Harriett Allcroft: ‘Recording the album made me realise that I do have things to say’

There is a tune stuck in my head for the last few days. It’s a hearbreak song called ‘Lovely’ and it speaks of emotional distance and emptiness and a whole range of emotions relating to a failed relationship. It’s also an up-tempo, toe-tapping tune; the melody unwinds and evolves in a whirlwind-like manner, sweeping the words, as Harriett Allcroft chases after each syllable, delivering the lyrics with a kind of bitter-sweet detachment that goes beyond sentimentality. It’s a cleverly crafted, beautiful song.

‘Lovely’ is featured in the singer’s debut album, Archie, a collection of original jazz-pop songs which just came out and is launched at the Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival. Here is what Harriett Allcroft had to say about it.

Who is Archie?

We recorded at Ginger Studios in Cremorne and Archie is the name of the dog that lives there. I didn’t want to favour one track over the over when it came to naming the album, and Shaun [Rammers, the sax player on the album] joked that I should name it after the studio dog. It started as a joke but I really like the name!

Which was the first song you wrote?

Hmm, I think the first song that I wrote was ‘Full Circle’.

I didn’t set out to write an album, and I didn’t really write tunes for the album, I just kept writing songs to sing at gigs and then one day realised that I had enough songs to make album. So then it became a matter of seeing if the songs all worked together, and then I started finessing them for the recording phase. We recorded over two days, but some of the songs were written two or three years ago, others written earlier this year. The greatest challenge was wondering whether the songs would stand up against the test of time, and if I would still like them in five years’ time. I ended up deciding that if I didn’t book in date to record, I never would, so I just made myself do it, and now I have a product that I’m really proud of.

Does it come easy for you to write songs?

Yes and no. Sometimes I will sit down at the piano and just begin to sing, and the melody and lyrics will magically appear and the flow will keep going until the song is finished all in the one evening. Other times, I will hear a little riff that gets stuck in my head, and I will write something off the base of that, but won’t finish the song for months – or years ! I am quite shy in the early days of each song, and really only operate best when I am home alone.

How would you describe your music to someone not familiar with it?

I would describe it as a mix of jazz and pop, pretty easy to listen to filled with lots of lyrics to explore.

What have you learned about yourself through making this album, that you would have not found out otherwise?

I’ve learnt that I feel things pretty deeply but won’t really be aware of those feelings until all of a sudden I’ve written a song and kind of purged whatever it was that that I was feeling, usually sadness at something that I have experienced or more often than not, a friend’s experience. Recording the album made me realise that I do have things to say, and that I would like to be listened to.

Are you playing any covers at the album launch?

No I think we are going to do all originals! The album is eight tracks long, so there is a little wiggle room for a tune or two, so we will do some songs that didn’t make it to the album.

If you could get any artist do a cover of any of your songs, who would that be?

Becca Stevens, because she would do some incredible guitar/string/crazy time-feel thing to it.

What does it mean to you to launch Archie as part of the Women’s International Jazz Festival?

It feels special to have the support of the MWIJF behind the launch, as they have championed some incredible artists in the past, and are really encouraging of female/non-binary artists who are just starting out. The festival this year has a really great balance of new lesser known artists and more established artists that have been in the scene a little longer. I think it’s great that they program with that in mind.

What has your experience as a woman in jazz been?

My experience has been pretty cruisy, as it is not ‘unusual’ to be a female singer instead of say, a female trombonist. Not that women playing instruments is or ever has been unusual, but it has gone unappreciated by a large percentage of the population for a long time. I think it is slowly changing and the world is starting to recognise females for who they are, and put simply, they are brilliant people.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

Well, as a singing teacher at a primary school, there has been a lot of Jingle Bells going around this week. I’m going to have to say anything Christmas related because to me those songs represent school holidays, aka, day-time naps. Oh yeah!

Update [29/3]: ‘NASA’ by Ariana Grande. Because it makes me dance.

Harriett Allcroft launches Archie at the Jazz Lab on Saturday 8 December, as part of the Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival

UPDATE: Harriett Allcroft is performingat the Jazz Lab on Saturday 30 March