LUPA J IN SYDNEY, NOVEMBER 2015. PHOTOS BY LUPA J, EXCLUSIVELY FOR INTERVIEW.
Though she’s only released The Seed EP and three singles independently, and has never played a gig outside of Sydney, Australian songstress Lupa J (neé Imogen Jones) will be opening for Grimes early next year and seems to have a clear understanding of music production, lyrical expression, and overall artistic vision. The 17-year-old intertwines the subtle plucking of violin strings with dark bass and synthesizers, allowing her music to evade a purely electronic categorization. Simultaneously, her voice alternates between deep and hypnotic to light and airy, while singing her poems-turned-lyrics, all of which are autobiographical.
Jones trained classically on the violin starting in primary school, but it wasn’t until age 13 that she began composing and writing her own music. When she discovered Grimes two years later, she began dabbling in electronic music with Garage Band, and now, at age 17, she’s quickly developing her own unique vision. More than making music, Jones also directs her own videos and does all of her own photos (albeit, at times with the help of her mom), and has a strong visual eye, which can be seen through her carefully curated Instagram. After following her surreal images and hearing her latest singles, “Dirty Skin” and “Armour,” we decided it was time to connect with Jones (who will also be touring with Sarah Blasko next year) to learn more.
NAME: Imogen Jones
BASED: Sydney, Australia
THE NAME GAME: Lupa translates into “she-wolf” in Italian. When I first started, it was just Lupa, but then this lady whose name was also Lupa, and a musician I didn’t know about, got a bit annoyed, so I had to add the J on the end. My last name is Jones, so it stands for Jones. I called myself Lupa at the start because of the film Princess Mononoke. Part of the story is this girl who’s brought up by wolves; she’s a wolf-girl. When I was younger I was really impressed with this film, inspired by this wolf-girl character, and I had this costume that I wore for year. I was obsessed with it. The character is really strong and passionate about what she believes in. She fights humans that are trying to destroy the environment in her forest. She spends her life trying to fight the humans to save the forest. That really struck a cord with me. I guess I call myself that now, even though that was a childhood obsession, because she represents the values that I wanted to instill in myself—being passionate about what I believe, bring a really strong female character, basically.
ON SONGWRITING: I experimented [with songwriting] when I was about 13, just learning to sing, really. I was into Florence and the Machine for a long time, and Regina Spektor. The way they sounded inspired me to try to learn a different, more simple kind of song. I stopped it for a while but came back to it when I was 15, doing it electronically… I was 15 when I found Grimes’ music. My friend had just come to our school and she introduced me to Grimes and a few other artists. Prior to her I didn’t listen to electronic music all that much, I didn’t really have the right perception of what it was. A lot of it was that Grimes is a young woman producing her own music. I had this view that electronic music was just EDM and male DJs and it wasn’t accessible for me. But Grimes and her music, I really connected with it and it really excited me. I heard she used Garage Band to make some of her albums and I was just starting to use Garage Band. That’s where it started, I guess. FKA Twigs is [another] big one. She had just started to get famous around the time that I discovered Grimes. And also Radiohead—I like their recent albums, the more electronic stuff. I’ve slowly been acquiring all of their albums over time, but that’s still a huge inspiration.
CLASSIC VIOLIN: There was this little ensemble in primary school that I joined. After that I wanted to learn [violin] privately, so my mom took me out to have a private teacher. I worked with her for several years until just before high school, when she suggested that I go to this music school. I auditioned and I got in. There was an orchestra in the school, so I learned pretty intensively throughout high school. But when I started writing songs, I got to a point where having to practice violin three hours a day, it was a just—especially at a small intensive music school—very competitive. It became quite stressful for me, so around the time I started making songs, I switched to composing as a major at school. So I wasn’t just doing my songs; I’d be writing contemporary, classical music as well. I kept doing violin but not as intensively and not as a major. I still have lessons now, but I don’t concentrate as much, but it is helpful for making music, which is the main thing.
AT HOME: My parents aren’t really into classical music. Because I started learning classical music, they became more aware of it and listened to it a bit more, but growing up I didn’t really listen to classical music. So, I never really connected with classical music in terms of listening to it. My parents listened to a huge range of alternative music. My mom likes a lot of reggae music, but also things like Bob Dylan and Nick Cave—just a whole range of rock and alternative music.
THE VISUAL SIDE: I’ve always been really into art. I’ve liked drawing since I was a little kid. I do art at school, like visual arts and costume design. We had to do a major work and I did this painting. It was really enjoyable. I really like reading, I was thinking of going to do literature next year, but I’m not sure. I haven’t read anything for a while because we’ve had our final exams. I’ve just finished, so I’m going to start getting back into some books. I was midway through Chimamanda [Ngozi Adichie]’s Half of the Yellow Sun. I really liked that when I was reading it, but I had to stop so I could study. I was reading Flannery O’Connor’s short stories. I love watching films as well.
ALL DAY, EVERYDAY: Writing music, it’s made me crave a huge amount of music all the time, so I listen to music constantly. Also, I’ve noticed that there will be songs I listened to before I started trying to music and I’ll come back and listen to them now, after not listening to them for a while. Because I make my own music now, I notice all the detail of the production, or the lyrics that maybe I didn’t know. I guess I think about music differently now; I think about how all the different parts come together to make something good, while back then I would just listen to a song and think, “Oh, that’s good.”
FINDING CONFIDENCE: I’ve learned that it really helps me to have an outlet for my emotions. I used to be quite insecure. Before I started writing songs, I went through a lot of not being the kind of person I wanted to be. I tried to impress people and changed to meet other people’s expectations of what I should be. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do songs like I do now. I went through this emotional period when I was 15, a lot of friendships and relationships ended, and I needed some kind of outlet. So I started writing songs and I had never felt so good doing anything else. I didn’t feel as good playing violin. I kind of just realized then that I needed to do this to be happy and to feel good about myself. It’s made me more confident, writing songs and putting them out there and having to perform. [But] I’m really still quite a shy person. I’m not good at talking to new people, especially at gigs. People come up and talk to you because you’ve been performing—I’m a bit awkward, but I think I’ll get past that eventually, after I do it more…I’m not introverted around my close friends, but generally speaking, I’d say I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert.