AFTER the success of Jack River's debut album Sugar Mountain in 2018 Holly Rankin could have blindly adopted the advice music industry experts offer young artists.
But Rankin followed her heart.
It led the 28-year-old Forster-raised singer-songwriter out of Sydney to the NSW south coast town of Mollymook, where her partner grew up.
She also embraced normality. Getting a dog and joining a netball team.
Simple things Rankin had always taken for granted in Forster, but had lost during her four years in Sydney launching her indie music career as Jack River.
"With touring it's a pretty whirlwind job to have," Rankin says from Mollymook. "When you're in the cycle you're rarely at home and when you are home you're living out of a suitcase.
"Things like being in a netball team or having a dog, it's assumed that you can't do it and that really scared me. Especially coming from Forster and really enjoying community and family as part of my life. That stuff vanished for two years, but I didn't want that."
Sydney and Melbourne have long been considered the epicentre of Australia's music scene. It's where the labels, radio stations and the biggest venues are based.
But Rankin believes it's possible to live in the country and remain successful.
"When you're in the real gigging mode and you're trying to get yourself out there, yes, you need to be in the city a fair bit, but it doesn't mean you can't travel to Sydney or Melbourne or where ever," she says.
"I don't think you need to sacrifice your whole lifestyle for your career in music. I've lived in Sydney for four years, but I'm a country kid and have spent a lot of that time in Forster at my parent's house or down here.
"I think you can work around it. I definitely went through a few years where I thought I couldn't and then I forced myself to live in the city and I didn't really handle it."
But the move to Mollymook hasn't been without its challenges. The horrific bushfire season stuck close to home. Three people were killed and 80 homes destroyed at nearby Conjola Park.
While earlier in the season Rankin had family and friends affected by fires in the Manning Valley.
"It's hard to describe and think about the feeling of having two home centres burnt over the past few months," she says.
On Friday Jack River's new seven-track album Stranger Heart was released.
While the singles Dark Star and Later Flight continue the early 2000s indie-pop sound Rankin honed on her popular tracks Fool's Gold and Confess from Sugar Mountain, the brooding closer 80's HD sees Jack River experimenting with dark wave synths reminiscent of Depeche Mode.
Lyrically, Stranger Heart is Rankin at her most open. The record is an unapologetic expression of love, lust and passion.
"I wanted to put together seven songs that have different angles of my heart," Rankin says. "I wanted to make something direct, honest and upfront.
"Any new artist can feel a certain pressure to go in a certain way and pressure to conform to a certain path, but for me, this is a line in the sand or a statement of truth."
On Later Flight Rankin sings, "I will love you for all of my life," a bold declaration she was terrified by.
"Writing that song, I felt like an idiot basically," she says. "I think I must be quite a guarded person because putting that song together felt kind of ridiculous, but it also felt really right and I do feel those things in the lyrics.
"It was a big step for me. Sugar Mountain, even though it's really honest, it's guarded and aspirational lyrically."
Rankin has no plans to tour Stranger Heart, with her focus already on recording album No.3 and organising the return of her Forster-Tuncurry music festival Grow Your Own in September.
The festival was last held in January 2019, but a decision was made to shift the event to September as Forster is generally at full capacity in January during the height of the summer school holidays.
Rankin expects her third album to be directly influenced by Australia's ongoing political debate about climate change.
"Even before the bushfires happened my plans for my career are to definitely explore how I can best play a role in Australia's combating of climate change," she says. "I feel privileged that I have a small voice in music and culture and plan to make that absolutely part of my career in the next few years."
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