Junior Spirit: An Interview With Cosima Jaala
Pam recently caught up with Cosima Jaala, powerhouse and front-woman of Melbourne three piece Jaala. Accompanied by Bella Nicholls and Josh Chan from local neo-soul band Demon Days, the four of them tucked into the green room of The Bird ahead of her Perth show to chat Cosima's beginnings in music and her newfound confidence in vulnerability.
Interview by Pamela Boland and Bella Nicholls. Photography and collages by Pamela Boland.
I was first introduced to Jaala by Bella in fact, when baby Demon Days - fresh faced and new on the scene - covered Jaala's Salt Shaker a few years ago at one of their first gigs. Afterwards, I went home and listened to the original and proceeded to fall in love with the whole Hard Hold album, Jaala's incredible 2015 debut. The album is filled with sharp gasps and a child-like energy backed up by this huge voice and presence that immediately enchanted me.
Flash forward a few years and Jaala have just released their second album Joonya Spirit (it's fantastic) and Bella and Josh of Demon Days sit across from me on the 950 bus as we make our way to The Bird, on a chilly Friday night, to chat with Cosima.
Sitting cross-legged on the pea green velvet couch with a cup of tea in hand, Cosima tells us about her later start in music, “I didn’t think I could, nor did I have the training. I thought it was for the boys or something." she explains, "but I remember getting into Hole and PJ Harvey, being aware there were women there. I’ve been re-listening to Celebrity Skin by Hole, and still know all the words.”
Learning the flute (and hating it) in her school band, was about as much as Cosima knew before starting her first punk band at 21 and picking up a guitar, “I sort of always had one lying around, but I could never do it very well. My friend started singing and I said let’s start a band, and so I sort just half played, half smashed the guitar.”
Mangelwurzel and Velcro Lobster are both previous bands of Cosima’s that are starkly different from her present work with Jaala. Explaining that her time in each has been a catalyst for what’s she's creating now, but this time around it feels different, the subject matter is more personal, “It’s funny going from riot grrl punk to whatever this is” she laughs, “Slower and more stripped back. Something that I think I’m exploring a bit now is being a bit more reductionist, taking things out as opposed to adding sections.” Writing more about “feeeeeeeelings”, she says all drawn out and with a bit of a grimace, but sincere none the less, “I spent so much time being the crazy Mangelwurzel, and that is a part of me, but I wanted to connect, I wanted to be myself and find out who that is, you will see just how soft I’m getting tonight” she laughs.
There is strength in Cosima's vulnerability, she’s clearly uncomfortable and confident in her openness and in growing, and hopes that in turn, she will help others to mend. “I haven’t really written a story song about someone else’s life, but it [Jaala] is for other people and music helps other people, it is healing. The biggest most healing force in my life is other people’s music.”
When asking Cosima which femme or non-binary artists have impacted her own work the most, she carefully pauses before lovingly responding, “Probably my friend Nai, (Nai Palm of Hiatus Kaiyote) she took me on tour with her last year, and that was pretty life-changing. How much effort goes into it, how much she gives to the audience, that’s pretty inspiring. It can be easy to say ‘whatever’ or ‘I don’t want to’ but you do it and good things will come out of it if you put yourself on the line a bit.”
The four of us all instantly gush over their friendship and how lovely those words are and begin to compare times we’ve seem Nai Palm perform, tossing up ‘incredible’, ‘magic’, ‘she doesn’t seem real’ all as meagre testaments to her wonder, when Cosi says with palpable fondness, “she’s like a thousand-year-old bat, she’s not really a person.”
As we leave the green room and Cosima takes to the stage, we're treated to a solo performance, as opposed to the usual Jaala full band. Watching her perform that night, with the softness that she had explained. Her voice stretched and buttery, salty and sweet like peanut brittle, wrapping the audience up in her performance, letting us see something a bit more private with the words she sang. There was nowhere for her to hide and she wasn’t trying to, she was sharing secrets and we hung off of every soothing sound, every word, like kids in a library listening to stories. Enigmatic, enchanting and honest.