The rock band is the electric lineage of Australian popular music: vocals, guitars, bass and drums, regardless of the decade. But if the instruments remain largely the same, what these groups represent changes greatly to reflect their time. Think of the Easybeats in the 1960s with their immigrant drive, or the defiant passion of Cold Chisel in the 1970s who refused to conform to a line dictated by authority.
Each era gets its authentic amplification, and you can continue to follow the lineage through Powderfinger’s egalitarian interest and Gang of Youth’s embrace of raw passion. But how does the emblematic next-gen rock band look and sound? The band would be the first verse-to-chorus sum of Generation Z, the heirs of Millennials and a cohort shaped by digital culture and raised to the looming effects of climate change and the need to look after their mental health during the pandemic years protection.
If you want to turn this outline into an outlier, please think of Spacey Jane. The Perth-based quartet – vocalist and guitarist Caleb Harper, guitarist Ashton Hardman-Le Cornu, bassist Peppa Lane and drummer Kieran Lama – have enjoyed an unstoppable rise over the past three years. Zooming in on Triple J, the quartet saw their debut album in June 2020 sunlight, debuting two on the national charts. In June of this year his successor, Here everyone comesShe took the extra step and debuted at one.
Out of lockdown and able to tour both domestically and increasingly abroad, Spacey Jane will play five consecutive nights at Melbourne’s Forum Theater later this month. They could add more shows or it could be the last time they play a room this size in Melbourne before hitting the arenas. By commercial standards, the band and their lively, alternative-tinged singles have achieved amazing success. But sales and sold-out shows aren’t the only metrics that matter to the group.
Caleb Harper, sitting in his Christchurch hotel room in the middle of a New Zealand tour, talks about Spacey Jane with no-frills honesty, as if it were the mechanism that gives him both meaning and satisfaction. Traditional rock taxonomy dictates that bands are gangs or a boys’ club, but Spacey Jane feels both more inclusive and necessarily inclusive: something to share with those close to him, a business to nurture, a vehicle of expression, an example to set.
“We really love each other and are so grateful that we can do this together. What’s changed the most is that before we were just friends doing this thing together for fun, but now we’re bonded and in this business together through fear of the unknown and the end of our safety net,” says Harper.
“More than half of what we do now has nothing to do with creating or performing music. We need to have each other’s backs because we all depend on each other,” he adds. “It’s unspoken, but sometimes it’s talked about. We have a real commitment to each other and to what we do.”
I first spoke to Harper in February 2020 while compiling a list of new Australian artists to watch out for. Spacey Jane had just cracked Triple J’s Hottest 100 for the first time with her whirlwind single Good for you, although Harper missed the big moment: when the countdown hit 90, he thought they hadn’t made the cut and went on a bottle shop run. He was in the queue when it came in at 80am and his phone started to explode. One year later booster seat would reach number two on the 2021 Hottest 100. Harper wasn’t at the bottle store.
Even then, the lanky frontman had an innate understanding of what he got out of making music and what other people got out of listening to it. “Not much of what I write is cute. It’s wrapped in bubbly indie sounds, but the last two years have been pretty tough for me emotionally and a relationship breakdown is front and center,” Harper told me. “Anybody can identify with bad things in their life, but at the same time, they also want to sing and dance along.”
That last phrase could be seen as a kind of manifesto for Harper’s songwriting. sunlightand special Here everyone comes, delve deep into his teenage depression, the ensuing bouts of indecision and self-destruction, and the heartache tempered with regret and despair. “The sound coming out of my head screaming ‘I don’t feel right’,” like hard light inserts succinctly.
The week Here everyone comes was released, Spacey Jane gave consecutive days of autograph sessions in record shops in six different capitals. Fan lines were long, and because the band didn’t set a time limit, they stayed for hours before all those waiting in line got their signature and, in many cases, a chance to let Harper and his bandmates know what certain songs meant to them. It wasn’t a responsibility the songwriter foresaw.
“Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the right thing to say. Just because I talk about these things doesn’t mean I’ve mastered them all or have this broad understanding of how and what to do. But I try really hard to connect with people and talk about things,” says Harper. “But just like me, some people just want to talk, they don’t need an answer or a solution. You just want to tell someone. For me it’s really nice to be reciprocated: I asked them to listen to me and now they are doing the same.”
Harper has come a long way from Geraldton, the regional town 400 kilometers north of Perth, where he grew up with Wilcos Yankee Hotel Foxtrot repeatedly in his stepfather’s car and was in a high school band with Lama before moving to Perth and forming Spacey Jane at the University in 2016. His latest addition is a chunky silver chain, which he recently bought during a stay in Los Angeles, and which smacks his chin whenever he runs onto the stage. It’s the kind of purchase he was too afraid of until recently to keep the band from falling over.
“Caleb really believes in people. He is very encouraging and has confidence. And he will always have your back,” says Peppa Lane. “And he’s a really good decision maker and always has a vision in mind. It is very easy to trust your leadership.”
The 22-year-old bassist joined in 2019, replacing Amelia Murray, who left on amicable terms to concentrate on her medical studies (she is now doing her first year in Western Australia’s rural hospital system). According to Harper, Lane was a “one in a million” increase at the time. She was a freshman at the time, and every week she called her parents at home, complaining that she hadn’t joined a band. When she was offered a share of Spacey Jane’s gig price at the time, $48 and 12 cans of beer, she gladly accepted.
“When I joined the band I was overwhelmed with giving up other things in my life. But it’s just fun to keep growing. Many people in the world are successful. We didn’t make it any better than anyone else,” says Lane. “A good band has to be creative, expressive and use your full musical potential. I think we still have a lot to discover.”
As honest as he is, Harper also has a keen sense of humor. He jokes that he doesn’t have enough Instagram followers to get free clothes (which he would love to have) and throws in self-deprecating asides. It also helped him rethink what Spacey Jane could be. Part of his Los Angeles trip was trying his hand at songwriting with other musicians to see how it could help Spacey Jane.
“We’re always striving to expand and evolve, and to bring as many positive influences and opinions to this cause as possible without sacrificing our sense of agency,” says Harper. “The last six months have made me feel very possessive and vulnerable, but I want it to be a fun, collaborative thing, not a heartbreaking introspective process.”
Strike a chord
From a cathartic backbeat to a bittersweet ballad, Caleb Harper’s lyrics have struck a chord with fans of the band. He now has them sung to him by thousands of voices on live shows with passionate belief, and over the past two years the 25-year-old has spoken eloquently about his mental health, personal setbacks and a hopeful future. But he’s also confident enough to know that making music isn’t a simple panacea.
“I’ve realized that songwriting and creativity isn’t really a way for me to go about things. It’s a way of expressing them and describing them and trying to relate to people with them,” says Harper. “The work you, like all humans, have to do on yourself still has to be done separately, at least for me. I find it cathartic and beautiful, but when I talk about an issue, the issue is still there. The things they fix take a lot more dedication and consistency.”
Later this year, Spacey Jane will be relocating to Los Angeles, with their North American dates in October and November – including two nights at the Bowery Ballroom in New York – suggesting they’re gaining a foothold there. What will stay the same is Spacey Jane’s willingness to be frank about how they see themselves and what it really means to be the band of the moment.
“When I was young, I thought the idea of being a rock star was a ticket to not worrying about the world,” says Harper. “I thought if I put myself into words and music, it would feel like it was okay to live in it. I’ve romanticized the idea, but I’ve found that it’s not very romantic and I don’t want to live in it.”
Spacey Jane performs at the Forum Theatre, Melbourne on Tuesday 23rd (all ages), Wednesday 24th (all ages), Thursday 25th, Friday 26th and Saturday 27th August.
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https://www.smh.com.au/culture/music/hit-albums-and-sold-out-shows-the-startling-success-of-australia-s-spacey-jane-20220801-p5b6e6.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture The stunning success of Australian Spacey Jane