BAND PROFILE | JEMMA AND THE CLIFTON HILLBILLIES
by Sean O’Grady
Showcasing the raw emotion and unbridled spirit of country and Americana music, Jemma and the Clifton Hillbillies released an acclaimed self titled album last year that saw them nominated for an Age EG music award.
The acclaim is well justified. Whilst capturing the poignant beauty of the golden era of country music, the album goes beyond being just a tribute. It veers in different directions but it never loses the cohesive feel that makes it such an enjoyable listen. As Jemma explained “we started it more country/honky tonk but then it moved into Americana even pop, the title track April’s Fool is quite poppy.”
Jemma formed the Clifton Hillbillies in 2012 while helping to organise a tour for Nashville singer Jasmin Kaset, “I had sort of been doing some singing and I thought maybe I’ll just put myself on the line-up, then I wrangled those guys and we liked each other and kept it going.”
Produced by former Down Hills Home guitarist Sean McMahon, the album has a very organic feel. Recorded in a former pub in Clifton Hill where she lives, the sessions had a laid back feel. “Our plan was to be collaborative, and grab musicians from the bar and bring them up, we wanted it be loose and collaborative.”
The music scene in Melbourne has a very do it yourself approach and Jemma was keen to embrace that on her first album. “I wanted to learn how to do all that myself for the first time, and learn first-hand what needs to be done and how you can promote yourself and get your music out there.”
Writing a good song is the ultimate reward of the creative process, but for many artists it’s an intense and often laborious process, I asked Jemma about her approach to songwriting. “I’m trying to get in the practice of writing more even if it’s not necessarily that great, I think of it as a photographer taking twenty rolls of film and maybe one good photo comes from that”. It’s all about keeping the process going and refining the craft, Jemma has also started learning the guitar which has also aided her writing.
Jemma and her band are part of a thriving local live music scene that shows no signs of slowing down. “It’s a little too good, there is a not a night of the week when there isn’t something on and it’s growing. There are certainly more bands, especially in this genre, than there were before.”
The next step is a trip overseas in September taking in Nashville and the heartland of alternative country Austin Texas. Jemma will also be looking at the possibility of recording some new material in Nashville in the near future.
Jemma’s plan for the future is to continue to develop her songwriting and build on the foundations she and her band have so far created. Watching them at the Sydney Road Street Party you could see the camaraderie on stage, the tight playing of the Hillbillies and her compelling vocals.
With such an assured debut under their belt and the popularity of their live shows, the future is a bright one for Jemma and her Clifton Hillbillies.