Foto-© Brooke Ashley Barone
Locker leichte Musik von Angus & Julia Stone lernten wir vor Jahren kennen und lieben und auch unabhängig voneinander bescherten uns die Geschwister regelmäßig feinste Roadtrip Musik. Während Angus sich seit einiger Zeit mit Dope Lemon in neuen Gefilden bewegt, teilt dieser Tage Julia ihr jüngstes Werk und zeigt selbstbewusst neue, poppige Seiten ihrer selbst. Vorab trafen wir uns virtuell, um über die Entstehung von Sixty Summers zu sprechen und, unter anderem, mehr über das Verlassen der geschwisterlichen Komfortzone, ihre musikalischen Anfänge und kreativen Kollaborationen zu erfahren:
Let’s go back to the start. Was there a specific moment when you knew that you wanted to become a musician?
The first time I felt like playing music and dancing would be amazing was when I was about 13. I was swept up in the generation of spice mania and at that time I was very much into dancing. And the idea that you could sing and dance for a job was, at that age where you’re starting to think about being a grown up, seemed like such an amazing way to spend your life. I remember the film come out and they were all living on the spice girls bus and that made me want to live on a bus too. Now I do or well did live on a bus, and it’s not quite like the spice girls bus that we travel on. But I remember thinking that that would be really fun and started writing songs. The songs I wrote when I was thirteen were inspired by pop music and they were all about having fun in the sun and very simplistic and cute. I then got distracted in my middle teenage years, when I was fifteen I fell in love very deeply with a very wonderful person and that was the beginning of a different kind of understanding of music. I think that experience of falling in love and being so connected to somebody inspired me in a way I hadn’t understood before and really brought me into appreciating the kind of music my parents were listening to. Leonard Cohen and Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, my parents were big fans of that era of music and I started to really understand what the lyrics were about, because I was feeling a lot of the things they were singing. Then I went to university for a year and decided that music wasn’t for me. I hadn’t felt connected to it for a few years after me and my ex partner split up, I just felt very sad. And then I went traveling and that’s when I started to feel inspired again. I traveled through South America for nine months and I didn’t play guitar at this point, I only played the trumpet and I sang. So I didn’t have a method to write music actually, it was all a cappella melody lines and lyrics. And so this was the first time that I started to teach myself to play the guitar so that I could accompany myself and start to write songs. And that was a whole other musical journey with bands like Mogwai and Björk and Belle & Sebastian.. I had a disc player, this was pre smart phone and you could have five or six records on that mini disc and I would listen to record after record on bus trips. And I understood that oh I need to sing about the pain of losing somebody and the pain of being separated from family and things that are going on. It felt like something was happening and I really wanted to share the songs, so I’d show people in hostels. I got back to Australia and my brother was writing songs as well and we happened to move in together, because we both didn’t have any money. We lived in there off cheap pizzas and were showing each other our songs and we started to play together. And seeing people react and feeling good about us singing together made me see a possible path in music. Prior to that I didn’t know what I would do.
So it seems in a way that you’ve come back full circle with this new record, going back to pop? Compared to the last two records it sounds like you have introduced new things, maybe some that were kind of hiding in your cupboard waiting to come back out?
That’s really nice for you to see it like that. I feel very similarly and I feel like this record is so many parts of my personality and how I express in the world.. that haven’t been let out. It’s not for any particular reason other than I was living in a world that made sense in a different way up until now. And I think it has taken me this long to want to explore those sounds and lyrics and way of being in terms of a musical genre. Pop music didn’t fit, singing with Angus. It wasn’t the right place for either of us and Dope Lemon, what he’s gone on to do, didn’t fit either. We have such different voices in terms of how we enjoy music. But together, the world we’ve built together, was meeting in the middle somewhere and that was a really nice place to be. But there are whole other worlds from both of us that didn’t feel natural to explore together.
It’s a gorgeous picture too, that you dive into it with your brother and create this comfort zone, if you can call it that, or bubble, where you know how things work and then still give yourself the space to break away from that to create Dope Lemon or to create Sixty Summers.
Yeah, you’re right. I think comfort is the right word. Comfort is a good way of describing when people ask why it has taken so long, I guess, to make these kind of sounds. I also think of my first two solo records as very similar to Angus & Julia, I don’t think they existed very much out of this world but felt like songs that could have been on an Angus & Julia record, but they just didn’t make it because we could only put six songs on each. At the time we were both writing a lot of music and were both releasing solo records, but it was just a way of getting out all of this music that we were writing. Angus & Julia had its own momentum, so we would put these six songs each onto the record and then we would tour for two years. It was quite frustrating because you have so many other things that you’re writing about. And so By the Horns and The Memory Machine I felt kind of sonically set in a similar space and it was comfortable for sure for me, to sit in that space. 60 Summers, working with Annie and Thomas they provided a different kind of comfort where I was safe to do or be anything I want to be with them. And that felt amazing. So when I try this thing with my voice or when I write in spoken word..
Which sounds amazing!
That’s really nice, thanks! It’s funny, I don’t know if you feel this as a journalist and a writer when you record your interviews. You know when you listen back and think, oh do I sound like this when I speak?
It’s quite confronting isn’t it? I really didn’t want to listen to those first interview recordings..
Yes it’s a really confronting thing to hear your speaking voice and to be comfortable with it. And somehow for me that’s different with singing. I never listen back to my voice, even though it’s quite unusual and it’s not for everybody, for me I like the way it sounds and I think oh yeah that’s nice. I can hear it and I don’t feel bad. I mean I don’t listen to my own music, but I don’t feel bad when I hear it. But when I hear myself speak it’s like you said too, it’s just absolute cringe. So doing Dance like that and doing Easy like that, it was exciting to get to the point where I listened back and liked how I sounded. It was a really big step to not judge myself and just have this way of expressing.
That’s so interesting! Hearing you in this new form sounded so confident, raw but confident. As if you’re really in tune with what you are doing.
I think again, having friends like Annie and Thomas has been extremely helpful on that path to confidence and strength and believing in myself. Working with them was so unique, because when you go for things in the studio, they’re not gonna work every time. But you can’t find out what your limits are without trying. And having them be so warm and so lovely, it’s like this feeling of people building you up as you’re doing it and then say ‘go again, that’s amazing’. You know when things are not amazing, but there’s also an honesty of saying ‘I think you can get that better’ or ‘I think you can go further than that’. They both were so good in making me feel like that wasn’t a criticism, but a we know you and we know what you’re capable of and we believe in you to go there. The last five years of knowing those guys and making this record had a lot of special moments like that, where I walked away feeling like I could trust myself. Annie had this phrase in the studio she used to say, ‘proof of concept’. You have an idea that you think will add to the song, and sometimes I’ve been in studios where ideas were shut down, because it doesn’t seem good. And her whole thing was to try it and we’ll know if it’s good or bad. And it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. Proof of concept, you have a concept and you have to try it out and then you’ll know for sure. I really liked that, some ideas are just not good but you don’t really know what’s gonna be magical or what’s gonna be average.
Proof of concept, that’s quite a mantra to go by in any respect.
That’s right! You have an idea, try it out. And if it doesn’t fit and it doesn’t work then it’s not for you. And that’s okay.
Let’s go back to Dance. When you create a song and pour it out there, I guess it’s being transformed into something else. And you could add another layer when you turn it into a visual that others can also relate to. I wondered how your concept of dance plays a role in that whole idea of transformation?
That’s a really good question and Dance is a song that has been on such a journey in terms of the initial feeling of what it was about and where it ended up as a music video. There’s always a red line that runs through everything. Of course in this particular context it’s about love, the feeling of falling in love and the fact that that’s accessible to anyone at any age. Initially it was a bit about a broken love. The lyrics are more in the world of, I know this is never gonna work out, you hurt you and I hurt you, but there are these magical moments where we can just exist in the dance, where we can just accept that it’s not quite right but it’s okay. Because when we dance and when we hold each other, that’s what this is about. And for those moments everything is okay and we don’t have to worry about all the rest of it. There was a feeling when I wrote that, about a relationship that I was in that felt very magical and very special and deep, but we both knew that it wasn’t the one for us. At least it wasn’t the one that would carry through life, it would be a moment in time. And to try and celebrate that, rather than to be pained by it. The song had a storytelling about this kind of relationship. That was the original version. And then Annie came on board and the production changed a lot, at first it was this very dance beat pop production and when Annie joined we changed it to this dramatic, very different sound. It always struck me with feeling quite French and that was then a feeling of me wanting to sing it in French. I had sung many times at this point in French and felt that the song would be the perfect song to translate. Claire Pomme did a beautiful translation for the song and then we had this French version that I absolutely love. So we talked about shooting it in France and make the music video there and thought about what sort of love story we should tell. Jessie, who is a long time collaborator and very dear friend of mine, and I were in Paris together at the beginning of last year. We were sitting in a hotel and discussing ideas for the video and she said how nice it would be to see an older couple, beautiful older French actors and they’re going on a first date. You never see older people in music videos falling in love. She said older people in videos they’re always either funny or being laughed and it didn’t feel like we had many references. And actually getting older is really sexy and so much to look forward to, when you have all of this experience.. So we wanted to shoot it in Paris, but then of course Covid happened and Jessie is based in the US. So we started talking about older actors from the US and you know, we always dream very big and think about who our dream people would be to wok with. But we never imagined in a million years that Susan and Danny would say yes. But they both loved the idea and were excited to work with each other and to tell this story and to be portrayed in that way. Two month later we were shooting the video in New York. The song did really transform, it became this beautiful love story and about age being extremely sexy and fun and also just capturing that beautiful magic that comes with first getting excited about somebody.
That is so special.. in this day and age.
I love that.. I think we have a culture that really puts an emphasis on youth being where all of the magic happens. And it makes us frightened of ageing and frightened of what comes next in that period of our lives. Being more examples of people having a fantastic time, and I think there are a lot of people who are having an absolute ball you know. My grandparents were a great example of that and Jessie’s as well..
The Artwork on the cover is stunning. But it’s also the creative work, the videos and the photography and you’ve collaborated on a jewellery collection too! Can you share some background about the aesthetics around the album?
This record has been all about collaborations from the heart. Jessie, who I mentioned before and who I’ve worked with on all the music videos, she’s my closest friend and she’s introduced me to other collaborators along the way. Like Filip Custic, who did the album cover and all of the single artwork, who is this incredible surrealist artist from Madrid and was just divine to work with. What I loved Filip is that he really captures the beauty of complexity. We’re not these one dimensional creatures, all humans have these incredibly complex lives that they live and I loved that he really heard that in the music and I love that about him. I don’t speak Spanish very well and he doesn’t speak English very well and we were both meeting in Spain as these humans of the same heart and felt very inspired by each other. And the collaboration with the jewellery designer, Cleopatra’s Olivia, she was somebody similar who I met at a dinner party. We started talking and found ourselves very quickly talking about our love affairs that took us on wild journeys around the world and what the pain of broken hearts can teach you about yourself. And through grief, what kind of beauty can come out if it. We got talking about the mermaid and the history and the symbolism of the mermaid and a lot that has to do with sacrifice. Growing up as a woman, being shown the mermaid as this creature who gives up everything for the man, her family and home and voice, so that she can marry him. That was the version I grew up on, similar to Olivia. But actually the history of the mermaid is much more complex and often quite brutal. And very relatable probably for all humans. Life is brutal and a lot of it can come into beautiful pieces of art, so that is where that collaboration began.
And that might be something that’s especially resonating with a lot of people after the year that was 2020. Where you realise that in the end all that matters is being guided by your heart and following it and everything else will puzzle itself together.
That’s really nice, I think if that’s the wisdom that’s come out of the year, your year, of strangeness and stress then you’ve done really well.
Maybe as a super last thing, what was your introspection or lesson?
I guess I became really interested in mental health and mental health issues, because that was something that was becoming so prevalent with everyone around. And one of the things I felt with myself with learning about it, was that it’s really okay to not be okay. That was something that I haven’t comprehended fully until last year. That sitting in the discomfort of anxiety and sadness or however it shows up in your life, this pain and the pressure you put on yourself to not feel like that, actually magnifies this feeling.. instead of accepting your circumstances or what you’re experiencing inside. It’s okay to not be okay was my take away from 2020.