JACK River (aka Holly Rankin’s) dreamy cover of ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’ by Cigarettes After Sex serves as the starting point of a fascinating, free-flowing chat between Holly and Cigarettes After Sex frontman Greg Gonzalez.

Even over email the pair share a natural kinship, talking about the idea of song ownership, their favourite road songs, creating “cinematic” music, and the influence of weather on songwriting.

Greg Gonzalez: Great to meet you Holly and thank you for the beautiful cover of ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’. One of the greatest compliments is simply to have any song you’ve written sung by another.

Jack River: I feel deeply in love with it after it played on shuffle after a Mazzy Star song. I then played it on repeat for a good couple of months. Its subtle, cinematic world gives the listener so much freedom – lyrically and emotionally, that it just doesn’t get old or boring.

GG: It’s strange to think of a song as a “cover” in my mind. For instance ‘Blue Moon’ by Elvis is a cover technically, but it may as well be the only version of the song to me. Cigarettes has covered more than a few songs ourselves of course, but I prefer not to think of them as such. Do you think there’s something about the term “cover song” that makes it sound as if it’s less serious to listeners?

JR: Yeah, so many of the best songs out there are covers. Take for instance Patti Smith’s ‘Because The Night’ or Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun’. I do think that the word “cover” signals a sense of fakeness an infers its not as “original” as the original. I feel the same as you about this. Not to take anything away from the original writer of (any) song, but I feel like songs are born from streams of wavelength out there that we all have access to. So when you’re singing that song that’s not yours, its not like you have to bypass the writer to connect to the source, you’re connecting straight to the universal place that song came from.

I think I am kind of saying that if I am honest with myself, we don’t own the songs we write, similarly to the idea that you don’t “own” your kids. You kind of bring them up for a while and then they are the universe’s, and everyone else’s.

GG: Is there a song you’d cover that you wish you would have written?

JR: I don’t think I wish I had written anything, following on from above. But there is this Neil Young song ‘Sugar Mountain’ that is the embodiment of my favourite song. I feel so at home when I am listening to it, the emotional cut of the song is so quaint but it digs so deep into my brain and spirit. For me at this moment in my life it articulates so much back to me that I wish I wrote it just to know I understand myself as deeply as this song does. I have that with a lot of Neil Young songs, I just love his casual depth and the imagery he subtly infers with every line.

GG: Your album Highway Songs #2 has an “intro” and “outro” which seems to hint at a cinematic approach, possibly like opening and ending titles. Was this the intention or was it seen from a different perspective?

JR: It was the intention. The songs didn’t feel like they were from the same moment in my life, cause I had been writing and recording for so long that naturally they were from abstract places that didn’t make sense to each other. When you’re constantly moving forward, metaphorically driving, things don’t need to make sense. They make sense in the movement, like a field of flowers and an old apartment building seem as one thing when you’re driving past them. I wanted to let listeners know that this was where I was – moving through moments, unsure of exactly where the fuck I am.

"We don’t own the songs we write, similarly to the idea that you don’t 'own' your kids. You kind of bring them up for a while and then they are the universe’s, and everyone else’s."

GG: What inspired you to base the album around the highway?

JR: I guess the above, and to add onto this, I also drive a lot. I am from the country but live in the city. I travel for music, and also went to the US a fair bit in the making of Jack River. Everything is illuminated on the highway when I am alone and blasting music. I wanted to try and emit that experience and encourage people to listen to it while driving.

GG: I have so many great memories of driving and listening to music through the years. An all night drive back from Austin to El Paso, Texas, on a trip with a girl I was dating listening to ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ by Simon & Garfunkel as the sun was rising, or listening to ‘The Greatest’ by Cat Power driving high into mountains of Colorado one summer. Any specific memories you have tied to driving and music?

JR: Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’ and Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ with my best friend in a black Mustang last year. Screaming along to The Doors and John Frusciante’s solo records on many a road trip when I was 17 or 18. Cat Power, Dirty Three, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen are my favourites for the road. Gosh there are so many incredible moments. It kinda stretches from quaint and romantic rock folk straight to screaming Blink-182. Whenever I finish a song (as I am sure everyone does), I take it on a long solo drive and make sure it brings out the most emotion in me.

Every lyric from ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’ paints another scene in my head, it’s like this wonderful mansion of rooms I walk into to visit another emotion. Is there a lyric that has a specific room to it? Can you pick a lyric and tell us what goes on in your head?

GG: That’s beautiful. Thank you for saying that. Every image from ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’ is something I went through with a serious ex-girlfriend of mine. The main image I think of is the living room of a house I lived alone at at that time. We used to put on music, dance and drink all night and act silly. It’s one of the sweetest memories I can think of and I often close my eyes and go back to it when we’re playing that song live.

JR: I’ve read that you are hugely inspired by cinema, and cinematic feelings. In fact, I think almost every question here is going to touch on that. Who are your favourite artists who have explored a similar way of making music? Or any form of art for that matter?

GG: I often put on films in the background on mute while I’m writing or recording. It seems to just put me in the right mood. I’ve heard Scorsese would often have films on in this way when he was working on screenplays to set a rhythm. I really respect other artists who would create their own scores for older films also. Philip Glass did this for a number of films (Beauty & the Beast, Dracula) and Bill Frisell for some of the films of Buster Keaton. I’d really love to try this someday.

Two films that were very influential on me and the sound of the group are The Truman Show and Picnic At Hanging Rock, both by the Australian director Peter Weir. Picnic At Hanging Rock has such a sense of beauty and mystery to it, and I love the main title theme. The Truman Show introduced me to the music of Philip Glass as well as Chopin’s ‘Romance (Larghetto)’. I’m wondering if there’s any Australian films that were influential on you or that you’d simply recommend.

JR: Ok so I haven’t watched it in forever but I am going to say – check out Somersault. The whole soundtrack is by Australian band Decoder Ring. And this is random, but the surf film Spirit Of Akasha by Australian filmmaker Andrew Kidman has a fucking amazing soundtrack of original music by Brian Wilson, Dirty Three, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Andrew Vanwyngarden of MGMT, Angus Stone, and more. I also made a track for it called ‘Wavves’. (Promise this is not a rigged shoutout.) But yeah, the soundtrack for this surf film is actually quite prolific and still pretty under the radar. I mean it has an original unreleased Brian Wilson track. What more could you want?

If your production were a scene, what would it look like?

GG: I like the idea of a night time beach with a bonfire burning. There’s a mix of danger and serenity there that’s attractive to me.

JR: If she were a girl/boy what would he/she be like?

GG: Given the very personal nature of the songs it would have to just be me.

JR: There are so many soft nuances in the lyrics and production in your debut album that make it so great. What are some of your strangest forms of inspiration?

GG: I’ve spoken a bit about this, but the ambient qualities of certain video game soundtracks were very influential on me and definitely made an impact on the sound of the band. Some of the songs from the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack like ‘Dark World’ or ‘Coin Song’, the Sega CD soundtrack for Ecco the Dolphin, some of the music from the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time like ‘Inside the Deku Tree’, or ‘Zora’s Domain’. This music also helped me sleep countless times.

JR: I have read a couple of interviews where you talk about the weather. I personally fucking love rainy days to write songs, and write in general. Where did you record the album, do you think your surroundings shaped the music? Feel free to talk about the weather here.

GG: That’s true. It feels like such a blessing to get those kind of days to write or record, where the weather places you into a certain mood. I really think the weather gave the first LP [Cigarettes After Sex] a lot its sound. We recorded it in a studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the dead of winter, mid-December when the ground was covered in snow and it was too cold to stand in the street for more than a few minutes.

The strange thing about the weather is that it creates different settings in my mind for certain songs, for instance a song like ‘Opera House’ has its setting in the jungle lyrically, but when we play it or I listen to I think more of snow falling.

"I often put on films in the background on mute while I’m writing or recording. It seems to just put me in the right mood."

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