Local Lowdown: Grunge’s New Golden Girl Sloan Peterson

In collaboration with The Plot.

If you were to draw up a Venn diagram with ’50s doo-wop, ’60s pop, ’80s punk, and ’90s grunge, somewhere in the middle, you could place Sloan Peterson, the sonic project of Brissie-raised, Sydney-based Joe Jackson. It’s been a huge year for the Mirror Music signee, who’s just packaged her era-transcending soundscapes into her debut EP ‘Midnight Love’. The 24-year-old has also just been announced as a co-headliner for the next installation of Electric Lady and added to the SXSW 2018 roster alongside a handful of other A-grade Aussie artists.

Having relocated to South Sydney at 16, Jackson immersed herself in the DIY music scene, teaching herself guitar, collecting records, and expanding her musical palette. With influences spanning Nancy Sinatra, David Bowie and Elvis, Sloan Peterson is a striking new force in the local scene, breaking the limitations of genre with bold songwriting that is as timeless as the classics that inspired it.

For our first installation of Local Lowdown, we caught up with Sloan Peterson ahead of her appearance at The Plot to chat about her debut ‘Midnight Love’ EP, the pressure of BIGSOUND, her band’s favourite haunts, and what the revival of venues means for Sydney’s live music movement.

Best Before: You played a show the other night in Newcastle with Alex Lahey. How was that?

Joe: Yeah! It was actually really good. We’ve never played in Newcastle before, or really done any kind of rural place. It was interesting – we played in a church and Newcastle is just a funny place, in general. The drummer that we had as well, he’s from Maitland, which is nearby. We’re good friends. We were kind of paying him out, being like, “What’s the local? What’s around here?” ha! We ended up walking for so long to get to this pub, they took so long to bring out our food, then they ended up giving us all these free beers, and the meal for free. So it turned out really good. 

Amazing. And it would’ve been the first time a lot of the audience saw those songs from ‘Midnight Love’ played live.

We’ve been playing the same set, since we started, at the start of the year. But they weren’t out yet. We get a lot of people who know “105” and “Rats”, and can see them singing along to that, which is always nice, but it’s also nice that they can have a few more songs that they know.

The EP release was pushed back a couple times. I heard you ended up changing songs right up until the end.

Yeah – I recorded “Good News Day”, the first track – I literally wrote it the day before we went into the studio. My manager, Kurt (Bailey), had actually told me to do a bunch of other songs. I got in there, I wrote that one. The other songs… I was like meh. I showed the producer, he was like, “I love it! Let’s see how it goes.” We just got that done in a day. Most of the songs I wrote ages ago, when I was a teen, so it’s been a long time coming. I just didn’t want to move on yet. I’d written all these songs and I wanted them out first, because I love them. As a musician, you’re writing constantly, and so many songs just get swept under the rug – songs that could be great. I felt like this was a good little EP, waiting for my album, in a way. I’m writing a bit more grungey, a bit more “Good News Day”, more like The Strokes – I think that’s what my album will be a bit more like.

“Anyone can do this. Anyone can get up there and play.”

Some of the songs you played with your old punk band, Black Zeros, before changing them. I’m surprised the songs still sound so cohesive.

It’s weird, huh?! I guess that’s the magic of producers, haha. I’m surprised too! We recorded four tracks: “Ride”, “Break My Heart”, “I Want You” and “105” as a band live first, and then we added a whole bunch of things on. But “Good News Day” has a bit of a different feel. But, because we recorded most of that live, it’s very DIY.

When you first moved to Sydney, you were deep in the DIY scene. How do you think that impacted your sound?

It was just easy – when I started playing guitar, I knew, like, three power chords. I was like, “Alright, let’s book a show!” It’s achievable. I was in the surfing crowd in Cronulla, and I was helping my boyfriend at the time out at an art gallery down there. We bought all these instruments and we’d just play. The bands that I loved were very DIY surf-rock. They weren’t anything special, in a way, but it was fun, vibrant, and they were doing it. It was very encouraging. That’s what made me go, “Wait a minute! Anyone can do this. Anyone can get up there and play.” But I’ve definitely developed a lot. I’ve played music my whole life so, as soon as I picked up a guitar, I started getting good at it. That’s when I started Sloan Peterson. I could actually figure out what I was playing, and write songs that I actually wanted to write as opposed to just being like, “Well I know these three chords. Let’s just keep going with that.”

You started doing musicals when you were little. Is there an element of theatricality that you bring to your live shows now?

I do… but for the Alex tour, I’m keeping it down. I don’t want to rock up in my Sloan Peterson cape and be like “Here I am!” This tour is awesome, because I don’t have as much pressure on me. BIGSOUND kind of overwhelmed me a little bit; I was just thinking about what the boys should be wearing, what I should be wearing, how I should be. But really, that doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I’m playing music and I love it, and that’s the most important thing. Stage presence should come naturally. It shouldn’t be forced, otherwise people will think you look ridiculous, anyway. It has to be a natural thing.

You’ve got some festival slots near the end of the year.

Yes! Those ones, I’ll probably go a lot more crazy for. You can kind of do that a festivals. People expect more of a fireworks event.

A distinct part of Sloan Peterson is your style. What role does fashion play in your creative life?

It’s changed so much. I was very into fashion when I was younger, but I haven’t actually changed styles since I was so young. I still have clothes that I’ve had since I was 14, when I was living in Brisbane. It’s not that I’m trying to be a throwback ‘70s, but I just genuinely have those kind of clothes, op-shop stuff – just random things. I like matching colours. My mum is one of those people – she’ll have an olive green earring set, that has a matching necklace, that match her shoes. I can’t even wear gold with silver jewellery. I think it’s a bit of an OCD thing. Fashion is so funny. I got helped out a lot when we released “105” at The Strand. It’s always been like “Oh, she’s so fashionable.” And I’m like… “What?! Am I?” Ha!

I read that you got to pick out what you were going to wear for that.

I got to choose, which was really awesome! When I went for the dress rehearsal they put me in a long, tight, brown velvet gown. It was gorgeous, but I was like, “…I’m not a model. I’m very short. This is going to look like a sack.” They put it on me and then were like, “Ah okay, What do you want to wear?”

You’ve said you spend time in dive bars because your bass player, Jesse, plays at jazz nights. What are your fave Sydney live music venue haunts?

Yeah! He plays at The Commons – he’s been doing that for six years. On weekends, if we’re not away, we watch him play at Ramblin’ Rascal. For live music, Lansdowne is really great right now, or where I DJ – I usually do sets at The Lady Hampshire or The Gladstone. I only kind of go out if I’m working.

It’s life in your 20s.

It is what it is! It’s sad but I feel like I get to see everyone and out, but I’m making money, so I’m being responsible! 

After a slump with live venues closing and lockout laws, how do you think the pattern of old venues reopening is affecting the live music movement?

Sydney is such a tough thing. It did feel like it was almost unrecuperable, what they had done. I’m only 24, and I feel so responsible. I did not think I would be like this at 24. I’m like “Oh, I’ve had two drinks, I should probably go home.”

Right?! Life at 24.

Seriously. But also, that comes with the responsibility I have with music now. If I stay out too late, I always lose my voice. I make bad decisions. If I’m playing a gig a couple of days away, I have to be responsible. Going on tour, people think it’s a big party. Which it is, in a way – it’s super fun and what not. The boys are more resilient. For me, I wish I could stay out smoking and drinking all night and have the wildest night.

But when your instrument is what you use every day…

That’s exactly right. I get so jealous of them. I just wanna be a guitarist. I’m like, “Jesse, do you wanna just take over this band? You can be Sloan now.” I can’t drink coffee either. I’m very restricted, to a degree. I would still probably have coffee and a cigarette every now and then, and go out if, I wasn’t singing all the time. The sacrifices you make, you know! Ha! But, in saying that, the Sydney scene is still happening. There’s Dinosaur City Records, and an underground record scene in Newtown that’s still thriving. You’ve got the Botany View Hotel, Lansdowne, Lady Hampshire still putting on bands, Oxford Art doing their thing. And Golden Age, they’ve always got free events. There’s always something happening, you’ve just got to go and find it. It’s not like Melbourne. You do need to find it.

When you’re home in Sydney, where do you go to write?

At the moment, I’ve got my own little studio at my place, so I just write there usually. It’s kind of tough at the moment, because my other band members work. I write everything generally, but it’s been hard to get practice going on. I’ve written all these songs just on my guitar, but I don’t know what they’ll sound like with the band yet. They’re just getting prepared for the album, but I think after this tour we’ll do little getaway for a couple of days so I can teach the guys everything that I’ve been working on, see what they think, and how it all works before we record the album.

Photos by Jordan Munns.

You can catch Sloan Peterson live at The Plot on Saturday 18th November. Grab tickets here.

Jam out to ‘Midnight Love’: