When we receive our coffees at a Melbourne hole-in-the-wall cafe, Brisbane musician Jeremy Neale looks uncharacteristically displeased. “I never get latte art in my long blacks,” he sighs. “Surely Melbourne of all places would do it?” It’s the first time I’ve heard him complain in the few times we’ve conversed, but even so, it’s an accurate snapshot of his quirky, yet endearing personality.
Released last November, the Velociraptor frontman’s debut solo album Getting The Team Back Together proves there’s more to his character than just nonsensical humour and an upbeat demeanour, and there’s plenty of depth to his infectious indie anthems. Before meeting, I feel well acquainted with him, largely due to his social media presence – which I’m assured is all him.
“I value entertainment above all else, probably to my detriment as an artist.” Neale laughs. “Social media is a fun time. I figure I’ve got a platform, I can talk about whatever. It’s harder when you’re directly trying to promote a record I guess. I’m a bit of a rambler and I’m never really succinctly saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got a record out.’ If you watched the one-and-a-half minute video of me and my cat doing Fan Mail Friday, there’s probably a hidden mention of the record in there somewhere.”
You ignored the flamenco guitar and sax solo on this song [back then], but what about in 2018?
Neale first caught my attention with the Velociraptor track ‘Sneakers’, in which he sings, “I put my sneakers on, I leave my house in a rush. Whatever, I’m trying.” His songwriting has only strengthened since then; Getting The Team Back Together delves deep into love, mental health and being kind to yourself. “I think the record largely revolves around picking up the pieces and trying my best. That’s really all you can ask of yourself,” he says.
It’s been almost two years since the release of his second EP, Let Me Go Out In Style, and Neale admits that his last release may not have been the best step forward musically. “I went really deep ’80s on the last one: I don’t think it was a commercially viable release. I like it though!” When I mention it may go down better now that there’s a resurgence in ’80s-inspired acts like Client Liaison and Donny Benet, Neale jokes about a potential reissue: “You ignored the flamenco guitar and sax solo on this song [back then], but what about in 2018?”
The two-year break between Let Me Go and Getting The Team was a conscious decision made by Neale and his record label. “When you have something and you really want to share it, you’re like, ‘Come on, come on! We can do this, we can get it out!’ I wanted to get the record out at the end of 2016, but that when I was in a mindset that wasn’t helpful to me. I was constantly stressing myself out by making self-imposed deadlines that never really mattered. By doing that I never got things 100 per cent right, so I was forced to slow down. I wasn’t really having a good time in life [and I wasn’t] prioritising my own happiness. Ultimately it has been the best thing ever to be relaxed… and have all the assets ready to go, instead of my usual thing which is, ‘Oh cool, the single’s out in a week. Better do a film clip!’”
Neale is remarkably candid when he discusses themes of the album. “You know what you’re feeling and you understand what you’re thinking, but putting it in a succinct way that somebody else can understand is really tough sometimes. Your own headspace is a confusing place, but I think over time I’ve gotten better at communicating and that’s why I wanted to share some bigger concepts. There’s a song on there called ‘All My Life’ [which is] about when I reached this juncture point where I was turning 30 and I was still occasionally very depressed. I was like okay, this is a thing that’s been with me for years – maybe it’s not going away. I wanted to communicate that in a song, so I did.”
Neale admits that he’s come to a point where he’s crucially appraising his lifestyle. “I find myself asking, ‘Okay, if my life isn’t working, why isn’t it working?’ and then going, ‘Well, you’re hitting the booze too much Jeremy’. I’m trying to be pretty blatant and not try to hide things with metaphors. A song like ‘Small Talk’ is basically saying, ‘I’m a party animal and I feel crap about myself’. It’s all about the reprioritisation of that too. Someone shared this meme the other day and it was a succinct summary of how to get life right and it’s like, ‘Me: Drinks too much, eats terrible food, drinks 0.5 mls of water a day, doesn’t sleep. Me also: Why am I sad?’”
Fronting Velociraptor, a garage party-rock band with upwards of nine members, has prepared him for his solo project; Neale explains he gained the majority of his working knowledge of the music industry through the group. “I think I learned all of my hardest lessons through doing Velociraptor. I don’t think there’s anything harder than the logistics behind that band, so everything seems comparatively easier in a solo project. The band has been nothing but kind to me even in troubled times; it’s ultimately a beautiful home base and an incredible support.”
Your own headspace is a confusing place.
With Velociraptor allowing him to cut his teeth as a songwriter, he feels his lyrics benefited from its influence. “It was a good learning lesson as a songwriter I feel. When we did the self-titled album in 2014 that was when I was first comfortable about sharing very direct experiences because it could be under a moniker. I wrote about my life experiences, and at the time there was a lot of very legitimate heartbreak and a lot of sadness. I put it all on the line, so now I’m able to effectively communicate and feel comfortable doing that under my own name.”
As for whether Velociraptor will be back with new material soon, Neale admits that juggling his solo project and the band is tough work – it takes a lot of preparation and long-term planning. “If I look at the schedule and go, ‘Oh, we can totally do this here and that wouldn’t be stretching things’, then we’ll get back in the studio and put something out early next year. We still get people messaging, ‘When’s the new stuff out?’ It’s like, ‘We’ve got it, I guess we should put that out’.”
The album features collaborations with some of Brisbane’s emerging talent, including Jaimee Fryer (Major Leagues, Pool Shop), Harriette Pilbeam (Hatchie, Babaganouj) and members of The John Steel Singers. “I’m really lucky being in such a strong community, there’s a way to make anything possible and you know who the best person for each job is as well. For example, with ‘All My Life’ I was like, ‘It’s got to be Pilbeam singing,’” says Neale of bringing the singer in. “I was like, ‘Hey Harriette, do you mind doing this?’ and she’s like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to’ and then boom, Harriette’s in the studio the day later making the magic. It was the same with Jaimee Fryer. I knew for ‘Small Talk’ her voice was exactly what I needed.
“I’m really hesitant to ask people for help because I feel like I’m bothering people sometimes. There’s a lot of core elements to Jeremy Neale – my live band are the players on the record, and there’s other ring-ins like Luke McDonald and Scott Bromiley from John Steel Singers. They came in and did all those beautiful male stacked harmonies you hear on the record.”
The tight knit Brisbane scene has left Neale spoiled for choice when it comes to collaboration, and he’s grateful for its (almost signature) mix of amicability and proximity. “We’ve got a very fortunate community, in that all our venues are clumped very closely together. It’s great because you can hop and see all the bands you want to see in one night. We’ve got such a supportive community, there’s no hostility, everybody gets along – it’s like one big hug.”
It’s no surprise Neale remains humble, given his work outside of music is with the Starlight Foundation, a charity that provides joy and comfort to hospitalised children. “It’s the best job,” he says. “My specific program is called Livewire and it’s for teenagers in hospital. It’s all creatively based stuff, but it’s also patient-directed. It’s kind of the one place in the hospital where they get to call the shots. Nurses and doctors tell them they’ve got to do this or that, whereas we can go, ‘What are you into?’ We also try to connect teenagers with other teenagers in there because they understand what they’re going through. It’s a wonderful program.
“It’s a job that is very engaging the whole time you’re there,” continues Neale. “You don’t think about anything else other than where you are … Everyday you leave and you feel better than you did before you went in. I think it was part of the journey for me, and part of getting all those aspects of life right was finding a job I really cared about and could invest myself in.”
Additionally, Neale’s got one vivid imagination. This is demonstrated when he’s asked to discuss the star of his recently released comic T-Rax – the story of a billionaire dinosaur DJ who is Neale’s best friend. “T-Rax is from another planet where everyone learns how to DJ because it’s an expected skill,” Neale explains with utmost seriousness. “He crash landed in Brisbane in the ’80s – he has a cool catchphrase and dinosaurs were really hip at the time so he was living the dream. He’s super famous, DJing and making heaps of cash, and even though he’s so rich, he refused to fund the album.
“He’s like, ‘Jeremy, I think you need to do this, it’s character development.’ I respect that.” As for where the adventures of T-Rax will go from here, Neale is anticipating exciting things ahead. “We’ll see how the comic goes, but we do have a video game in development. I’m also thinking me and T-Rax will get matching tattoos in the first scene of the follow up comic.”
For his national tour this year, Neale will have his live band in toe, but when the time comes to play shows internationally, he’s preparing to go it alone. “When I do a solo set I do some Velociraptor songs and I also do some of own songs. I also throw in some April Fools songs, a power metal song, and a hip hop song by my alter ego Jeromeo. It’s a real variety set. I don’t know if I’m logistically up for touring the whole band overseas – even getting to Perth is an effort.”
While it’s easy to become jaded by rock stars with bad attitudes, Jeremy Neale is a welcome reminder that down to earth artists who appreciate the team supporting them exist. When it comes to how he gets by when things get a little hectic, he imparts some simple advice: “You can really reset if close your eyes and breathe, and be like, ‘Okay, I’m back.’”
It’s this pragmatic quality that makes me think Neale might just be one of the most pleasant musicians in Australia.
Jeremy Neale plays Freedom 4 at the Oxford Art Factory on Saturday January 27.