Jack Colwell is a busy man. He’s emerged as a champion for queer rights by co-organising Unity, a huge fundraising concert for the Equality Campaign, held in September, that featured his friends Sarah Blasko and Killing Heidi, and an encore performance of Kate Bush's Cloudbusting with a 30-piece choir.
His new single and video Pigeons and Peacocks is out now, and in December he will return to the stage two intimate end-of-year shows, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne. These will be full-band rock shows after a year playing in solo mode.
Here Colwell wades into the marriage-equality debate and talks about his new album.
Broadsheet: Do you feel the biggest battle for queer rights in Australia has now been won?
Jack Colwell: Not at all. We need to keep fighting for queer issues, and to stand up for marginalised voices in this country. A large percentage of people voted no to same-sex marriage and there was a lot of vitriolic imagery and language used to incite fear during the postal survey – including messages about paedophilia and AIDS.
Safe Schools, or queer-acceptance education, is still not running in many state schools, and we have a huge crisis with what is happening on Manus. I don't believe as people we can only care about one thing at one time. I hope those who have raised a strong voice during the same-sex marriage campaign will now know how to activate their voices and be more involved in broader political and social issues. I know I will try to be.
BS: Why is the legalisation of same-sex marriage important to you?
JC: I first marched for marriage equality when I was 15 and, at the time, I quite naively thought the institution of marriage was some sort of ideal dream-state. I think when you're a teenager it's quite typical to idealise things like that. But these days I am committed to marriage equality mostly because it's an issue that the mainstream can digest – it's a gateway for the majority into other queer issues that are just as important.
Legalising same-sex marriage is also about making queer people feel valid. Not having marriage equality in this country sends a message that marriage, which young people are encouraged to aspire to in our culture, is not available to everyone. The current, rigid definition of marriage is “othering” queer people and affects their mental health.
BS: Did you struggle to find queer musical role models when you were younger?
JC: Yes and no. When I was growing up, the only way you could be acceptably queer was to be a funny, flamboyant gay man – think Jack from Will and Grace or Carson Kressley from Queer Eye. There were only a handful of “out” musicians that I knew about – Rufus Wainwright, Elton John and Owen Pallett.
All in all, there have never been as many “out” queer artists as there are today, and that's very exciting. Radio stations and magazines need to feature and celebrate them more, and in a way that doesn't feel tokenistic. And, when writing an article about same-sex marriage or similar, it's good to feature queer voices – because, no offence, heterosexual voices get a say on everything.
BS: What sort of atmosphere you try to create at your live shows?
JC: I hope my live shows are inclusive and can be seen as safe spaces. When I last played in Adelaide a group of metalheads came to the show, which was strange as I don't write metal, but they sat down the front and respectfully listened the whole time. I don't find my audience is exclusively queer, either – it's just people who seem to enjoy what I do.
BS: Who’s in your band this time around and what sort of evening can punters expect?
JC: I haven't played with a full band since January, so I wanted to finish the year in a big way. Brett Adrien will be playing bass, Pete Gabrielides is on guitar and Ivan Lisyak will be joining on drums. I've played with these people for two or three years now. My old childhood friend Miles Horler, who does all my string arrangements, is making a special appearance on cello – which if you ask me is probably the most beautiful instrument of all.
BS: Your previous single Beneather was loud and heavy, but your new track Pigeons and Peacocks is very tender. Do you make a conscious decision to work with different styles?
JC: I think the writing comes naturally, but it's also probably influenced by whatever I've been listening to. Pigeons and Peacocks was written when I was heavily into Nico, and Beneather was written when I'd just started listening to the Smashing Pumpkins. I do have a debut album ready to go, Swandream, that I just need to finish recording – and it sounds pretty different to a lot of the other music I've released. It may even sound different again by the time I get into the studio with it.