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How a 'downer' album helped Jeremy Neale see the bright side

Culture

After more than a decade of hard slog on the Brisbane music scene, singer-songwriter Jeremy Neale has forged a well-earned reputation as one of the nicest guys in the business.

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Neale, who was a founding member of garage-pop band Velociraptor in 2008, released his debut full-length album, Getting the Team Back Together, in 2017 to critical acclaim and healthy radio airplay both in Australia and overseas and later that year, he won QMusic’s Grant McLennan Scholarship.

As part of the prize, which is jointly funded by not-for-profit music copyright collective APRA AMCOS and the State Government through Arts Queensland, and presented by QMusic, Neale spent several months of 2018 in the US, where he attended a songwriting masterclass at New York University.

The result is Neale’s newly released album We Were Trying to Make it Out, his most cohesive and fully realised effort to date, and as Neale told InQueensland, the time away from home gave him a fresh perspective.

“I think being away and being able to solely focus on songwriting was a big thing,” Neale said. “And looking at writing in a logical way – so I’m not just doing what I always do when it comes to writing – really inspired me to be a songwriter again, because they talked about how it’s a really beautiful thing that you do, and sometimes you don’t notice that because you stuck in it.”

Thematically, We Were Trying to Make it Out is Neale’s most contemplative collection of songs to date, and although the lyrics to tracks such as ‘Everything I Do is Replaced by Two’, ‘Our Days are Numbered’ and ‘The Strength to Carry’ are tinged with despondency, there is also a persistent positivity to the music.

“It’s about the day-to-day struggle of the working class, it’s having a dream and having to re-evaluate that as time goes on, and as situations change and it’s also the passage of time, and the urgency that that entails,” he said.

“I think that the whole record is probably a bit of a downer but it’s always presented in an upbeat fashion, mostly because I love things that sit at about 140-150 beats per minute, so the music is like super quick most of the time, but all the content is pretty sad or melancholy.

“But I’m trying to also empathise with people, like, ‘surely I’m not the only person struggling in the working class to find balance and build a good life’. So I’m not complaining, I’m just saying it’s tough, and if you feel the same way, here’s a song that might resonate.

Balance is something Neale has managed to achieve in life in recent years. After spending most of his working life taking whatever employment was available to fit in around his musical pursuits, Neale has spent the past few years working for the Starlight Foundation’s Livewire program, helping to provide social interaction and creative development programs for teens with chronic illness or disability.

“I’m a uni dropout, I worked in sales for a number of years, I was a bartender at [Fortitude Valley venue] Black Bear Lodge for a few years, I’ve done disability support work, I’ve worked retail – just anything to fund ‘the dream’, really,” he said.

“But this job is for an organisation that aligns with my priorities and what I think is really valuable in the world. If people want to learn to play guitar, or they’re going to write songs, or they want to learn how to play drums, then I can help with that, so it’s nice to be able to put my skills to practical use.

“it’s a very nice place to work and I think that in itself provides a lot of balance because now I can pursue music at my leisure without music being a make or break situation.  I have achieved 100 per cent job satisfaction because I love what I do, I love the organisation, and then I get to make music on the side and I feel very blessed to have landed where I’ve landed now.”

Jeremy Neale’s We Were Trying to Make it Out is out now.

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