Mentors & Mischief

Born 1966 in Bendigo, Dja Dja Wurrung land, I was raised in bushland of Junortoun, Australia.

Painting by mother Belinda John
By the lake at our former homestead & a painting by my mother Belinda John.

Early influences include Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jim Croce, Judy Durham and Stevie Nicks. (I’ve named several more during interviews.) I wrote songs with sisters Catherine & Rebecca and friends Jenni & Amanda, with titles such as ‘Mystical Stream’ & ‘Tropical Rainforest’, perched in trees with sprinklers, which did wonders for the instruments. My first original studio recording at age 10 was an ode to an island paradise. We read fantasy chronicles: Narnia, The Wizard of Earthsea, The Lord of the Rings and Faeries by Brian Froud / Alan Lee. When I met Brian over 30 years later, we discussed universality of the Fey Ones.

Moving to Melbourne for boarding school, I wrote songs in basements or forbidden balconies tangled in ivy. Later at university, listening to Kate Bush and medieval music, I thrived on philosophy, literature, fine arts and classics, while continuing to write songs about elves, gnomes, tree spirits and other fey creatures. During the 1980’s I sang at The Green Man and other folk hubs, prior to widespread venue closures in Melbourne’s recession.

Fionvarra & Megwyn

Above: In the late 80’s I made music with ethereal groups Megwyn and Fionvarra.

Below: mishearing a stranger in a club – thought he was into Folk not Funk – I accepted his call to sing. His band swung into ‘Sex Machine’ and ‘I Got You’ by James Brown. Realising my confusion, the band began yelling lyrics; the audience joined in, taking us for a comedy act. We called ourselves ‘What the Funk?’ Ever since, I’ve found it hard to resist morphing into an imp.

1990 I became a storyteller at Australia’s first fairy shop, Wonderwings; later also at the Royal Melbourne Show, Moomba pageant, Royal Botanical Gardens, Vic Arts Centre, heritage sites (Rippon Lea, Como House), fairs etc. that gave rise to the carnival atmosphere in songs like ‘Madame Alchemier’ (Alexandria), ‘Alice in the Garden of Live Flowers’ (Ariel), or ‘Beautiful Lie’ (Djinn). A record executive’s advice, “drop the unicorns and mermaids”, encapsulated the Aussie industry’s prosaic attitude: the only way my songs found gigs was through a back ditty door of faery storytelling.

Fairy Storytelling: black & white photos by Geoff Branton

During the 90’s I shared a rambling terrace house with singer Liz Van Dort, who introduced me to producer Harry Williamson, who introduced me to musician Sean Bowley (Eden), who introduced me to producer Brett Taylor. All have cast their influence.

Co-tenants included such artists as sculptress Dawn Perry, sister of Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance. Dawn introduced me to DCD albums. However, to clear a misconception: I never met Brendan or Lisa, and was into medieval fusion long before hearing theirs. Consider also a spiritual distinction. While Lisa lit a path of divine wordlessness, I swung a lantern on heathen folklore. It’s possible to respect others while moving in contrary currents. Contradiction can generate energy. My co-songwriter Mark had discovered DCD via 4AD’s collection This Mortal Coil. Brendan’s subtle lyrics soothed, or stirred, misfits already in rebellion.

Melbourne’s underground was growing more diverse: Pre-Raphaelite, Darkwave, Contemporary Medieval, Trance, Goth and related genres abounded. We enjoyed a revival of mythology. Left to right below: Liz Van Dort; A Gothic Ball; Phantosea at St Kilda beach: Dominique Falla, LJK, Dawn Perry, Liz Van Dort

In 1993 I married co-songwriter Mark Krol, a Polish immigrant, teacher and voracious collector of music & books: “I have fallen into Moontalk” (‘Paper Door’, Alexandria). Many instrumental lines – like horns in ‘Madame Alchemier’ (Alexandria), or ‘cello in ‘The Seagiant’ (Ariel) – lyrics & main vocal melody of ‘Which of these Worlds’ (Apple Pentacle) and entire songs (half of Djinn, including its opening) – were Mark’s compositions, conveyed via humming. I took them to the studio as vocal or keyboard guides for others to play. He also tutors my expression and advises on arrangements, e.g. removing an instrument to create spaciousness, as in the song ‘Alexandria’. Consequently Mark’s contribution is underestimated, particularly as he is humble, never flies or performs, and avoids social media.

We moved between casual jobs on Melbourne’s urban fringe, permeating our lyrics:

I won’t be leaving you
In embers of failure
In the pool of our Winter
Glisten eyes of our Daemon

‘I’m not Walking’, Argo

One more festival glittering past
If they want something they’ll come to me

‘Madame Alchemier’, Alexandria

Prior to the internet, from the 80‘s to late 90‘s, industry gatekeepers ruled every genre. Changes of legislation allowed corporations to control media ownership. Their homogenous mindset blocked our releases. The internet changed that. When I was about 30, after 5 fey albums on cassette, our CDs began to appear on indie labels overseas, starting with Hyperium, Germany’s answer to UK’s 4AD or USA’s Projekt. This led to work with other composers on that label, such as Olaf Parusel of Stoa.

Promo for German edition of Alexandria, Hyperium Records.

Photos by Jerry Galea.

A French indie record company, Prikosnovenie, was distributing Alexandria and in about 2000 its owner Frederic Chaplain invited me to sign. I stayed on, except for a collector’s edition of Alexandria on an American label and guest appearances on other labels.

Promo for French ethereal label Prikosnovenie.

Photography by James Painter.

Whereas Argo and Alexandria were recorded with Harry Williamson, my 3rd CD Ariel ushered in Brett Taylor, who produced 70% of Ariel including the string quartet in ‘Blackbird’. Both Harry and Brett are accomplished musicians as well as technicians. We later gained a 3rd engineer: Jack Setton at Mad Cat Sound.

You can find more about Harry, Brett, and Jack.

‘Blackbird’ (Ariel) inspired a fairytale ‘Louisa’ by French author Alyz Tale, in her book of stories Mon Dernier The.

It was also an honour to be included in the hardcover book Carnet Noirs, a history of gothic music. Both books were published in France.

My first visit to Europe in 2001 fostered recording with Stoa (Germany) and label mates Lys (France), Daemonia Nymphe (Greece) and Gor (Italy). Frederic Chaplain produced Love Sessions Volume 1 in France. A second European trip, 2003, heralded Love Sessions Volume 2, alongside a tour of several nations with Gor’s clarinettist Francesco Banchini, an ambient album I hear the Water Dreaming with Gianluigi Gasparetti (Italy), and the album Ghost Fish with Daemonia Nymphe (Greece). All in two months.

In Paris & Bruxelles with Francesco Banchini from Italy and Keltia from Belgium.

Photos courtesy of Filip Van Muylem, Harry Fayt, Richter, Zak Mondiani & Frederic Cotton.

In 2006 I shared a compilation with Loreena McKennitt, Effleurement. Although my instrumentation is often more dreampop than folk, we both admire Clannad & Alan Stivell. I like her interpretations of Romantic / Pre-Raphaelite poetry, notwithstanding some of my literary sources lean into Magic-Realism. Comparisons with Loreena (as with Lisa) are overplayed. I was setting fairy stories and poems to music since childhood. I did not hear Loreena’s music until my late 20’s, in a documentary The Burning Times. It was a revelation to find a contemporary female songwriter exploring history, poetry and soulful journeying with such success, in defiance of the corporate label system.

Acclaimed illustrators & cinematic puppeteers, the Frouds, made a clip entitled ‘Muse’ for my song ‘Which of these Worlds?’ (5th CD Apple Pentacle), presented with their book World of Faerie and on You-Tube

In 2009 at the Belgian festival Trolls et Legendes.

Here I first met the Frouds and performed with Nehl Aelin’s band (from France) and Dandelion Wine (from Australia). I am grateful to organiser Frederic Cotton (Le Fantastique). At Trolls et Legendes I reunited with Stoa, Daemonia Nymphe & Keltia and made new friends such as American band Woodland & French band Rajna, later singing in Woodland’s CD Seasons in Elfland – Shadows.

LJK with Nehl Aelin & Dandelion Wine at Trolls et Legendes, 2009, Belgium.

Despite touring rarely, I have been fortunate to sing in such prestigious underground locales as La Loco in Paris, Le Botanique in Bruxelles and Faerieworlds in Oregon, USA: the world’s largest fairy festival (15,000 attendees 2009).

LJK with Oregon musicians in Eugene, Oregon, USA. Photo of puppets by Byron Dazey (R.I.P.)

Recently my focus shifted to writing, with several small pieces published such as my poem ‘Twenty Ways to Greet a Tiger’ in a national anthology, 2011 Award Winning Australian Writing (Melbourne Books), and work on several longstanding manuscripts ranging from portal fantasy to surrealism.

Pictured below: The Witches Ball in Sydney 2010; Bronny Lloyd at Phantosea 2011; Midsummer 2011. (Phantosea & Midsummer pics courtesy Peter Trapp and Mike Adamson.) 

Circumstances for many years compelled us to juggle responsibilities with passions, like work in secondary or tertiary education sectors, which we reconciled with imagination through a re-enchanted world. Mark has been too ill to work since 2013. Since 2016 I’ve kept clear of employment, too. I also signed off my record label and ceased touring. A tree change to my beloved birth town Bendigo has meant long awaited so[u]litude in reclusion; I’m happiest with a cat on one knee and a book on the other. December 2023 I completed my fantasy chronicles, Elderbrook.

Real because imagined, imagined because real

Czeslaw Milosz

So take the handles of the flagons
Take the fruit I beg you – I dare you!

‘Duncan the Fiddler’, Argo

Flying Guardians, tails in the Air
were feeding the pine-cones

‘Talim Ridge’, Alexandria

Hum the home of freedom
Hum the mountain ring
Hum the forest leeway
Hum the shadow stream

‘Beads of Rain’, Ariel

Way over the windblown wainscotting waterwood
I heard a tambourine in the sea

‘Waterwood’, Alabaster

Caravans in the dawn
carting musk and sandalwood

‘The Windrow’, Apple Pentacle

When the world hums long and loam
When the distance bids you roam

‘Yellow Leaves’, Djinn