Brisbane-based singer-songwriter Asha Jefferies was suffering a serious case of writer’s block last year, when inspiration struck. The end of a long-term relationship provided her with permission to question her identity, her goals, and – ultimately – her sense of self; it wasn’t an ideal situation, but it certainly cured Jefferies’ creative paralysis. She wrote the beautiful, reflective “Crybaby,” which features a more poppy sound than the melodic indie folk of her previous singles.
“The song is mostly about realizing the personal freedom that I had, and that I wasn’t allowing myself to have,” Jefferies says. “It’s so easy to tell yourself that you can’t do this or you can’t do that, but at the end of the day, you’re the only one that’s holding yourself back.”
A couple of months after breaking up, Jefferies got back together with her partner, Josh Tate. He’s also the visual artist, filmmaker and photographer for much of her work, so they had to reshape both their professional and personal relationship. The song, and the breakup, have led to a deeper connection, according to Jefferies.
“We were able to re-form our relationship. [‘Crybaby’] was all about the transitions and how positive relationships can die, but the relationship can [be repaired and] move on. Josh does all the creative content for my work, so it’s been a really interesting time collaborating and putting together a music video for the song about that breakup.”
“Crybaby” was created during the pandemic, at a time when Brisbane was not under the same harsh restrictions as Melbourne. Jefferies was able to meet with her producer Aidan Hogg (also a co-writer, producer and bass player in Jaguar Jonze) several times a week to write and record. They’d first met when Hogg was working as a sound engineer in the studio where Jefferies was recording and the two remained in touch; Hogg also played bass for her during her live performances in 2019.
Jefferies reached out to Hogg in May last year and asked if he was interested in writing and recording. That kicked off a few months of productive sessions at Plutonium Studios in Brisbane. “Going into the studio and talking to Aidan was so good for my mental health,” she says. “Being able to leave my home and be able to go and work.”
Home was a “really, really busy share house” last year, and Jefferies was limited to creating music on GarageBand in her bedroom. “I didn’t really feel that comfortable playing my guitar and building songs that way, so I would just put headphones on, sit on my computer, and record chords and melodies. It’s really addictive, and it’s been such an awesome way to teach myself how to produce in a really basic way.”
Working with Hogg was a contrast to her experience working on previous release “Break” with producer Ian Haug, songwriter and guitarist for both Powderfinger and The Church. Jefferies had applied to the American Express Music Backers Fund, winning a day of studio time with Haug and engineer Yanto Browning at Airlock Studios in Brisbane. Though they’d never met, Jefferies says the Brisbane music scene is one of pure support and “wholesomeness,” where emerging artists are given the friendship, support and advice to become recognised.
“A lot of the songs I’d written were with Aidan, so I brought in a bunch of demos from the last two to three years,” Jefferies remembers, adding that they settled on “Break” because everyone involved felt connected to it. The finished version shimmers in morning light, sparse piano chords, romantic layered harmonies, and luxuriates in the enormous spaciousness created by clever composition. “The way that Ian produces is so intuitive, and he really listens to all the lyrics especially, and [knows] what parts should be really delicate and what parts should crescendo. He’s always got so many mixing notes. He’s just so into it, it was really cool.”
They’ve talked about working together again in the future, but for now, Jefferies is writing by herself, a process she says feels organic, authentic, natural. Jefferies uses these same words when describing the artists she admires most, including Australian indie-folk pop acts Kate Miller-Heidke, Josh Pyke and the John Butler Trio and New Zealand artist Nadia Reid.
“I started singing really young and I wanted to be a diva, a pop star, but when I was 10 or 11, my dad took me to the Woodford Folk Festival. It was the first time I’d seen live music and all these really rootsy artists,” she recalls. “I think what really struck me was how real they were, and the connection that they were having with the audience. From then on, and throughout high school, it was so much about what the story is that I want to tell and how do I want to connect with people.”
Asha Jefferies will be connecting with audiences again soon – she’s assembled an all-female band (Jaymee Watkin, Vlada Edippulit and Jo Davie) and they’re preparing for a national tour, kicking off May 1 with a Sunshine Sounds Festival set at Eumundi Showgrounds in Queensland. Tickets for headlining gigs celebrating the release of “Crybaby” in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle and her hometown of Brisbane, are on sale now.