“My whole career, I’ve felt beholden to other people’s ideas of who I am or what my music should be, people who still treat me like a little girl after twelve years of playing and writing.
Now I’m punching my way out of that box, not letting anyone else define me and embracing all of who I am and the kinds of music I love”.
In August 2019, Imogen had just returned from back-to-back European and North American tours, followed by a series of co-writes that acted as de-facto therapy sessions, reflecting a volatile period in her life. “I’d just ended the most serious romantic relationship of my life. I was doubting every decision I’d made, who I was as a person and my path forward as an artist. One night I couldn’t get to sleep and sat down at my friend’s piano in London and wrote the song The Making of Me, which became my manifesto. If I could make it through this year, the version of me that survived was going to be stronger, sharper and more complete, and ready to embrace all the parts of me that other people had rejected”.
Imogen’s newfound confidence led to a new comfort with collaboration, for an artist who had previously struggled to click with other songwriters. “In the past, I’d ended up in so many writing sessions where someone was trying to turn me into some generic pop diva or a mouthpiece for their own vision. It couldn’t have been more different with the women I wrote these songs with. Alex Lahey, Emma Swift, Anita Lester, Clare Bowen; we all quickly found these deep points of connection – whether it’s experiences with anxiety, douchebag men in the industry, relationships, whatever – and smashed out songs I never knew I could write.”
The songs on The Making Of Me span the arena-ready opening rocker ‘My Own Worst Enemy’, a co-write with Alex Lahey (who also contributes synths and some guitar to the track), to defiant and chugging ‘Inside Out’, which superbly showcases Imogen’s soaring vocal and rolling guitar-driven ‘Push Me Down’, a volley at misogynist male musicians. Together with the sultry and atmospheric ‘Paper Boat’ and heartrending piano ballad title track, the six-song EP is a departure from everything Imogen has created before. Lead single ‘Found Me’ was written with Nashville musician and television star Clare Bowen (who also sings on the track) and her husband Brandon Robert Young, at the end of a US tour together last July.
“They have been such great friends and mentors to me, in music and in life, and this song just flowed out of us, an anthem for anyone who’s had to give up the thing they thought they could never be without in order to make themselves whole. We wrote it as this vulnerable acoustic number, and then the more we worked on it in the studio, the more powerful I felt and the bigger the song became”.
With a broad range of influences across the musical spectrum – although with Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift as constant touchstones – the sonic references for the EP were wide and unrestricted. “Some days, we’d be referencing Prince or Weyes Blood, next it was Chris Isaak or Maggie Rogers.” Recording in LA meant access to bonafide musical legends who lent their talents to the project. Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famers Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello and the Attractions) infused the songs with their musicianship and set a tone early on in the sessions.
“Having guys whose playing I’ve been listening to my entire life come in and do their thing on my own songs was something I’ll never forget. Benmont sitting down at a Hammond Organ for ‘Inside Out’ and immediately bringing that iconic sound that I’ve loved on so many Tom Petty songs, and hearing Pete’s drums explode out of the speakers… it really blew my mind.”
It’s a far cry from playing local pubs in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, where Imogen cut her teeth as a young performer after picking up her father’s acoustic guitar as an eight-year-old. A relentless work ethic saw her build up a strong live following in rural Australia, gaining her touring slots with artists like Shania Twain, Ian Moss and Willie Watson, who recognised an artist with grit and maturity well beyond her years – an old soul learning to embrace being a young woman. “I think for a long time I’ve been afraid of going big – it’s not cool or authentic to want that. But I’ve learnt to stop caring about what other people think is cool and authentic and just be guided by the feelings that made me write these songs. I think a lot of people out there are feeling them too, all around the world, especially the way this pandemic is impacting everyone. I want someone who’s going through a fucked-up time to hear these songs and find the strength within them to come out stronger on the other side.”