Mo’Ju returns with ‘O.K.’, a mini-album of restorative jams, and a fresh outlook on life

The Filipino/Wiradjuri artist talks to NME about the “exhausting” aftermath of her album ‘Native Tongue’, pop escapades and embracing “dad life”

Today (November 19) Mo’Ju (formerly Mojo Juju) is releasing the cathartic mini-album ‘O.K.’

A cult independent musician and queer icon, Mojo Ruiz de Luzuriaga found wider recognition with her resonant 2018 album ‘Native Tongue’ – an exploration of her dual Filipino and Wiradjuri heritage that prompted conversations about racism in contemporary Australia. She was nominated for three ARIA awards, including Breakthrough Artist.

Last year Mo’Ju dropped ‘Put It On Hold’, cut with Clams Casino at an APRA AMCOS SongHubs in New York, a standalone banger that anticipates ‘O.K.’’s bittersweet groove-pop. Recording ‘O.K.’ remotely with regular cohorts Lewis Coleman and Henry Jenkins during lockdown, Mo’Ju ponders her mental health struggles and the private tribulations of success and media scrutiny. Still, she ultimately expresses a tentative optimism. The transformative project takes in the glitchy lead single ‘Wave’, the buoyant ‘Sometime’ and whimsically liberating ‘Pissing In The Wind’.

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Mo’Ju didn’t always intend to share ‘O.K.’, first deeming it “an exercise in processing feelings and writing music and using that creative outlet for myself”. But she changed her mind when approached for a commission by Flash FWD, the programme by the City Of Melbourne that has commissioned albums from some 40 artists Mo’Ju is currently making a full-length album.

An upbeat Mo’Ju talks to NME by phone from Melbourne about ‘O.K.’, creative progression and self-care. “I don’t wanna stop ever evolving,” she says, “because then what’s the point?”

‘Native Tongue’ was a real turning point in your career. How do you feel about the album now?

“You know, that is always going to be a really important album to me. It’s always gonna be really special because it was just about identity and it was about my experiences growing up mixed race and all of those things that everybody was talking about at the time. But it was also about family – and it was about family history. It was really about honouring my grandparents, in a way.

“In more of a professional and career sense, I’m grateful for everything that came about because of that record. But I think I was a bit naive maybe about how that was gonna be received and how much of me other people would want. I kind of came out the other side of it really exhausted.”

‘Put It On Hold’, your collaboration with Clams Casino, was so random. What was it like working with him?

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“It was such a fun thing to be part of. I’m really grateful for that opportunity – to go to a SongHubs and be part of that. I wrote that song with Clams as well as another really talented female artist, [Sydney’s] BRUX. The three of us jumped in on a session – and it was a really short session. We turned that song around really quickly – or the bulk of it, anyway. Then it was a year later that I revisited it.

“But, yeah, it was kind of cool, ’cause it was just like a pop song. I didn’t really get super emotionally involved in that process – and I think I really needed to do that at the time, just flex that ‘I’m a songwriter!’ muscle.”

Now you have ‘O.K.’ What headspace were you in when making this music? Was it written during lockdown?

“Not exactly… The first three songs I wrote on tour – in the midst of the whole ‘Native Tongue’ album cycle. They were written on planes, in hotel rooms – that kind of vibe, where I was exhausted. I was on tour; I was feeling a lot of things because it felt like I was constantly in the press.

“There was a lot going on in my life on a really personal level as well. There was so much going on behind the scenes. It was really challenging because all this exciting stuff was happening, which I’d worked so hard for and I was really happy about, but then there were other things that weren’t going so well in the background. It can be quite isolating sometimes to be on tour.

“So I started writing then – and I wasn’t in a great place. I was actually not well. I was on anti-depressants and really just trying to get on top of my mental health, but also my physical health – I got sick there right towards the end of all that touring, at the end of 2019.

“Then I took three months off from touring – and it was right before the pandemic… It was right at the end of that time, and the start of the first lockdown in Melbourne, that I started writing those other songs. It was not so much that I was still feeling those things, but I was reflecting back on the way I had felt as I’d been healing.”

You’re unafraid to try new things and work outside a box. Are you consciously challenging yourself or is it instinctive?

“I think it’s a bit of both. I never, ever wanna make the same record twice. If you are familiar with my music, then you’ll know that every time I make a record, I’m always reinventing [myself] – which has kind of worked for and against me, in a lot of ways. I’m often told, ‘Oh, it’s really confusing, ’cause you just change it up so much.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, that is who I am.’ That’s the point that I’m trying to make: I’m always evolving as an artist.”

What is your happy place?

“I’ve always been a workaholic, but I’ve recently realised that there’s more to life than that. During that first lockdown of 2020, I became a parent for the first time. So that has changed my perspective – and, yeah, I’ve got a kid now! That’s definitely a happy place for me. I’m living that dad life – it’s really great.

“Other than that, there’s family – family’s always been that [happy place] for me. But, something beyond that, that’s sort of just my own? I’m a real nerd. I like games – not like the hardcore video games that people play, but I like arcade games. I like bowling, I like shooting hoops, playing basketball – I just like playing games. That is a real thing – something that’s just fun; takes me out of my head.”

Mo’Ju’s ‘O.K.’ is out now via Heavy Machinery Records

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