Jack River on escapism through music and her debut album ‘Sugar Mountain’

Jack River on escapism through music and her debut album ‘Sugar Mountain’

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Becoming a pop star is a common teenage dream, but not many of us end up living out the fantasy.

For Holly Rankin, AKA Jack River, the past year has seen her become an Aussie music favourite. Since taking out a spot in triple j’s hottest 100, she has an album release around the corner, and an upcoming nationwide tour on the horizon.

It’s been a wild ride for the 24-year-old, who’s been penning lyrics since she was 14, and is still coming to grips with just how well her music has been received. 

 “I’ve always loved songwriting, but I don’t think I realised how much. I don’t think anyone can fully imagine that this can be real, and you can really grow up to be a musician. Or maybe I’m just a dork, but it’s weird and I’m still coming to terms with the power to be able to give music back to so many people,” says Rankin.

Jack River is how most of us know Rankin – the alias under which she performs, produces and releases her music. She invented her creative persona with friends when she was 16, and says something that started out as a bit of fun became a way to build her confidence and escape her day-to-day life.

“It’s this weird other figure in my head, like a fictional character, there’s no boundaries to it. With Holly I like to be creating a life, in my personal life, that does have boundaries.

“It’s nice to step into another place, and it’s such a deep other place that I go when I play onstage or when I’m deeply into the project, so it’s also tiring. If I was to do that as Holly I’d get quite tired, because they’re really deep other places. I can step into them and drive away from whatever’s going on in my life.”

And there’s certainly a lot going on right now. Her new album, Sugar Mountain, is set for release later this month, and has been a long time in the making. The 13-track record is a compilation of the glittery sweet pop songs we’ve come to recognise from the singer – a surprising contrast to the themes of grief and growth she says she experienced while writing it.

“The album was made over so many years, about five years, but some of the songs date back even eight years. I’ve always used writing as a tool to escape and heal and figure out my brain and when my sister passed away it became even more important to me.

“I felt pretty lost during my teen years and music really stepped in and became that guiding figure, as it does for so many teenagers and people of all ages. Particularly for teenagers when you’re like, ‘I don’t really connect to my friends and my school and my parents, so I’m searching for those stronger visions.’ For me, music became that strong force in my life.”

As well as her own life, a lot of the inspiration for Sugar Mountain came from Rankin’s self-confessed ‘dorky’ space obsession, and there are heaps of cosmic references sprinkled throughout.

“I love space science, it really inspires me. If I’m feeling like shit, I’ll find a space magazine and read about the crazy universe that we live in and always feel better. I think it’s an interesting time in the world with people like Elon Musk and Richard Branson exploring private space travel, and in my own little way the album is trying to catch that wonder with whatever’s going on out there,” she says.

While space travel is definitely a while off for Rankin, she’ll be hitting the road soon enough touring the new album, and having some out-of-this-world moments along the way.

“When I was 14 or 15 I went to my first Splendour. Ten years on, to be on the lineup weirdly is the first time I really took my music seriously. I was like ‘Oh, I’m a musician,’ which sounds weird because obviously I’ve been a musician for a little while, but to actually play Splendour is a teen dream. In my own personal way, I’m like ‘Yeah, this is real.’”