Back in 2009, Laura Jean Englert won herself an electric guitar as part of an APRA Professional Development Award prize pack. She was granted a stash of cash and assorted recording equipment, but it was that pastel yellow Gibson SG guitar that was to inform her latest record, the sweetly dark and romantically charged oeuvre, A fool who'll.
So, big deal right? An electric guitar dictates the sound of a musician’s record. Wow, revolutionary! But you see, Laura Jean has never gone electric in her career. Her debut record Our Swan Song (2006) and stunning, compositional follow-up Eden Land (2008) were strictly acoustic affairs, the songwriter expressing her pure, poetic writings in hushed, brush stroking rhythms. But with A fool who’ll, the cat is well and truly out of the bag.
“The guitar was really like the power animal,” she laughs. “It was the keystone of the album that unlocked it, because before that I wrote the songs on acoustic guitar but the songs weren’t alive. I knew they were okay songs, but when I plugged that guitar in without second thought the personality of the songs came out.”
Jean’s electric guitar, which is incidentally the same make and model played by AC/DC's Angus Young, is a symbolic gesture throughout the recording and even features in the record sleeve photography. Jean is pictured in every frame with her loyal axe – inseparable to the end. There's never been more fuss over an artist going from acoustic to electric since some young fella did it at Newport, Rhode Island in the US back in 1965.
“I wanted the album to be like a mixture of raw and hi-fi,” says Jean. “It had to be quite a hi-fi album but [with] the soul of a lo-fi album I guess.
“I wanted it to sound quite big and grand but still kind of dirty as well, and lyrically and thematically A fool who'll is about the lowest and the highest of things; looking at physical, earthy themes and esoteric kind of wafty themes and bringing them together and seeing where these two energies meet.”
Lyrically, Jean has always been up there with the best modern day Australian songwriters. She admits that Gillian Welch and Will Oldham have informed her musical style of transforming complex matters into simple language and that the A fool who’ll tune Valenteen was written in response to witnessing a Leonard Cohen show. Yet her discerning turn of phrase, mystical and pastoral poetic couplets are rooted in a country that continues to confound the artist.
On Australia, Jean documents a country losing its identity. “Well, you know we’re becoming more American in our culture,” says Jean. “I think we’re an Asian country but we’re kind of in denial about that. It’s a better identity than American and more practical.
“We really need a stronger sense of community.”
Laura Jean launches A fool who’ll (out now on Chapter Music) at The Toff in Town on Saturday November 5.