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 VCA college buddy Shane Byron on a setup she affectionately refers to as “really dinky.” “The apartment smelled like mildewy laundry and Australian summertime in a way I love,” recalls Jo. “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, which took her from Melbourne to New York City. She gigged around NYC with a smattering of colorful creatives. Amongst others, she worked as an accompanist of Hugh Jackman, Bobby Rydell and Lana Del Rey. She made an EP with King Creosote and contributed keys to works by The National, Kelli Scarr and Phosphorescent. 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 & 15. The life shift both influenced and restricted the music she shares today. The mandatory transformations of motherhood rendered challenges physical, mental and emotional. Change came like a deluge across every element of Jo’s life, with 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 splendor so many describe. Wonder, fear and compromise became omnipresent, in daily life and in this music.
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 neighboring 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 favor 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.”
It's a quiet, slow burning beauty.
A sonic exploration of joy, discomfort and mystery, with undercurrents of strength and hope; it's a secret weapon.
You can preorder Secret Weapon on white vinyl or on CD here.