“In my band you’ve got Liam Halliwell,” begins Jade Imagine’s Jade McInally, patiently explaining her band’s dynamics amid the early evening hubbub of the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. She gives a laugh that you sense is borne out of disbelief as she recalls how “one day we counted thirteen bands that he plays in and so every day he’s playing and he’s a razor-sharp bass player. It’s the same with [drummer] Jen Sholakis who plays with four bands.”

Musical polygamy has long been a part of Melbourne’s musical culture, where gigs across the city – and even on one solitary bill – can act as a complex, spidery family tree of cross-pollination. As another one of the city’s project-hoppers due to her work for bands Jess Ribeiro and Teeth & Tongue, McInally concurs, saying: “I think it’s amazing that you can go out any night of the week and see the same person play two shows in a row with different bands. I’m so lucky to know so many people and bands who feel so inspired to play and to have that generosity of their time. It’s kind of contagious.”

For her though, it would come at something of a price. “I was becoming really unhappy and I didn’t know why, even though I had heaps of musical things going on,” she shares. “I realised I wasn’t creating anything of my own – the other bands were more that I was playing a role.” This lead to a period of soul-searching and dissection of her musical existence as as a participant versus that of a creator – and the eventual forming of Jade Imagine. “It was really awesome and we’re all still friends and keep in touch and I still play for Jess Ribeiro,” she’s quick to say of her her earlier endeavours. “But there was definitely an underlying need to create and it was a fluke that I found some people who wanted to play with me. It felt right and it felt like something that I needed to do just to be happy. Being a songwriter or a leader of a band can be pretty stressful when you’re playing live, but you also get to fully realise the things that appear in your mind.”

While people involved in multiple projects at once can sometimes struggle to compartmentalise ideas and to acknowledge which of their ideas are best suited to a particular band, it’s never been an issue for McInally, who says with a knowing laugh that “not to sound wanky or anything but I think there’s limitless ideas in the world and I’ve never had any issues when working with, say, Jess Ribeiro and thinking ‘I’m going to keep that idea to myself’ or anything like that.” Speaking with the experience gained from years playing with other bands, she adds: “I guess every band I’ve played with has been a different style so it’s maybe been easier to know what fits where and things like that.”

While many use the experience of making an EP as an exercise in developing a stylistic vision -“I admire bands that can come out with a really stylistically succinct idea for an EP” say McInally – in her view her debut one, What The Fuck Was I Thinking, has proved to be the total opposite. “It was a struggle at first. I felt initially like I needed to make a really cohesive EP that sounded like it was recorded in one space… [but] I feel like the songs I’ve been writing have come over however many years,” she explains, “and I feel like there have been ideas that have come together in the years leading up to this release so I feel that it’s a bit all over the place. But I’m into that idea at the moment – I’m at peace with the idea that the songs that I wrote are all over the shop. But I think it’s OK for them all to be what they are as long as the song is true to itself.”

Though for all of McInally’s picture-painting of a disparate, incohesive record, it’s bound not only by its sound – a burst of blissfully hazy, melodic pop – but also by an inescapable sense of yearning that runs throughout. On opener ‘Stay Awake’ she sings about how “I kind of miss the dreamscapes, the desert sands” while on ‘Walkin’ Around’ she admits that “sometimes I daydream about leaving this place”. A lot of the record’s content, she says, comes from her own move from the coastal environment of her upbringing to a more urban landscape. “ I grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland,” she recounts, “and was surrounded by all these coastal vibes and for some reason ever since I’ve moved to Melbourne…I’m not complaining but I’ve always seemed to write songs about wanting to leave the city! It wasn’t an intentional thing to write songs about missing surfing or whatever but there might be a theme running through it somewhere about the coast and the city.”

The way the EP hangs together sonically is made all the more impressive by the fact that it features two different producers over its duration – on hand the experienced Tim Harvey and on the other, making his production debut, Dave Mudie, who is best known as Courtney Barnett’s drummer. While McInally describes working with Harvey as a “technical and intellectual way of working and focused on getting the right sounds”, working with Mudie was more a saga where “at 4am he’d send me a version of the song he’d recorded drums over and he’d be ‘hey buddy! What do you reckon about this?’ It was a very organic way of working, and naïve in the sense that it was based more on feel and instinct”. But if having a rookie producer lined up alongside a project still in its infancy on paper at least looks like a folly, then McInally is quick to attest that in reality she viewed it as a boon as the two grew together. “Dave was really integral,” she says, “because he was super-positive and enthusiastic – he’s just got this really contagious personality.” She pauses, before swiftly adding “that’s not to say anything bad about the recordings. I still think they’ve got merit and I’m not dissing Dave’s recording abilities!”

Mudie’s input is just another signifier of the degree to which McInally’s been welcomed into the ever-growing Milk! Records roster, who are set to release What The Fuck Was I Thinking as the opening salvo of what is set to be the label’s biggest year yet. The latest signing – as with almost anyone connected with the label – is full of praise for Milk! and its ethos as she describes how the whole experience is “super exciting, they’ve always been really positive and supportive. I’d started to think about releasing the EP myself and months later I got an email from Jen [Cloher] and Courtney [Barnett] telling me how much they loved it and asking if they could put it out. It’s really exciting to be a part of that label, especially given the calibre of artists on it. It’s nice, it feels like a family – a great little crew.”

She’s arguably joined at the best possible time with the label’s following constantly growing on the back of her new label boss’ success, something she’s all too aware of. She attests that “Courtney is great because her music was just so well-received and it’s helped a lot of bands in Melbourne and her friends and those associated with that band and it’s almost lifted the entire Melbourne profile in a way, which has been super-positive”. Not only will the Jade Imagine EP mark the label’s first 2017 release, but McInally & Co also feature on the first single from Milk!’s new singles club, created in partnership with Bedroom Suck and featuring 12 bands over six 7” singles released over three months. While bespoke, exclusive cuts from Barnett and Blank Realm have made the headlines, there’s also ten lesser-known acts carefully curated by the two labels (including Mudie, making his debut under his new LA Mood project), and McInally hopes it’s a plan that will see some of those smaller bands finding a new fan base. “It’s a really clever idea for Milk! and Bedroom Suck to be releasing a whole heap of artists,” she says, offering a wry smile as she adds “and as a subscription so you have to buy all of them! It’s kind of cheeky and kind of amazing all at once. Hopefully it will mean that a lot of the smaller bands – like mine – will be heard.”

With everything that’s happened already this year, it’s perhaps unsurprising to learn that McInally is miles ahead of her 2017 gameplan as she effervesces how “my hope at the start of the year was that I could release something so I’m already ahead on that one! I’ve also got an incredible record label and one that I love deeply. Anything from here on in is amazing!” With rough plans of a US jaunt later this year – mainly for writing, she says, though she’s not prepared to write off playing some dates too – Jade Imagine doesn’t look like a project set to stand still any time soon, McInally clearly revelling in the new creative outlet with her in creative control. More immediately, she hopes her new EP is as resonant to the listener as the place from here it’s written for. “When I write the songs I have an internal landscape,” she says, “so when other people listen to them I hope they get that too.”

“I hope they get to hang out there and think it’s a nice place!”

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