Brisbane artist Jaguar Jonze, the alter-ego of Deena Lynch, is brave – both in the bold moves she makes as an artist, and as a woman navigating a tense socio-political climate. Despite her lengthy 2020 hospitalization due to COVID-19, she released her first EP, Diamonds & Liquid Gold while literally in the back of an ambulance; completed her second EP, Antihero, released April 16th; began collecting statements from victims of a Melbourne photographer accused of sexual assault; and revealed her own experiences with racism directed at the Asian community.
Lynch and her band had been working on Diamonds & Liquid Gold since founding Jaguar Jonze in 2018. Released in April last year, the EP established the project’s eclectic, vintage-meets-futuristic pop sound on tracks “Kill Me With Your Love,” “Beijing Baby,” and “Rabbit Hole.”
“I’m really proud of my debut EP, especially because I had worked so hard for so long in the lead up to it,” recalls Lynch. “When it came time to release the EP, the world had gone into a pandemic. All of my plans and structures had like fallen out of place, and my health was something that I was battling. I decided to release Diamonds & Liquid Gold regardless of the fact that my entire plan was shot to bits, because it was the only constant that I had in an environment of chaos, and I felt like letting that go would also further devastate me. It gave me something to look forward to every day and work on while I was under hospital care, recovering from COVID.”
Antihero provided an opportunity to further investigate and experiment with what Jaguar Jonze sounds like, and what it could sound like. “On my debut EP, it was me figuring out who I was as an artist, what I wanted to say as an artist. It was a really slow experimentation,” Lynch says. “I’m really proud of the body of work we pulled together to help identify what that Jaguar Jones sound is, and now we just get to play on from that and experiment further, which is what hopefully I’ve been doing with Antihero too.”
Lynch is the ultimate multimedia artist – outside of her music, she’s a portrait photographer, a graphic designer and a painter; Jaguar Jonze, Dusky Jonze, and Spectator Jonze each have an Instagram account. Prior to assuming the Jaguar Jonze alias, Lynch performed simply as “Deena,” self-releasing two albums. In fact, Lynch doesn’t see herself as the Jaguar Jonze; her bandmates are an essential element of the project. “I’ve got Joe Fallon on lead guitar, Jacob Mann on drums, and then Aidan Hogg on bass, who is also producer alongside me, and each of them are so important. They’ve been with me since the project started,” she says. “Each of them bring their own individual parts, but we work so well together. That’s why we were able to record Antihero without physically being in the same space, because we’ve spent years working together.”
The band signed with Nettwerk Music Group in 2018, who brought US producer John Congleton on board for Antihero, working together remotely due to the pandemic. Congleton’s previous work with St. Vincent, Lana Del Rey and Angel Olsen had won Lynch over years before. “It allowed me to push boundaries and think outside of the box and comfort zone of where I would normally go,” Lynch says, of sharing production roles with Hogg and Congleton. “I think also because of the environment that I was in through the entire making of Antihero – it was actually recorded and finished off while I was in hospital with COVID – there is that layer of darkness, anxiety, uncertainty and desperation, that kind of seeped through the music and gave it a more industrial, dark undertone.”
Lynch was born in Japan; since her father was Australian, she moved there aged six, but the process of waiting for her Taiwanese mother’s citizenship meant moving between homes for years, which Lynch believes is the catalyst for her complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Her PTSD experience was the subject of “Rabbit Hole,” which she performed as part of Eurovision Australia Decides in February last year. Her inclusion was a last minute opportunity, since the original artist had pulled out. Once Lynch was assured that she’d have full artistic license to collaborate with the Eurovision directors, she got on board.
“I got to have some really amazing experiences,” she enthuses. “It was my very first live TV performance. It was the biggest show that I had ever done, physically, in a room of 3500 people. I’d never had lighting design, never had any ear monitors, I never had set design. It was like, if Jaguar Jonze was doing stadium shows, what would it be like, and I got to play in that fantasy world for a night.”
With Antihero, Jaguar Jonze takes the fantasy even further, bringing each of the EP’s songs to life with a series of visually striking videos. Lynch’s flamboyant outfits and take-no-prisoners energy are like beautiful armour against a harsh world, one in which Jonze has been on the pointy end of some vicious microaggressions and outright racism.
In a recent Instagram post, Lynch shared some “brutal truth” with her followers, writing: “Today marks one year since I received my positive test result for COVID-19… The Asian hate and racism I dealt with from friends, the public and those who were looking for a place to project while I was trying to recover from COVID-19 was unacceptable… Racism is not new to me or to my fellow Asian communities but the pandemic has heightened and threatened our safety to a level where we can no longer be compliant and stay silent, nor should we have to. I will no longer push past the feelings I’ve had over the year and allow it to continue to hurt those around me. My body has healed but my heart remains broken. We NEED to make a change.”
She reflects on the post now as the beginning of a series of “snapshots” of the reality of racism for herself and so many others. “To be honest, I haven’t had an interview talking about racism yet, so it’s something I’m still learning to process and articulate and that post was my first time talking about it,” she explains. “The reason it took me a year to post about it was that society wasn’t ready to hear it and accept it, and that environment had been finally broken down because of Black Lives Matter and the current movement in the US, with #StopAsianHate. The work of other people has made it easier to digest what I’m saying. I just want to create conversations and to learn from that and hopefully it creates a safer environment for people to take accountability and create change, rather than instilling fear into everyone.”
Shedding light on racism hasn’t been Lynch’s only form of activism; in July last year, she became aware of several women’s stories of being sexually harassed by a well-known Melbourne photographer. Having had her own experience in the past, Lynch was compelled to open her inbox to women who wanted to share their stories. Consequently, over 130 women came forward with allegations of harassment against the photographer. Lynch shared their stories anonymously through handwritten post-it notes on Instagram.
“Reports have been made to the police, and not much has happened, and been acted upon,” she admits, with an evident tiredness to her voice. “I’ve been working on a lot of investigations behind the scenes, but all of that takes time. It’s a bit of a waiting game of whether or not society is ready to make an important change. The fact that calling it out, like I did, took on the momentum that it did, is a miracle in itself. It’s really sad that [coming forward] is a difficult feat to achieve.”
Lynch still suffering post-COVID fatigue, but it hasn’t prevented her from writing new material, and getting excited about supporting San Cisco on their national tour, which kicks off May 26 in Western Australia. She’s particularly hyped to perform “Murder,” since she never knows what version of the song she’ll end up delivering.
“I really love performing ‘Murder’ because I get to play the flute in it, and I get to sing without my guitar so it’s just me and the mic stand,” she says. “Depending on how I’m feeling that day or what the crowd is vibing to or the environment or how the band is collaborating together, for some reason it’s a song that seems to be versatile to different interpretations. So I always have a lot of fun with it.”
Having fun with murder while saving society from itself, and overcoming a deadly virus while releasing an EP from the back of an ambulance? It sounds like Jaguar Jonze has all the material for a memoir. Here’s hoping.
Follow Jaguar Jonze on Instagram for ongoing updates.