Jack Colwell is a rare kind of up-and-coming indie musician. His days at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney – on top of endless hours at the mercy of his craft – have ensured he is a far more accomplished musician than his youth would suggest. He released his first EP in his teens, and is remarkably comfortable working in different creative environments – from writing his own pop gems to composing for theatre. But what sets Colwell apart from most is his willingness to share so much of himself with his audience. He’s not selling his soul talk show-style to make a buck, but he’s more than ready to explain the man behind the melodies and the moods that have inspired the music. It’s a rare find in these days of quasi-privacy when artists refuse to open up in one forum but will share their most unnecessarily intimate moments in another.
Colwell’s classical training unavoidably creeps into his music but he’s certainly humble about its influence. “I think when I began writing songs, seriously, I really believed my classical training made me somehow different, or special,” Colwell says. “Being locked away in the Conservatorium for seven-odd years can do that to you. To a degree, I’m sure it does; I have the capacity to understand music at a different level to some, and to pull it apart and look at it technically, but I don’t think it makes you better – which seems to be the question on most people’s lips. With my first EP, White Noise, I was highly concerned with being taken seriously as ‘an artist’… whatever that means now. I tried to write complicated piano parts and picked sounds that were at times unsettling for the listener. It was a long time ago.”
Pop music can suffer from serious cultural elitism, says Colwell. But the emotions that influenced last year’s album, Picture Window,and his forthcoming release, ‘Far From View’, exist on a far more personal level. “For the last eight years I’ve struggled with depression,” Colwell says. “During the last 12 months it became really bad, overwhelming, to the point that I wanted to stop my career and took no real solace in composing or performing. It was hard to perform any daily routine. I opened myself up to a person I trusted; emotionally, financially, sexually – and really felt like in the end I was taken advantage of. I had never experienced anything like it. I was left feeling very alone and confused. It forced me to face a traumatic event I had tried to bury.
“When I wrote my debut album, Picture Window,I felt I really wanted to let people in on the fact that I was suffering inside – it’s in the album, if you listen – but I was a bit naive. And at the same time as wanting people to share in my experience and my music, I was afraid of exposing my insecurities and fears so hid my secrets behind walls of metaphor.
“I am older now, and less afraid. In what I now refer to as ‘the year of waste’, I learnt to face my shame and anguish over these experiences in what has manifested in a new single I plan for release in early 2014, ‘Far From View’. [The song] takes on various meanings. It is of a lover scorned, or that moment your very being is crushed, but maybe at its core it’s a song about hiding from an inner turmoil, shame; and forcing yourself to look in the mirror even when you think all the light has vanished. There’s a comfort in that.”
BY KRISSI WEISS