Meet Dora Jar: Billie Eilish's Aussie Tour Support Act

16 September 2022 | 10:48 am | Mary Varvaris

"I just feel so blessed to be in her orbit."

(Pic by Erica Snyder)

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New Zealand is officially one of Dora Jar's favourite places in the world. She was there for the first time last week, opening shows for the global superstar Billie Eilish. “New Zealand was bonkers. Mind-blowing. Like, maybe the most beautiful place ever. It felt like Big Sur in Hawaii. And audiences were like, off the wall. Insane,” Jar says from the Universal Music Australia office. It’s been a great start to the tour. Next up: Sydney.

Originally from New York, Jar and her family relocated to California to find a school that could accommodate her sister Lueza's needs as she was born with severe cerebral palsy and couldn’t walk or talk. All of New York’s huge buildings with stairs and elevators were too much, which is where The Bridge School in California comes in. Pegi and Neil Young co-founded the Bridge School for their son, Ben Young, who has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal. They organised the annual non-profit Bridge School Benefit concert, which is where Jar was first exposed to live music. 

“My sister and I were very psychic with each other. We had this sense of humour that I feel like people could see but not understand,” she explains. The sisters had a relationship like no other. Lueza’s laugh and facial expressions alone were a whole language of their own. They listened to lots of music together; Jar finds it amazing that siblings can know each other so well but also be like, “Who are you? You’re me, and you’re not me at all.”

After her sister passed away, Jar chose to attend boarding school. She couldn’t imagine staying in the house that she grew up in with Lueza and not having that reality anymore. “When I went to boarding school, I would listen to a lot of what we grew up with, like Pearl Jam, The Beatles, Foo Fighters, Stephen Sondheim musicals,” she begins.

Then, her French teacher's husband, who lived on campus, noticed that Jar was enthusiastic about music. “He had this huge library of music on his computer, and he would show me Talking Heads, M83, Peter Gabriel, and a whole bunch of stuff I never knew.” That opportunity to bond over music subsequently made boarding school feel like a home full of people Jar could trust. “It was a big moment of honouring my old music loves and then opened to all this new, amazing stuff. It was old music but new to me."

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Jar started getting serious about songwriting when she learned to play the guitar after seeing Foo Fighters perform live acoustically at the Bridge School Benefit concert. Because she and her family were part of the school, they sat on the stage behind the performers. “I got to see Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins up close playing all of the Foo Fighters music, but without electric guitars, and that was the moment that clicked for me where I was like: I have to make music, and I'm in love with what's happening right now,” she says. 

She began writing numerous songs by initially playing along with Foo Fighters songs and creating her own melodies on top of them. “On Multiply, you can hear The Pretender by the Foo Fighters influenced how I picked the guitar. If I'm remembering correctly, I was literally trying to remember The Pretender by ear, but kept messing up and then just wrote Multiply,” she laughs.

Taylor Hawkins’ passing is probably the saddest music news of the year, Jar says, but she’ll always have precious memories, like when he came up to her mum and put his arm around her to say hi. Hawkins didn't know who she was or whose mum she was, but he was always kind and radiated with love.

While Jar is excellent at writing songs that revive the crunchy guitars of Your Best American Girl by Mitski – an artist deeply embedded in her subconscious – like Multiply and Tiger Face, her latest single, Bump, is ethereal.

Bump was written in 2018 when Jar was living in Warsaw, Poland, where she has plenty of relatives but didn't know anybody else. The song was birthed out of a wish or prayer to experience some coincidence and run into someone she knew. Jar even imagined ex-boyfriends from America showing up in Warsaw, which would never happen, just so she could see somebody with that sense of familiarity again, in a strange place.

“I like variety! It’s always my impulse to not do the expected thing or throw curveballs,” she explains. She’s in an exciting place: the beginning of a new phase. “I’m excited about Bump. It’s a good indication of where I'm heading in terms of a dreamy landscape. It’s surreal, too, as in, like, things don't logically make sense. But you can feel the meaning inherently.

"I’m collecting clues right now. Everything’s blurry, but I like the colours, and I'm shifting my focus. It's almost like I've shed my skin of this era. I'm raw again and learning guitar in a new way. I've played live for a year, which changed how I approach writing. There are so many of the songs like Opening and Tiger Face that we go really hard on live, in a way where I'm like, ‘Ooh, that would be cool to go into the studio having that band mentality.’”

Before recording new music becomes Jar’s sole focus, she has more shows to play, including massive arena shows in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. And, in the sign of a good omen, she’s playing at the same venues Billie Eilish first played in Australia: The Lansdowne Hotel in Sydney and Melbourne’s The Toff in Town.

“Billie is the gift that keeps giving. She is such a real, beautiful human who genuinely loves music, and I just feel so blessed to be in her orbit,” Jar says. The solo shows are exhilarating, and Jar promises to play unreleased, unrecorded tracks that are being road-tested. She can’t wait to share the beginnings of a new era.

Dora Jar's Comfortably In Pain EP dropped in March and she is currently in Australia touring with Billie Eilish on her Happier Than Ever World Tour with her own headline dates in Melbourne and Sydney.