10 things to know about the mysterious creative life of htrk's jonnine standish

HTRK's captivating front woman has a solo album, a play, and so many more tricks up her sleeve.

by Briony Wright
14 November 2017, 7:21am

For as long as we can recall, Jonnine Standish has reigned as one of Australia's most preternaturally cool and intimidatingly creative forces. As the front woman of HTRK for well over a decade, Jonnine's haunting vocals, innate style and foreboding on-stage presence have become something of a hallmark.

A creative perfectionist, Jonnine can proudly claim career highlights like working closely with Rowland S. Howard (on a song he wrote about her called 'I Know a Girl Called Jonny'). There too have come devastating lows, like losing original bandmate and close friend Sean Stewart in 2010. Thankfully, she and Nigel Yang continued to make music as HTRK as Jonnine simultaneously channelled her experiences into a variety of other fascinating creative projects and collaborations across fashion, design, music and screen. We caught up with the multi-tasking chanteuse to unravel some of the long held mystery around her exceptional life.

1. Jonnine didn't actually have a background in music when she joined HTRK.
I met Sean Stewart one evening in a bar in Prahran and we chatted until 3am. I always thought he was incredible looking – he was about 22 at the time, wearing a light grey suit and carrying a really thick, heavy laptop because he worked as a coder during the day. He told me he was in a band called HTRK (Hate Rock Trio) but there were only two people in the band. He indicated they were looking for someone and when I told him I'd never sung a note or played an instrument he responded, "that's even better, I can imagine you being like Alan Vega." I joined the band pretty much right then and started rehearsals two weeks later. About five of the songs we wrote in that first month ended up on our first album, Marry Me Tonight. I think there's something about the chemistry of the first couple of months of a collaborative project that makes you really prolific.

2. Jonnine learned the hard way that creative balance is the key to happiness.
Within a year of meeting Sean and Nigel, I found it difficult to pursue any other artistic venture. I left my job, which was actually going really well, and instead we rehearsed at every opportunity before moving to Berlin together in 2006 to focus on the band. We moved over with Devastations, my husband Conrad's band at the time, and we all lived in the same house for a while in Kreuzberg. For the first time I had no boss, I had no clients, it was like the purest form of expression I could imagine. At a time I believe I could've followed various career paths and been quite successful, I chose to become a full-time musician. The downside was that we were broke! With HTRK, we never said 'yes' to anything we didn't want to do but this becomes difficult when you need money. It made us realise that we needed to do something else on the side. So that's what I do. It's taken me 10 years to find a good balance.

3. There's a new HTRK album on the way.
Nigel and I have been working on a new HTRK album for a couple of years and plan to release it in 2018. It's been a little slow because we live in different cities but Nigel is moving back to Melbourne at the end of the year, it'll be the first time we've lived and written in the same city for years.

4. As well as her first solo album.
My upcoming solo album is inspired by the idea of 'supernatural', I'm looking at kind of paranormal activity crossed with the mundane. I feel like that really describes my personality because I'm interested in otherworldly things but also just simple things like like morning routines or washing the dishes. I'm producing it, and playing everything. It'll have hints of HTRK because it is quite lyric heavy, but it'll be different because with HTRK we have a kind of manifesto that involves a level of perfectionism and a sense of longevity. My solo work allows me to be more in-the-moment. It's more what I'm feeling like right now. With this I can lean on my spontaneous side and leave the perfectionist side to HTRK. I feel like my solo work can be made faster, and can be a little more embarrassing. I can take it. I'm really wanting to finish it by the end of the year, I don't want to sit on it too long.

Rowland S. Howard, I Know a Girl Called Jonny

5. Jonnine found the formula to productivity in the Amazon Rainforest.
I wrote a lot of the tracks for my solo album on a recent trip to the Amazon. Knowing I was going to have some downtime I packed my laptop, a microphone and a keyboard. The combination of the spirit of the jungle, the humidity and the lack of internet was really inspiring and I realised I might have to go back to write there every year. At home I get so distracted, mainly by food and the internet, but there I had hours and hours to create. I think I've found the formula.

6. She's a multi-tasker who works across disciplines in an interesting way.
How I work is, I write down any repetitive symbols that come to me in dreams, and once I land on an idea, I figure out which vehicle or medium will best carry it. I consider how to bring the ideas to life, whether they would make a great film, a TV series, a play, a song, or maybe even a bomber jacket. Right now I'm working on what will be the world premiere of an immersive art experience that asks the big questions about existence. I'm working with HTRK on a score for a documentary about alternative religions titled Over The Rainbow by American director Jeff Peixoto as well as music for a film by my friend's label Dress Up.

7. She was enlisted as creative director for the excellent 2017 Melbourne Fashion Week campaign.
I really enjoyed working on the M/FW campaign with the City of Melbourne. I think I'm good at delegating and brought some great people in to work on the project with me. This is the first M/FW which has used an all-Melbourne team: from Studio Round, to the photographer Jo Duck, the models - Sian, Subah and Eli - the stylist Gadir Rajab and film director Ribal Hosn for example. When I came on, the first thing I said was, "Melbourne has all the cool kids. Let's go. Let's just do it with what we have here." I also worked with Unconscious Collective on a Martin Grant gala dinner and with people like MPavilion's Jessie French to co-ordinate a music program, so it became a real celebration of Melbourne's cross-discipline creativity. And I think it worked.

8. She's spent the last three years co-writing a play.
I've written a play called The Agency with my friend and collaborator Jess Lilley. It's a black comedy about the brutal ways women treat each other to get ahead in the office. It's an observation from my time working in advertising but the behaviour doesn't only exist in that industry, I think it's specific to Australian corporate culture generally. I consider myself a strong feminist and I think having a conversation about how women interact with each other is critical. The play will follow three women of different ages and expose their different weaponry. We're hoping it will be out next year.

9. She lives in the forest.
I moved to the Dandenong Ranges with Conrad a year and a half ago, and I don't think we'll ever leave. It's a million miles away from the one metre square flat where we lived in East London. After living on top of a noodle shop in one of the busiest parts of Dalston, we find ourselves with an acre of land in the middle of the rainforest. There's a really interesting arts and music scene up there and it's quite weird but also very beautiful and inspiring.

10. She eats egg and banana pancakes for breakfast every day.
I discovered these in the Amazon and if you try them you'll never eat anything else. It's simply two eggs and one banana cooked in peanut oil with a pinch of cinnamon and salt– job done. I've had them every morning since I've been back.

HTRK perform as part of MISCELLANEA at Melbourne Town Hall for Melbourne Music Week on Sunday November 19. Tickets here.



Photography Michelle Tran

Jonnine Standish
10 things to know