Every so often you might just be lucky enough to come across a song with the ability to halt you dead in its tracks. Something that contains the ability to pry your attention away from its intended purpose can conjure a physiological response that casts your mind into an introspective void of self-reflection and your body into absolute stillness. Juice Webster’s latest sophomore EP, More Than Reaction certainly achieves this special state. Extending on her alt singer-songwriter style, Webster’s delicate melodies and newfound alternate tunings combine with free-thinking prose for magically arresting moments. As raindrops ran across the windows of The Retreat, we sat down with the Melbourne native to find out how she accidentally arrived at her standout second release.
Whilst her parents weren’t performers themselves, Webster credits her folks with providing a foundation of alternative icons in Wilco, Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple and Nick Cave to listen to early on; “I didn’t realise until I was bit older, but I really appreciate having grown up on that. A lot of music people listen to when you grow up can be informative without really realising it”. The youngest of four children, Webster followed in the footsteps of her multi-instrumentalist older brother. Moving from a background in singing and dancing, she soon gravitated toward the violin, saxophone and then guitar when 14 years old; “I wanted something I could sing and play with but I didn’t really like it initially because my guitar teacher, in my very first lesson, said I had really bad technique. I was like, ‘woah, it’s my first lesson!’. It was just a bit brutal (laughs)”.
Whilst crafting deep cuts as one half of electronica duo Hemm, Webster simultaneously started her solo, self-titled project. Releasing her debut EP in 2019, You Who Was Myself revolved entirely around specific events whereas her latest release explores the open-ended nature of alternate tunings and stream of consciousness lyrical content that catalysed a reactionary catharsis; “I’ve never sat down and decided to write a body of work that’s going to be about this. I just don’t really know how to do that. I’m not super formulaic. I don’t know how to do that. Particularly with this new EP, I felt like I didn’t really have this sense of knowing what was on my mind. Then I’d start writing and it became so clear what was bothering me”. ‘Let The Dog Out’ is one such example of arriving at an accidental resolution through monotony; “At that point in my life I was getting up early in the morning, letting the dog outside and just feeling quite depressed. My outlining that routine in the lyrics of that song was my way of imbuing some specificity... but I think the concept is a lot broader in that a lot of people wake up with a little cloud over their head and try to fight it off in their own way”.
Another ideal which wound its way out of Webster's subconscious revolved around existentialism; “More Than Reaction is about this broader exploration of my general place in the world that’s examined in different ways”. Detailing one of her biggest fears, ‘Believer’ sees her work through a rabbit hole of apprehension and identity; “I think a lot about losing my memory. I remember hearing in some doco that all that you are is tied up in your memory. So I began ruminating on the thought that if you do lose your memory, all you really have to rely on is what other people tell you... and you’ll just have to believe them because you won’t really have a choice. You might not even know who you are anymore”. Whilst the writing process caused Webster to confront several conflicts, it also reflected the relief once having processed them; “When I wrote ‘I Wanna Be Held’ I was very frazzled, and I don’t really know why but I felt like my mind was all over the place. I was all fidgety and strange so my partner asked what he could do, and I just asked for a hug, which was so cheesy, but I just needed to be held in place”. A remarkable reworking of her own experience, the song itself suspends any grief or fear into a manageable moment as the chorus slows to a crawl, imitating a healing hug from a loved one.
As a solo artist, Webster appreciates the therapy involved in crafting her compositions; “Song writing to me is just a personal thing. It’s something that has this catharsis about it that is a self-examination or exploration of concepts that takes up space in my mind and I don’t think I could really do that with someone else”. More inclined to “collaborate at the next stage”, she partnered with Simon Lam to produce the recording sessions at a small coastal Peninsula house. An enthusiast of minimalist arrangements, Webster often found more in less when recording, albeit not without want of trying; “My process is to have the song there in its most pure form. If it doesn’t serve the song, then it doesn’t need to be there. ‘Stupid Girl’ was difficult to finish because we kept trying to add stuff to it but it never felt right. Then not adding anything didn’t even feel right! At the end of the day, I think I’m a fan of songs being what they are”.
On top of her cracking EP, Webster recently rubbed shoulders with Ali Barter and has gone on to record a video for ‘Wanna Be Held’ at the holy grail of venues, The Tote. She’ll also be performing a sold-out late launch show at the same venue this Friday! However, as Webster's recount of attendance apprehensions infer, she remains as grounded as ever, even in the face of what appears to be a phenomenal year; “The Tote had their own link for the show, so I didn’t know how many tickets were selling. The night before they went on sale I was in bed thinking, ‘OK, at least 15 people are coming’. The next day I got to work and sent the link around the office because I was really nervous that nobody was gonna come but then someone said there was none left. I fully had to email The Tote asking if the link was broken. They said it had sold out and I was like ‘what!’.
More Than Reaction is available now on all streaming platforms.
Juice Webster’s launch show at The Tote this Friday still has tickets for you to nab for the early show at 6.00 p.m.!