Arts & culture,

Creative Quarantine

Tim Baker | July 2, 2020

Gold Coast electronic musician Jamie Lee Wilson used her return from LA, enforced quarantine and HOTA’s Rage Against the Virus grant to record a new album in isolation

As countries started closing their borders, supermarket shelves were stripped bare, and with all future gigs cancelled, LA-based Gold Coast musician Jamie Lee Wilson came to a sobering realisation. It was time to leave behind her blossoming career in the US and return home.

But Jamie, widely known by her stage name JVMIE, used the unscheduled travel and two-weeks of enforced hotel quarantine productively, with a little help from HOTA’s Rage Against the Virus grants and an unlikely, long-distance collaboration.

JVMIE had been in LA for five years, fulfilling her dream of making it in the US, with a number two hit on the Billboard charts, collaborations with Grammy-Award-winning DJs, and support gigs for the likes of Kelly Rowland, Salt-n-Peppa and David Guetta. Since landing in LA, as another young performer with stars in her eyes, she’s released her music with Universal and Spinnin’ Records, topped the Billboard club charts, the iTunes dance charts, the Aria club charts and performed in Australia, the US, Japan, Canada, Russia, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Jamaica. So, the decision for her and her husband to leave their LA apartment and careers behind was a tough one.

“I really didn’t think that would be necessary but then things just started to get really crazy over there. All the gyms and the restaurants closed, the shops closed, there were queues out the supermarkets, there was no food on the shelves,” says Jamie. “Then I heard they were closing the borders, and so we just had to book a flight and make the decision, which was really tough because we’ve got an apartment there and a house full of stuff and you’ve just got to go, okay, let’s just go.”

In the midst of packing up their lives and re-locating, they got the news that they would have to quarantine in a hotel room for two weeks upon arrival in Australia. As Jamie was preparing to fly home, she happened to read the We Are Gold Coast email newsletter and found out about HOTA’s Rage Against the Virus grants. HOTA had quickly rolled out funding for 50, $1000 grants in response to the corona virus for Gold Coast artists to undertake a new project and Jamie leapt at the opportunity.

“The application was simple and then when I spoke to Ashleigh (Wheeler, HOTA producer) on the phone, the way they put the grants together it was all about encouraging people to just be artistic. It was so encouraging and then as a result all the projects have been so unique,” says Jamie.

“I quickly applied and thought, what if I did an album in hotel quarantine? That would be awesome. I didn’t think much about it and then when I got the email (saying she’d been successful) it was a lifesaver,” says Jamie. “Because it was such a stressful time and I had to up and leave all this stuff that was happening, I found out about the grant and it just gave me focus and it’s been my whole focus since being back in Australia.”

Milk bath anyone? New music video for In The Deep End @iamjvmie
@iamjvmie collaborating remotely with film composer @lionelcohenmusic

Jamie had been talking to LA-based composer Lionel Cohen about collaborating prior to the pandemic and the pair decided they could make it work remotely, and remarkably they wrote and recorded most of the album while Jamie was in quarantine at the Rydges Hotel in Brisbane. A prolific Los Angeles-based New Yorker, Lionel has produced countless indie artists, scored several theatrically released films, and has commercially released almost 200 albums of original music.

The whole experience of abruptly re-locating and the enforced quarantine was deeply unsettling but having witnessed firsthand the devastation the corona virus was causing in LA, Jamie and her husband took quarantine extremely seriously. “I know someone who died from it, about 10 of my friends have had it,” she says. “It was hard. When we get off the plane after flying for a day or half a day everyone’s in masks and the army were lined up, the most surreal experience ever. You did sort of feel like a criminal. You’re herded onto buses and we get to Rydges in Brisbane and the staff were amazing, really lovely, a beautiful room, all of that was fantastic, but … there’s armed guards in the hall way, you don’t know what you’re eating and you can’t leave. It kind of messed with your head.”

Fortunately, music, the support from HOTA and the long-distance collaboration offered salvation. “Lionel and I had met a couple of times, we first met at a film screening, we’re both part of the society of composers and lyricists, this amazing organisation in LA that works with music and film and TV,” says Jamie. “It wasn’t until this project came about that we actually started collaborating, but we weren’t able to collaborate in person. It was weird because we had to find our chemistry online.”

It was an unusual process for the first-time collaborators, ping-ponging tracks in progress back and forth online. “He was sending me electronic tracks and he’d send me a folder of things … Anything that piqued my interest, I’d go okay, I’ve got an idea for that. I’d send him a demo and he’d go ‘Great’, or ‘I’m not feeling that.’”

With a simple USB microphone, Jamie set up a home studio in her hotel room and the collaboration proved remarkably prolific. “We had this amazing chemistry which I really wasn’t expecting,” says Jamie. “You’re confined to this one space so it was hard. The writing process can either be inspired by that difficulty or it can really stifle creativity – but we were really prolific and really bouncing ideas backwards and forwards. It was like a cathartic experience, I was able to channel all my feelings through the music.”

The unusual circumstances of their collaboration resulted in music quite unlike the energetic dance tracks JVMIE is best known for. “The whole project is different to music I’ve done in the past … It’s a lot more down tempo, a lot more chilled out. It was inspired by the times, definitely. The song we just released, Follow You Down, was literally about the conversation I had with my husband, where he was like, ‘We’ve got to go’,and I was like, ‘I don’t want to go’, but I said, ‘I’ll follow you wherever you think is right.’ But we didn’t want to create a corona virus album. We wanted it to be something people could hear years down the track and still enjoy. We didn’t get the entire album done in the two weeks but all of it was started there.”

When it came time to produce a music video for the first single, In The Deep End, Jamie had to be similarly resourceful, recording the video singing in a bath of milk, intercut with mesmerising kaleidoscope-like imagery. The result is a dreamy visual journey that suits her ambient electronic sound perfectly on a minimal budget.

With her LA-based career on hold, and even during the pandemic lockdown, Jamie’s been struck by how much the Gold Coast music scene has evolved since she’s been away. “The music scene has greatly, vastly improved since I grew up here. It’s quite amazing. There’s more venues, there’s more opportunities. The Gold Coast Music awards, I watched them this year and the artists that were chosen … it’s world class. It’s definitely changed in a really good way.”

Jamie has come a long way since she was a young dance and singing student on the Gold Coast whose greatest ambition was to get her photo featured on her singing teacher’s “special wall”. “I was born and bred on the Coast. I didn’t grow up in a musical household, but I had a very supportive family. From the time I was a little girl I knew I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be a singer and a dancer, but I was a terrible dancer,” she says.

She went on to study jazz at the Brisbane Conservatorium, which hot-housed her emerging singing and song-writing talents. “I was there with Katie Noonan and Kate Miller-Heidke so it was quite an amazing group of people who were there. It was incredible. Being in an environment like that where you’re surrounded by people making music every day is inspiring.”

When an LA-based DJ played one of her tracks and then invited her on his radio show for an interview, she decided the US was calling her. She was already heading to an electronic music festival in Miami and decided to fly to LA to seek her fortune, like so many others.

“It’s such a great city full of people who want to do artistic things. It’s a real city for hustlers so not for the feint of heart. It’s really all about networking and finding your group of people,” she says.

While she’s delighted to be back home, even in such unusual circumstances, Jamie says she will eventually return to LA to pursue her dreams. “My apartment’s still there, my stuff is still there, so I have to go back at some stage,” she says.

But she remains a proud Gold Coaster and her new music pays tribute to the Australian spirit she has witnessed through the recent crises of the devastating bushfires and the corona virus. “Day by day there was increasingly depressing news. I didn’t know what to believe or whether to stay or go. It’s in times like these that being so far away from family is very isolating,” she says. “Watching the world fall apart has been very surreal but there seems to be a silver lining of people re-connecting, reaching out to each other for support. I was especially proud to be Australian during this time. I don’t think things will ever go back to normal, but hopefully we can come out of this with a new, improved normal.”

You can hear Jamie’s music on Spotify.

Or you can watch the video for In The Deep End here.