by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Juno Is: A Song About Self-Reflection

by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Juno Is: A Song About Self-Reflection

Juno Is Mackenzie Hollebon – or rather, Mackenzie Hollebon performs under the artist moniker Juno Is. The Ōtepoti-born alternative artist’s latest single Imitation signifies the beginning of a new era for her. Released in February the soundscape of Imitation is best described as laid-back, warm-toned indie rock, with catchy melodies that support the song’s cryptic but thoughtful lyrics. Nur Lajunen-Tal talks with her about the songwriting journey. Made with support from NZ On Air Music.

These days Tāmaki Makaurau-based, Hollebon began her musical journey as a drummer at primary school.

“I was playing drums in bands right from the age of 11 until I was 19. I played in three different bands. I always admired people who were standing at the front of the stage, engaging with the crowd and dancing, and I was always quite jealous, and part of that seeped into why I started Juno Is.”

While attending St Hilda’s Collegiate School during her teen years she met Tessa Forde, who now performs as Vanessa Worm. It was during this time she started writing songs.

“It was an all-girls boarding school,” says Hollebon. “I don’t wanna bring it down, but it wasn’t super open to alternative music creation as such. So that’s why me and my friend Tessa were just creating together. I felt like quite an outcast and it was really lucky that I had someone at boarding school with me, to encourage that creative side… we used to write and produce really crappy Garageband songs together! We would sit in our room and produce really silly, funny, crazy songs out of just the software synths and MIDI drums. I guess that kind of motivated me to explore my side of the creativity.”

It was while at high school that Hollebon decided to start a solo project, and came up with her artist identity.

“I was about 15 and I didn’t really pay attention in class or anything, especially in science class,” she reminisces. “My science teacher would always show us photos of him ice skating with his partner… and I remember one class he was showing us the slideshow, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna zone out for this class’, and so I did. I had my little notebook and I was just doodling heaps of names and I was like, ‘What if one day I had a musical project of my own, what names could I come up with?’ And I just wrote down the word Juno and I was like, whoah, I quite like this word! And then I kept writing variations of like Juno is something, like Juno is funny, like descriptive words, and then I kind of left it as Juno Is… I think I put a question mark there as well, and I was going to release the name as Juno Is…? But then I was like that’s kind of weird, so I just had Juno Is.”

Hollebon kept writing and making demos, eventually releasing her first single, I Want to Be Gentle, in 2019. Juno Is’ first multi-song project, an EP entitled ‘Creature of Habit’, arrived the following year.

“I was writing a bunch of demos on my laptop and just messing around and then my ex-boyfriend bought me studio time for my birthday. He organised a few sessions for me with a guy called Stephen Marr, who was working for Radio One at the time, and I just went in there and just recorded everything from the demos, just re-recorded it live in the studio. That’s the first EP that I released, ‘Creature of Habit.’ From there I just started playing heaps of shows, until Covid hit obviously, and then everything kind of came to a stop.”

Following the EP, Hollebon has released a few singles, including the NZ On Air-funded Floating, but sees Imitation as the start of a new direction.

“A lot of this project has been just experimenting and messing around and trying to figure out what I actually want out of it,” she says. “I’m really glad that I’ve allowed myself the past few years to kind of just, you know, float between different genres and try new things out, and finally reach a point where I’m comfortable with the sound that I’m after, and I’m comfortable sitting in that and writing more albums based around it.”

Hollebon says Imitation was a quick song to write.

“Before I moved up to Auckland I was living in a house that was right beside the beach in Dunedin, and every day I’d go and sit by the sea and journal,” she remembers. “And there was one particular day where I was sitting by the sea, and I was in quite a brooding mood, and I was just feeling dull about everything. I looked over and I saw a group of girls walking past, and some of them looked really uncomfortable while some of them looked like they were having a great time, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is just a classic friend group dynamic.’ And then I was reflecting on how I was always the lost one in a friend group, and I never felt like I could fit in… The song talks about how you ebb and flow between loving a friend group and then kind of retracting from it and wanting to be alone, and that’s kind of how I work, generally. I guess it’s just a song about self-reflection and what it means, for me, to be in a group of friends…that song was a very fast song, and it usually takes weeks to write a song.”

“When I was observing this group of girls, in some form I was realising that they were kind of imitating each other in weird ways,” she adds, to explain why the song is titled Imitation. “That could’ve been a whole other verse in the song. I quite like having song titles somewhat related to the lyrics but not from the lyrics.”

The song was produced by Dunedin artist De Stevens and recorded at Roundhead Studios.

“I knew him through the Dunedin scene,” she explains. “I hit him up because I really liked his own music, and just asked him to come into my little home and help me develop the song and make it something more than what the demo was. Give it a bit of life, I guess. And then we flew up to Roundhead to record that song midway through last year. We were in Studio A, and Steven Marr works there as well, so he engineered the song, which was a fun time, having those two guys on board… Also, my friend Hamish (Morgan) played percussion on the song. Him and De set up a little fort in De’s bedroom in Dunedin, which they built out of two sofa chairs and a blanket and then Hamish sat in there and played all the percussion while De recorded him in there!”

Imitation is accompanied by an enigmatic and intriguing NZ On Air-funded music video. Directed by Ezra Simons the video features Hollebon clothed in black and red, spinning inside a plastic box. Stevens, Morgan and songwriter Judah Kelley are also in the video.

“I worked with Ezra on Floating,” says Hollebon. “I hit him up and I said to him that I wanted to work on a film again. I guess from there I kind of just worked with him and we came up with the ideas of having the plastic box that I was in. So that was his idea, and I just said to him I want it to be a simple video, I want to have colours that tie together, I want outfits that pop a wee bit, and I really liked the idea of having red and black.

“It was a really collaborative process. I didn’t really want to complicate things too much by changing location or anything, so we just shot it in one day at this property we hired in Southhead, which was awesome. It helped a lot having a property that had dense bush and then farm hills. There’s not meant to be much symbolism with the song and the video. For me, it was having it kind of as an aesthetic more than a symbol-based thing. When I create videos I like them to stand on their own two feet and not tie too much into the music… I like people to create their own atmosphere and their own ideas of what it means to them, ’cause it could mean one thing to me and it could mean a completely different thing to another person, and I think that’s awesome. That’s why I love being so vague with things because I want people to interpret it their own way and have their own experience.”

Continuing to work with Stevens on new music Hollebon says they are currently about three-quarters of the way through her debut album.

“I’ve got funding for another song, so that will come out hopefully in June, I’d say, with a video, and it’s quite different to Imitation… De is really helping me develop the songs to a different level, to more of a refined sound that I’ve always wanted to achieve but haven’t known how to achieve it.”