Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Bri Hammond
Approaching their seventh anniversary as a couple, musician Mojo Juju and performer-costumier Frankie Valentine are a strikingly creative and accomplished duo.
What’s most inspiring about their lives as individual artists – and as a couple – is their ability to follow various creative pursuits, all the while maintaining excitement and ensuring flexibility in their work and everyday life.
“Neither of us have had to sacrifice adventure or our own practice,” says Mojo.
Prior to establishing her solo career, the soul-singer fronted Mojo Juju & The Snake Oil Merchants. Now she regularly tours with a revolving line up of backing musicians including her brother Steven Ruiz de Luzuriaga. “I'm really lucky in that the last five years I have made my living purely out of playing music.”
For years, Frankie juggled a career as a professional costumier alongside performing as a burlesque artist, producing shows such as the Melbourne edition of Naked Girls Reading, and stripping at The Men's Gallery. With financial independence and time for creative projects in mind, Frankie boldly quit her full-time job as a costumier and started working more nights at the club.
It's refreshing to hear someone speak candidly about how they balance their creative passions alongside building a stable future – especially as a career in the arts can be so precarious. “I feel like my life is much more balanced. I've been able to buy this beautiful house, as well as invest and still have time to do things like read a book or see a show and catch up with friends.”
The couple first met doing a show together with Brother’s Grimm and soon began collaborating. They have since transitioned from producing their own projects, to occasionally working on other people’s shows together. This move has created a distinction between life and work for the couple.
“We used to go to bed and talk about how we need to do this, this and this and work was a little bit endless,” says Frankie. “Whereas now it is a bit more broken up and there is ‘us’ time and ‘work’ time.”
Both with various tours and projects on go, the pair admit they can’t really follow a strict routine – rather they prefer to flirt with structure only to eventually rebel against it.
“I try and get into a routine, even though it's difficult when juggling so many different elements, but Mojo is a bit more haphazard,” explains Frankie.
Since moving into their own home complete with respective studios for Mojo’s writing and Frankie’s costuming, they have embraced some semblance of routine, typically spending mornings together before moving on to their individual projects.
From slow mornings sipping coffee, to the various pockets of creativity they have both built into their day, Mojo and Frankie prove that a life can be of your own making, and share the secrets to a fulfilling relationship with another artist.
Mornings with Mojo and Frankie…
Unless one of us is away on tour we will spend the mornings together.
I usually wake up first between nine and ten. I’ve always been a night owl, and Frankie goes to bed after me because she works late. I'll get up and make tea and read the news on my phone. I'll feed the cats, maybe check my emails, then make tea to bring to Frankie to wake her up around eleven.
Once Frankie is up we will have coffee together – if we woke up at the same time I would probably go straight for coffee, but I like to wait and have ir together, it's a bit of a ritual.
I’m from South Africa originally, so for breakfast I’ll make rusks – a double-baked bread dough – to go with our coffee.
We will sit in the lounge or outside in the sun if it is warm enough and watch the cats play. I will get the catch up on the news from Mojo and we talk about the day ahead. It is really nice if we have the morning together, but we are also used to not having it if someone is away.
It's a pretty cruisy morning. Once we have had a coffee and a bit of a catch up, we will go our separate ways.
"It is really nice if we have the morning together, but we are also used to not having it if someone is away." – Frankie
A day in the life of Frankie
My routine depends on what I'm working on. If I have a big costume commission I will shower and go out and source fabrics and pick up bits and pieces. Then I will head into the studio and just work until I get hungry!
Some days I might have meetings, rehearsals or photo shoots for a new show or collaborative project.
I usually work quite late into the evening just to stay in the routine of working nights.
I’ll try to do some yoga to stretch out because I get really stiff if I’m sitting at the sewing machines. If I have work at the club then I will do some stretches before I go to limber out.
At the moment I work two to three nights at The Men's Gallery. I love the club, the management, and the work. I have met some of my dearest friends there.
One of the things I love most about the job is its flexibility. It is really conducive to having the time and space to work on my own creative projects such as burlesque, producing and costume making.
If I have a show coming up there will be rehearsals a couple of nights a week. If I'm working on a new show I will go through a creative burst of trying to work out what exactly it is that I want to achieve. It is a very different process if I'm doing something for someone else because they will come to me with a clear concept. But I procrastinate a bit when it is one of my own acts.
I don't create new acts of my own that often anymore – I used to come up with something new every couple of months, but I feel like the quality of the work now is a lot stronger. Once you have an act in place, it’s similar to a song in that you will perform that act in numerous different shows.
"At the moment I work two to three nights at The Men's Gallery. I love the club, the management, and the work. I have met some of my dearest friends there. One of the things I love most about the job is its flexibility. It is really conducive to having the time and space to work on my own creative projects such as burlesque, producing and costume making."
A day in the life of Mojo
I feel like my life is divided into three different cycles: writing, recording and touring.
The writing and recording cycle is probably my favourite because I'm at home. When I’m writing I’ll have a slow morning and then go into my studio around midday. Once I get going I stay in the zone and usually Frankie will remind me to eat!
I try to write and record at least one demo a day. Even if it is terrible, it just keeps the creative juices flowing and occasionally there will be an idea that you can come back to and reuse for something else.
There are definitely moments where I feel like I'm just fucking around, but then I’ll just have a breakthrough. The later in the day it gets, the better the ideas.
The touring cycle itself has three phases. The prelude, which involves planning and media campaigns; the touring; and the wind down which involves all the accounting. In the month or so leading up to a tour, I will be doing heaps of press, particularly if it is an album release. There will be days where I have back to back media calls and interviews. Then there is all the tour planning and boring admin. I have an agent who takes care of a lot, but I sort out the finer details of booking accommodation and flights so there is still a lot of juggling.
Usually touring involves a lot of early mornings. I go to the airport, rock up to the town, check into my accommodation, do a sound-check, have dinner, play the gig, do the post-show pack down and hang with the band before heading back to the hotel. Then we do it all again the next day. It is a really intense schedule, but you learn to accommodate. It has been getting harder as I get older, but also the way that I tour these days is a lot more comfortable than ten years ago.
"I try to write and record at least one demo a day. Even if it is terrible, it just keeps the creative juices flowing and occasionally there will be an idea that you can come back to and reuse for something else." – Mojo
"There are definitely moments where I feel like I'm just fucking around, but then I’ll just have a breakthrough. The later in the day it gets, the better the ideas." – Mojo
When I get home from tour I will crash for a couple of days. The wind down phase involves a lot of accounting. If I am in town, I go to the kickboxing gym in the evenings from Monday to Thursday. It's a really good thing to do because it's so physical and fast paced. You are completely out of your head and not thinking about anything. You’re just in your body and I think that is a really good reset for me.
It's also nice to learn something completely new that is separate from anything else I do. So coffee and boxing are my two things that I'm strict about whenever I am in town.
Evenings with Mojo and Frankie
We both like to cook, so might make something together or make our own individual specialities. I do veggie lasagne, creamy soy chicken, or miso eggplant.
I’ve got moussaka down, also do a good jerk chicken, and I make the best tacos. It’s good to be experimental with cooking and try new things.
We make simple stuff too because we are tired by that point in the day – it's not always some grand feast. It's often just some rice, beans, soba noodles, something that takes two minutes.
We usually go out for dinner a couple of times a week or try and catch up with friends.
We will also see a show at least once a week – whether it is a band or performance that we have friends in. We try to support our respective industries.
If we are both around, we will usually watch an episode of something before bed. Mojo will crash out – she will fall asleep the minute she puts her on the pillow. I'll read for a while or do some hand sewing while I watch a movie.
Mojo: We both work late on the weekend, and if I am in town I often DJ.
Frankie: I usually work Friday and Saturday and won't finish until five in the morning, so we usually have Sundays together and just chill. We will go to brunch or go and do shopping. Very rarely will we work on a Sunday. Occasionally there will be a show.
BEHIND THE SCENES
On being a dynamic duo…
Frankie: I feel like having a really solid relationship or foundation can give you a platform to go out and follow whatever creative pursuits you want. You can be really busy and know that you have this really steady, solid base to come back to. We don't collaborate as much as we once did, but we still soundboard off each other and talk about ideas and get excited about respective projects.
Mojo: I think sometimes people have the misconception that a relationship is a distraction from what you need to do creatively as an individual…
Frankie: I think it can be – I have been in relationships where it has been – but because we both have similar lifestyles and share a lot of the same tastes and things, it works.
Mojo: We are really lucky because we both share a lot of the same ideals. There has never been any insecurities in our relationship or jealousy – we are both free to go on the road or work in a club and that is cool.
Frankie: We both get a lot of pleasure out of what the other person does and are both really supportive.
Mojo: It would be impossible if we didn't appreciate what the other person did. I’m hoping you like my music and you would buy my records even if I wasn't your partner...
Frankie: I bought a record before we got together… [Laughs]
On how self-doubt makes you a better artist…
Frankie: My secret flaw is definitely that I doubt myself... don’t you think?
Mojo: [Laughs] Yeah, I guess if that's what you feel. But actually my osteopath recently said that if there was a Venn diagram for creativity, there would be narcissism on one side and self-doubt on the other and that little slither where they overlap is where you make art. I don't think you are a narcissist, but I do think you have a confidence a lot of people don't have – you get on stage and take your clothes off. You know what your skills and strengths are.
Frankie: I am really self-critical though, which I think can be a good thing because it makes your work better.
Mojo: The self-critical thing is essential to being a great performer or a great artist or doing anything well. If you are not critical, you are not trying to improve and you are not pushing yourself and you are not getting better. I think every artist, no matter what their medium is, has to have an element of self doubt.
On applying creativity to everything you do...
Mojo: I've always been interested in design, fashion and aesthetic and I used to think that I wanted to work in film. Visuals are a really strong part of it – when I am writing or performing there is always this little movie playing in my head. I don't know if that is a common thing, but creating album covers, making film clips or doing photo shoots is a huge part of being a musician and I treat it like part of the creative process.
On the relationship between being disorganised and being present...
I’m really disorganised and scatter-brained. I would struggle with so many of the practical day-to-day things if I didn’t have Frankie in my life! [Laughs]
But I think the positive flipside to being disorganised is that you very much live in the present. That is why you have such interesting interactions and form such special relationships because you are not distracted by all the mundane stuff. Being disorganised is part of your creativity.
But not knowing what is happening next can be problematic...
It is also really beautiful and I struggle to live more in the present, so we balance each other out.
"I think the positive flipside to being disorganised is that you very much live in the present." – Frankie
On being both extraverted and introverted…
Frankie: Mojo has this knack for developing really beautiful, deep relationships with everybody that she meets…
Mojo: That is not necessarily true, but I do love people and I like different people. I’ve never been one to be part of a crew – I'll just collect people from really different walks of life. I don't know what it is, but people feel like that they can really open up to me.
Frankie: I really admire that about her. For me, it takes a bit longer to open up and get to know people. I'm definitely more reserved than Mojo in a social setting. Yes, I do get up on stage and get naked, but at a dinner table I'll be more quiet and shy and she will be the life of the party.
Mojo: Having said that though, I’m also very big on taking chunks of time out for myself. I really like alone time.
Frankie: We both do
"I do love people and I like different people. I’ve never been one to be part of a crew – I'll just collect people from really different walks of life." – Mojo
On creating a life that is flexible and sustainable…
Mojo: I think we have both been very successful at finding ways of generating income while also maintaining full flexibility and creativity. Neither of us have had to sacrifice adventure or our own practice, which is really cool because not very many people are lucky enough to do that.
Frankie: A few years ago I got to a point where I was really burnt out – I was working full time as a costumier at places like The Malthouse and The Ballet, or wherever the work was, as well as performing, producing shows and stripping to save money to buy a house. I just didn't have the energy for it anymore. I thought, you know what, I'm just going to stop doing costume full time and work more nights at The Men's Gallery and give myself time to work on my own creative projects.
Since making that choice I feel like my life is much more balanced. I've been able to buy this beautiful house, as well as invest and still have time to do things like read a book or see a show and catch up with friends. I've also had more time and energy to devote to pushing myself creatively, collaborate with new people, and work on new projects.
On the secrets to a successful relationship…
Frankie: I think the secret to success is organic time apart. It happens naturally for us – we will get to the point where we are driving each other a bit crazy and then Mojo will go on tour for two weeks and I will really miss her!
Mojo: That is a neat little trick. We will start getting into a routine and something will come up and it's exciting again. It does seem to happen quite naturally and keeps it pretty fresh.
"If there was a Venn diagram for creativity, there would be narcissism on one side and self-doubt on the other and that little slither where they overlap is where you make art."
– Mojo Juju