Imogen Clark Hits a Nerve with Heartbreakingly Honest Bastards EP

Photo Credit: Daniel Boud x Giulia Giannini McGauran

Alt-country, nu-folkie Imogen Clark is possibly the hardest working musician you haven’t heard of. She wrote her first song at 13 (“I loved writing my own music,” she admits), going on to tour Australia, release two albums, and work with some well-known Australian talents. Lately, she’s been keeping busy preparing for a national headline tour and the drop of her EP Bastards on May 21, 2020. The EP and the tour are named after the track of the same title, a vehicle for Clark to exorcise the demons of misogyny that had haunted her career and her confidence.

“’Bastards’ is a song about really struggling with patronizing people in the music industry. I’m sure every industry has people like this – people who just underestimate you at every turn and make you feel like you don’t know how to do your job,” says Clark. “I just felt like I was encountering it a lot, and that comes with the territory of being a young female artist.”

She calls it her “fire in the belly song” – one which she hopes will give other female artists the strength and sustenance to know that they’re not alone, and that they can use their music and voice to call out bastard behaviour.

Clark chose to work with LA-based producer Mike Bloom after their successful partnership on her acclaimed 2020 EP, The Making Of Me. Clark and Bloom (who has worked with Jenny Lewis and Julian Casablancas) initially met at an Elvis Costello concert; her manager had a hunch that the two would work well together, and that forecast that proved true.

Though The Making of Me happened unexpectedly, creating Bastards was an organic process. “We started making what we thought were just a handful of demos, but as we were moving along with them, we realized we were putting so much effort into these, we cared about them, and we were having so much fun,” she recalls. “We realized we were making a record.”

On their second outing together, Bloom provided Clark with the comfort and confidence to do things that scared and challenged her, resulting in her most confessional work to date. Leading up to the anticipated release of the EP, she has shared four singles, including the just-released “First Class Man” and a candid behind-the-scenes video; the yearning, sweet “Forget About London;”  heartfelt “Eat You Alive;” and confessional, vulnerable “Never This Time.”

“Never This Time” was co-written with none other than Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes and Jason Boesel of Rilo Kiley, who also plays drums on the track. In the studio, Clark had casually mentioned to Bloom that she loved a song by Dawes, only to discover that the world is really very small; Goldsmith and Bloom are friends, so the producer offered to set up a writing session.

Clark’s “jaw hit the floor,” she says. Other than Taylor Swift, she believes that Goldsmith is one of the best contemporary songwriters around. Together with Jason Boesel, who often writes with Goldsmith, the trio gathered at Clark’s little Airbnb in Silver Lake and wrote “Never This Time.”

“They were so wonderful,” she says. “They really helped me bring to life a topic that I’d wanted to write about for a long time but hadn’t quite known how to. They made me feel comfortable enough to do that with them, and I really loved the result.” In the wholesome, unfussy rock tune, Clark reveals the many chances she’s given someone close to her, only to be disappointed over and over again. It aligns very much with the exploration of relationships and Clark’s position in the world relative to the push-and-pull of people around her.

Where Bastards is an exploration of her relationships with the external world, her earlier work was more inward-looking and very much created within Australian borders. She released her first album Love And Lovely Lies in 2016, following the success of her 2015 song “While Women Wait,” which received national and US radio attention.

Her second album, 2018’s Collide, was produced by guitarist/singer-songwriter Mark Lizotte – best known to Australian and international audiences as Diesel. Clark had supported Diesel on tour over a couple of years, so it was a natural fit for the Lizotte to transform Clark’s live energy into a studio album.

Clark has made big choices her whole career – and much like Taylor Swift, she has recognized the power of surrounding herself with people who share her vision and give her the tools to sculpt it her way. “Taylor’s just one of my all-time favorite artists,” she says. “I think she’s unparalleled when it comes to the success of a modern-day songwriter who has been able to so successfully reinvent themselves countless times and has never really dropped the ball when it comes to creating consistently good art.”

Creating good art and performing for an audience are in Clark’s blood, and especially after the prolonged hiatus from touring due to the pandemic, she’s ready and excited to take Bastards on tour this month. After all, home for her is not the four walls she’s known throughout 2020; stuck in her house, she’d wondered whether home might not be a physical address; the sense that home is not a place, but a feeling is perhaps most indicative on Bastards track “Forget About London.”

“The pandemic made me realize that home is definitely more of a feeling, because I was in my house so much, but I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin because I wasn’t touring and I wasn’t doing the thing that I love and the thing that I dedicate my life to, which is music and performing for people,” Clark says. “I realized that, for me, home is on the stage, wherever that stage may be.”

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Imogen Clark Celebrates Resilience in Video Premiere for EP Title Track “The Making of Me”

Australian singer-songwriter and guitarist Imogen Clark first wrote the song “The Making of Me” about a really tough year that just seemed to entail one hardship after another. She remembers thinking when she wrote it that “if I made it through the year, I’d be a stronger, bolder version of myself.” In the chorus, she belts emotively against piano, “This year will be the making of me.”

Though she was reflecting on personal events from 2019, the lyrics provide an important reminder to a Americans still in the throes of the Coronavirus pandemic – or facing any other type of struggle, COVID-related or not. “I don’t want anyone to feel that level of anxiety, but obviously, a lot of people are [right now], and I hope maybe this song can be a bit of a mantra to those people,” she says. “What I meant this song to be when I wrote it was not a sad anthem about going through a terrible time and wallowing in it. It’s very much about going through a challenging time and letting that challenge form you into a stronger version of yourself.”

Inspired by a breakup, the song was meant to sound raw and stripped back, which Clark accomplished by recording herself in the studio with live piano accompaniment. In the same vein, the video, filmed in at Sydney’s Low 302, shows her playing piano to an empty room. Clark played her last gig there before the virus shut down public establishments, giving the emptiness of the room extra meaning. “It was quite eerie because it was like the apocalypse was about to happen,” she remembers. Clark decided to use the video to help live music venues recover from COVID, providing a link to her website, where people can find information about supporting local venues.

Clark’s other songs are similarly heartfelt, most with a pop sensibility. But on some, like “Collide,” the title track from her 2018 release, you can hear audible country influences – most notably hints of Shania Twain, whom the 25-year-old artist has opened for. She also notes Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, Led Zeppelin, and Joni Mitchell as big inspirations.

On August 21, she’s putting out her next EP, The Making of Me, which includes the title track along with the singles “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Found Me,” plus three currently unreleased songs. She recorded the EP in LA with producer Mike Bloom, who has worked with Rilo Kiley, Julian Casablancas, and Jonathan Rice, and chalks much of the sound up to him. He gave her directions in the studio, having her release emotion to the point that she was almost yelling at times, she remembers.

While she considers this EP poppier than her previous work, her goal was to feel unconfined to any genre; she even branched out into electronic sounds, making use of synths and drum machines. Several guest musicians added to the unique sound, including Pete Thomas, who has drummed for Elvis Costello, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench.

“It felt like the first time I was able to make music without worrying about the genre of the music,” she says. “People make it seem like it’s insincere and inauthentic if you’re embracing pop sensibilities, but we made this with no expectation about what genre it would be, and that was a huge leap forward for me and made me feel very confident and liberated, and I think you can hear both emotions in the songs.”

In fact, being yourself and resisting external pressures is a major theme throughout the album. This is perhaps most evident in “Push Me Down,” which was inspired by experiences Clark has had as a woman in the music industry. On the track, she stands up to men who have tried to belittle her and undermine her ideas.

“As a woman, the music industry can be a really testing place,” she says. “It can be as small as somebody making a comment about the way that you dress. Women are always made to feel like we need to show more skin or feel more sexualized in our content. What I’ve always thought of with my music is, if I want to sexualize things, I’ll do that on my own terms. I’m not going to do it because somebody else tells me to. The first and foremost thing in my mind is that I have something to say, and I want that to be at the forefront of people’s minds.”

In the spirit of hope and resilience that “The Making of Me” encompasses, Clark is planning her first live show, which is set to take place September 10 in Sydney. “We’ll be able to launch the EP in a proper live show, which is wonderful,” she says. For those of us still in limbo, the song’s reminders about our potential for growth may be just enough to get us through.

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