As the 2017 winner of the Grant McLennan Fellowship, Jeremy Neale traveled more than 9,600 miles from Brisbane to Brooklyn to spend summer 2018 in New York City, but — aside from his music work, the requisite tourist stuff and trips to the Trader Joe’s wine shop — he spent most of his time within a half-mile radius of his Airbnb in Bushwick.
“I just get on these formulaic routines,” he explains. “My immediate instinct is to make myself at home.”
Fortunately his routine involved some pretty dreamy spots. So a week after we met in a Soho loft during a Sofar Sounds show — at which point I’d streamed his most recent record, Getting the Team Back Together, approximately 4,000 times — I headed out on a sweaty August afternoon to meet Jeremy at Dweebs, where we discussed songwriting, Billy Joel and getting your friendly fix at Trader Joe’s.
And then we abandoned our coffees and moved on to Molasses Books in Bushwick, to booze amongst the books…
Which basically counts as reading, in case you were wondering.
(Note: I sat on this interview for five months, and sadly Jeremy has long since returned to Australia. Vacation Down Under, anyone?)
On the differences between Brisbane and Brooklyn…
Um… the accents?
In general — this is controversial — but not everywhere is as friendly as it is back home, you know? So I go to Trader Joe’s to get my fix. Everyone greets you with a huge smile there. That’s what it’s like back home — everyone greets you with open arms.
On the best part of living in Bushwick…
I just love walking, and it’s a nice place to walk. It’s very noisy and vibrant, too. Back home, it’s extremely quiet. [Here] there are always people honking their horns, yelling things on the street, blaring their music on the corner…
And as someone with tinnitus — you know, ringing in your ears from too much rock ‘n’ roll — it’s a very nice relief to have constant noise actually. I’m lovin’ it.
On the “shame spiral” that his song “Small Talk” is about…
It’s not the physical repercussions of getting drunk; it’s the emotional. “The Dooms” is another name for it. The whole world’s caving in — what are you doing with your life? Why do you keep doing it?
The problem with the shame spiral is it’s solved by drinking again. It’s a beautiful cycle, but it’s also devastating. It’s the same I’ve found over here, except I don’t have my general stressors. Now I get totally jacked on coffee during the day, and naturally, by the evening, I can’t relax. And then I’ll have a drink again…
Every so often, I’ll be like, NO! This is it. No more alcohol, no more coffee. Then… something will get me back in. There’s always a reason. It’s always wine season.
On his (lack of) shameful activities in New York…
I’ve mostly lived a very pleasant life here — my truth, my best life.
Also, I don’t want to be that controversial figure who comes over here on a government fellowship and just ruins it for everybody.
On the songwriting process…
Writing’s been good, but it’s like panning for gold, you know? You do it every day because you gotta support the family, but sometimes in that pan there’s nothing — or there’s something, but it’s not gold. So it’s a lot of just sitting down every day, having a shot, seeing where you’re at, and recording a bunch of phone memos and the chords that the song involves so you don’t forget it. If it’s really good and it still sticks with you the next day, then you might still work on it. If it’s not, it’s in the archives forever and no one’s revisiting it.
On writing in Brooklyn…
What inspires me generally is being stress-free, and that’s what this is. I like the long days, too. The other shame spiral you can get into — and this one doesn’t involve alcohol — is when you have a to-do list to do and you get to the end of the day and you didn’t do anything on it. But here, you have so much more sunlight. It’s a friendlier thing to have on your side. [Ed. Note: Again, this was August.]
The other thing that kind of is inspiring about it is you’re away from home –I did write a couple songs about being homesick. I tried to write a beautiful love song, too. Do you know that song “May I Have This Dance” by Francis and the Lights? I’m super-obsessed with this song, and I was like, that’s so beautiful… I want to write a beautiful song. So there are those points as well, when you’re taking the time to actually listen to music and you’re inspired by music, versus the times where you’re listening to music but you’re not engaging with it. It’s been nice to actually take things in.
It’s crazy! For background, Amy Shark — has she made it over here? She’s one of the biggest people back home in Australian music. She had gotten Pop Song of the Year, and I got Rock Song of the Year, and out of the categories, they picked an overall Song of the Year. And it was unheard of that I got Song of the Year over this person who’s just crushing music.
On shows he saw while in New York…
I’ve been guilty of seeing just really big artists when I’m here. I got to see Janet Jackson, I saw Billy Joel, I saw SZA…
Like, Billy’s never coming to Australia. And he brought out Bruce Springsteen in the middle of the concert, as well. It was crazy — what tricks you got there, Billy?
On Christmas ..I’ve written a lot of Christmas songs. It’s important. Christmas is a great time of year. Our Christmases [in Australia] are sweat fests — all I know about Christmas [in New York] is Home Alone.
Feature image by Ben Curry
+ JEREMY NEALE DOES BK
“I’m a creature of habit, so my first order of business in any new place is to find a cafe where I can feel at home. If you’re here in this town on your own and from a strange land, it can get lonely, but it’s nice to be around other people working independently. Together, alone, y’know? Anyways, I’ve been putting in the hard yards to endear myself to the baristas, but yesterday I knocked over a potted plant so I’m probably starting back at square one. Great place, great vibe. An ideal spot to stare at your to-do list and occasionally cross things off it.”
1434 Dekalb Ave, Brooklyn, (347) 413-5272, dweebsbk.com
Syndicated Bar Theater Kitchen
I was introduced to this place by a friend who took me here during the World Cup but they also show classic movies. Like tonight they’re playing ‘Jurassic Park’ at midnight. By the time you read this I guess it’ll be a different film. The entrance is very unassuming but once you’re inside it’s a whole new world of big screens and even bigger* beers.
*The beers are not bigger than the screens.
40 Bogart St, Brooklyn, (718) 386-3399, syndicatedbk.com
You gotta have a second cafe on rotation cos sometimes you’ll accidentally knock over a plant at Dweebs and have to lay low for a few days. “My secret shame is that I don’t read books, but nobody has to know that, and, as the great Zoolander, once said “Words can only hurt you if you try to read them. Don’t play their game!” But also, great selection of pre-loved books if you do read, friendly staff and they’re also a bar, which is very helpful for all those times when you go too far up caffeine mountain. (Every. Single. Day.”
770 Hart St, Brooklyn, facebook.com/MolassesBooks
Maria Hernandez Park
Maybe you can’t sit and work at Dweebs on this particular day. Maybe it’s sunny and you’ve opted instead for a takeaway cold brew from Molasses Books and you wanna be amongst nature. I get that. I’m a real nature guy. This park has it all. Trees? Check. Music? Sometimes. People skateboarding? 40% of the time. Sunshine? That’s entirely dependent on the weather, but I found an app on my phone that will attempt to let you know if it’s gonna be sunny, cloudy or rainy. DM me for more info.
Knickerbocker Ave & Starr St, Brooklyn, (212) 639-9675, nycgovparks.org/parks/maria-hernandez-park
]This interview has been edited and condensed.]