Park Yard Poziblities

4 April 2012 | 11:44 am | Aleksia Barron

Jess Harlen has been busy. The Melbourne-based singer has just released Park Yard Slang, the follow-up to her 2010 debut solo album Neon Heartache. Once again, she reunited with much-lauded producer Plutonic Lab (of Muph & Plutonic) to put the album together – however, it wasn't exactly smooth sailing.

The genre-bending Park Yard Slang is a testament to Harlen's willingness to experiment with musical styles and sounds, and she credits a large part of that development to a change in her songwriting process. “Neon Heartache was a really organic album where I'd written the songs acoustically on guitar, and then took them to a production level,” she says, explaining her songwriting technique for her debut record. “In that process, [Plutonic and I] discovered other ways that we wrote well together, like the track I Go – that was an in-studio collaboration.” Harlen enjoyed the collaborative aspect of this process, and decided to integrate it further when writing tracks for Park Yard Slang. “We decided to do the second album, which we started immediately, in a similar vein, which is why it's a little bit more beat-based.”

It was certainly a departure from the more acoustic writing style Harlen employed on Neon Heartache. “Some days we would just start with a particular tempo – we would listen to another track, get a feel and a tempo and lay down some kind of rhythm, and then we'd work melodically and harmonically on them,” explains Harlen. “It was pretty relaxed. We were never afraid to crack open a couple of beers to help things along.” She still takes credit for every lyric penned on Park Yard Slang though – that's all her. “That's all my silly brain spilling things out, trying to catch them on the way out so it doesn't make too much of a mess,” she laughs.

For all that effort, though, there were times when Harlen was all but convinced that Park Yard Slang would never be completed, much less released. Scheduling conflicts between herself and Plutonic Lab meant that what should have only been days of work on the album took far, far longer. “We found it hard completing the album,” she admits. “It got to the stage where there were just some finishing touches needed to complete it, but we were never on the same page at the same time, and that just stretched out for months.”

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Even when the work was completed, there was a final hurdle standing between Park Yard Slang and its release. “It was ready to be mastered but I didn't have the $1400 to pay for it, so that put another delay on things,” says Harlen. She was about $1000 short. With few options left, she turned to her fan base, and put up a project, asking for the money to complete the mastering of the album. “I thought maybe somebody might be willing to help out,” she says, acknowledging that she was at the point of desperation.

What amazed Harlen was that everyone came through. “It just went nuts,” she says. “We ended up raising four and a half grand in seven days.” From the outset, it became clear that Harlen's fans were willing to pull together to get her over the line. “The first donation was $10,” she recalls. “I'd posted the link on Facebook and I really didn't think we were going to make it, you know what I mean?” However, within a couple of minutes, $10 had been donated – by a stranger. “I went and had a look and I didn't even know this person. It wasn't a friend or a housemate or my mum. It was a total random supporter. They believed in this!”

From there, the love just kept on flowing. “Within an hour we were up to $700. In that moment, I cried. I'd been feeling pretty down so that totally lifted my spirits. Having that belief in your music is the most affirming thing.” To Harlen, it's a powerful validation of her music, and an extra source of her pride in Park Yard Slang.