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Artists of 2023: Juice Webster and Hannah Cameron

Juice Webster and Hannah Cameron both made the longlist for the 2023 Soundmerch Australian Music Prize

Juice Webster and Hannah Cameron

L-R: Hannah Cameron, Juice Webster

L-R: Bridgette Winten, Ryan Kenny

In this end-of-year series, Rolling Stone AU/NZ celebrates some of the artists who released a significant album in 2023. 

Melbourne singer-songwriter Hannah Cameron is a perfectionist. So when it came time to record her third album, Holding Pattern, walking into the studio with the intention of recording it live must have been daunting. How would people react to the final outcome?
“I can hear the feeling,” fellow Melbourne singer-songwriter, Juice Webster, said about Holding Pattern when Rolling Stone AU/NZ got the musicians together for an interview. “It just feels like there’s so much personality and energy that is captured in the live takes that’s hard to recreate.”
Similar in sound and art, Webster and Cameron had a lot to discuss in conversation. Both sing about the subtleties of life – the things the rest of us might feel but aren’t skilled enough to put into words. It’s an ability that comes from actually seeing the world and reflecting, rather than walking through it, inhibited by the distraction and fleeting nature of our inflated worries.

Fitting that devastatingly classic mould of the lone woman and her guitar, Cameron and Webster are femme fatales with the aura of Old Hollywood and Woodstock combined, enacting the feeling, resentment, and gruelling rebellion of being a woman through song. Think predecessors like Joni Mitchell or Eva Cassidy; these two could easily team up to be the Australian version of boygenius if they wished.

But their similarities don’t stop there. Both artists released a live album: Webster with her debut, JULIA, which is a retrospect on past grief and how it affects future yearning, and Cameron with her aforementioned third album, which examines her long-held need to be led by someone else from hardship and back to herself. Both artists were also longlisted for this year’s Soundmerch Australian Music Prize.

In conversation, Webster and Cameron flit between earnest compliments and honest vulnerability, discussing their ideas of success, being fans of Big Thief‘s Adrienne Lenker, discipline in the writing process, and much more.

Juice Webster: So, third album! How does it feel? Does it feel different this time?

Hannah Cameron: Yeah, I think it does feel quite different. It feels nice – I feel a little more prepared this time around. In the past I think I was just like, ‘Well, I’m putting out an album!’ And this time I’ve tried to put a bit more thought into how I want to release it and present the music.

Juice: That’s great! I guess the reason I ask is because I’ve released two EPs but this is my first album and I feel like the landscape of the industry just feels so different this time, and I wondered if you’ve felt that as well?

Hannah: Yeah, definitely. I think streaming and playlisting was only just starting to be a thing when I released my last album. Social media also feels very different now as well. I don’t think about any of that when I’m making the music and I kind of hate that I have to think about it at all but it’s sort of unavoidable when it comes to releasing. I don’t feel like I’m very good at any of that stuff but I think that this time around I’ve tried to engage with it in a way that feels as honest as I can. How have you found it?

Juice: It’s been really up and down – this year has been a rollercoaster. But I think my expectations and definitions around “success” have changed in a really positive way. Like at the start I was putting a lot of weight into playlisting, and when that didn’t happen immediately it made me feel kind of bummed and like I’d missed a window or something. But then I thought of the support that radio and my community were showing me and I felt really proud of that. So from then on I was more conscious of focusing my attention on the nice things that were happening rather than the things that weren’t.

Hannah: I feel the same way about expectations – I think my idea of what success feels like has shifted. I think that sometimes people can kind of project certain expectations of success onto you.

Juice: I think that whenever I’m feeling a bit disappointed about the way a song has gone, I try to bring the focus back and ask myself “why do you write songs?” I don’t write songs for a pat on the back. I write songs as a means of expressing myself, and it’s been a really beautiful and meaningful form of expression for me. And so I’m just really trying to hone in on that as best I can and just remind myself of that. I’ve found that really helpful.

Hannah: I think that that’s what people recognise in your music. And I think that identifying the thing that people connect with is really powerful.

Juice: Yeah, totally. So how did you make your record? How did it differ from previous records?

Hannah: It was really different in that it was all live. And you did the same thing, right? Is that the first time you’ve done that?

Juice: Yeah!

Hannah: Did you love it?

Juice: I loved it. So efficient!

Hannah: So efficient! I think that I’m a major perfectionist (to the point of it being destructive) and so even if there are things in my guitar take that I don’t love for instance, being able to be like, ‘Actually that’s the take and the feeling of the take is more important than this idea of perfection that I’m constantly chasing,’ is so good for me.

Juice: Totally, and I feel like that really comes across in this record of yours. I mean, all of your guitar takes sound absolutely perfect to me! But also I can hear the feeling. It just feels like there’s so much personality and energy that is captured in the live takes that’s hard to recreate.

Hannah: I feel the same listening to yours.

Juice: I feel like it really creates this identity in the recording and it just sounds so good. I love it.

Hannah: Oh likewise. I was going to ask you – I feel like when I listen to your record, and actually when I listen to you live as well – the vocal delivery just feels so… immediate. I feel like there’s certain singers where you can’t not hear the lyrics and you’re one of those singers. I’ve thought about this a lot over the years – like, why are there some singers where when you listen to their song you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, and some singers where you just have no option? Like the lyrics are inescapable and they hit you in the face. I wondered how much you think about that?

Juice: That’s so nice. It’s not something I’ve consciously thought about, but now that you say that, I think I’m just really into phrasing. And I think that it’s just really obvious to me when something doesn’t flow. I don’t know what your process is like with writing but I never write lyrics first. I think, for me, when I’m writing a song and singing random melodies over the top, certain vowel shapes really stick out and that sort of informs the phrasing. I don’t think it’s something I’m always actively thinking about but I mean, lyrics are deeply important to me. Adrianne Lenker is someone who comes to mind when I think of someone whose lyrics hit you in that kind of unavoidable way, and she’s a real inspiration in my songwriting. And you’re the same!

Hannah: Oh, thank you! I feel like you can never know with your own stuff whether that’s the case, so that’s nice. But yeah, I think even live I’ve just always been struck by it with your music. It’s really amazing. And just so unaffected, which I love. And I totally agree about Adrianne Lenker.

Juice: Aw, thanks Han. Can you tell me a bit about “Repeat”? I think that one is my favourite songs on the album.

Hannah: Oh really?! That’s nice! I actually wrote that one when I was doing a songwriting course through this organisation called School of Song. They run really great courses with amazing artists – this one was with Luke Temple. I actually struggled so hard with his songwriting prompts because they were so the opposite of how I would usually approach things. Anyway, for this prompt we could only use two chords for the whole song and the chorus could only use one word which is sort of my nightmare because I like using lots of chords and words. But I think it’s just that classic thing of when you feel really hedged in by limitations, you’re more likely to start doing interesting things and thinking outside the square. It sort of turns into an act of rebellion or something.

Juice: I love that. I find that really inspiring. I also feel like it comes at this really beautiful point in the record – it made me sit up because it feels quite different to everything else in a way. It’s really cool. Your writing process sounds really interesting to me.

Hannah: I’m very interested to hear about your process as well! I think I like having some limitations to work with. Whether that’s musical or lyrical or both. If it’s a lyrical limitation – and this is very unromantic – but I’ll sometimes go to Random Word Generator and come up with ten random words and write a few verses using those ten words. I find that doing things like that tend to activate or engage my subconscious.

Juice: It sounds like you’re quite a disciplined writer?

Hannah: I guess so – when I’m in it. Right now I am not in it because I’m in release land and I really miss it. But yeah, I think I know now how to access that part of my brain when I am in writing mode – there are some tools in the tool belt I guess. How do you approach your writing?

Juice: Wow, I’m so in awe of your process. I wish I was like that! I’m not very disciplined. I go through phases of feeling particularly sensitive and creative, and others where I’ve just got nothing. Something I’ve found works for me is always having a guitar out. So if the mood strikes I just pick it up and sometimes things come quite quickly – not necessarily full songs but maybe melodies or verses. And then there are times when I’ve just got nothing to say. Sometimes I really enjoy writing and it’s all I want to do and if I’m out I want to quickly get home so that I can work on a song. And then sometimes it’s just not in me. But I do like to try and pull things out of myself sometimes – I think that’s important.

Hannah: Yeah, totally. I could honestly talk about this all day – I love talking process so much. But maybe we should leave it here? This feels like a nice note to end on?

Juice: I know, I could just talk to you forever about this! But you’re right, we should probably reign it in.