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Q&A: Jessie Monk on Living in Berlin as an Aussie Artist

Jessie Monk hails from Gunai Kurnai land in Australia but made the move to Berlin, Germany where she now released music inspired by the people and stories she encounters. Paired with a captivating music video, her latest song 'Lonesome Winter Blues' captures the inner turmoil of longing for love but struggling to be vulnerable in fear of heartbreak. Monk allows herself to surrender and enjoy each bittersweet moment, knowing it’s unlikely to last long. Her story-telling unfolds effortlessly with intoxicating acoustic guitar, harmonica and violin.

Half of me doesn’t want to let go/

but the other half just wants to lose control /

and fall into you even if just for the night

Jessie Monk was kind enough to share her unique insights with us as an Australian folk artist living in Berlin, Germany.

How did the events of 2020 influenced your last release release 'Turn's out I'm someone else'?

"Like for most of us, in 2020 sh**t totally hit the fan for me. I actually wrote the song at the VERY start of the year, in a ‘romanticised’ Berlin Winter, with not even the slightest foresight into what might unfold. The song looks at the unknown, or the thresholds that we stand at when we face these types of events that totally re-orient our understanding of ourselves; moving to a new city, relationships, breakdown of relationships, global chaos like the coronavirus. It really came as such a terrifying surprise to me, the person I met in response to this year. The person these events had me be, the parts of me that were waiting in the shadows for these events to have them manifested. So by the time of the release, my relationship to the song had changed a LOT. It was really hard to look at where i’d come from, who the ‘someone else’ was when writing the song, and saying to the ‘someone else’ releasing the song, ‘oh okay, this is also me… wow’. And that sort of insistent message from my previous self that there is indeed no self to hold on to and that ‘nothing in this world is really mine’. "

What Australian artist would you love to tour or collaborate with?

"Wow. I guess first and foremost it’d be Paul Kelly. He’s an absolute legend of mine and ‘part of him pours out of me in my lines from time to time’. I’d love to open for him one day for sure. Other than that Julia Jacklin is damn awesome as is Gretta Ray and my favourites Client Liason. And then of course someone like Bernard Fanning or impossible dreams like Daddy Cool or Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds."

What inspired you to move to Germany?

"Well it was actually an expiring Israeli visa and 15 euro Ryan Air flight that sold it, but it had called out to me across the seas in 2019 during my time performing in Lazarus. I had always been a huge fan of Bowie’s and knew that he spent time in Berlin so the whole place had a really romantic, ‘cool’ appeal to me and there’s something about the character of Berlin that I’ve always been really turned on by. At the end of my studies I was lucky enough to book a pretty awesome role in Lazarus with a super inspiring and (by Australian standards) pretty eclectic cast and creative team.

The whole thing was so deeply and profoundly inspiring. The script itself blew my mind and the vocab used by the creative team to actualise our interpretation was the elixir of my dreams. I felt I’d sort of hit the jackpot and looked around at the other theatre being made in Australia and thought, ‘hmmm this is probably not gonna cut it anymore. Where can I do more of this stuff?’. And then I felt the little seduction of Germany again, sort of thinking i’d move there in a few years but instead washing up here much sooner (and unpreparedly) than expected; obviously finding out, upon arrival that (ofcourse) all the theatre is in German (I didn’t speak a word). So that sort of led me, by default, to change course and start really building foundations as a musician/singer-songwriter. "

How has living in Germany influenced your approach to music?

"In a few really key ways. The first is the sense of community. I was blown away here when I stumbled across a humble looking open mic at a little pub on a pretty stingy street in Neukolln called Kindl Stuben. Act after act of young and incredibly talented musicians from all over the world got up and played their stuff and I was totally pinching myself. I got to know these people, many of them later becoming my good friends, and a few pointed me towards other nights the city had; one of them, a folk jam night at a local brewery where artists brought there songs up and played with a house band made up of keys, fiddle, harmonica, djembe, guitar and often banjo and piano accordion. This just blew my mind. It was like stepping into the 70’s. Here I met a bunch of the bandmates who played on my first EP and a heap of friends who showed me the ropes in getting started as a recording artist here.

The other ways include the strange and creative character of the city, rougher and more knowing than Australian cities; with wounds open and raw and a much wider range of capabilities. It’s a Mecca for all sorts of wild historical events and now has this unabashed, multi-faceted character. This feeds creativity in a really special way."

Have you noticed any distinct differences between the journey as an artist in Germany compared to Australia?

"Yeah, well for starters, Berlin is just pouring with artists. In Melbourne, it definitely felt like you were a rare species; here you sit on the train and at least a handful of people per carriage will be holding an instrument. Art seems to be way more constitutionally and socially valued here and the laws are much looser as to what form it can take. There seems to be more opportunities, more funding and social support and well, just more art. As well as that, the art seems to be more heterogeneous and abundant in variety compared to the art in Australia, where there seems to be a little more of a ‘status quo’ and things that are ‘popular’ or ‘trending’ tend to garner more support socially and systemically than others."

As an Aussie folk artist, have you found it difficult finding your place within the German music scene?

"Not at all. Berlin is a big melting pot of artists from all over the world, and has a sort of an offering to any foreigner, that they may take on the famous phrase ‘ich bin ein Berliner’ (I am a Berliner). I think as a folk artist, you’re tapping into the personal and the universal, or at least trying to. So while some of my music does have Aussie-isms, they’re always accessible to someone who’s not familiar with Australian culture as they serve as a symbol for something more universal."

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