How Imogen Clark's Star-studded EP Came Together

21 August 2020 | 12:32 pm | Imogen Clark

For only six tracks, Imogen Clark has managed to rope in a whole host of name collaborators for her new EP, 'The Making Of Me'. Here Clark tells us how she managed to get so many notable folks to jump on board.

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Mike Bloom

Five years ago, I saw Jenny Lewis play the Enmore and fell in love with her music. There was a stunning moment where her band gathered around a single mic to sing harmonies on Acid Tongue. Leading that band was Mike Bloom, and as I sat mesmerised in that theatre, I had no idea that five years later, Mike and I would become great friends while making this EP.

Working with Mike has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life. He brought out a confidence in me that I’d never felt in the studio, and with our engineer Will Golden, formed an intuitive, skilful and encouraging team. Mike’s ideas took the songs in directions I never would have expected, but absolutely loved. 

Mike is an incredible arranger and multi-instrumentalist, not to mention a lovely human being. His greatest strength might be his open musical mind – we could swing between diverse references from different eras and genres and he knew it all and could play it all, and it brought such a versatility to this record.

Imogen Clark & Mike Bloom

Alex Lahey

Alex started releasing singles around the time of my first album, and I was an instant fan. I really admire the emotional range in her music – thrashing out on a song like Every Day’s The Weekend, breaking your heart with Unspoken History.

Last year I was in Nashville writing and Alex was touring. We ended up hanging out at a dive bar after her gig, and then getting together to write in Melbourne a few months later. We geeked out over Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift, opened up to each other about being gaslit, and by the end of the day we’d written My Own Worst Enemy.

Writing with Alex felt so natural and exciting, and her melodic ideas were so hooky and emotional. It was important to me to have some of Alex’s DNA in the final recording, and since we loved her guitar and synth playing on the original demo, we ended up layering those into the record.

Imogen Clark & Alex Lahey

Clare Bowen

I visited Nashville for the first time when I was only 19. I didn’t know a soul in town and felt anxious and lonely.

Another visiting Aussie, Timothy James Bowen, saved me on that trip – we started going to gigs together and quickly became great friends. One night, I got refused entry because I wasn’t yet 21, and Tim said casually ‘Well, my sister and I are playing at the Grand Ole Opry tonight – do you want to come hang out backstage with us?’ I basically spat my coffee out.

That was the night I met Clare and her husband Brandon, and from that point onwards, the Bowen clan became champions of me and my music.

Clare asked me to support her on her Australian and US tours - some of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever played - and while I was going through a challenging breakup, Clare offered me her love and guidance. She helped me understand that sometimes losing someone can be what transforms you into the strongest version of yourself – a sentiment that Clare, Brandon and I turned into the first single Found Me.

In the midst of a packed LA trip, Clare joined us in the studio and layered harmony after harmony on the track, hitting impossible notes and making us cheer in the control room - the perfect finishing touch on the song.

Imogen Clark & Clare Bowen

Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers)

I’ve spent most of my life listening to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ albums – one of the few perfect bands, with such a sense of freedom and release captured on those songs.

In pre-production, we kept talking about finding a keyboardist who could really nail that ‘Benmont Tench organ sound’ from those records, and eventually, rather than get someone to imitate him, we decided to take a punt and try for the genuine article. I lost my shit when he said yes.

Benmont entered the studio carrying a tote bag full of old, tiny Casio keyboards that you might mistake for children’s toys – some of them even missing keys.

With astonishing speed and economy, he listened to the tracks once through each (noting the chords down as they played) and then headed to whatever instrument he felt inspired to create a part on – the grand piano, Hammond organ or one of the little busted up Casio things. Within just a few takes, he had created simple, iconic keyboard parts that sounded like they had always been a part of the songs – that fit perfectly with my vibe, but still had that iconic sound I’d grown up loving on songs like Refugee and Don’t Do Me Like That.

Imogen Clark & Benmont Tench

Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello & The Attractions/Imposters)

In the lead up to our sessions, I sent a playlist around of classic songs that had inspired me, to use as production references. When we passed it on to Pete Thomas, he said, ‘Well, that’s good, I played on two of these’.

I saw Pete play live with Elvis Costello a few months before we went into the studio and was blown away by the energy of his playing, so urgent and thrilling. Mike had worked with him before and was able to bring him into the fold. It was such an inspiring start to our sessions, when Pete counted off that first take of My Own Worst Enemy and thundered into the track with such a sense of propulsion and urgency. He is one of the world’s best drummers, and he instantly raised all of the songs to the next level.

Pete spent so much time in pre-production building the right parts to be the foundation of these songs and they all bear the stamp of his personality. It was gratifying to hear how much he invested himself into the recording – if you isolate the drum track and turn it way up, you can even hear him singing along to my vocal under his breath.

Imogen Clark & Pete Thomas. Photo by Joel Hodson.

Emma Swift

Emma has the courage of her convictions and I’ve always admired her confidence and strength, ever since we first met playing in Nashville years ago. She takes no shit from anyone, and when I was in the mood to write a ‘fuck you’ song, she seemed like the perfect person to call. 

We traded stories about condescending, arrogant men in the industry – sometimes it feels like you’re stuck in the ocean with someone and they’re dunking you underwater to hoist themselves up for air, as if their success can only come at your expense. This conversation inspired Push Me Down, to which Emma also provided gorgeous backing vocals.

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Imogen Clark

Alex Lahey

Clare Bowen

Emma Swift