by Kat Waswo

Jazmine Mary: Tangy To The Tongue

by Kat Waswo

Jazmine Mary: Tangy To The Tongue

Australian-born singer, guitarist and self-managed all-round artist Jazmine Rose Phillips, aka Jazmine Mary, has hit the ground running after the March release of her ‘The Licking of a Tangerine’, an experimental ambient-folk album that’s her debut under this name. Two shows at Auckland’s Wine Cellar on the same night were sold-out, and she’s being a high demand performer with numerous gig and festival bookings over the summer. Kat Waswo had a chat with her.

Not bound to guitar and vocals, Jazmine Mary also dabbles with other instruments including keys and flute, is a sound engineer and had a heavy hand in designing the full instrumental sound of her enchanting album, ‘The Licking of a Tangerine’.

“I wrote the songs just as they came to me, over the last year and a half,” she recalls. “And then decided over lockdown [Level 4 in 2020] that I wanted to do a studio album. So I did – because it’s good to do what you wanna do, right?” 

The rural Australian town she grew up in, Gippsland in Victoria, didn’t offer much by way of a live music community, and while hers wasn’t a musical family, her mother was always supportive of Jazmine’s creative strengths and interests in music. 

“I bought a guitar as a teenager and started playing, and then moved to Melbourne and had this really weird time as an 18-year-old playing really really bad folk music – and was a singer in this random hip hop band,” she reflects.

Since shifting across the Tasman in 2012 Jazmine has spent the last five or so years living in and out of Auckland and Wellington, where she started performing and working at gigs. She proclaims that she had never discovered a music community until she moved to Aotearoa. She has connected with fellow musicians through gigs, and studying audio engineering at MAINZ in Auckland.

“Without the music community here I know that I wouldn’t be making the music I’m making, for sure. This country and the land, and the people here have really helped me grow into myself.”

Before the rebranding to Jazmine Mary, Jazmine’s journey into musicianship has been super active as Him. with a handful of EPs released since 2017, notably long EP/short album ‘Snakes in the Night’ in 2019.

‘The Licking of a Tangerine’ is her first album made in a recording studio, namely Auckland’s Roundhead Studios. The recording took place in October 2020 with Aaron Lovich playing alto saxophone, Dave Khan (Reb Fountain, Marlon Williams) on strings, Peter Ruddell (Wax Chattels) on keys, baritone sax and BVs, and Courtney Rodgers on drumming. Stephen John Marr took up the engineering and mixing duties.

The result is an emotional collection of personal experiences and observations, a moving set of rhythm, mood and beat. She has achieved an extraordinary level of motion and movement, which encompasses everything from the deepest sorrow and angst to the greatest sympathy and bliss – all in a nine-track assembly of poetic miscellany.

Being a solo artist can be a daunting exercise for some, but self-managed Jazmine is in her creative element.

“I’ve always played by myself really,” she muses. “It’s more that lately, I’ve invited other people into the solo project – which has been really nice – but kind of scary at the same time. It’s a really really vulnerable thing, writing music. Well for me anyway… Getting people involved in your music, bringing them into your secret expressions, is a bit scary. But it’s been really nice.”

So what does that tangy mouthful of an album title actually mean?

“When I hear those words I think of a feeling. I think I’m trying to describe to you a feeling. Whatever feeling that evokes from you – fantastic! It came from my insides,” she laughs. “I like to leave some of the things up to other people. Sometimes the whole point of a name like that is so that people wonder what it is and they get to answer it themselves. And if I’m always trying to explain things it takes away the magic of the words. And sometimes I just don’t know!”

Jazmine’s niche in the dream folk genre is popular globally, but she says it wasn’t a conscious decision in terms of her music-making.

“It just sort of happened. I don’t know, do other people choose what music they play? I don’t feel like I had a choice! Just starting with an instrument and singing is how it begins, and then adding sounds to it that help the song, to tell the truth, I suppose. It’s not a conscious stylistic choice, I’m just trying to feel my feelings and be honest.”

Jazmine has grown her own professional foundations and says she’s happy being the creator of all of the aspects of her music.

“I like it that way… it’s my feelings. I find it odd to even think about it as a career.”

Beyond music, Jazmine is also an artist in other creative realms. She is a performance artist, often looking at feminist subjects, and does sound design for theatre on the side, most recently performing at an experimental dance show, Magnificent Violent Sparkles, in December 2020. She rates ‘The Licking of a Tangerine’ as one of her greatest achievements.

“Sharing this has just felt really… brave. And I feel like I’ve felt the most myself, and been able to honestly and openly share that. Which is a big achievement because that’s all I want really. I like to measure my successes in what’s good and what’s healthy [for me].

“I’m pretty happy with where I am and anything else from here would be wonderful. I think that to be a musician you just have to do it – so I just want to keep making music and sharing it. And keep learning more about myself and connecting with people – because for me that’s the whole point.”

Creation remains her focus. With an abundance of creativity and energy, Jazmine is already planning the next record, with the same gigging and recording team. For her such stability is a change, and she’s really looking forward to it.

“It’s really cool and very new for me because I’m used to doing all of that alone, so this will be really nice!”