An interview with Jenny Morris by Jason
This latest interview I have done is with one of New Zealand’s greatest artists, Jenny Morris. Like many other New Zealand artists of the past decades, Jenny became one of the HUGEST artists in Australia.
From The Crocodiles, QED, backing vocals for Inxs to her immense successful solo material, Jenny has had many hits from Everywhere I Go, This One,
Body And Soul, You’re Gonna Get Hurt, She Has To Be Loved, Saved Me, Break in The Weather and many more!
When did your passion for singing start and how did you get into the music industry?
Always sang, usually at home or in the car with family harmonies going gangbusters.
Was your first band 'Wide Mouthed Frogs'?
No. 'How's Your Father' was my first band.
The first homemade video you made was with The Crocodiles for the single ‘Any Day Of The Week’ . A great video with yourself applying make up, blind scenes a blue hair streak and scenes filmed outdoors.
Where was this filmed and was this new concept of video making fun?
It was filmed in Wellington and was a load of fun. We didn't really take ourselves seriously. The emphasis was on artistic expression but with tongue firmly in cheek.
Your band The Crocodiles released a few singles and the first single released ‘Tears’ did very well on the New Zealand charts. A great tracks with a strong vocal, any stories to share with that track?
This was the song Fane Flaws and Arthur Basting (Crocodiles members) wrote to woo me into leaving the FROGS and joining the CROCODILES. Fane and Tony Backhouse would call me up at all hours to try and get me to forsake the FROGS which I was totally against. One day they came over to my house and played this beautiful song and thats what did it. I turned.
A video was also made for ‘Tears’ in a white studio and some extra scenes where you slap a guy who is playing your love interest in the video. Was Any Day Of The Week and Tears the only videos The Crocodiles made?
No we also did one later on for TELEPHONE LOVER and one with a cameo by Dave Dobbyn called Hello Girl with Rickie Morris singing.
The Crocodiles performed 'Call Me' at the Sweetwaters Festival, January 1981. A dynamic performance with yourself wearing a white bather suit and a black belt. Do you remember that one?
Yes and it wasn't a bathing suit it was a mens white singlet sewn together at the crotch.
In 1981 Tim Finn’s track ‘Puberty Blues’ was featured in the Australian successful film ‘Puberty Blues’ . Sharon O’Neill recorded the track that ended up in the film but you also recorded the track. Why was it that both of you did your own separate versions?
Sharon had recorded the version for the film and afterwards Tim decided he wanted another version for the single.
How did the break up of The Crocodiles to your new formed band QED come about?
The first brilliant QED single released ‘Everywhere I Go’ peaked at No.19 in 1984. You must have been pleased with the hit in Australia at the time?
I had been home to NZ for xmas and when I got back, a friend said 'congratulations'. I said 'for what', he said 'for having a top 20 hit.' I didn't even know they'd released it.
Yourself and QED made their debut live in the Countdown studio on April 1st, 1984 performing ‘Everywhere I Go’ and you also did a little bit of hosting on this show. Was it exciting to be performing and co hosting on Countdown being THE biggest Australian music program of the 70s and 80s and did you have fun doing Countdown?
When you're young you're very laissez faire about all that stuff. I was never overwhelmed by TV or fame or any of the trappings. I just took it all for granted. It was a fun ride in other words. The fact that it was Countdown though was cool because it was such an integral part of Australian 'culture'.
The video for Everywhere I Go was very beautifully directed and nicely styled including a smoke machine, a great purple jacket topped off with a nun’s outfit with glasses . Where was the video filmed for “Everywhere I Go’ , who directed it and was there any meaning behind the nun’s outfit and glasses?
Filmed in sydney with a sprained ankle. Thats why my movements are a bit stiff. The nuns habit was a carry over theme from wacky Crocodiles days.
On the 8th of July, 1984 QED’s video for the passionate and edgy ‘This One’ was premiered on Countdown. Again, another fantastic action packed video featuring yourself in a helicopter, a 60s influenced beehive, gambling scenes and also on a boat. This video was a real fun one, did you enjoy making it and do you remember who directed it?
This was an interesting video to do. Directed by Steven Hopkins (now a big time Hollywood director and producer) it was a James Bond spy spoof thing with lots of stunts. The most intesting one had me jumping into shark infested Sydney middle harbour...at night...with bright lights shining on the water, swimming from stern to bow about 10 times until they got the shot. I was a little nervous.
QED also performed on Countdown for a 2nd time with ‘This One’. You were wearing a red and white stripped top, do you remember your Coutndown performances from those days?
Remember the top not the performance. They were always just a scream fest.
Was there a video made to 'Solo' And 'More'?
The only album QED made ‘Animal Magic’ was a great album. And featured backing vocals from fellow New Zealand singers Mark Williams and Dave Dobbyn plus featured Amanda Vincent as a guest Keyboardist from Eurogliders and fantastic Fairlight and Roland synth programming which all created a really nice big sound for 1984. I think it’s a poptastic album do you look back on that album and QED period with fondness?
Absolutely, they were times when I was formulating my musical direction so the songs were a bit all over the place. I was living in a new country and making new musical friends which also influenced my song writing. Plus as I said, it was fun not serious so I felt no boundaries.
One of the great album tracks and favourites of mine on ‘Animal Magic’ which I think should have also been a single with a great video is Barbie Doll. The line ‘A fantasy is just what I want to be, look like a model on Sale Of The Century’ is also striking. Do you remember this track well?
Yes and it became quite popular in Japan of all places. I always like to represent my political self as it's a big part of who I am.
The title track Animal Magic also has a very crisp synth sound and why wasn’t this released as a single to coincide with the album title Animal Magic?
Though QED had a hit with ‘Everywhere I Go’ were you and the band disheartened with QED not being as successful as they should have been?
I think there was a natural selection going on there. I started feeling the need to do a solo thing.
After QED you then joined INXS as backing vocalist and on the 1984 Countdown Awards in 1985. Yourself and Michael Hutchence dueted on the track ‘Jackson’ and it was a memorable performance. Did you enjoy performing with Michael for the Countdown Awards?
Yes, my whole association with INXS came from the fact that Michael and my best friend Michele and I were living together. The INXS relationship was born of friendship and later on having the same management as well so Jackson was a part of that set up. We had a lot of fun.
You toured with INXS during the ‘Listen Like Thieves’ period around the world. This must have been a great experience in your singing career, did you draw any inspiration for your own solo career to come from INXS?
While we were touring, I formed a long standing friendship and musical relationship with Andrew Farris. We wrote songs together and ended up recording and working and playing together for the next 20 years one way or another.
In 1985 you released a solo single Get Some Humour. A brilliant video but you fell on the set, did this put you off making video’s?
No, but it was a bit hair raising.
'Get Some Humour' never had a supporting album in 1985. Why was this and why wasn’t it later included on Body And Soul?
I think it was always just a stand alone novelty song.
Your first solo album Body And Soul was released in 1987. The album reached #13 on the charts. Was it nice to be a solo artist at this point with massive success compared to being in bands for so long?
I loved being in bands but the freedom of one opinion is good too.
My favourite track from Body And Soul is ‘Pass It Over’ which has a lovely musical arrangement. What was the inspiration behind that track?
It's about letting stuff go. The Buddhists say instead of presenting a closed door to adversity, open the door and let it pass by.
You won Best Female Artist for the 1987 AND 1988 Aria Awards. A remarkable achievement, you must have been thrilled to say the least. Was this something you were hoping for a long
No, I was never an awards collector. It's fun on the night though.
In 1989, your 2nd solo album ‘Shiver’ was released and reached #5, a collection of very high standard lyrics and superb production. This album was very mature and beautifully constructed. All 4 singles released from 'Shiver' started with the letter 'S' (Saved Me, She Has To Be Loved, Street of Love, Self Deceiver), and so did the album title. Was there any symbolic meaning behind this, or was it purely coincidental?
I have never realised that! OOOh spooky.
Saved Me is beautifully spiritual and masterful. What inspired the track and the video?
An old movie I had seen called Lady Caroline Lamb. About one of Byrons lovers who he treated very badly but she was so stimulated by him and it was such a thrilling life with him after her staid upper class life, that she put up with it.
Is it true that Prince heard ‘Saved Me’ and was so impressed with it that he wanted you as support act on his tour?
Yes, thats how we came to be on the tour. He heard it in a club.
In 1989, you performed the poptastic hit 'She Has To Be Loved’ on Countdown Revolution. What was your feelings on the energy of the show from performing on Countdown to Countdown Revolution?
I honestly can't remember.
Is there any reason the song is titled 'She HAS To Be Loved' when this is only used in the lyrics once, but 'She GOT To Be Loved' is repeated throughout?
Why wasn't the 'Street of Love' video included on the 'The Story So Far' VHS?
I don't know. Maybe they couldn't find the masters?
Next up came your 3rd solo album Honeychild released in 1991. This album had a very funky vibe to it with a clean production. ‘Honeychild’ also had a yellow bright cover and a very fresh band sound and the album reached #5. Do you have a creative plan before each album and what it’s going to be like or do they just naturally progress regarding style and where you are at each precise time in your life?
Yes, the latter.
Break in The Weather reached #2 in the charts, yet again another solo hit and another refreshing piece. The video again was absolutely phenominal with a great set design and natural choreography, did you enjoy making that video?
Yes, it was directed by Andrew Dominic who directed the film's CHOPPER and THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWERD ROBERT FORD. He wanted to use the ventriloquist dummy to highlight the quirky keyboard line and the use of those beautiful Kabuke screens (with lips and clouds) was his genius idea ...to get a three D quality. Loved doing that video.
Break In The Weather also produced a FABULOUS 12”… remix with voice effects , echos and samples from ‘Saved Me’ . Who mixed that?
Sorry, can't remember.
Other tracks from ‘Honeychild’ like Near and Lost In Heaven are also very dynamic. Do you like those two tracks?
Near was a co write with Dave Dobbyn. I like it. 'Lost In Heaven' had the Sly and Robbie rhythm section. I was in Heaven recording tracks with those icons.
Your next album ‘Salvation Jane’ released in 1995 was more deep and the cover featured a painting with a cross and halo. What was the inspirtation behind the title ‘Salvation Jane’ and the deep art work for the album?
Andrew Farriss wrote Salvation Jane. It's a weed, also known as Patterson's Curse. It's bright purple, vivacious and a pest. The artwork was done by a NY graphic designer Gary Baseman, who's work I had admired for a while. I asked him if he'd like to do the cover for the CD which was to be titled Salvation Jane and that's what he came up with. It's a gorgeous collage which hangs in my living room.
'Only We Can Hear' being one of the singles from ‘Salvation Jane’ was another soothing almost spiritual based track. What was that track about and what was the thought behind the video with all the water effects?
It's about sensuality, desire. I was 7 months pregnant at the time we did the video so in the water was a very comfortable way to do 12 hour of shooting.
An album track from ‘Salvation Jane’ being ‘Frida’ is an outstanding and very haunting track with a Spanish tinge and some great lyrics like ‘ I’ll give you a painting, I’ll give you a portrait drawn with my blood’… Very breathtaking piece, may I ask who Frida is?
Frida Kahlo the famous Mexican painter who had a difficult life not only with her philandering husband Diego Rivera but she had suffered a horrendous accident on a tram being impaled through the pelvis when she was 19 and suffered numerous operations and pain all her life.
You then continued to release the albums ‘Hit & Myth’ and ‘Clear Blue In Stormy Skies’. Are there any plans for new material to be recorded?
Yes, I wrote a whole bunch of new songs after visiting the Afghanistan war zone. They'll be the next project.
Speaking of NEW albums. Any chance of you delving into the vaults for unreleased gems or alternate takes and mixes of your past work?
Sorry, that's all in storage.
Any plans to do any live shows in city areas?
Yes, I'll post on the web site when they happen.
Is it possible that a DVD could be released with video’s spanning from The Crocodiles to QED to all your solo videos?
Some keen and happening person would have to look into that.
As a woman of many musical talents from singing, writing and playing guitar, go you have a passion for one of the three the most?
They are one as far as I'm concerned, thats the musical me.
Interview conducted by Jason Grech, Copyright © 2012 www.countdownmemories.com