Jack River Sugar MountainOn her debut album Sugar Mountain, Holly Rankin (AKA Jack River) has turned her personal grief inside out, and exposed its glowing inner lining.

On Ballroom you sing in perfect fifths, over and over, and it gives this really hopeful effect. Was that a feeling you were deliberately trying to craft?

Yeah, I think it was pretty conscious. That song, for me, is all about getting out of some dark place into something lighter, and knowing that I need to get there. I had the song for maybe four years or so, and whenever I went back to it, I just felt stronger and stronger about moving forward. So I tried to keep adding that into the song and making it feel as strong as possible.

The aftermath of your sister’s death was very public, and you’ve described the feeling of detachment that came after it, which was freeing to you – you felt so separated that the usual anchors couldn’t colour your existence any more. When did you become aware of that feeling?

That’s one of the coolest findings from that time in my life. I think I realised that when I was writing In Infinity, which is the last song. I felt so low and detached and far away from everything, that I felt infinite. Like, there were no boundaries, no fears anymore, ‘cause I didn’t care about anything. I realised – ‘cause I guess everything in this album is about trying to re-think your darkness – that when you lose your fear you’re stranded on a boat that can go anywhere. I definitely feel like even though it was so f-cked up, it really helped me to feel fearless, and boundary-less.

Who are we hearing speak and play on the interludes Mars and Saturn?

That’s my little brother, Ruben. He’s an amazing piano player. All throughout my youth, living at home, he would play the piano – since he was about seven. I gave him my iPhone [and] asked him to record some of his originals. It’s not perfected or anything, it’s just him recording himself for the first time. His words just [described] his beautiful little brain processes that he was having. It felt really humble.

Her Smile is very clearly about your sister. Did you begin with this one because you wanted to be as honest as possible?

That song, I really purposely put it there. It begins with a demo that was the first time I ever wrote that song, so it just feels really honest and vulnerable. And even though [the album] goes through so many places, I wanted to start in a really honest place. Also it gets kind of supernatural at the end and a bit mystical… I don’t know what the word is, but ‘spiritual’, for me. I wanted to kind of open the doors to the album. If we just started with a banger, they’re not really aware of the story.

Confess is also a huge stand-out – the way the thumping drums come in is very satisfying. When did you write this one?

That’s probably one of the most recent songs. I was actually going to keep it for my next album, but we just loved it so much that it made its way onto the current one. I had written that song from a direct experience of feeling like the whole album, honestly, and my life, felt like it was just stuck and not going anywhere, and didn’t have any form of release. All these songs are just pushing, and then with Confess, [I] suddenly felt this emotion for the first time in ages, of releasing into somebody else, and actually feeling love, and realising that it’s okay and I need it.

You’ve said that you realised elements from 2000s music, contemporary at the time just before or just after your sister passed away, were finding their way into the album. Do you think you hold those things in more reverence than the rest of us, who might be quicker to cringe at our 14-year-old-selves, might do?

Yeah… I was like, wow, maybe this is my 14-year-old self trying to express herself through this music. And a part of me might still be stuck there, in that shock zone, or when life was happier – the past kind of 11 years. I guess I just had this really natural affiliation with songs like Teenage Dirtbag and even Stacey’s Mum or Blink-182, Britney Spears… all this stuff that was just the beginning of pop music for me. I was like, f-ck it, I love this so much, I don’t care what anyone thinks. This is going in.

Sugar Mountain is out June 22 via I OH YOU.

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