As often stated, there are two sides to any given story. The stories in this case, are those beautifully written and told by rising singer/songwriter Holly Rankin, or Jack River as you may know her, who today reveals a stunning collection of thirteen well-crafted songs that make up Sugar Mountain, a debut album that on the surface glows with radiant pop highs and spacey riffs, only to reveal the true layer of dirt, grit and guts that lie underneath its perceptive sugary coating. Stories imbued with as much sorrow and darkness as love and desire and an overall feeling of letting go a little too soon…
“Sugar Mountain is this big, bright and beautiful thing that I’ve created to move through quite a dark youth,” Rankin explained. “When I first heard Neil Young’s song [of the same name] it really hit an emotional cog within me, as an ode to youth and the loss of innocence. Standing at the end, it feels like I’m leaving my youth all too soon, so this record is really a souvenir of my late teens and early twenties. I’ve always liked the idea of there being this sugary mountain, but underneath that sugary coating, it’s really just a mountain full of dirt and grit.”
Beginning songwriting as a teenager, Rankin confessed that she started out writing ‘stripped back, folk-rock songs.’ “Throughout the process of creating this album I’ve learnt about the power of production through trial and error, which I guess you can hear because it’s a little dorky,” she added with a laugh. “It’s not all together perfect as an album, there’s polished songs, stripped back numbers and even little bits and pieces of demos. Looking at a song like Infinity, there’s something to me that feels very young and imperfect about that track because I haven’t touched it in four years, but then again that’s the beauty of the journey you go on throughout the course of the record.”
“In the beginning it was more about the feeling the songs gave you, but now for me it’s about making them perfect in their own little way, through that production process. This record is as much about me trying to figure out how to combine those two elements into one, as it is going on this incredible journey with strangers as they join me in fumbling my way through this world!”
In the days leading up to the release of Jack River’s debut album, Rankin admit she didn’t quite know how to feel. “It’s my first album and I’ve waited so long for this moment, I just don’t know how to feel, or even what you’re meant to feel!” she chuckled. “I guess it’s like giving birth in some way, you just don’t know what to expect, but you’re emotional, excited and scared all at once. The album is very personal to me and I’ve never told some parts of these stories before so it’s definitely scary, but it’s also a beautiful process to be able to tell these stories and allow myself to heal and I really hope that flows through into helping others.”
“There are some sibling songs to the bigger singles,” she announced. “With singles you rarely get to spend the extra time working on lyrics and production, so it has been amazing to put some of these slower songs onto the record, to show another side of how I express myself throughout my writing, particularly with tracks such as Her Smile and Stardust and Rust.”
“Confess was, I think, the last song that I wrote for the album and I was actually going to keep it for the next record because it initially felt like it belonged in a different place. Sugar Mountain as an album is all about personal strengths and being able to find and navigate those strengths, so now looking at it, I’m very happy that Confess is on the album because it shows where I am going to go next. Yes, I’ve become stronger after experiencing some hard times, but now I need to confess that I still want somebody to love, and that’s just part of my next journey. I got to go hard on the production for this one too and make it almost like a Teenage Dirtbag ode to my 90s youth, which was a lot of fun. I was really craving that sugary-pop sound at the time, so taking it to a whole other level was very comforting.”
“It took me a really long time to write Constellation Ball for some reason,” Rankin added, after acknowledging the track as one of her favourites. “As a writer it is really beautiful when your vision finally comes together after so long, this one taking three years. There are so many songs about love, which annoys me, because there’s so many other things that I also care about, so this track is really a love song to the planet and I hope that people hear that and take something from it.”
“My songwriting process is always changing. I’ve loved writing things down since I was very little, so I carry around a diary with me and write something in it everyday, but currently I’m learning to let songs come when they need to. My policy is not to write them until they prove themselves, because I have heard of some songwriters pushing themselves to write and that just freaks me out. I don’t understand the idea of wringing songs out of nothing, but I do believe in giving them time to form so that way when I do go to write them they’ve had more time to evolve.”
Outside of her music as Jack River, Holly Rankin simply cannot sit still, pouring any of her remaining time into projects involving politics, equality and environment. As well as being the leading lady responsible for Grow Your Own Festival, a community enriching festival in her hometown of Forster highlighting the music, arts and agriculture areas, she also heads Electric Lady, a platform that aims to amplify the strength of women in music.
“Since I was young, my main passion has been conservation and environmental matters. I think that when the Women’s Marches happened in 2016 I was really struck and wanted to make something happen within my own community and these festivals were the easiest way that I could think of merging these passions together into the world and industry that I know and work in. It has been fun trying to put those social patterns into music and it’s going to be an ongoing exploration, but I guess organising all of the details for these festivals isn’t too dissimilar from the way I go about making an album.”
Sugar Mountain is out NOW via IOHYOU – Listen via Spotify & Apple Music.