New Music / Album of the Week

Album of the Week: Lupa J

We take you inside our favourite new albums with the artists who made them. This week's Album of the Week is the stunning debut album from Sydney based singer-songwriter and producer Lupa J called 'Swallow Me Whole'.

Over a number of years, Sydney based singer-songwriter and producer Imogen Jones has been slowly unravelling all the layers that make up her musical moniker Lupa J. Now on her debut album Swallow Me Whole, listeners finally have a complete picture of who she is as a person and as an artist. As a whole, the record is as much about escape as it is about acceptance. Across its 12 tracks, Lupa J is eloquent and fierce, vulnerable and strong, personal and relatable – and the way she has balanced all of those elements together deserves to be heard far and wide.

We’ve picked it as our album of the week, but Swallow Me Whole is Lupa J’s journey, it is the story she is finally ready to tell, so who better to hear from than Lupa J herself.

Inside the creative process

Lupa J: “The creation of the album was pretty intense. After writing a few initial songs and getting a feel for what the album would be, I quit my day job at the start of 2018 and essentially worked on it non stop; barely leaving my parents’ house for about a month straight. I started multiple tracks at once which helped to prevent me getting bored and tired – if one started feeling difficult to work on I would move to another. I had started compiling lyric/chord ideas of lyrics before I started the production on any of them, and I had a list on my phone where I jotted down ideas for what kinds of songs I wanted to have on the album, eg: “angry song in the style of X with beats like in X”. Then it was more or less a process of trying out everything on that list until I had a bunch of songs that felt like they were the album I had been wanting to make. I had finished the bulk of the songs by March 2018, only adding in ‘Pull Me Under’ and ‘You’re In My Headphones’ later.

The main way the creative process was different with this album was that I was writing it all in one big go, working on multiple songs at once. In the past, I would usually work on one track until it was as perfect as I could get it before moving on. The other thing is that I used a lot more hardware for this album – most of the production was done with a modular synth and a Juno 106.”

Down memory lane

LJ: “One of the most intense/cathartic moments of writing for this was when I was working on ‘Pull Me Under’. Normally when I write music I feel like I have to be completely sober, but because of the nature of this track and the emotions behind it, I allowed myself to work on the final stages/lyrics of it late at night after having a few beers. The song itself is about a situation where I was really drunk at a party with someone who had feelings for me that definitely shouldn’t have had feelings for me (they were in a relationship) and feeling like I was recklessly allowing myself to drown in this mutual infatuation. So this night where I worked on it, I turned off all the lights in my room, blasted Crystal Castles really loudly in my headphones and drunkenly danced around like a maniac, trying to once again access the feelings and headspace that I was writing about, even though the relationship with this person had more or less ended. I ended up sobbing and dancing and writing the last lyrics (the bridge) in that state at like 4am. I guess it was really sad and intense, and I wouldn’t want to make writing like that a regular thing – but I look back on it fondly.”

Overcoming struggle town

LJ: “Writing this album was actually one of the easiest writing experiences I’ve had – all of it came fairly quickly easily to me, it never felt like I was slugging away at any of the tracks or forcing anything. I think the most difficult thing was just being confident in the album as a whole. Once I had most of the tracks there, part of me still felt like I needed to write another 10 or 15 or so and then pick the best from them – just because there was this anxiety about settling on anything; maybe it wasn’t as good as it COULD be. But I had people around me telling me that the album really worked as it was and that if it was feeling right for me I should just go with it  and only write more if it felt necessary.”

Tell us the story

LJ: “Swallow Me Whole centres around me realising that I had a lot of queer desire while I was in a straight relationship I didn’t yet know how to leave. Because I wasn’t emotionally ready to confront the reality of my situation, I coped with it by acting recklessly and indulging in different forms of escapism – so there’s a lot of lyrics about desire, destruction, and fantasy. The title is Swallow Me Whole because I had this intense desire to throw myself into something that wasn’t my day to day life, to feel completely swallowed by a situation, or another person. My newfound queer desire felt dangerous, and the only way it made sense for me to explore or indulge in it at the time was through reckless behaviour or fantasy.”

Opening up

LJ: “When I first started writing and realised what the subject matter was that I wanted to write about, and how exposing it was, I was like, ‘Wow, am I really going to release this?’ I had this fear that releasing a track like ‘Woman’ was kind of a statement in itself, and maybe I didn’t want to do that. But I ended up thinking that it’s my truth, so I should honour it and release it, even if it made me vulnerable.”

For the love of music

LJ: “What I love most about music is probably the way it helps me process and understand emotions and experiences. It feels really powerful, like a way to reclaim or own pain and transform it into a positive thing.”

Community support

LJ: “The year after I finished high school and turned 18 I dived into the Sydney music scene, going to some kind of local gig with my two best friends/ bandmates at least once a week. I made a lot of nurturing connections through doing that and applied what I was learning to my own music-making and performance. By the time I started working on my album, I had a lot of support from other Australian musicians which definitely gave me the confidence to follow through with it.”

Audience takeaway 

LJ: “If anything, maybe that it can be really problematic to try and accept a convenient, comfortable, or acceptable way of living that’s hurting you. What I learned through the whole experience that this album is about is that it can feel very dangerous and terrifying to accept yourself for who you actually are, and to prioritise your own needs – but ultimately, you’re only delaying the pain if you don’t.

I’ve had a few people tell me that what I’m writing about is really important and that it somehow resonates with their own experiences, which is really nice. As for what I expected though – I honestly wasn’t expecting as many people to care, or to listen all the way through. I still get surprised when someone says they listened from start to finish.”

Say it in a sentence

LJ: “Swallow Me Whole is a very personal, painful, and somewhat political recount of the thrilling and terrifying realisations of my identity and desire.”

Lupa J is ready to bring her debut album Swallow Me Whole to the live stage with a couple of national tour dates locked in. She’ll be kicking things off at Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory on Friday 2 August. Tickets through our mates at Moshtix.

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