Jamie-Lee Dimes discusses the evolution of her music, her upcoming album and helping women all over the world through The Mahila Festival

Jamie-Lee Dimes is an Australian multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter who creates music that is a unique blend of nostalgic 60s rock and dreamy, melancholic folk that is infused with activism, drawing inspiration from revolutionary artists such as Patti Smith, Cat Power, Kim Gordon, PJ Harvey and Grace Slick.  She is an eclectic artist with a global perspective gained from living in Australia, NYC, The Mojave Desert and Mexico, having gained wisdom that shines far beyond her 30 years.  Through her music, Dimes aims to start conversations and ignite ideas and change in response to the current political climate and speak for those in society who may not have a voice to speak for themselves.  Having moved to NYC at the young age of 22 to study dance, she released her atmospheric and cinematic debut album Liminality in 2016, originally intended as a soundtrack to accompany film and dance.  The album was a reflection of her time living in NYC without a safety net and saw her merge Australian studies in music, classical ballet, drama and contemporary choreography into her songwriting and music.  She has since retreated to the Mohave Desert to work on her new music that has a more political tone rooted in activism.  She released her single “Release Me” last month, a track on which she explores her own lineage, experiences and personal blocks and obstacles in life that led her to find the commonalities and connection with the current state of society.  She recently released her latest single “Virginia”, a protest anthem that that hits back at the infamous 2017 rallies in Charlottesville, VA.  Dimes will soon be releasing her debut studio album, so make sure to follow her and stay up-to-date with all upcoming artist and album news below, as well as stream and purchase her music.  You can check out her new single “Virginia”, as well as her previous single and video for “Release Me” below.  Photo credit: Travis Cosentino.  Although SXSW has sadly been cancelled, make sure to check out her other tour dates below.  Find out more about The Mahila Festival and the great work they do HERE.

 

3/26  New York, NY @ Berlin*

3/29 New York, NY @ Rockwood Music Hall

4/7 Los Angeles, CA @ Club Tee Tee 

* Supporting the Dolly Spartans

 

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You write music born from the need to ignite change, ideas and conversations in response to the current political climate.  How do you feel that your music has evolved over the years? What role do you feel that your wanderlust and writing sessions all over the world have shaped your global perspective and the direction of your music?

I think I’ve experienced a lot of situations and perspectives and seen a lot of hardships and underlying issues in society from traveling. I haven’t made assumptions from watching the news or listening to the media on culture or locations, as I’ve learnt that a lot of the time it’s not accurate. Being in new locations to write brings in new energies and ways of thinking. I am constantly changing my environment and meeting so many people with interesting life stories which inspires me to write from a place that’s honest.

You’re working on a new album. Your 2016 EP was much darker in tone then your more recent music, which I have read was in part due to your desire to write music for dance pieces and film. Is writing for dance pieces and film still a goal you aspire to achieve?

It would be an ideal job to be able to write a soundtrack for a suspense-filled thriller! Someone please give me that job!  I love creative directing, so I would absolutely love to work on projects that allowed me to take multiple forms of expression and merge them into one such as dance and film. That would be a dream come true.

What can you tell me about your new single “Release Me”, which I read pulls directly from the emotional wake left generations after the colonization of your indigenous ancestors?

It’s a pretty heavy song lyrically, but it’s light musically. I wrote the song in New York at a time when there was a lot of talk on immigration – when all the bans were happening, there were protests at the airports, talk of “building the wall,” racism from government leaders, and separation of people from their children and families – just because they are immigrants and were from somewhere else. The political climate living in a city like New York at the time had me reflecting on my own experiences with similar issues.

Australia is still in its infancy in addressing a lot of the underlying racism in the country. If you live in a country that was colonized by Europe, the system is designed to hold back anyone that isn’t European. You’re made to feel inferior. I moved to Australia as a child and had to learn to adapt and fit in so my natural defense mechanisms were to turn off one side of who I was. With the political climate, I had this uncomfortable session where I explore the parts of who I am that I felt needed to be kept secret or were almost ashamed of. At the time, you could say it was delayed anger towards colonialism. I found out about my family history and learnt my ancestors had been killed in acts of genocide. This was a song for anyone who has also been through the same thing – of rediscovering or suppressing who they are. There are a lot of people in this world who do struggle with identity, especially in regard to race. It’s a pretty intense but necessary conversation and global issue.

 

You started recording the songs for the new album at a time when you weren’t playing live, but after touring so much last year, you decided to re-record some of the songs. In what ways did playing live change the songs for you? What can you tell me about the process of making your new music, compared to your EP, and the sound you were going for?

For the first mini album, I wanted it to reflect my mental anguish at the time and the experiences of being in New York City without a safety net. The music is an extension of that, and it’s designed to be listened to in one sitting. My new music comes from a place where I’m a lot more grounded emotionally. I’ve matured, gone through grief and life experiences, and know myself. I reworked a lot of songs. After playing so many shows, you really get to know your songs better and see what works and what doesn’t. When I started recording my new music, I was still pretty unsure of my creative process and direction. Before I started re-recording, I was staying at the Restless Noise Studios family home. I think being around the people I’m working with now, in a family home setting, before we started working together creatively helped me. Trusting the people and process and not being so guarded or reserved in the studio means you’re going to get the best possible takes because no one is holding back.

You have said that living in the California desert over the past couple of years has helped you grow the most as a human.  What do you feel it is about that environment that has helped you to grow?

It’s a place that surfaces any underlying issues. We live in a society where we have a lot of quick fix solutions and everyone is struggling with distractions to numb ourselves from an empty feeling. To me, there is no connection in western culture. The desert helps ground me, eliminating distractions so I can really process what I’m feeling or thinking. It also helps me be more in alignment with the cycles of being a human on a planet. You have so many harsh elements in the desert that can cost you your life if you don’t surrender and work with them. I also feel like being alone in the California desert just gives you a lot of strength. It lets you know you can do anything, and it really allowed me the confidence to be able to turn my experiences into art.

What can you tell me about The Mahila Festival that you help to run and the women/organizations, etc from all over the world who are involved?  In what ways have you gone about helping powerful women network and inspire their communities?  I read that the festival will be hosting events around the world!  What can you tell me about the first of these events, which was held in Brisbane in November of last year?

I saw a gap in information that was readily available for those without the resources to get help. I’ve lived in the states where I didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t go to the doctor or get legal advice without a few thousand dollars. I found myself constantly turning to Google to find more on my legal rights, how to deal with abusive relations, how to process things that happened to me, how to look after my mental health… The list is long. While this was happening, I had a vintage clothing label and was styling women in sustainable clothing. I started to see how a couple of hours focusing on a woman’s life and letting them see their true potential was so transformative. With the political climate and all the issues that are rising to the surface – whether its sustainability or racism – we wanted to break down some barriers and do our part to bring change by making information readily accessible.

I had lived in New York, Mexico, and Joshua Tree and Jess – who co-founded the organization with me – had lived in Australia, Berlin, and Africa. Between us, we started to see similar patterns across multiple cultures. After attending open discussions and conversation on these topics in New York, I thought it would be interesting to start doing them in other parts of the world that likely need it now more than ever. Especially as it’s not something that really exists where Jess and I are from in Australia, either.

A lot of women don’t have the tools, information, or support network to get out of situations that could be detrimental or life threatening. Many times, they think it’s normal because it’s often a pattern of behavior they saw or internalized in childhood. It’s about addressing these unhealthy patterns in order to empower women to break them by raising self-esteem and self-worth and giving them the resources to help them start on a better path.

Our first event in November was held in Australia in the first city we lived in. We had a non-profit lawyer with experience in refugee law speak on domestic violence and, after the event, three women called seeking legal advice as they were in the situations that were addressed.

Mahila Festival also held the One Earth, One Home Brisbane Australian Bushfire fundraiser last month.  What can you tell me about the event and your goal to help raise money for the relief efforts?  How have the different Australian communities, artists and other public figures come together to help with the recovery?

We wanted to figure out a way to channel our rage at the Australian government, maximize our own donations, and speak to global environmental issues and climate change in a way that’s constructive and could affect change on a local level. We had the green political party of Brisbane come and speak on how to prevent fires and global warming on a locally. The spokesperson for the galilee blockade, Australian activists fighting to stop the development of the Adani coal mine, came to speak about their work. We also had a presentation on Al Gore’s climate reality, very successful silent auction, live music, and a good old Aussie BBQ with vegan and ethically sourced meat. It was inspiring and energizing to see the community come together.

You have stated that NYC is more special to you then any other place in the world because of the brutal life lessons of hustling that the city taught you.  In what ways do you feel that NYC led you to where you are now that a different city perhaps could not have?

There is no city like New York, right? New York kicked me to the ground and then some. The life lessons were tough ones to learn. I started my career in New York at 22. I moved to the other side of the world to live there with little money and was extremely naïve. The reality of NYC is not what I grew up imagining, and I don’t think I’ll ever really be able to describe the hustle I went through to survive but I learnt an awful lot there. They always say, “work your way to the big smoke,” but I was starting there. I’m glad I did that now because now I do everything with New York grit.

You recently did your first US and Australian tours on your own.  What was that experience like of organizing those tours and what did you learn from the process?

Touring has helped me find the confidence to speak up for myself. I hate confrontation, and touring put me in situations where I had to stand my ground and be direct – sometimes because I was tired and was continuing to push myself and other times because I wanted my shows to be as good as they could be. I really exerted myself last year. I’ve had to be really organized and at the top of my game, so I’ve learnt to surround myself with people that are likeminded and distance myself from those who aren’t in it for the right reasons. I also learnt from the process that strangers in America open their arms to the touring artist. I learnt that, if you throw yourself into the experience and confront your fears, you will be liberated, rewarded, and all your dreams will start to unfold.

You will be representing Australian music and showcasing your new album as an official artist at SXSW this year!  What are you looking forward to the most?

I just had my first rehearsals with my band in Joshua Tree, California last night. I have Gene Evaro Jr, an incredible California-based musician, and Piper Robison on bass. The second half of the band is in Austin, so we are hitting the road this week to go to Austin a little early. After last night, I can say that I am the most excited about bringing my new music to life with a live band. It felt so rewarding to see it all come together. These opportunities don’t come around often, so I’m enjoying them as much as I can. The opportunity to play such a massive showcase and open the doors to a new decade is exciting.

What’s next for you?  What do you have coming up this year?

Let’s see what happens at SXSW! I have shows coming up in New York and LA, but I have about two years of music under my belt – so hopefully I’ll be touring, recording, and releasing more music for the next few years.

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