Singer-songwriter Josette Klausen stepped right out of studying for a jazz degree and into recording her debut EP ’Daytona Fair’. Dipping in and out of hard rock, pop and neo-soul, the Ōtautahi musician is now free to decide which direction to take with her sound in the future, as she tells Jemilah Ross-Hayes.
Alongside the regular curveballs of life there is nothing like a global pandemic to throw a spanner in the works of what’s to be expected from a debut release. Josette Klausen expresses her acceptance of how her debut EP didn’t happen the way she imagined.
“It is exciting. It’s not the release that I anticipated! Nothing is as anyone is anticipating at the moment. So I’ve had to let go of that.”
Asked what she did expect, Josette laughs. “Well, I expected to do a release show!”
Alongside excitement, there are many other emotions that releasing her music has brought to the whirlwind of Josette’s creative mind.
“I’m terrified, I’m nervous, I’m stressed – but I’ve been gigging these songs for a long time, so I’m excited to be out with them.”
Working full time in tandem with her musical endeavours doesn’t seem to provide a lot of room for sleep. She’s candid about the added challenges.
“One thing I didn’t anticipate as well as I could have, is that if you are working five days a week in retail, you’re pretty tired on your two days off. It’s pretty hard to spend eight hours on your days off, writing emails and trying to promote yourself and make yourself out to be this organised professional musician – so that’s been very stressful.
“I feel like I’ve lost a bit of excitement. But at the same time, I know as soon as my loved ones are sending positive feedback, (well, I bloody hope it’s positive),” she asides, breaking into laughter, “…it’ll be nice.”
While the recording of ’Daytona Fair’ began in June 2021, the songs themselves had been in the works for a while.
“Sweet Heart was the first song written off of this EP. It’s a duet with Sam Burt and we wrote that song in 2019, which was so bloody long ago, wow! It was a collaboration for our degrees at school – but it’s a very catchy, quite sexy lyrically, love pop song – and it wasn’t really a great fit for a music degree,” she laughs.
“He’s been such an important part of writing for me because when you get writers’ block and creatively stuck, he is the one person that says, ’Let’s have a writing session’, and we always come up with something, whether it’s good or bad.”
The remainder of the tracks have filtered in over time.
“Wolf was finished in February 2020, and then all the other songs were written over the summer of 2020-2021. They’re all a little bit different, taken from different places.”
Learning that the songs have been formulated over a three year period helps make sense of the EP’s eclectic mix of genres.
“I was really worried because I felt like if I followed one of those songs any of them could have ended up being quite a different sounding project, but I just picked my favourite ones – the ones that I liked playing live, or the ones I was most proud of. I’m really glad I did it that way.”
The recordings were done in her hometown with producer Tim Heeringa, aka Wulfie, who she knew of via a friend.
“None of this would have happened or sounded anything like it sounds without Tim. He was so generous with his time and knowledge to me as a young, scared, but really overly dedicated person to do this side project. We workshopped the songs. He was part of arranging and rewriting sections to make them better for recording.
“We recorded the drums at Ara Music Arts’ Doug Caldwell Concert Room studio. We did everything else out of Tim’s studio at the Piano Centre for Music and the Arts in Christchurch. He’s credited as a writer on a couple of the songs, and he was the perfect person for the project because he has done a lot of work in rock music. I knew he was a good guy who knew real instruments, and fake ones too, so he was just perfect for the job!”
Although Josette is a solo project under her own name, she does have a band who perform with her live, as well in the studio.
The people who I recorded with were my band configuration at the time. Euan McTaggart on drums, Brad Meyer on bass, Sam Burt on guitar and then a sprinkling of Alice Tozer on keys, and Tim also did a bunch of keys and synthy stuff. We were all coming out of jazz school together, so it was quite a special little moment for us to do a little recording project straight off the bat.”
Her EP has some evident jazz elements, but also shows how the comfort of writing in your known environment can provide room for unhindered musical expression.
“In Ōtautahi, there’s one person in every band that went to Ara Music Arts, and because of that everyone knows each other! We just have some really great venues and spear -headers of the gig scene down here. There’ve only been a couple times that I’ve gone to a gig and had any kind of negative experience. It’s always such a lovely atmosphere, and I hope I never take it for granted. It’s been so warm. It’s so intimidating starting a journey at all, and I feel like I’ve just been given the best opportunity possible with the kindness that is down here.”
’Daytona Fair’ is an unlikely Kiwi EP name, Josette has a short and a long explanation as to how it came about.
“It sounds cool, I think,” she exclaims first with laughter. “It is how we finish our live sets because it’s this big build. So whenever we come off stage that is the environment we just left behind – so it felt like something that sat with the general feeling and overview for my musical experience at the time.
“Typically, when I’m writing I like to improvise melodies and sounds, and I really like doing it with vowel sounds, so I sound crazy. I’ll be singing a melody but I’ll be going ’naaaaa-ooooo-eeee’, figuring out where it wants to go, and one day I was going ’aaaa-ooo-aahhh-eeeeh’ and it sounded mad, but I just started saying ’daytona fair’.
“I was writing with the bass player Brad Meyer at the time and asked him, ’Is that a thing? I think that’s a thing’. I googled it, and it’s not a thing – but Daytona is a place in Florida where they do heaps of car racing, and the song is about someone losing themselves to indulgence, and losing control over pleasure and burning all that serotonin, as many Kiwis like to do. I could picture in my mind all these race cars going as fast as they can, just burning themselves out like crazy, as if those are people in our society as well. It’s about going too hard, too fast, and damaging yourself and everything around you.
“It was a very proud writing moment for me! It’s kind of stupid, it doesn’t really mean anything, but it also means lots. I’d have to say, I think Daytona Fair is definitely the one that I lose myself in the most when playing live, because when I sing it, it brings up so many stories for me. I find it really hard to play sometimes because I wrote this telling a story of a lot of different people’s pain, and sometimes you can feel that, and that’s rough.
“I’ve had feedback that it sounds like a James Bond song, which is just really generous and lovely. It does! It just feels like this big dramatic, sad, intense song, and I did not think that the music that I would come out with would be rock a year ago – but it’s just what felt right and what ended up happening, which is fun!”
Daytona Fair made it to the title track, but Josette says her personal favourite off the EP has always been Comfort Show.
“I think it’s because I was never mad at Comfort Show. All of them really frustrated me at different times, but Comfort Show was always my favourite child. I also have the most fun playing that one because I just love being silly and getting to yell and jump around the stage, and it’s fantastic!”
The song starts with some unheard samples of laughter filtered in with a male voice documenting facts about a kererū that pull you into the soundscape of a TV playing in the background, and call for an explanation.
“The whole concept of the song was about when every day and everything around you gets too much, you can just sit and lose yourself in another world. So I wanted the beginning to sound like someone was flicking through channels on TV.
“The kererū part is my ex-boyfriend Reuben Willson. He did a great job. He’s fantastic and sounds like David Attenborough. At the time I wrote the rap I made a reference to all of my band’s comfort shows.There are sounds of people laughing in there too, that’s my flatmates! I just voice-memoed them obsessively for a week until they did something funny.”
The music video that accompanies Comfort Show is charmingly personal and cleverly multi-dimensional.
“We got everything yellow and orange we could find, and pot plants to dress up my bedroom. Lauren Kett and Steph Damm filmed it, they are so amazing. I was like, ’This is how much money I’ve found, what can you do with this amount of money?’ And they were like, ’Alright, we’ve got daylight hours in your bedroom,’ and I was like ’Sick!’ We just really used everything that we had here and made it look as good as we could.
“My flatmate is an incredible video editor, and I managed to finesse a pretty quickly-put together Christmas-money music video!”
It was One Shot that was chosen as her debut single, and the song made it onto NZ On Air’s New Tracks playlist in March, an exciting milestone for Josette – in retrospect – at the time she was too busy to enjoy the moment.
“I was just so busy and stressed. I didn’t get to really feel the joy and the pride of what I had achieved because I was so focused on the next thing. Look after yourselves out there, kids.
“The hardest part of this release was working too hard, it definitely was a detriment to me in the end and I burnt myself out. But I know for next time now, which is good. It’s an impossible situation for so many creatives because you have got to earn money to live and to fund the projects, and then because I’m just Josette, and my band members aren’t attached to the project, I do everything.”
She has some words of wisdom to share with the other emerging artists working on releasing their music.
“Don’t bring your laptop to your retail and hospitality jobs. You may have nice managers, but it’s too draining to be fixated on all the time. Do it in bursts, and don’t wear yourself out. The admin has to be done, just put on a timer for half an hour. It sounds like music doesn’t have to be this regimented, but put on a timer, bust out that email or application and then go away for half an hour.”
Another good point often unrecognised is around the mahi and effort that goes into releasing music – set alongside the expectation to reach a certain level of success at a young age.
“Now there’s such a hustle culture, it’s like, ’Oh, I’m already 22, and I’ve only done this.’ But when I look back in five years, I’ll be like, ’I got straight out of my degree and went straight to recording and wow.’ It’s all about perspective, and giving yourself rest and time is all you can do to be able to have that perspective.
“So yeah, rest. I’ve been crocheting and watching movies and trying to chill out. I do have some emails I really need to send, but I’ll do that…”