Entertainment editor John Turnbull talks to musical comedienne Jenny Talia about swearing, parental responsibility and the legacy of her father Kevin Bloody Wilson. Mild course language warning for those of a sensitive disposition.
(WARNING: This interview contains strong language that may offend some readers.)
INDEPENDENT AUSTRALIA: Thanks very much for your time today, Jenny.
You’ve just released you’re fifth album FOCUS; can you tell me where the title comes from? It sounds a bit like a motivational record…
JENNY TALIA: FOCUS is a word I’ve used for a while — it’s an acronym for Fuck Off Cause You’re Stupid.
I wanted to put it into some kind of singalong, you know. It’s a fun term for me to use when someone is being an idiot; I think you need to focus. Most of the time they’ll just sort of nod and say thank you …
I find it’s a good song to sing along to when you’re stuck in traffic on the way to work, like stress relief.
IA: You’ve just finished a tour of the UK; how do British audiences compare to Australians?
JT: Oh, it went great. The Poms get us, you know? We’re very similar as a culture.
I don’t really change my show based on where I’m playing, but it’s funny because I play a lot of theatres over there and people really get dressed up. Once I give them a couple of beers we’re all on the same page.
By comparison, Australian audiences can be more honest, if that’s the right word. They’ll let you know if they don’t think something is funny.
When I’m writing new material I always like to test it on an Aussie crowd, because I know if I get them rolling in the aisles it’s worth including on the album.
IA: You live in Los Angeles with your family; why did you decide to move to the U.S.?
JT: I moved to Nashville fifteen years ago, because I wanted to be a country singer. I worked on my song writing and did gigs around town for a few years to pay the rent.
When people heard my accent a lot of them used to ask me to play an Australian song, and the only Australian songs that I knew were Kevin Bloody Wilson songs! So I’d change the words around a bit so it made sense from a girl’s point of view and it literally took on a life of its own.
In a matter of weeks, I was getting calls from people wanting to book that Australian girl who sings those funny songs. It was kinda cool, because it was completely unplanned, but after a while I decided I had to sit down and see if I could write a whole album of original comedy songs.
That was ten years and five albums ago.
IA: Have you done much touring with your father?
JT: My first tour was with him, a 72-date tour across Europe.
I had to convince him to let me come, because he thought I was still a country singer. I told him that I’d been playing his songs and writing my own and he let me come along on the understanding that if his audience didn’t think I was funny they would eat me alive.
Over that three month tour period, my comedy album (Jenny Talia from Australia) outsold all of my country albums put together, so that sent my life down a completely different path than I expected.
I think when you don’t plan something and it just happens for you, that’s always exciting.
IA: Is Kevin Bloody Wilson well known in America?
JT: I wouldn’t say that’s he’s a household name, but he’s certainly got an audience.
A few years ago, I was in Chicago with him and I was trying to explain social media to him. I was trying to explain Facebook and I think I might have explained to him too well because he’s constantly getting kicked off, but he’s got about half a million followers.
To show him how powerful social media could be, I booked him a show down town and just spread the word via Facebook and the gig sold out. In a crowd of 800 people, there were probably only about 20 Australians, so he’s definitely got a dedicated following around the world.
IA: Do you get any backlash for the subject matter you cover in your songs?
JT: Not really. I get asked about it a lot, but if you’re at my show and you’d paid for a ticket then you know what you’re getting. If you’re easily offended, part of a the fun police or into political correctness, you’re not coming to my show.
I did an interview years ago with BBC radio in London, on a panel of women for some reason or other. As soon as we went on air this one woman started to go at me, accusing me of being filthy with my dick jokes and masturbation stories. She told me that I had set the women’s liberation movement back fifty years, and I just said "thanks". Because I could give a shit, you know?
I know what I’ve done and she was obviously just there to push an agenda. I’m not out there to change people’s minds. She wasn’t going to change me, I wasn’t going to change her. We were never going to be mates. I learnt a long time ago that you can’t keep everybody happy.
IA: Did you listen to your father’s music when you were growing up?
JT: No, I wasn’t allowed.
I have an older brother who is also a musician and as a teenager he used to play on Dad’s albums. I would sing the backing vocals without hearing the lead vocal track, so I wouldn’t know what he was singing.
If you listen to a lot of my dad’s early songs, it’s me doing the backing vocals, but I had no idea of the profanity in the front!
I’m the same way with my daughters — they’re not allowed to listen to my stuff. It’s just not appropriate. There is a reason you need to be 18 to come into my show.
IA: What’s your favourite bit of profanity?
JT: It changes from week to week.
At the moment I like knob-jockey. I have a good friend who uses ‘cock juggling thunder cunt’ very well but it’s too much of a mouthful for me! I need something quick that I can get out when I’m mad.
But in my home life I don’t swear, I think I get it all out on stage. If I was a stay-at-home mum, I’m sure my kids would have heard me swear a lot more than they do now.
IA: What do you do to kill time on the road when you’re touring?
JT: I’ve got a blog on my website that keeps me busy and I write a weekly column for a Chicago paper. I use my laptop constantly, whether I’m Skyping with my kids or writing a column or a new song.
I used to read a lot, but it seems every time I sit down to read at the moment there is something else I need to be doing. The only exception to this is when I’m on a plane or somewhere without internet access, in which case I binge on TV programs like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.
IA: You have an App! What’s all that about?
JT: Ha! I forgot that I had an app.
That came together because I was a part of Reverb Nation, the online site that all my gig information gets posted to.
I think it’s basically just an App version of my website, so it’s got links to my songs and my blog, and fans can submit photos, which then become part of the App.
To be honest I haven’t looked at it for a while; I’ll have to check it out so I know what the fuck is on it.
IA: I recently heard some idiot commentator saying that he didn’t think women were funny. How would you respond to this?
JT: What a load of crap — there are a ton of funny women out there.
I grew up listening to people like Bette Midler and you can’t tell me that she wasn’t funny.
My favourite female comedian at the moment is an American woman named Wanda Sykes. She’s so clever and sarcastic, and just delivers these cutting lines with such a straight face, it’s fantastic.
IA: What’s your opinion on internet piracy?
JT: Look, I get it from the perspective that in the old days you would buy an album and make copies for all of your mates, and I don’t think that will ever change because that’s how you share and discover new music.
But it’s the dickhead that goes out and buys your album and then puts it up on a file sharing site — they’re the people I don’t like.
I was reading an article the other day that said that any artist who makes money from selling music online is only making around 5 per cent of what they should be, so from that perspective it’s not good at all. I’ve got nieces and nephews who have grown up never having paid for music, so they don’t know any different.
I think education is really important — if people realise that less music will be produced if they don’t pay for it, they might change their approach.
All in all, I’ve got no complaints because the internet has been an incredibly useful tool to me, so compared to other artists I think I’m doing quite well!
IA: Thanks again for your time today Jenny.
JT: Thanks very much!
Get Jenny Talia music, merchandise, tour dates and more on her blog jennytalia.com.
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