Grit, glitter + girl power
Holly Rankin, aka Australia’s swashbuckling candy-pop pirate Jack River, is one butt-kicking go-getter. The chart-topping singer-songwriter is also a businesswoman, festival curator and Electric Lady movement founder. Essentially, Holly is being the change she wants to see in the world. (And, she’s a sucker for sequins. We’re hooked.)
Mid-last year, Aussie singer-songwriter Holly Rankin released her debut studio album, Sugar Mountain, under her moniker Jack River. The pop album delivers gritty guitar riffs, pangs of nostalgia for those years when songs like Teenage Dirt Bag, Stacy’s Mom and anything by Gwen Stefani dominated the airwaves and high school dancefloors. (If you’re over 35, you may even hear twinges of ‘90s gems Hole, Alisha’s Attic or Frente.)
For Holly, writing Sugar Mountain was a decade-long self-therapy session which began when she was just 14, following the tragic drowning death of her 11-year-old sister in 2006. Using songwriting as her survival tool, Sugar Mountain has been described as an ode to an imagined youth Holly was never able to realise. “I made this album to be a grand and brilliant sparkly ballroom where you pour your whole heart out on the dancefloor to heal and cry and become strong,” Holly said in a statement.
We caught up with Holly ahead of her upcoming Groovin the Moo performance in Townsville on May 5, and her final Sugar Mountain Ball tour in May through June.
Success: You’ve spoken about songwriting being your solace following your sister’s passing. Did that tragedy lead you towards music professionally?
Holly: Before my sister passed away I absolutely didn’t imagine myself doing music as a career and following it so hard core. But I think when she passed away, I realised that, for me, music is such an important social and emotional tool. I couldn’t escape the healing of it…. Creating Sugar Mountain felt really emotionally necessary, and releasing it has freed of a lot of darkness that had to come out of my heart.
Success: Why ‘Jack River’? He sounds a bit like a cowboy…
Holly: Jack River is pretty much a space cowboy, or cowgirl! My friends and I made up pirate names when I was like 16 or 17. I was Jack River. To me, he is this, like, invincible cowboy from the American wild west or a pirate from a million years ago. I always just felt infinite when we were joking around, you know, using these pirate names when we went out to bars and stuff. I chose it as my musical name because it means I can kind of go wherever I want to with my music, and not feel the pressure of being human.
“…for me, music is such an important social and emotional tool.”
Success: Your super catchy song Sugar with the Peking Duk lads has been on high rotation on commercial radio for months. How did that collaboration come about?
Holly: I toured with the guys last year and they were just so much fun to hang out with. So yeah, we talked about it, they sent me some music they were working on and the song happened really naturally. I wrote the chorus and they loved it, then we got in the studio together and wrote the verses and kind of put it all together. It was an awesome opportunity for me to express the ‘candy pop’ end of the Jack River spectrum.
Success: The Peking Duk boys are in Townsville about two weeks before Groovin the Moo. You just miss each other! You could’ve busted out the mopeds and the roller skates and had a reunion.
Holly: Oh, that would have been awesome! I’m sure Townsville has nice, steamy weather for mopeds as well!
Success: Earlier this year you supported Florence + the Machine. What was that like?
Holly: That was like a literal dream come true. Florence Welch is probably my number one living artist that I look up to. It was surreal being in the ‘Queendom’ and just, like, being in her presence – with 30,000 other people who were there for her and her very highly spiritual music!
Success: Supporting female artists is important to you – you instigated the Electric Lady movement. Can you tell me what sparked that idea?
Holly: I started Electric Lady with some friends in 2017 in response to the [International Women’s Day] marches and just feeling like, you know, there wasn’t much being done in the music industry to shine a spotlight on women. So, I created a spotlight. We created Electric Lady music concerts and then created an online platform where you can view interviews with women in all fields…. I’d love to keep growing it bigger. We are actually planning something massive for the end of this year which might be announced soon…
Success: You are also the mastermind behind Grow Your Own Festival, yet another example of you getting in there and getting your hands dirty.
Holly: I grew up in a small town called Forster, about four hours north of Sydney, and we had zero entertainment growing up, but there are so many amazing people in the community, a huge local food movement and lots of bands. Yet no one was really putting it all together. So, three and a half years ago when I was starting to get somewhere in music I realised I had the power to wrangle some big international artists, grab local artists and start a festival for the youth of my town. We’ve done three Grow Your Own now. The festival celebrates homegrown music, food and art in any form. We have partnered with Secret Sounds and they’re helping us to make that festival bigger and better each year. It will be happening again in January 2020 so if anyone from Townsville is heading down to Forster, come along!
To see Jack River and a cracking line-up of acts perform live, go to gtm.net.au