“A gorgeous, smouldering meditation, with Jo’s tranquil vocals radiating both heartache and hope over softly glimmering synths.” – Gorilla vs. Bear
Jo Schornikow is an Australian songwriter with a voice like water. Her debut album on Keeled Scales is called Secret Weapon. A secret weapon is a hidden source of strength; unpretentious good work, a reminder of what to aim for. Like Jo, it is a sideman; a friend, a mother. Secret Weapon is a record of time; of place; of circumstance.
It was made in Jo’s hometown of Melbourne with her college buddy Shane Byron, on a setup she affectionately refers to as “really dinky.” Jo recalls, “The apartment smelled like mildewy laundry and Australian summertime in a way I love. We cobbled together all the equipment we had and swore at it a lot.”
Jo’s history is rich with unexpected circumstances. She began as a church organist and jazz pianist, a role which took her from Melbourne to New York City. She gigged around the city with a smattering of colorful creatives. She worked as an accompanist of Hugh Jackman, Bobby Rydell and Lana Del Rey among others. She made an EP with King Creosote. She contributed keys to works by The National and Kelli Scarr. Eventually, she settled into her steady role as touring member of Phosphorescent. Yet, not one bit of background could properly equip her for the circumstance that spurred Secret Weapon: motherhood.
With partner Matthew Houck (of Phosphorescent), Jo had two children in quick succession in 2014 and 2015. The mandatory transformations of motherhood rendered challenges physical, mental and emotional. Change came like a deluge across every element of Jo’s: kids, a spontaneous move from NYC to Nashville, and a new set of priorities and schedules. She openly admits that for her, motherhood was not just the immediately satisfying splendour so many describe. Wonder, fear and compromise became omnipresent, in daily life and in the music she shares today.
In direct contrast to the chaos that child-rearing amidst a music career can be, Secret Weapon pours from a deeply situated place of profound quiet, a place of restraint, contemplation, and healing. Sonically, Jo’s explorations thrive in a dusklit territory neighbouring pop, shoegaze, and ambient experimental music. Among subtle swells of synths and shimmering washes of guitars, her serene voice is never obscured. The set is both exquisitely calm and stirring, each song poetically pondering a question, doubt or favour that Jo’s various and sometimes conflicting roles ask of her.
Propelling intimacy beyond blinding prettiness, Jo’s creations are poignantly human. “Like everyone, I’ve experienced loneliness, rejection, loss, joy, insane confidence and love,” says Jo. “Listening to it now, the album sounds like a conversation amongst my various selves.” The album is a quiet, slow burning beauty. It’s an exploration of joy, discomfort and mystery, with undercurrents of strength and hope; it’s a secret weapon.
"SOUNDS AUSTRALIA has been an integral partner for SXSW. Their knowledge of the global market and their connections within the Australian music industry have proven beneficial each year, as they consistently put together one of …