December/January 2022

by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Jaz Paterson: Making Pop From Her Pain

by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Jaz Paterson: Making Pop From Her Pain

Originally from Geraldine, South Canterbury and now resident in Christchurch, singer-songwriter Jaz Paterson has been making music for several years. Arriving at the end of November, her sophomore EP ‘Ache’ sees Paterson emerging with a new, lush indie pop sound. She talked over the background to each song with Nur Lajunen-Tal.

Jaz Paterson instinctively thinks of her newly released EP as a debut, but readily acknowledges ’Ache’ is actually her second. “But my first just feels like an absolute lifetime ago, so this feels like my first in terms of how I actually want to be as an artist.”

She started pursuing music seriously around the age of 12, and that almost-forgotten first EP came in her mid-teens.

“I made a deal with my mum that if I learned guitar I could quit piano, ’cos I didn’t like my piano teacher. And so I quit piano, started learning guitar, and then started writing around that time as well, and then started learning how to properly sing!”

She spent her teen years making guitar-based, folk-pop music, entering a variety of songwriting competitions.

“When I was, maybe like 15 or 16, I got involved with Play It Strange. Those were my first recording experiences, and then I was hooked. So I got some funding and I got some grants and scholarships and competitions, and with the mismatch of all of those different pools of money, I was able to make my first EP…”
With the lure of having a bona fide music career, she moved to Christchurch.

“I was sort of like playing bar gigs and writing and doing different competitions and stuff. And then I started working with a producer and basically doing artist development with him for the best part of a year before that relationship sort of broke down, unfortunately. I took a massive massive break from music then, and I’ve only just got back into it over the last two years… I moved into a different flat, started dating this guy, kind of just got into a whole other world, a whole other way of living. I really got involved with his church, got a Bachelor of Counselling and worked as a counsellor.”

Returning to music with the aid of Sole Academy, her new EP was written and produced with Will McGillivray, who received funding through NZ On Air’s New Music Development programme, which provides producers with grants of up to $6000 to aid them in developing new artists.

“Applying for that funding felt like a no-brainer to me,” says McGillivray. “Jaz and I had always got along well and shared some musical heroes. So to get the opportunity to be able to help develop her sound and be funded by NZ On Air felt like a real home run. I’m so appreciative of NZ On Air and all the amazing work they do to help Kiwi musicians move forward, even before the development fund!”

Importantly for Paterson, working on her songs with McGillivray proved a positive experience.

“Having a good producer relationship with someone you trust is so crucial, ’cos I’ve worked with producers before, and they’ve sort of taken my song and made it into their vision of what it should be, their version of my sound. But with Will it was, like, really collaborative, and both of our ideas were equally as important… I took the black and white idea of my song to Will, and together we made it so much bigger, and brighter, and more colourful and textured, and so much better than I could have done on my own!”

The five tracks are all very personal to Paterson, covering different experiences that she’s gone through.

“There’s an element of grief in every song, but then, they’re also events that I’ve processed and gone through. They’re not neatly wrapped up at the end with everything fine and dandy, there’s still this residual pain from each of these experiences, but it’s not ugly pain.”

A theme of facing up to personal issues rather than avoiding them runs through the EP.

“That sums up my early 20s, to be honest,” says Paterson explaining the EP’s title. “It’s been bittersweet. It’s been, in a lot of ways, quite painful, sort of like this hollow achy, painful feeling.”

She’s moved on, and in shifting towards a more commercial pop sound, the issue of authenticity is at the forefront of her mind.

“I want people to be able to dance around, to have a good time… I want to be commercial enough that I can connect with people, but in doing that and in writing pop music, I don’t wanna lose all of the things that matter to me… I wanted it to connect with people as well as having a message. I wanted both.”

The EP opener LA is a sunny, infectious anthem about escapism.

“It’s based around me wanting to leave my city, leave my friends, be in different places, be experiencing different things, have a different life… And all of those things are fine and good, but unless I deal with what’s going on for me right here and right now, that stuff’s gonna be with me wherever I go.”

“You can make everything look different on the outside. You can change your clothes and your hair and whatever, but you’re still the same person on the inside. So you’ve gotta deal with what’s going on.”

The title track, Ache, takes a darker tone as Paterson sings about lost love.

“I wrote that song about the end of a really long, really serious relationship. It’s basically about how me and my ex-boyfriend nearly got married. When I broke up with him he said that the ring was in the mail. It was horrible!

“Part of it is about how I was like, ‘Okay, cool, I’m gonna basically just disappear from your life. I’m gonna become a stranger to you even though you were nearly the person that I spent literally forever with… After we broke up that’s literally all that I wrote about for two years.

“When it came to writing and making songs for this EP, I was like, ‘I only want one song about him, but I want it to sum everything up.’ I remember when I started writing it I started crying ’cos I was like, ‘I’ve got it! I’ve got the song!’”

Released as a single, Lonely is a plaintive, echoey song about loneliness that features Paterson’s clear, delicate head voice in the chorus.

Lonely is basically about how you go through life with so many connections- boyfriends, girlfriends, mum, dad, friends, sisters, whatever – but at the end of the day, no matter how many you’re surrounded with, you can still feel lonely.”

“I think that so many people do feel really isolated, and in the past, I’ve felt ashamed to talk about it, because it’s like if you’re lonely, does that mean you don’t have enough friends, or you’re not well connected to people? Your mind can become quite a lonely place sometimes, even if on the outside, things are actually okay.”

The heaviest song on the EP in terms of production, Body features a huge, distorted synth bass in the chorus, with Paterson repeatedly singing, ‘I want my body back’.

“It was the most uncomfortable one to write, and is the most uncomfortable one to perform,” she reflects. “It’s basically about sexual assault and not just one incident, but a bunch of different incidents, as well as the way that I’ve processed it… This song is just basically about me wanting that autonomy back. That sense of self, to just me and whoever I chose to share that part of myself with…”

She wrote the song after a party where there was a string of unwelcome incidents and comments.

“I went home and I talked to my best friend, and I suppose sort of debriefing that night helped me realise, ‘Actually you know, I own that. I can dress up and expect to not be harassed.’”

The video for Body was directed by Paterson’s brother.

“He shot the second half of the video in London where he lives, and he got some professional boxers to put these animal costumes on, and then got a bunch of guys to act as if they’re a crowd jeering these guys on. We wanted it to be a metaphor for how sometimes I feel like I’m just there for entertainment. I’ve been used by people and objectified to be nothing more than my body, and nothing more than my sexuality, and I’m a person who is so much deeper than that.”

The EP’s closing track, Heaven, is a delicate, emotive piano ballad about her experience of religion, providing further proof at with ‘Ache’ Paterson has held nothing back from the listener.

“I’m from a really conservative Christian background, and church used to be like a really really big part of my life, and faith and religion used to be a massive part of my life as well. The song is basically about how I used to be terrified of the idea of heaven.”

She adds that she would probably still call herself a Christian now, but doesn’t fully know what she believes anymore.

“I know that I wanted to write a song about my experience with church and with faith, and how that’s changed…so I just kind of like word vomited all of that out, and then me and Will went and wrote that song…

“Will was so good at helping me to understand what I wanted to say, and helping to craft the structure, and the melody, and those different parts of the song, without steering the message at all.”

Ultimately Jaz Paterson hopes her music will connect with others.

“What is music? It’s the most beautiful thing in the world. It’s about connecting with other people… sharing your experience with other people’s experience.”