In her work as Jack River, songwriter Holly Rankin is part of a wave of Australian millennial artists working to revive the diet of post-grunge rock and slick pop they were raised on. And maybe solve climate change while they’re at it.
“My teens were in the early 2000s, where pop was in this very clean, very cheesy, but awesome space,” Rankin tells The Adelaide Review. Despite spending much of her early adulthood leaning towards a more discerning blend of folk and psychedelia (The Doors, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell soon gave way to Tame Impala and MGMT), Rankin found herself returning to the nostalgic pop of the schoolyard. “I realised I was so attracted to those gritty 90s sounds and also the candy pop of the 2000s – those sounds brought back a really youthful feeling.”
On her debut album Sugar Mountain, Rankin set out recreate that musical landscape in her own writing. “This album became about recreating youth, and for me it’s the sound of that. I was born in 1991, these are the sounds that made me feel like a teenager again, and it felt good,” she says. “[It’s] the age before you start really curating your taste, when you’re eight to 14 and you’re just listening to the radio and watching rage – songs like Len’s Steal My Sunshine , early Gwen Stefani and Wheatus’ Teenage Dirtbag. These clean but gritty American pop songs were ingrained in my blood, before I started thinking about what I actually wanted to listen to.”
From the arpeggiating acoustic guitar shimmer of Confess and the power chords of Adolescent to the layered, Britney Spears-inspired vocal production, the album is carefully executed pastiche of Video Hits-era production styles channeling everything from Nirvana to Sixpence None The Richer. “With this album the production was really purposefully created to satisfy that freeing, early teenage feeling.”
Rankin’s fondness for the early 2000s is no casual nostalgia, but represents a time before a traumatic loss sharply bookended her childhood. “It links into the meaning of course that I lost that when I was 14, when my sister passed away, and I just realised how much of a remedy those sounds were,” she says of younger sister Shannon, who died in 2006. “They brought back this beautiful, fun feeling. Before I started to think, before we start to become adults, depressive and anxious. Before that there’s this beautiful window where we’re listening to music… but we’re not fucked up yet.”
Few losses are as acute as the death of a sibling, but broader existential crises are in some ways par for the course for a generation that came of age in a global financial crisis and faces a future that will be fundamentally reshaped by climate change. For her part, Rankin is not content to simply retreat to nostalgic escapism in the face of such challenges, with her album tour including a ‘Climate Hour’ panel in Sydney featuring Dr Karl and Climate Council member Professor Lesley Hughes. Rankin has also joined the likes of Midnight Oil, Vance Joy and Cloud Control to back a new platform helping musicians offset the carbon impact of live music and touring by building their own solar farms.
“Personally, I’m so passionate, like so many young people, about figuring out climate change and how we can take action,” she says. “With music and my career I’m so humbled that so many people get to come to my shows, and I really want to start taking that opportunity to bring people together on issues that need to be spoken about. For me [Climate Hour] is a step in seeing if my audience are keen to talk about these things, and connect in those spaces.
“We’ve grown up in this environment, our generation is slowly coming into power, but action needs to happen so much quicker. So in anything we can do, especially in music where we talk to young people every day, it’s so important to figure out how we can help and take action.”
Sugar Mountain is out now
The Governor Hindmarsh
Friday, June 14