have just started a new role in Sydney at the Conservatorium and between settling into that, finishing production for a new album, practicing for a concert next week, and thinking what I will present at a conference.. lets just say I am feeling a little .. stretched!?

SdF: Can you tell me a little more about your life as a mother and musician?

JG: I have two children, Frankie my daughter is 10 and my son Arky is 6. They are both very musical and artistic (their Dad, Cameron, is a painter). A lot of what they are drawn to is based on what we have made important.

In collaboration with Patricia Piccinini, We are the Skywhales was written by Jess Green to accompany the launch of Piccinini’s second hot air balloon sculpture ‘Papa Skywhale’.

SdF: What, if anything, may have changed for you in relation to the way you thought about music and your ambitions as a musician once you became a mother?

JG: What is strange is before children you hear this phrase “oh.. your priorities will change” and you think “oh right so I’ll care about music less?” but although perhaps you might want to change scheduling to suit parenting better and to allow enough time to connect with your children, you don’t care less. Music has become more important. I need that time for release. It makes me a better parent. Being a mother makes me so grateful for music, and really music makes me more attentive to how grateful I am to be a mother. Music helps keep you in tune with what is important about being alive.

SdF: How does the experience of motherhood influence your creativity and composition process?

JG: It’s very hard to tell what combination of things influence anything really. Certainly, I wanted to write text that reflected the extreme experiences of carrying, birthing and raising a child. I am more diverse in my approach these days, but that is for a lot of reasons. I certainly have learned the precious nature of time and can work very fast when I need to!

Jess Green performing as Pheno

SdF: How do you maintain your artistic identity and career trajectory while raising your children?

JG: Sometimes.. I don’t! Instagram makes it look like all I do is exciting things with a smile on my face! There’s plenty of un-photogenic moments in my life. I think an important thing is I work with people I want to, and sometimes I work like crazy to try and keep a balance between work and life, but it’s usually always in a state of flux.

SdF: What challenges have you have faced in balancing the demands of motherhood with the demands of a music career? Conversely, can you share any unique opportunities brought about by motherhood?

JG: The demands on my body after pregnancy and while breastfeeding were so extreme. Losing all my condition as a guitar player was very hard, and my first few gigs back were very stressful. It becomes harder and harder to stay “match-fit” but my research the last couple of years (a Masters through Sydney Con) has helped me develop some new strategies. 

Childcare while touring is a massive issue, As well as my amazing husband I’ve had my Mum, my sister, friends all come on tour, just so I can “do the gig”. Some of the most important career moments have been during periods when I was incredibly sleep deprived. So hard to concentrate, let alone enjoy.

Conversely, motherhood has allowed me to bond with other women musicians, particularly when touring. I’ve had these incredible experiences of feeling taken care of on tour with experienced mothers (Katie Noonan, Clare Bowditch, Deb Conway I’m looking at you!)

SdF: What role do societal expectations and stereotypes about motherhood play in shaping the public perception of musicians who are mothers?

JG: I think we are still in a push and pull between the restrictions of traditional gender roles for parenting and a false idea everyone can do everything all the time. Perhaps surprisingly, it was hard seeing the resistance in some male dominated spaces to my husband being a carer. It was upsetting for him and me.

SdF: How can the music industry evolve to better accommodate the needs of musicians who are navigating the intersection of motherhood and their music careers?

JG: We need to be able to claim childcare on tax! A data base of reliable and verified baby-sitting companies in each state.

SdF: Is there anything else you want us to understand about motherhood and music?

JG:I think I would say to younger musicians, you can find a balance between “keeping your hat in thing ring” and “taking the time you need” but reach out and talk to older parents don’t be afraid to seek mentorship.

SdF: What do you want for the future of music and for your children?

JG: I want this country to take public education and funding for arts education seriously.

To learn more about Jess Green visit: jessgreen.com.au  and pheno.com.au 

To hear and purchase Jess Green’s music visit: pheno.com.au/buy-music 

For more information on International Women’s Day visit: internationalwomensday.com 

Sonia de Freitas – Author
Photo credit: Cathy Kirkpatrick

Keep an eye out for my next interview in the Shout Sister Shout: Motherhood & Music – Not just the Lullaby series where I interview Kate Wadey.

Did you miss the previous Shout Sister Shout instalment? Read Amber Kenny’s interview here.

Thank you to Eastside Radio for making the Shout Sister Shout: Motherhood & Music – Not just the Lullaby interview series possible.

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the many lands on which I am privileged to work, learn, teach, create and perform. I extend my respects to all First Nations People. 

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