Fresh off her monumental work writing and performing We Are the Skywhales in collaboration with artist Patricia Piccinini, Canberra musician Jess Green is getting her band, Pheno, back together.
A performance on Saturday 10 April at The Street will mark Green’s first full set band show in nearly two years.
“That seems ridiculous when I say it out loud,” she said.
The intervening time has marked a phase of rich professional growth and development for Green.
Alongside spending 18 months working on the Skywhale project, she has used the time to delve further into her production, songwriting and composing skills, and solo performing.
“It’s been fantastic working solo and I’ve learnt a lot; when I started it was really ‘let’s throw myself into this and see if I can swim’,” Green said.
“I ended up really enjoying that type of performing, but I’ve definitely started to miss the energy you get from other people on stage.”
Previously Pheno has been an all-girl three-piece band, but due to the availability of some members, the line-up has changed to include members with a Y chromosome, and a fourth on bass guitar.
“I think musically the key thing is having a bass player,” Green said. “It means there’s this world of rhythmic interaction that’s a bit more nuanced.”
Singer and guitarist Green will be accompanied by longstanding member Alyx Dennison on synths, Lachlan Coventry on bass, and James Hauptmann on drums.
“It’s super exciting to be getting on stage with not just two [other] people but three,” she said.
“The opportunity for the unexpected is quadrupled … there’ll be nuance that will be changing.”
Their upcoming performance will include re-arrangements of material for the four-piece band, as well as brand new music.
“In the points where there’s instrumental sections or solos, it can really go a lot of different ways, it wouldn’t be the same show night after night.”
Born in Canberra, Green returned to make the ACT her home in 2016 after many years working in Sydney, nationally and internationally, as a freelance guitarist and singer.
She’s keen to bring a show filled with “diversity and dynamism” to her home crowd.
“I was originally thinking about people wanting to dance,” she said.
“There’s naturally an upbeat, uplifting energy. There’s a lot of ‘80s references.”
A ‘monumental’ 18 months working on Skywhale
Green considers being approached to create We Are the Skywhales, the companion song for the maiden flight of Patricia Piccinini’s Skywhale and Skywhalepapa, a career-defining moment.
Alongside creating that song with Piccinini, Green also created and recorded the abstract instrumental soundscape used at the inflation events.
“Having an internationally renowned artist ask you to collaborate with them is obviously a massive career boost and an honour,” she said.
“It was really a big adventure, and really interesting to be part of what is now an iconic work.”
Pre-COVID, the maiden flight of the balloon sculptures was programmed for May 2020.
After initially being approached to turn a song around on a tight deadline, the due date was pushed back some 10 months because of the pandemic.
“Having then had all of that time to work on it, the thing I really learnt about was you need lots of time to make really good work,” Green said, “but it doesn’t mean that you need endless time.
“I had this insanely short timeframe to be working in, that then turned into this whole extra year, and that was hard in some ways because the momentum sort of died.
“It was very nourishing having the fortune to spend a good amount of time writing a song.”
Green was glowing when talking about the working relationship she enjoyed with Piccinini, describing the internationally acclaimed artist as “a wonderful human”.
“It felt like a mentorship in some ways,” she said. “I really enjoyed the conversations we had.
“She’s got such a deep research aspect to her practice … creating the poetry for the work was really fun because there was so much I could pick and choose from.”
After their final Canberra flight this Saturday 3 April, weather permitting, the balloons will depart on a two-year Australia-wide tour.
Green is hopeful the balloon sculptures can return to Canberra and enjoy a fittingly “massive” event when restrictions have eased.
“We’d love to have thousands of people singing along, that would be the dream.”
And yes, We Are the Skywhales will be performed by Pheno at the live show.
Pheno will play live at The Street Theatre on Saturday 10 April 8pm; thestreet.org.au
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