IT STARTS AS A DREAM
Hailing from the North-Western reaches of Australia, Roebourne duo JoKeria are a band built on strong foundations: a mutual love of real Country music, an appreciation and understanding of their local land and culture, and a knack for writing honest and catchy songs full of heart and conviction. In the short space since their inception, the band have gone from strength to strength; writing, recording, performing and releasing their own brand of true-grit Australian Country.
The band’s name is a unique amalgamation of the member’s names; drummer Josh Philpot and vocalist/guitarist Kendall Smith. When deciding on a name that worked for them, they knew they needed something different to set them apart, but also encapsulated the spirit of the band. And so Josh Kendall Roebourne Independent Artists was born.
The two met each other growing up in high school. Kendall, a local boy through and through, and Josh having moved there with his family when he was 11-years-old. Josh’s family relocated from Melbourne to Roebourne to work in the local church, which is where he and Kendall would spend a lot of their time together. “It was a big change, and was difficult adjusting from Melbourne to a town of only 900,” says Josh. “But now I love it, and there is no way I would change it for the city.”
Roebourne (population 981) certainly was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne streets, and its location and heritage has been a large part of what helped shape the band. Kendall recalls growing up there. “It was a small town, but because of its size and isolation, there was a real sense of family there,” he says. “The whole bush was our backyard. We would spend our days swimming in the river, climbing the hills, being children. You learnt how to survive.”
It wasn’t long after the two met that they began playing music together. Collectively, music had always been in their blood. Kendall’s first band was formed in high school at the age of 16. It was a covers band put together with a few friends from school, focussing predominately on Country and Rock. When he met Josh, they found that special musical connection and performed around the traps doing covers of great songs for a couple of years before they decided to call it quits and, for the time being, concentrate on other aspects of their life.
Their time in covers bands may have been over, but Josh and Kendall in particular possessed a musical chemistry. After a while of not performing, it was Josh who contacted Kendall (at this point living in Fitzroy Crossing) and asked if he wanted to get together and write a few songs. Correspondence went back and forth between the two and they began to meet to rehearse and write. The sessions bore fruit and in December 2016, the duo recorded their first six-track demo. The process was raw, exciting and enlightening. Without any prior knowledge of recording and on very basic equipment in Josh’s back shed, the tracks were laid down, as was the ground work for the sound and style of JoKeria. In Kendall’s words “It was like watching a plant grow. We put the seeds in the ground and saw what came up. We didn’t knowhow we were going to do it, we didn’t know what we were going to do with it. We just knew we wanted todo it.” They created 50 CDs and distributed them amongst friends, family and fellow musicians. The reception was great.
A copy of the demo found its way into the hands of Alan Pigram, whom the boys knew through a family connection. Alan had a studio based in Broome – Pearl Shell Studios – and it was here that they met respected musicians of the area such as Mark Bin Bakar and John Albert. Alan agreed to record their debut album, and over the course of 7 months from April – November 2017, JoKeria’s first LP, Back No More, was recorded. “It was a great experience,” says Josh. “We had never even been close to that kind of environment, but Alan was great. He was a real mentor to us and we learnt a lot during that initial period. It was a life changing experience.”
The album was released in December of that year, and as Kendall puts it, “It was like all our dreams were coming to life.” The experience in Broome held the duo in good stead for the future and gave them more confidence both technically, and in their vision for the band. They played an album launch in Roebourne to an amazing response. “It was great to give something back to the community that had supported us.”
A month later and JoKeria made the pilgrimage to Tamworth Country Music Festival, driving 5000 kilometres in three-days in a 12-seater touring van. It was a gruelling journey of non-stop driving, but it helped to give them both a fresh perspective on just how beautiful a country Australia really was, helping fuel inspiration for their next collection of songs. The trip was spurred on by legendary pedal steel guitarist Lucky Oceans who played four tracks on the band’s album. He sent music to Bill Chambers and insisted he listen to this new band from WA playing “real country music”. Bill liked what he heard, and invited the boys over east where they busked on Peel Street and performed alongside Bill at The Pub. “Tamworth blew us away,” says Kendall. “To be in a place where so many other people are there for the same reason you are.To be where everyone is sharing the same love that you have for something. It’s a really special environment.”
A large part of what makes up the identity of the band is Kendall’s Indigenous lineage. Born of an Aboriginal Father and a Non-Aboriginal Mother, he grew up understanding “both sides of the story, and both sides of the fence”. He stresses the importance of Country music within Indigenous culture and does not hide thefact that its influence on his own life has been profound. “Country music for Aboriginal people is just a partof our life,” he says. “I grew up listening to Country in my Grandmother’s house and although at different points in my life I have listened to other genres, I will always come back to Country. It’s the storytelling, the way you can hear a country song, and feel like you are the person that experienced that experience. It’s not just a genre, it’s the greatest story telling genre in music.... and with storytelling being such a massive part of our culture, it’s little wonder Country has become such a big part of indigenous life.”
After their first experience at Tamworth had come to an end, the rest of 2018 saw a year of playing shows, writing new material and honing their craft. They played slots at Karijini Experience, Red Country Music Festival, North West Festival, Red Earth Arts Festival, Broome Country Music Club, and also played a number of NAIDOC Week shows. They even invited Bill Chambers over to WA and played a hometown gig in Roebourne together. All the while, Josh and Kendall were writing songs based on the experiences of the past 12 months or so, using the inspiration they had gathered from travelling and performing and moulding them into the next 12-track demo that would become their follow up album.
Recording for their second album would take place in Sydney in March 2019, with Bill Chambers on production duties and mastering by Jeff McCormack. Once again, the studio was bigger, the equipment more complex, and the challenges more rewarding. In 10 days, the band had laid down 13 new tracks, and their new album, Red Country, was finished. Branching out from their first album both stylistically and thematically, Kendall diversified somewhat from Back No More’s overtly political subject matter and embraced some more party-friendly, Friday-night tunes to help add another facet to the album, and bring an overall more varied and complete feel.
In their short time as a band, JoKeria have recorded two albums, played shows throughout Australia and garnered the attention and approval of some of the industry’s best musicians and producers. Given their current trajectory, it’s not hard to see that the duo have only one way to go: Up!