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Soundtrack to a 20-something’s life

28 March 2022
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Singer-songwriter Jaz Paterson sitting on a fence railing

Jaz Paterson has been writing and performing songs for half her life, but the material in her Ache EP and upcoming tour reflects on her early twenties. Anna Wallace finds out how it's all going for the Geraldine-born, Christchurch-based artist.

What are you up to right now?

I’m doing some admin for the tour coming up. We’ve shuffled the set list around and it’s going to be an intimate few gigs – I can’t wait! I’ve been performing in bars around Christchurch, so I knew we could make the gigs work. We did a small, seated one recently at Wunderbar and there was so much energy in the room.

I also busk at Riverside Market – I love singing at markets as it’s good fun watching kids dancing and people listening over a coffee. I find it really relaxing.

You’ve been songwriting for a while – how long exactly? How has this skill evolved?

I started when I was 12 or 13 – the songs were really bad; I’d love to find some of them! I’m 26 now so that’s half my life I’ve been doing this. I was really into Taylor Swift and Brooke Fraser at the time, so they were big inspirations for me when I starting playing guitar and writing my own songs.

As a teen living in Geraldine, I played bars and shows, entered songwriting competitions, and when I was 16 or 17 I released an EP. My sound was quite folky, acoustic pop.

I’ve definitely evolved as an artist; I found it helped when I stopped trying to be clever and looking for better phrasing all the time, it’s been really important to start writing very honestly about what I was going through.

I’m becoming more comfortable with uncomfortable topics. It may not be for everyone but I’d rather write about something I care about, especially if I’m going to play these songs over and over and they’re going to live on Spotify forever!

You talk about what songs like ‘Ache’ and ‘Body’ are about – failed relationships, sexual assault – do you think people can relate to one’s early twenties being a tough time, a period of growth?

In my early twenties I dated a guy who was heavily involved in church and I was too. We were actually going to get married. I ended up studying counselling and when the relationship ended, I finished my degree and worked as a counsellor. I wrote ‘Ache’ about the break up.

Body’ was the hardest for me to write. It spilled over after a few years of micro situations and then a few bigger things happened in my early twenties where I thought – that’s not ok, it’s my body. I learnt that it’s ok to say how I’m feeling. It scares me how much this mirrors other women’s experiences with sexual assault.

In your late teens and early twenties, you’re chucked into the world with whatever background you have. You’re trying to figure out who you want to be, what values you have, what your world view is, where religion fits in...

Hear Jaz talk about the meaning behind her songs.

You’ve been involved with Sole Academy, what role has that had in developing you as an artist?

jaz paterson with building in background

A few years ago I realised that I missed songwriting and singing. I figure at this point in my life – with no kids or partner – I can afford to take risks, eat 2-minute noodles, hustle a bit.

I was keen to move away from my teen stuff and performing with a guitar, to become livelier and more electronic. So I sent Sacha [Vee, Sole Academy founder]  a demo in 2019. She emailed me back saying that she believed in my music. Just like that. Having someone believe in me has meant so much – Sacha is the best.

Sole Academy has given me technical and practical help, I’ve done loads of their courses (singing, songwriting, production, the business side of things) but it has also given me a community. In my song 'Lonely' I wrote about how isolating it can be as an artist sometimes.

I met Will McGillivray [Nomad] at Sole, he teaches a few classes there. When I was a baby girl working with producers two to three times my age it was a different dynamic. Now, Will’s younger than me! I met with a few producers this time around before going with Will to produce my EP. We wrote a few songs together – he’s crazy talented and a very respectful collaborator.

What’s been the response to your debut EP?

It’s been so encouraging to get great critical feedback – on the likes of Sniffers and NZ Musician.

The thing that makes my day though is when people message me to say that they’re just doing a work out listening to 'LA' or one of my songs is on their road trip playlist. Music was such a soundtrack to my life – you have an album that helps you through a breakup or songs that you remember moving house to. That’s the dream for me – to be a part of other’s lives.

What’s coming up?

I’m looking forward to working with Josh, my band mate. We’ve been collaborating for six months and I’m really lucky, as he runs a set with the Ableton Live. He can take a track like 'Lonely' and get stems from it, re-performing and deconstructing them as much as we want for that electronic pop sound.

It’s exciting to see our set list evolve too. I’ve got a couple of new songs I’ve written and some new covers I’ll perform.

There’s also a new single coming out on April 8, a collaboration that is very different from my usual style – it’s dancefloor drum and base!

Jaz Paterson is playing The ACHE Tour at Darkroom, Christchurch (April 7), Lodge Theatre, Geraldine (April 8), Bark!, Dunedin (9 April).

jaz paterson lying on the ground with shadows falling on her
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