Words by: Molly Elizabeth Schmidt
We caught up with Joni Hogan, front woman of Joni in the Moon to chat about their new single War and Porn, how it feels to write pop songs that are not just about love,
and how much Joni loves custard.
Joni in the Moon are Perth based siblings Joni and Josh Hogan. They create otherworldly, folktronica tunes that really get you thinking about the ways of the world we live in, and encourage your body to go a bit wild on the dance floor.
On this very windy day, we sat in a café by the river and ate huge raspberry muffins. ‘How did this all begin?’ I asked Joni, whilst sipping my really very good coffee. And over the sound of the coffee machine and the ding of the counter bell, Joni began her story.
“Since I was a little kid I always wanted to play music and be a musician and sing songs. I started writing songs when I was a really little kid, just to myself and I always had this dream that I didn’t know would ever be real, that I would grow up and be performing in front of lots of people.
“The first influence I ever had was a folk singer called Loreena McKennit. I listened to the tape in our family car for years. Mum had the tape just permanently in the car and I became obsessed with her and wanted to sing like her.”
After an understudy role in the year six school musical, it became apparent Joni had “a bit of a voice.” Her mum got her singing lessons and the next few years saw her performing at eisteddfods, school plays and studying music at school.
“I did it pretty well,” Joni said in a very sweet, humble way, whilst trying to determine the best way to tackle the massive muffin that sat in front of her (I was already halfway through mine).
“It became a huge part of my world. It was the thing that I was good at and the thing that I was proud of.”
She said it all “got real” when she was seventeen and she showed some songs she had written to a friend who played guitar. They started a band together, and; “being in that band cemented it for me.”
Joni was wearing very cool boots that were covered in stars, and I was feeling very jealous of how comfortable and fun they looked.
She put her coffee down and said; “When I had kids, I thought it was all over.”
For about eight years, whilst raising her two gorgeous daughters, Joni had to leave her dream behind.
“It made me insane actually. It was really not good for me to not have that creative outlet. But at the same time it became very difficult to find the space, especially when I became a single mum. My focus just was so intensely on my kids, and I was really struggling, so it was hard to find the space to be able to do it. I did write throughout that whole time, a little bit here and there, and it was still like a hope or a wish that one day I might do it again.”
Then, after about eight years, Joni “decided to just go for it.”
Although it was a struggle to find a balance between her children and her music, Joni’s connection with her daughters became an influence that can be heard in her songs, particularly one she dedicates to them, “Saving Grace.”
“When the kids were little they had to tolerate me writing and stuff a lot. They were the first ones to hear me thrashing around on the piano or going off into my private space with a guitar. It’s very very difficult to be creative when you’re being interrupted all the time by little children. It’s been frustrating at times but I think it’s just a part of our lives now.
“They have become my muse. They’ve become quite a significant muse for me actually, because I experience with them this intense, altruistic, unconditional love, mixed with a really intense struggle, so yeah, it does inspire me a lot.”
Joni’s connection with her brother Josh is a rather special one too. I asked her what it’s like to be in a band with her older brother.
“It’s complex, and it’s amazing. I’m very lucky. I’m so lucky that he’s my brother.”
Josh Hogan is a film scorer, computer soundtrack composer, percussionist, and certified Ableton master, whose talents have taken him all over the world.
“But I mean, we’re family, so it’s complicated and I don’t consider myself to be the easiest person to work with. I’m highly chaotic and highly disorganized, and he’s very organized and quite stable.
“I think we are very committed to [Joni in the Moon] because we understand that in spite of whatever frustrations come up in the process, we’re still two plus two equals five. We still make something pretty magic together that we’re both really proud of.”
Joni said they didn’t have much to do with each other musically until she was about 25.
“Before that I sang in bands before I had kids, but it was very…indie-rock, like emo, post punk, weird freak folk crazy teenage angst kind of a thing, whereas Josh was studying classical percussion.
“We were doing similar sorts of things but different processes. I just wanted to sing my own stuff, I wanted to write my own stuff…whereas Josh has a really thorough knowledge of music theory and composition and all of that.”
Joni brushed muffin crumbs into a pile while saying; “It just sort of happened.
“It just sort of happened when I got divorced, when I became a single Mum. It became something that he really really encouraged me to do. I probably wouldn’t actually be doing it if it wasn’t for him.
“He encouraged me to show him my songs, and then, he’s like ‘look what I can do with it’ and then all of a sudden it was like wow, this is a possibility in my life. It became really exciting.”
There was now a mountain of muffin crumbs in front of Joni, and I got the feeling this relationship with her brother really meant a lot to her.
“He pushes me, and you know, I can be very frustrating and stagnant, so he is a big part of the reason why it’s happening at all. And I’m really grateful for it.”
It was so special to have Joni sitting in front of me, sipping coffee and openly answering all my questions. Her music hit me really hard from the very first time I heard it, covering themes that are relevant and not at all what you expect from a pop song.
“How does it feel writing about such deep and engaging topics? Refugees, your children, war and porn…is it ever scary to share on such an honest level with your audience?” I asked her, whilst wondering if it would be weird if I asked for her autograph.
I decided yes.
“I got to a point where I was like, I don’t want to write self indulgent heart break songs any more. I mean it sort of does still come out, but, I just wanted a greater purpose as well behind my music, and a greater purpose to my own suffering, and my own sorrow and all of that.
“I feel really awesome when people approach me afterwards, and it’s made me feel a lot better about doing it. People are really grateful and affected by me going to those places. I think a lot of my favourite singers, a lot of my favourite performers, have always been fearless in doing that as well. It almost gives other people permission to feel things that are either taboo or scary to talk about, or that they can’t quite express into words either.
“There are not enough safe places to express your anger as a woman. That’s what I hear from a lot of people, is that it’s actually just really empowering to see somebody voicing that.”
Do you ever get that thing where someone says something that hits you so hard, because you believe it so deeply yourself? You get goosebumps and your tongue kind of ties itself up for a bit? Joni gave me that feeling then.
“It gives me a sense of purpose. It gives meaning to what I’m doing. I didn’t want everything to just be about a man.
“I like to hope that that can be our thing…more sophisticated, main stream music. Art should always be getting your brain going you know, it should make you think. Even really puzzling art, like poo in a can, it makes you think right? And therefore it’s done its job.”
We both laughed and sipped our coffee for a bit in reflection.
“What’s your song writing process like?” I asked Joni.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about what kinds of things I might like to write about, but generally speaking I’ll just sit down at my piano, or with a guitar, and start channeling. Key words might come through. I usually write the melody first, so I’ll just sort of sing random gibberish but words sort of pop through and I can string them together for whatever theme it is.”
Joni said Josh does a lot of the production and a lot of the arrangements by himself. She gives him a song she has written, and he will arrange around it.
“Then he’ll come to me and I’ll be like, ok, well, can we try this, can we try that…and then we might adjust the form, or I might revise and edit the lyrics and stuff like that. And then we record the vocals last.”
A lot of the instruments that you hear on their album are the arrangements Josh composes over the top of “whatever skeleton piano or guitar” Joni has written.
Joni in the Moon’s album, Sorrow Trees, sounds like an entire magically layered band, but is in fact just Joni and Josh doing their thing, with the exception of “A Woman on Fire” which features Tara John, their live keyboard player, in the intro.
“We created the band after we wrote the album… we wanted to write the song and then figure out how we’re going to translate it live.”
“How did your new single War and Porn begin?” I asked.
“War and Porn was a soul bomb that just happened in one sitting. It just came out. Which is awesome when it happens, but it doesn’t happen all the time. I had a lot of anxieties about developing that song for Joni in the Moon because it was so heavy – the words and the theme were quite a bit more raw. I mean, that’s what I do. I do raw. But it’s been really affirming, the response that it’s had.”
I was lucky enough to be at Joni in the Moon’s War and Porn single release at Mojos, and experienced for myself the crowd’s incredible response to the band’s newest track.
“That was amazing, we had such a beautiful audience! You play some shows and you just know that a lot of the people there aren’t your audience, they’re not there for you and you know its not quite in their taste…but I mean everyone was there for us, and they really truly were there. They were so present. Everybody was so respectful and I mean that’s just the best, when the audience in respectful and everyone’s quiet and everyone’s just in the moment with you and riding the waves. It was amazing. It was such a good vibe. It was one of my favourites.”
The single has been described as an “evolution of their otherworldly take on folktronica and world beats, shifting it towards a more heavy synth/electro poppy direction”, and I asked her if this was intentional.
“It felt so gritty, and it was about the media in particular, I wanted a real future technology kind of a feel to it. I think since we did Sorrow Trees, both Josh and I have more keen and exploring more the technology side or where nature and technology can kind of like, come together.
So whilst, I’m not certain that our entire next record is going to be based around just synth and all of those kind of sounds, its another sonic thing coming in that we are exploring.”
I asked Joni what her favourite part of the song writing process is.
“I have two favourite parts. My first favourite part is writing the song, so actually just sitting down and getting into that zone and channelling the music…that’s a real pleasurable thing for me.
“But I love performing. Live interaction in the moment between the audience and us as performers is amazing. And the energy that can be conjured is really just so addictive. I love looking at peoples’ faces. They’re my entertainment you know?”
We sat together for a while once the interview was done, picking at our never ending raspberry muffins and chatting about music, writing, and life in general. It was so lovely to meet Joni and chat so openly about all she stands for, and all she is. I feel like Joni’s real talent is connecting with people, not only through song but through her open mind and her passion to pursue something meaningful.
Here’s a few fun things I found out about her:
Biggest musical influences: “The people that I’m fanatical about are really crazy creative females—singers and songwriters like Björk, and Kate Bush, and I listened to like a ton of Tori Amos when I was like 17 and 18.”
Favourite song: ““Seventeen” by Abbe May. It just hits me right in the guts.”
Favourite place: “There’s a quarry that’s just up the road from where I live…it’s a really very special place to me. It’s amazing. I go there a lot and it’s just a sublime, overwhelming thing to take in and it’s very beautiful.”
Favourite book: “1984. Classic, classic. George Orwell. I’ve read that book like 5 times actually. I don’t read books very often, but I’ve read that like five times. It’s a crazy analogy that was written so long ago, but it’s actually coming true.”
Favourite food: “Custard. That’s easy. I love custard, it’s my favourite.”
Joni in the Moon will be playing at the Bird on Thursday the 17th September, with special guests:
Simone & Girlfunkle
The Regular Hunters
Leah Emily Grant
Check out the event here