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Interview: Jamie-Lee Dimes discusses her career progression, new single “Release Me,” turning 30 in 2020

Jamie-Lee Dimes is an Australian singer-songwriter currently based in Los Angeles. With an expansive style that combines 60s-inspired psychedelia and alt-folk sensibilities, the Brisbane native’s artistry is shaped by her travels. Her 2016 debut EP, Liminality, channels these experiences, including her contemporary choreography and ballet studies in Australia, and her dance studies in New York City. Following up her previous single, 2019’s “Waste of Time,” Dimes dropped “Release Me,” a personal song centering on coming to terms with her indigenous roots – which she had only recently discovered – in the face of ongoing discrimination.

Recently, Dimes was announced as part of South by Southwest’s official artist showcase, and will also perform on the main stage at the festival’s Aussie BBQ prior to a headline show in New York. I caught up with Jamie to discuss her career progression, what she has gleaned from her travels, her reaction to uncovering Indigenous ancestry on her father’s side, and ultimately, her newfound mindset around turning 30 years old in a new decade.

I saw that you’re one of South by Southwest’s official artists. How do you feel about that?

I’m pretty stoked, to be honest! It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but I’m excited to be going down to Austin, playing shows, and showcasing some new music. It’s awesome, and especially when you come from Australia, it’s a big deal, so I’m just kind of riding it.

Initially, what led you to become involved with the festival?

At the time, I had just finished a two-and-a-half-month-long tour of New Zealand, Australia, and America, and I wanted to do this as a way of starting a new decade with new music. I know that I’ll be touring all year and possibly into the next, but this is the first time I’m performing with a band, so it’s like I’m taking this to the next level. It’s a different kind of feeling, you know?

Yeah, I know!

Yeah! It’s like you come from playing all these shows, and then all of a sudden, you realize that you’re going to play South by Southwest and have a spotlight on you, you’re like, “Oh, am I ready for this,” and have this outpouring of personal issues. Meanwhile, I’m in the California desert, like, “Okay, Jamie; breathe; it’s gonna be good!” But it’s cool because I’m used to living in different places; I’ve lived between Australia, New York, and California for the last eight years on and off. I have friends from Los Angeles, Austin, and from other countries, too, from touring. You build these connections in different parts of the world. I find it all really exciting!

That’s awesome how you were able to build these relationships with people from all over. I can tell it’s not something you’d take for granted.

Yeah, and I feel like I have the personality for it. Originally, the reason why I held off from performing for so long was that even though I have an extroverted personality, I’m actually very introverted on stage. I also tend to throw myself into situations that are seen as masculine in society. A lot of the time, I’m told by others that I need to live up to the standard of what a chick should be doing, and I hate that. I still get that all the time. I get it from my family, and from the people around me. Not my parents, because they’re more liberal. But in a way, that kind of thing motivates me to do whatever I want, and I work hard. At the end of the day, when I feel really tired, I also feel grateful.

Looking at your influences, I thought it was cool that you’re into a lot of alternative and progressive artists. When you put Pink Floyd, you also put ‘the earlier the better’ in parenthesis. Do you like Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Saucerful of Secrets – stuff like that?

Yeah, that whole era. When I was living in New York, I became obsessed with the Ummagumma album, with its weird symphonies and arrangements. I guess with the current political landscape of this country, my friends and I would have these little moments of escapism where we’d just listen to good music. I just love artists who have their whole discography you can listen through. I wanted to really experience getting into the minds of the musician while they were recording, and what they’d write about their lives. That early stuff made me realize that, as an artist, you can communicate not only lyrics but energy and headspace. I love it!

When you did Liminality, was that your first time working with a band?

It definitely was! At the time I wrote it, I was at dance school in New York for 10 to 12 hours a day in the theater district. It was crazy because I worked with some of the best kinds of teachers who worked with people on Broadway. I was also living in a bad part of Brooklyn, and not relying on my parents to pay my way. Being in my early 20s and dealing with my own mental and emotional health was horrible, especially in the grit of New York. And coming from Australia, I was not prepared for that. But I got the chance to meet some musicians who practiced in a really popular rehearsal space. When we recorded the album, I wanted it to be presented as a soundtrack for a film. It’s different from the stuff that I recently did – a song with a single story behind it. For this album, it’s really a body of work that should be listened to from start to finish.

Your song “Waste of Time” alludes to part of your 20s having been very difficult and confusing, and you were trying to stay strong in spite of these hardships. I think the most challenging part about being a musician is allowing those hardships to hinder your creativity, rather than inspire it. How do you manage that?

I stick myself in the middle of the desert (laughs)? No, it’s crazy that you mention “Waste of Time.” I had a very turbulent couple of years, and now I feel like I’m just coming out on the other side through hard work. Originally, when I wrote that song, I was going through a lot of death in my life, and it sort of became a premonition of what I’d go through later on. Now, I feel like I have a deeper understanding of it, and of life in general. To be honest, I’ve been able to cut out 99 percent of people in my life. I feel more in control, and the best way that I’ve been able to manage is in figuring out how to channel those negative experiences into my music, and not having it any other way. I’m very mindful about who I keep in my inner-circle, who I own up to, and who I allow in my life.

Part of the thematic angle of “Release Me” involves discovering your Indigenous roots on your dad’s side. Could you talk more about that?

Well, I was in New York, and it was 2017, around the time of a lot of crazy immigration things happening – talks of building the wall, marches at the airports, Muslim bans, and anti-Mexican sentiments, which had me fuming! I started thinking about my own walks of life, and as more things came up to the surface, I guess I looked at it as kind of like a therapy session. Yeah, my dad has Indigenous blood in him. It was huge to find that out, and unless you’re from Australia, not many people know about the racist practices that took place 200 years ago. I really went deep into the research, and because of that, I came up with all the words and melodies for “Release Me” in 10 minutes, at about three o’clock in the morning. By opening up that part of my life, it was almost like I was writing a tribute song. After turning a blind eye to my family history for half my life, I learned a lot. I didn’t know that some of my ancestors had been beheaded! It’s like, shit, that was 160 years ago, which is – what – five generations? It was crazy, and I just got enraged! So, I opened up to my friend, who’s a political activist, and once she broke it down for me, I understood the systemic reasons why I felt the way I did. I wanted to educate myself. After writing this song, I recorded it with the guy I’ve been working with from Australia, Tim Maxwell, and he was like, “You’ve got to release this song next!”

I think you made the right choice, because his guitars really complement your voice. It’s rare that you hear raw, melodic guitars in pop music anymore, so the song sounds very refreshing.

Thank you so much! I went through a lot of doubt in releasing it at first, because, as a woman, I noticed that a lot of people have directed me toward a more synthetic version of me, without any brains or creativity – just be a hot babe and sing for the crowd, and I can’t do that. But now, I feel like I’ve gotten enough push uphill to the point where people are saying, “I’ll support this artist because she sticks to her roots.” So, thank you so much for acknowledging that. It means a lot to me as a musician. I just wanted to write a song that directly connects with people, and for a song that’s emotionally deep, you wouldn’t want to layer it with a bunch of extra instruments.

I feel like every once in a while, there needs to be a break away from the glitz and glamour of the pop world, and a subtle part of the video is where you rub off your lipstick. It’s very punk rock.

It’s funny to hear you say that, because that is my core insight – that punk philosophy and attitude – even though, on the outside, I’m more bohemian. But there’s different ways to communicate that; the rubbing off the lipstick can mean so many things. So, I love how you found something small like that and found that kind of meaning in it.

You mentioned recording with Tim Maxwell, who was with you in the band Loser. What do you like about working with him?

He’s awesome; I feel like he’s my brother. He really gets me and understands my creative process. He gets the overall picture and knows what I want to express, and he’s also really talented – it’s ridiculous (laughs). He plays a lot of instruments, he’s an amazing songwriter, and he’s also very committed. When I recorded with others, I felt very reserved, but with Tim, I feel a lot more comfortable – like I can let go of everything. His father also comes from the same heritage as mine. When we recorded “Release Me,” we had to re-record it last minute, and we did it in just four and a half hours. The change from piano to guitar was his idea. Once I started singing the song again, I had goosebumps all over my body and I loved how it sounded. It just felt really good.

In the very first point of your bio, you mention that it feels liberating to turn 30 in a new decade. I can relate to that, even though I turned 29 recently. It’s like a release from all the strain of the past. Taking in everything up to this point, what have you learned about yourself, both as a musician and as a person?

I feel like I’ve gotten to know myself really well. With all the extreme situations I’ve put myself through, it feels as though I’ve lived many lifetimes in my short 30 years on this earth. I’ve also become good at setting boundaries. For all the times I’ve suffered through low self-esteem and low self-worth, I’m in a really good place now and won’t tolerate other people’s shit anymore. I’ve become more aware of who I am, I no longer care what people think, and I’m not afraid. Once I turned 30, I suddenly had this energy to do absolutely everything that had previously freaked me out, because I figure if I didn’t do it at that point, I’d absolutely regret it on my death bed. Though in a way, if I had done South by Southwest in my early 20s, I wouldn’t have been ready because, at the time, I wasn’t prepared to talk about certain things. I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with my audience effectively because I didn’t know who I was. I don’t know about you, but last year, my 29th was one of the worst years of my life (laughs)!

Oh yeah, I can understand that!

Yeah, it was a chaotic time! But, when’s your birthday?

The 4th of January, ’91.

Oh, okay, so you just turned 29. You’ve still got a good year of your twenties.

Yeah, well, it’s been going well so far. I get to talk to people like you, and I’ve been doing this for almost five years, so I’m happy!

That’s so good; that’s awesome! Next year, I’ll wish you a happy birthday for your 30th. You’ve got to celebrate in style (laughs).

Thank you! Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?

Thank you for supporting my new song, “Release Me.” It’s personal to me, but it’s also an important subject and conversation to have. This is really just the beginning of my career, and I’m grateful that people are getting behind it, supporting the overall message, and what the music is all about.

Jamie-Lee Dimes Socials:

Official Website|Twitter|Instagram|YouTube

About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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