Jaleesa Vincent is a creative wildfire, just not today. Today, she’s doing her tax return. “Getting it done,” she sighs. “Usually, I’d have funner things to do.” But after a long break locked down at home in the hills behind Bangalow, the fun is about to start again. This Saturday she’s going on a surf trip. Her cabaret punk band, Cupid And The Stupids are playing gigs again this summer. The world is finally coming back to life after a long period of stalled introspection. In the absence of expanded horizons, time has expanded. “I’m like, ‘Oh, my god. I’m getting older! I’ve got a pterygium now!’” Jaleesa hasn’t wasted her time at home, though. For the artistically inclined there’s always a balance between finding inspiration… and then finding the time to turn inspiration into art. Locked down at home, Jaleesa has had all the time in the world to create.
“Usually when I’m travelling, I just can’t wait to get home and do some painting. I get so many ideas when I’m travelling. When I go on a trip, I’ll just get so amped seeing different stuff – different bands, different art, different buildings and all sorts of different stuff. But it’s been so nice being at home. I’ve done so much painting, and creating, and playing music, and I’ve had so much time to do that. But I’ve slowly started to lose inspiration because I’m in the same place all the time.” She laughs, “Just being here in the same spot for so long, I feel all my paintings now are just green hills.”
Jaleesa is officially a freesurfer, but if you take the “free” out of freesurfer, what are you left with? “Yeah, it’s definitely been weird,” she offers of the last couple of years. “Usually I’m just travelling, surfing pumping waves and making films, but I’ve still been able to travel around Australia at least. I never made it to South Australia with the border closures which I really wanted to do, but it’s has been nice to surf places in Australia I hadn’t been before.”
But for the most part, lockdown days have been unhurried and have blurred into one giant art project. “I haven’t needed to surf every day because I’ve got so many other things to do like painting, or making music, or reading a book or writing. I’ve got heaps of outlets to keep me busy. It’s good because I feel like a lot of my friends go crazy if there’s no surf, whereas I’m thriving. Not thriving… but just in a different element. Then one day I’ll be really grumpy, and it’ll take me ages to realise, and I’ll be like, ‘Do I have my period? What’s going on?’ Then I’ll remember I haven’t surfed in a week.”
Jaleesa’s surfing hasn’t stood still, however. Far from. “I’ve just been trying to get better,” she says. “My surfing is not as chill as it used to be, it’s a bit more… aggghhhh. I feel I’ve grown and there’s a bit more angst in my surfing these days.”
Jaleesa’s surfing is an interesting study. On any particular wave there are moments at either end of the shred/grace spectrum, although she feels the lockdown period has definitely seen her surfing shift from poise to punk rock. “I feel like at the moment my surfing is getting more angsty, for sure. Not angsty surfing, but just trying to go harder. I just want to try airs and get barrelled.”
When asked what’s driving this, she replied, “I guess it’s from surfing with the Rage gang. They’re always going as big as they can, and I just get so amped surfing with them.” Jaleesa has surfed with the Rage crew for much of the lockdown period. She shares a house with Ellis Ericson, surfs regularly with Creed McTaggart and Noa Deane, but nominates Beau Foster as her favourite surfer to watch. “He’s got such a beautiful, smooth style. But then he’s also radical as well. You just don’t know what he’s going to go for, or if he’s going to land it. I’m definitely influenced by who I’m surfing with.”
While the boys bring the rage, as far as mixing up her surfing, Jaleesa looks no further than her bro, Jake. “When I surf with my brother, he’s just trying tricks like little shuvits and 360s. He surfs like he’s on a skateboard and when I see that I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I wanna surf like that!’”
The Byron coast has been busier than ever during the lockdown, and to get waves Jaleesa has been zigging while others zag. “I always try to go where there’s less people, even if it’s onshore. If it’s southerly, I’ll go to Tallows. If it’s northerly, I’ll go to Broken.” But as with anything she does, there’s always a social element to her surfing. “I definitely like the social aspect of surfing with my friends. If I get smashed, at least someone’s there to laugh at it and vice versa. But then if I go by myself, it’s still fun. I like surfing by myself, apart from the sharks. I can just be out in the water and sing and I can just think about other stuff, and totally forget where I am.”
The surf has become a creative space on a few levels. “Sometimes in the surf I have all these ideas for songs. I’ve written so many songs in the surf that I can’t remember because the waves are too fun to go in to write them down. I can’t get preoccupied or procrastinate out there. I’m just sitting in the water waiting for a wave and I’ll come up with little jingle or an idea for a song.”
Watching Jaleesa’s surfing, there’s an exhibitionist streak to it. Beyond the pastel-pannelled wetties there’s definitely a performance going on out there. It’s unsurprising. Jaleesa is out front of her band Cupid and the Stupids these days. There’s often a complicated psychology with frontpeople; part of them wants to be there and part of them wrestles with it. In her previous band Skreech, Jaleesa was on drums, but she’s found fronting the band a liberating life move.
“When I played the drums, I actually used to get really nervous beforehand. The drummer is the backbone of the band, and if you stuff up, the whole band stuffs up. Now with Cupid and the Stupids I’m out there singing and tap dancing and there’s no pressure anymore. If I stuff up my tap routine, no one’s going to know. No one knows what the fuck I’m doing anyway. I miss being on the drums, but I also love being out front. I think I am a little show-off. I feel like I’ve still got that young Jaleesa in me who just loves dressing up and dancing.”
She tracks her exhibitionism back to being a kid but has no idea where it sprung from. “That’s a bit of a mystery because our parents didn’t surf. They didn’t surf, and they’re not really creative. They had us, and I guess I just loved painting and drawing from a young age and dancing and being fabulous. Then I followed Jake into the surf. My parents are just like, ‘What the fuck is going on here?’ I just feel like they don’t understand. They’re obviously so proud, but they’re just like, ‘We don’t understand how this happened.’”
Jaleesa says goodbye to the green hills on Saturday. “I’m so excited to be on another surf trip. I look at old clips of me surfing on trips and I’m like, ‘Oh, my god. That wave. I’d surf it so differently now.’ I’m going to get to these places, and I’ve already surfed all these waves in my head a thousand times.”
And as for Cupid and the Stupids, they’re playing the Eltham Pub on New Year’s Eve. “We played there last year at midnight, which was crazy,” recalls Jaleesa. “But this year, we got the sunset slot which I think is better. Everyone won’t be so cooked.”
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