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#9 THAT’LL DO, DONKEY

Jenna Hardie photo by Elana Haynes
Jenna Hardie photo by Elana Haynes

When your sparkle evades your soul / I’ll be at your side to console
‘Geraldine’ Glasvegas

THE SHORT SHIZ

  • Played in The Government, now works for them.
  • Hides well in plain sight.
  • Absolutely does keep spreadsheets.
  • What you see is not what you get.
  • What you get is not what you see.
  • Will she make the big time? YES/NO/WTF KNOWS.

THE LONG SHIZ

“You know what a unicorn baby is called?”

“Nope.”

“A sparkle.”

Jenna Hardie, Perth’s very own unicorn, sat across the table from me at a trendy South Freo eatery — all mismatched junk-shop furniture our grandparents threw out in the ‘50s — wearing glasses, henna tattoos on her hands and a bad case of the jitters. She’s certainly a magical creature. A walking conundrum.

…once she gets a grip on all that adrenaline, a Unicorn show is a wild flight of fancy. Like the best of them, Hardie may not have been born to it, but she has a way of making the stage her own and bringing her audience along with her. She can make dun technicolour and the ridiculous seem perfectly normal. She might sometimes divide opinion off stage, but on it she’s a uniting force.

Since our meeting, I’ve attempted to research unicorns. On the Internet unicorns are large, muscled creatures, mostly white and purple, sleek and destined for flight. In real life — and, yes, I’m going with the premise that if someone could dream one up they have a basis in reality, whatever the fuck that is — the unicorn is most closely related to the donkey. Dull, brown/grey, matted coat and seemingly unremarkable. Donkeys are awkward, maligned, misunderstood, unlikely to do anything you want them to do, but of all the animals on this Earth are most capable of empathic connection with humans. Not even the Dogz will cry genuine tears when you say farewell at the end of your holiday.

That’s the essence of Jenna Hardie, guitarist and lead singer with Perth band, Unicorn:  she’s destined for flight, but will never leave the ground. Which is a good thing, because it’s her yearning for the unreality of the world of unicorns, sparkles and rainbow coloured shit that keeps her going and it’s her connection with the donkey in the paddock that makes her successful. In between there’s this maelstrom of stuff that I’m never going to be able to properly analyse. Only Hardie knows for sure who she is and what she’s capable of at any given moment. All I can do is note some of the juxtapositions.

“I love wearing the unicorn costume,” she told me as we ruminated on the ragged glory of a Unicorn live show, “but I don’t wear it all the time.”

I sat there listening thinking, if I had an outfit like that, I’d be wearing it right now, every day. But then, it’s the glimpses that make things magic. Bring them into the light of day, make them constant, and they become dull and unremarkable.

Hardie is calculating. She tries to bat it away when I put it to her, saying, “I don’t keep spreadsheets or anything,” but then laying out for me the bones of her business plan for Unicorn, the profit and loss ratios, the timelines and the ambition. She wants to keep it under wraps, just like the unicorn costume, but she’s willing to give me a sketch, just enough that I get it, but not enough that I can give too much away. She wants me to know that she’s the real thing, but she doesn’t want me to know just how real.

Sometimes Hardie switches stream more jarringly than the mismatched furniture that surrounds us. Trying to put me off the scent she talks to me about band life for a while, saying, “It’s hard asking people to be in your band. It’s like asking them out on a date. What if they say no? What if you don’t get on? Being in a band is like being in a relationship.”

The relationship trope is as old as Amadeus. Asking people to be in your band being akin to asking them out on a date, that hadn’t occurred to me before. Hardie was visibly shy as she said the words, I could see her excruciation across the cheap, wonky-legged melamine table. I felt something. What was it? Pity? No. Sadness? No. Empathy? Yes, that was it. Here were two queens of the painfully introverted sitting together at a table drinking tea and talking about exuding success while all the time undertaking a constant process of internal rebuilding. Hardie is a genuine unicorn. I’m more like a donkey. We’re the same but so very different that if post modernism had any foundation in objective reality, we would both be speaking English and, at the same time, unintelligible to each other. We understood each other perfectly well because post modernism is, of course, shit and not of the rainbow variety.

“I get so nervous when I’m on stage,” Hardie said, referring to her shyness and angst. It takes her a good few songs to settle, to let go the stiffness and the nervous catch in her voice, but once she gets a grip on all that adrenaline, a Unicorn show is a wild flight of fancy. Like the best of them, Hardie may not have been born to it, but she has a way of making the stage her own and bringing her audience along with her. She can make dun technicolour and the ridiculous seem perfectly normal. She might sometimes divide opinion off stage, but on it she’s a uniting force.

As local musos go, Hardie is not the norm. She has a proper day job, not some cobbled together patchwork of casual employment that pays the rent until she gets her break. I didn’t ask, but I’m going to guess she’s got a mortgage. I also didn’t ask, but given her extensive music pedigree in the Perth scene going back more years than I have fingers to count, in relative terms Hardie isn’t young, either. But neither is she old. Besides, age is no measure of success, in any human endeavour. Those who think contemporary music is for the young are sorely mistaken. Hardie may not be the norm, but that’s what gives her an advantage. She knows the value of networking, persistence, planning, investing and what it takes to be a professional. Hardie could possibly be a journeywoman, but she’s no hobbyist. Unicorn is as real a going concern as, let’s say, The Breeders, or the Clouds, who Unicorn are due to support early in December.

When I quizzed Hardie about how she got that gig, she said, “I just asked.” There’s the unicorn at work, underplaying the enormous effort and persistence it takes to gain even a few metres of flight. This donkey knows better. Hardie is one of the hardest working musos in the local industry and it’s that hard work that will always be the difference between her and the equally talented musicians she shares stages with. Those who don’t have her understanding of what it takes to make your way in an industry that is specifically designed to scrape the sparkle from your soul.

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