The Australasia invasion has gifted the States a host of bands over the years. Acts like Lorde, Vance Joy and Tame Impala have become household names, while the likes of Marlon Williams, Aldous Harding and Methyl Ethel are busy following suit.
Melbourne's Jen Cloher, meanwhile, has been patiently waiting in line for a while now. But 2018 just might be her year.
The product of a particularly strong Aussie DIY scene, Cloher, 44, has been writing music since the mid-1990s. She loved singing three-part harmonies as a kid, but it wasn't until acting school that she started bumping into songwriters and decided to pick up the guitar.
"The idea that you could write and perform your own songs appealed to me," she said via email. "You could be a fully self-sufficient creative universe."
Such a personal approach to songwriting earned Cloher a fair amount of fame in her home country. As Jen Cloher and the Endless Sea, she was nominated for best female artist for the group's dark and folky debut, Dead Wood Falls, and was shortlisted for the Australian Music Prize in 2013 for her alt-rock effort, In Blood Memory. She penned heartbreaking albums like Hidden Hands, about losing her mother to Alzheimer's.
Yet Cloher remains largely known outside Australia as the partner of Courtney Barnett, whose deadpan, Dylan-esque indie-pop has stretched well beyond the range of influence Cloher is accustomed to.
Watching your significant other—14 years your junior—burst onto the scene is one thing. Watching her nonchalantly turn out a pair of adored records, a Saturday Night Live performance and an acclaimed collaboration with Kurt Vile is enough to inspire teeth-grinding envy. But beyond a brief bout with jealousy, Cloher couldn't be happier—or producing better music.
"It's good not to focus on your own music all the time," she says. "I love watching other people's music connect with an audience and flourish."
Cloher has certainly done just that, thanks to the successes of bands under her Milk Records label and opening for Barnett's tour with Kurt Vile last year. But 2018 promises to be Cloher's biggest year to date thanks to her fourth and strongest album, Jen Cloher, released in late 2017.
The record feels like the slow-burning marriage of the Kills and PJ Harvey. It's the work of an artist who's comfortable in her own shoes, mixing the punk-ish edge of her early years with veteran songwriting prowess. As they typically do, Cloher's lyrics stand out. "I've spent a lot of time wondering what I should be doing," she sings on "Shoegazers." "Success is a slippery eel that keeps on moving/It has nothing to do with making music."
Cloher is on the cusp of headlining a tour of her own. Many of the American dates are already sold out. Whether Barnett's influence has anything to do with that isn't really the point. Cloher has put in the hours, currently holds the floor and just wants you to listen.
SEE IT: Jen Cloher plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., with Mia Dyson, on Friday, Jan. 26. 9 pm. Sold out. 21+.