Though Deena Lynch has been making music since 2012, the Australian-based artist now known professionally as Jaguar Jonze is ready to unleash some thunder from Down Under.
The ten-year journey — like much of her life — has been at times cruel, unusual, and exceedingly exasperating. But the strong-willed woman with the creative energy and determination to face her demons is making her full-length album debut this week for Nettwerk Records under the guise of a character as chic as her stylish stage name. The self-described “Eastern cowgirl howling at the rising sun” may be able to wail like a Brisbane banshee but also shows a tender side that will make hearts ache and heads swoon. So hang on, folks. The cool cat is out of the bag.
Ahead of the Friday (3 June) release of BUNNY MODE, Jaguar Jonze is getting a proper introduction to PopMatters readers today with the music video premiere of the deliciously vicious song “Swallow”. The track she co-wrote with bandmate Aidan Hogg is one of 11 cuts on the intense, impassioned album that helps tell her story of survival.
“Would you believe me if I said I shot it a week ago?” Lynch wrote over the weekend in response to a series of email questions for this article. “And planned it a couple of days prior?” Not only starring in the video while embracing the eye of the tiger as Jaguar Jonze, Lynch also handled multiple roles as songwriter, director, editor, and producer, like she does on most of her film projects.
Other recent videos for the album — including “Trigger Happy” and “Punchline” — were finished in less than two weeks, and “it has been both exhausting and rewarding,” she shares. As the album release date quickly approached, Lynch didn’t think she could take part in another video production.
“I was maxed out with my emotional capacity, but then last minute, I decided that the visual side to my storytelling and expression was so important, so I went for it,” offers Lynch, who uses other personas to display her illustrations (Spectator Jonze) and photography (Dusky Jonze) on their own Instagram pages.
“I’m really lucky to have great creatives around me who believe in my vision which I couldn’t have done on my own,” she adds. “It was shot both in-studio and in an old substation across the street [in Brisbane]. The old substation has these amazing wooden beams that made it perfect for doing a Shibari [Japanese rope art] installation.”
Tackling a heady subject in a video that’s wild, wonderful, carefree, dark, suggestive — and kind of gross — Jaguar Jonze also includes bits of slapstick humor.
“I wanted the ‘Swallow’ clip to be comedic, controversial, and fun,” she expresses in a Nettwerk release. “Embodying a sex cyborg doll with a faulty processing chip was my sardonic statement as a woman of color minced up by the patriarchy and its fetishization of Asian women. Be turned on, be confused, and question those trains of thought.”
For the former business analyst in a software development firm, that seems like a risk-taking venture, even for a progressive performer who dumped a far more conservative occupation years ago. That was “before I crossed paths with music and art, and flipped my life 180 degrees,” states Lynch in the email interview. “I haven’t looked back since (that makes it sound easy, but I don’t think I’ve ever done ‘easy,’ ha ha).”
Check out the music video premiere for “Swallow” now, then read on to learn more about Jaguar Jonze, her inspirational survival story, the record label that helped jump-start her career, and BUNNY MODE, a ferocious, fearless album that will make you want to roar for more.
Raising Her Voice
The Taiwanese-Australian singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and multimedia maven reveals a lot about her harrowing past. She’s a survivor of childhood abuse and, as an adult, was diagnosed with complex PTSD as a result of those experiences.
“The music is the opposite of blocking out traumatic childhood memories — that’s what I was doing my whole life and what was eating me up from the inside out,” she explains in response to a question about how the art form has helped change her life. “Music showed me how to take it out of my body and place it into a vessel outside of it — in song, melody, and lyrics. It allowed me to process what I had been through; instead of continuing to use the energy to suppress and deny it, I was able to heal, learn and move on.
“Music and art are important to me as it’s a way for me to have an honest dialogue with myself internally and with others in the world. I’ve spent my whole life being small and quiet, but now I have a voice. I hope others who have been through similar obstacles that I have, or feel isolated, or fighting for something bigger than they are, can connect with BUNNY MODE and know that they are not alone and that we can claim our power back.”
The album title is taken from a survival tactic she called “going bunny mode” during her youth, learning to stay silent instead of making herself heard by crying as a reaction to being threatened physically, emotionally, and psychologically. “This album is a journey of saying goodbye to that ’bunny mode,’” Lynch said in an April release announcing her upcoming LP. “Making this album has been this process of saying [to that tactic], ‘Thank you for saving me and allowing me to survive up until this point, but I don’t need you anymore.’”
From Deena to Jaguar
Persevering despite facing personal and professional obstacles, Lynch has been forthright about the perilous trip she has taken. Born in Yokohama, Japan, on 12 January 1992, she was raised by her single mother, who is Taiwanese, and moved to Australia (her father’s homeland) while approaching the age of seven.
Since then, Lynch has lived primarily in Brisbane, where she currently resides and also has spent time in Melbourne, Sydney, and Orange County. In elementary school, the youngster met Brisbane’s Joseph Fallon, who would later re-enter the picture as her guitarist, leading the way for the musical late bloomer.
Lynch’s education background included studying engineering at the University of Melbourne and business at Bond University. “I fell into writing music and playing guitar late in life, and it wasn’t really something I had in mind,” Lynch admits. “I was walking home one day from university and passed a garage sale, saw a guitar, and decided to buy it. I had just lost a close friend of mine and struggled a lot with the grief, and the guitar and songwriting became my catharsis. They weren’t great songs, but it was an important part of my life where I finally found a way to express myself and found passion in that. … At first, I just wanted the music to be a part of my life, and over time I wanted it to be my whole life.”
Initially using just her first name professionally, Deena was 20 in 2012 when she released the first of two independent albums — Lone Wolf. In February 2015, Black Cat followed, with Fallon on electric guitar and organ while Lynch sang and played acoustic guitar, keyboards, and organ.
“The guitar gives me the most joy to play, and I still write many songs on the acoustic guitar that I built myself,” Lynch notes. “I still don’t quite know how to play the guitar, I don’t know chord names or scales, but I always found the guitar to be so freeing because I can go with what sounds good and what sound I want to make on it.”
Of course, by then she was relying heavily on Fallon’s instrumental contributions. “Joseph Fallon has been on my right side on stage since I started writing music, playing shows, and making mistakes, ha ha. … He is an amazing classical guitarist, and I assumed it was all the same thing. It turns out it really isn’t, but luckily, Joseph is an incredible electrical guitarist, too,” reveals Lynch, whose family of musicians — and “biggest supporters” — also includes Aidan Hogg (bass/co-producer/synths) and Jacob Mann (drums).
Lynch broke loose as Jaguar Jonze in 2018, though the story goes she was initially called “Panther” by her friends. (See below in the bonus “Take 5” segment for more on Jaguar’s origin story.) That year, her first single as Jaguar Jonze — “You Got Left Behind” — was written and released, catching the attention of Nettwerk when “it miraculously got New Music Fridays AU/NZ and USA,” Lynch proclaims.
Working Hard for Nettwerk
“Their Australian rep [who works for an independent marketing firm] believed in me, my hustle, and the project and put it across to [Nettwerk CEO, chairman, and co-founder] Terry McBride, who called me with so much passion and determination that I couldn’t go past it,” she continues. “Everything I do, I do with so much commitment and passion, and that’s what I wanted from anyone I brought onto the team. I made them wait a long time as I was so scared to sign my baby over, but they were true to their word.
“They respect and support my artistry and have even been so generous throughout the advocacy. Their support has allowed me to grow so much as an artist and as a person. I have grown up having to hustle, survive and be independent; it’s been a lonely process. Nettwerk has shown me that everyone deserves trust and a team, and just like with music — collaboration is how we go further. I love my team and am blessed to have some amazing, determined minds on it.”
Two EPs — 2020’s Diamonds & Liquid Gold and 2021’s Antihero — were released by Nettwerk as Jaguar Jonze and her other personas continued to develop. “Deadalive”, the lead single from Antihero she co-wrote with Hogg, was called “propulsive and thrilling” by PopMatters when the song made the “PM Picks Playlist” on 30 September 2020.
Stripping away Jaguar’s animal instincts toward music, Lynch was making her mark in other areas, too. Honored for her advocacy with the triple j Done Good Award and the Australian Independent Record Award for Outstanding Achievement, Lynch also was among Vogue‘s “21 Australian Women Who Defined 2021″. She collaborated with Christian Louboutin to create a concept film for their AW20 collection in 2020 and made a valiant effort that year to become Australia’s entrant for Eurovision’s international songwriting competition.
Even while moving forward and being applauded for her work as a feminist, activist, and performance artist seeking change in the Australian music industry and taking charge in Australia’s #MeToo movement, Lynch struggled to get BUNNY MODE off the ground. For one thing, COVID-19 landed Lynch in the hospital for 40 days when the global pandemic struck in March 2020.
“I had a fever for five weeks straight, and excruciating chest pains, and the music industry was completely decimated,” Lynch commented in a press release for the Antihero release in April 2021. “For weeks I had no voice; I couldn’t sing, and for months I couldn’t stand up or walk for too long. My mental health suffered.”
In 2019, though, she already had started composing songs for her full-length album debut. “Not Yours”, the first track Lynch delivered, sounds like a stirring, cinematic ballad made to open a James Bond film. Listen closely to the lyrics, though, to find a clear message of empowerment. The day it was written, according to Nettwerk’s album biography, she disclosed to an unidentified person that two male music producers had sexually assaulted her. In May 2021, she appeared in an interview on Australian TV show The Project, detailing those experiences in a report that also covered new research revealing “the scale of harassment in the industry.”
Lynch’s decision to force change within the music business on her home soil had become a dedicated mission. In a Jaguar Jonze Instagram post on 10 July 2020, she shared three Post-it notes about “predators who still abuse their place of power” in the industry by preying on the unsuspected, “especially young female musicians.” Anyone affected and needing “a safe place to land” was encouraged to reach out to her.
Only a month later, Jaguar Jonze already had heard from more than 300 responders via direct messages, providing their personal examples of assault.
Turning Up the Heat
A second exquisite ballad from the album, released in February, is “Little Fires”, serving as “a reminder about where we’ve come from, what we are fighting for, and what we can achieve when we work together,” read a release statement by the committed crusader, whose song also recognizes other survivors battling for a better world.
Jaguar Jonze’s blazing performance on 26 February of “Little Fires” for Eurovision — Australia Decides, her second attempt to make the select international field, came to an extremely emotional conclusion, with the singer’s words and tears intermingling. Though she finished third overall while winning the jury vote, the artist’s rendition and her heartfelt reaction will be what many spectators, dedicated fans, and new followers remember. “Thank you so much for standing with me the last two years,” Jaguar Jonze warmly declared in the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre at the end of the song Lynch co-wrote with PJ Harding and Louis Schoorl.
Perhaps those memorable moments and her commitment to justifiable causes will help Lynch forget some recent roadblocks on her way to becoming a voice of the ages. Jaguar Jonze may soon rocket toward a sparkling pop-rock-performance art galaxy that includes the likes of fashion-conscious Kate Bush, Shirley Manson, St. Vincent, Florence + the Machine, and Charli XCX.
“To be honest, BUNNY MODE was extremely difficult to get done. It did take a lot of resilience and fortitude to get it completed,” Lynch points out, crediting her band and others who “helped realize my vision” for making it possible. “Every moment of the album tested my strength and maxed out my emotional capacity. Everyone poured so much into the music and the art around it. … I was stressed out that I wouldn’t be able to finish it in time.”
Losing two family members during one week near the end of March only increased her anxiety level while. “I worked through the grief,” divulges Lynch. She knew an album deadline was approaching ahead of a June-July tour of Australia that begins Sunday (5 June) with the first of five shows supporting the Wombats.
“I poured everything into this album because it’s a debut that I want to last for years to come,” she surmises. “I deliberated over every word, every melody, and arrangement to make sure everything on this album was there with purpose. I want it to be a safe space and solace for anyone who has had to survive and show that we can triumph over trauma.”
With Jaguar, Spectator and Dusty developing into a triple threat among orbiting artistic overachievers, keeping up with the Jonezes should become a perfectly pleasant pursuit. Just be prepared to answer the call of the wild.
Jaguar Jonze/Deena Lynch: Take 5
NAME GAME: So how did you decide to use Jaguar Jonze as your stage name/alter ego? Were you drawn more to the car, the cat or something else?
Deena: Ha ha, I’m definitely very similar to a cat in personality, and I have always been into cars growing up — but it is neither. Jaguar Jonze came about over time as a nickname that fans and friends gave me for how different I was on stage from real life. I’m like a big cat on stage — mysterious, ferocious, and dark, so it became this almost like a nothing name with alliteration. When it came to finding a name for my project, all the names I came up with felt so contrived, and I fell back on Jaguar Jonze. It was given to me, it meant something to me, and it suited the music I was creating, so I went with it.
UNDER THE INFLUENCE: Among the artists you loved growing up, whose songs motivated you to take the plunge?
Deena: Artists like Jeff Buckley, Johnny Cash, City and Colour, Portishead, Bryan Adams, Chris Isaak, and Paramore were artists I listened to growing up. Still, I loved a lot of different genres — R&B, K-pop, J-pop, heavy metal, indie rock, pop, folk, country, classical, and … anime soundtracks.
SUPPORT GROUP: Who have been your biggest supporters during not only your musical journey but also your courageous decision to advocate for change in the music industry?
Deena: My band — Aidan Hogg (bass/co-producer/synths), Joseph Fallon (guitar/string arrangements), and Jacob Mann (drums) — have been the biggest supporters of my musical journey and my decision to advocate for change in the music industry. They have always believed in me as an artist and have been by my side through thick and thin. That didn’t change through the advocacy and my decision to stand up to the industry. It also meant that they were at risk of those consequences too. The media and the public only see a certain side to the advocacy; my band has been there for me for the lowest moments and made sure I always had a support network through the ups and downs. I can never thank them enough — plus, they’re all talented human beings, and it’s a joy to write music and create any experience with them.
LABOR OF LOVE: If you weren’t making music for a living, what would you be doing?
Deena: I also love art — I love drawing, painting, photography, fashion, and film. At the bottom of everything, I feel like I am a storyteller, and my passion is in expression, no matter the medium.
JUST FOR FUN: What activities/hobbies do you enjoy the most when you’re not making music?
Deena: I love riding motorcycles both on the road and dirt. It’s a meditative space in my helmet where I can be present with my body and mind. And I love food way too much … not cooking, just eating. So I love discovering new restaurants and new flavors.