Austin Stories: Mean Jolene Wraps Up Second LP
A few years back, we here at ATH Records were fortunate enough to help Mean Jolene release Salty, their debut LP (you can listen to it after the jump!). The band went through some personnel changes, but have recently wrapped up their 2nd album. I reached out to Jolie Flink to see if she wanted to share her story about all the work that went into the 2nd album; she shares that story with us below.
Our band underwent a 50% membership change that led to a more experimental and expansive approach to writing songs. Adam Sharp and I have always held down the rhythm section, and our two new guitarists brought in a lot of ideas for lead lines, tone and collaboration. Completing the second album with this rendition of the band was a lot of fun! Then quickly, seemingly out of nowhere, it brought on a lot of distress. My usual bipolar flare up symptoms returned, but I was feeling great! Producing at lightning speed!! Ideas were coming into my head as if I was connected to some kind of divine force!!! I’m an atheist by the way, so that last notion was pretty unusual. We wrote 10 songs over the course of a month or two, and recorded over two weekends — the writing and recording was very fast. But after that, I came to a screeching halt…couldn’t function…I just crashed and entered the most morbid depression of my life. When a person doesn’t treat bipolar properly, and avoids treatment over a long period of time, inevitably they relapse and it makes it harder to treat and recover.
I accessed a lot of pain when writing this album and I think listening to the songs objectively, as an average listener would — contemplating the meaning of the lyrics or album as a whole — made me suddenly feel I was reliving some of my past trauma. I realized that I dug very deep to write the lyrical content of these songs and didn’t allow myself time to process and heal. It kinda felt like a different person wrote the songs, honestly. I thought the very act of writing the song and moving on to the next was enough processing. It definitely wasn’t, and it unearthed past hurt. On top of that, I was in an untreated bipolar whirlwind; I typically experience extreme social withdrawal, anhedonia, paranoia and an atrocious sense of self worth. I masked my feelings with substances and just kept pushing myself to keep at it. Listening to the songs during the mixing process was making me crazy – I mean, this is normal. But on top of that, I am at a genetic, psychological and emotional disadvantage. There was this entirely other world going on inside of me. So, the story goes when one part of your life falls apart, everything follows suit. I was still super high-functioning, though. I helped plan and execute a really successful west coast tour; I got to play with some of my dream acts; I pushed through it and held it together, thankfully.
We’ve come a really long way since the first album. I was compelled to make a perfect song each time I sat down to write. This made production/recording/mixing in the studio more challenging because I had a crystal clear image of how I wanted them to turn out, but they could never be that ideal. I was obsessed with finishing the songs and also avoidant of them because I was afraid of the self-imposed and impossible standards I set for them. I almost scrapped everything because I was so sick that I couldn’t find perspective; everything was bad and nothing was good. I didnt believe in myself or my voice or the way the songs were executed. Im so glad I snapped out of it because a lot of time, effort and talent was put into this and Im proud of the result. These songs as more mature, ambitious and thoughtful than previous efforts. All this to say, the inner monster of mental illness can really fuck shit up. The band and the engineers (Daniel McNeill and Evan Kleinecke) did a great job bringing these songs to life. Ray would lay down multiple guitar tracks and overdubs in one take; Ali would improvise back-up-vocals on the spot; I wrote Wurlitzer and synth lines the night before recording, and Brendan Bond just happened to be in the studio that day and contributed to vocal harmonies. Adam was there the entire time for moral support, even though he finished tracking all the drums on day 1. A lot of creativity and dedication was put into this and I forced myself to get over my issues in order to honor that. The second album, Try Harder, turned out exactly as it should have, given all variables.
The album sonically sounds like Nikki and the Corvettes meets the Breeders. While I honestly could name about 100 bands that I am influenced by, one that continues to deliver and hold up for me is The Breeders. Kim Deal is basically my hero. I learned to sing from her voice and learned to write songs like her, but for some reason this really came out in the second album. I started singing pretty low in my register, but then I covered some Shonen Knife songs (it earned us a slot opening for them dream come true!) and realized I could sing much higher and push my range to make things more interesting. It cut through, which was also great because we are loud as hell. With our band becoming more experimental, I’ve learned to affect my voice more and its just become ingrained in this growing experience. This has translated into me becoming much more comfortable with my voice, especially during live performances. It’s a good feeling just accepting my limitations and embracing the nuances of my voice, thats what makes it unique.
Performing is an entirely different beast. It brings me pure joy and I am astounded that I have come this far considering I am an extreme introvert. It allows me to express a side of myself I never knew was there. That’s kinda the joke behind the band name. It’s similar to my name, but not, and I adopt a persona thats very different from my own personality, yet aligned with my goals and ideals. Mean Jolene started with empowered femininity and devil-may-care attitudes but theres always been a juxtaposition between the cringingly personal and vulnerable lyrics to the larger than life persona on stage singing them and backed by upbeat and energetic music. The new songs from Try Harder really push this, as the songs have become even more personal, and the stage persona has developed even further into an unrecognizable megalomaniac influenced by self-love and self-acceptance. My bandmates, past and present, have always been so supportive and dedicated. I couldn’t do this without them; The present lineup especially (Adam Sharp, Ali Ditto, Steven Garcia and Maud Morgan) makes me feel so uplifted and supported. The transition from me playing bass to just becoming the vocalist was a way to give up a bit of control, lean on my friends a little more and really develop my voice, songwriting and performance. Ray was the one who suggested it when he left the band for California *blows kiss to the sky*. So thats where the trajectory of the band is going. I want even more members, I want the band to be huge and sound even more full!
The albums release date is still TBA, but will be released sometime this summer. I couldn’t be more excited! The horrors of the last year are over and I’m just looking forward, stoked to reap the rewards of all the literal blood, sweat and tears put into this project. I’m resolved to take my band to tour Europe this year and I don’t know how or when, but it’s gonna happen. 2019 is looking great!