The Indie-folk darlings of the Australian music scene, Angus and Julia Stone have been giving us heartfelt tunes since the early 2000s. Whether it’s a memory of your first kiss as ‘Big Jet Plane’ plays in the background or jamming to ‘Just A Boy’ in music class, their records have been the soundtrack to high school romances and road trips the world over. Fresh off the European leg of their Snow tour, I spoke with Julia Stone on a misty Sydney morning, the perfect setting to chat with one of Australia’s most loved artists.
Pottering around during our conversation there was an occasional breakout of giggles from Julia, admitting she very nearly fell off her chair while talking about the reception of their latest record, Snow. ‘We were pretty excited about the record and to see such a nice response from everybody. It’s been great… Out of all the records Angus and I have made, has been the most collaborative and the most representative of who we are as artists and writers and producers.’
The record has taken them across the world, and Julia says it’s been surprising to see its popularity in unexpected places. “We play everywhere… in Spain and Turkey and Norway and they’re all different. We played a show in Egypt on the last tour and we played to maybe 500 people in this really odd resort environment. It was an outdoor venue on the beach in front of a resort and we were just like, “What are we doing here?” Then people sing the words to the songs and it’s a strange thing. Shows vary in size but people who buy tickets to come to your show, whether you’re playing in front of a hundred people or thousands of people, they’re there because they really care about your music and it means something to them.”
“I think particularly for this style of music, there’s an element of coming to have fun and dance, but there’s also a lot of people who connect with the lyrics or it’s meant something to them in their life. We’ve got a really respectful crowd pretty much wherever we go and that’s really nice. It ties into this belief that I’ve had for many years, and particularly now after traveling as much as we have that, regardless of language and culture, every human being experiences the same range of emotions about love and loneliness and beauty and fear and all of the things that everybody goes through, are relevant wherever you stand on the globe.”
Performing intimate tracks like ‘Bloodhound’ and ‘Baudelaire’ to a stadium filled with fans may sound intimidating, but for Julia, it’s the smaller sets that hit home. “It’s funny to say but, for me, the vulnerability or the feeling of, “Oh God. I have to reveal myself in front of people,” is when I can really see people close up. So, smaller shows, that are only for 100 people or 50 people, that’s when you can really feel people right there and their response and their reaction. That’s how we started. We started doing mic nights and there’s something to that.
There’s a reason the Rolling Stones still do secret shows at capped venues because they want that feeling and they don’t get that in a stadium. Obviously, we’re not at that level but.. the level of real intimacy in a music performance is playing songs in your living room for friends. That’s when you show up.”
Performing their music to pubs and stadiums alike, it’s been a journey of twelve years for the two and according to Julia ‘it’s taken us all of this time to be comfortable in our own skin… To even get up on stage to begin with, you have an element of confidence that you just have to have as a performer to even get up and sing songs about your heart in front of people.’ Growing up in a musical family, Julia and Angus both had plenty of practice performing in living rooms and small shows before taking on massive venues like Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival, but Julia will be the first to confess that making a living from your music goes far beyond finding confidence on the stage. “It’s a whole combination of things that make a music career and a music life and that’s like being in the studio and working with other musicians and being able to communicate what you want in the studio. There are things that have taken us time to learn. I think, just from a practical side of things, learning how to use Pro Tools, for instance, or learning how to sing into a microphone at the right distance, comfortably, and how not to be self-conscious when you’re being recorded.”
After recording and producing their latest record from their home studio, understanding the practical side of the business has never been more important. “We’ve been in the studio a lot. Now we have our own studio and we can kind of engineer some of it ourselves and relax. That’s been good for us. It definitely has opened up the song writing process and also the ability to write together.” The process of ‘opening up’ isn’t limited just to writing, and years of experience have instilled a certain kind of perseverance in each of them. “When you do work in your life, in any sort of field, how you communicate in relationships and all of that, you start to reap the benefits of the hard work down the track by having stuck through it. I think Angus and I have done that. We’ve really stuck through some hard times and just got to this place where it’s worth it. We know how to communicate musically and personally… Certainly, I’m not trying to say that we’re any way meant to get to it. We’re definitely on a long journey of evolution and hopefully it just keeps growing.”
Covering 5 Seconds of Summer’s hit, ‘Youngblood,’ has followed in the duo’s tradition of presenting great music with the dreamy ‘Angus and Julia sound’. “Angus and I are always looking for interesting covers to do. It’s sort of a part of our catalogue of music. We’ve done Nelly Furtado and we’ve done Chumbawamba… When we started talking about doing this acoustic session, we were investigating what songs in the Top 50 feel like songs that could be fun to reinvent, give our own spin on it, and we were listening to. Youngblood really stood out for me amongst all the music that’s in the mainstream at the moment. I’m a huge fan of pop music and the era of Britney Spears and that kind of song writing. Youngblood stood out to me as a song that had that element of almost, for me, what I think of as my teenage years pop music. So we just gave it a try! We had a great band in the studio with us and they added in their bits. It came together in this way that was exciting and cool.”
Music continues to be powerful, no matter how experienced or well-known you may be, and Julia continues to find the magic in tracks old and new. “Ever since I was a kid, music always felt like it could take you somewhere else and take you out of your reality. However good or bad it was, you could fantasize and dream and imagine through sound and move your body and things like that. That’s why I love making music and also why I like listening to music. It really transports you, that’s something that all music does.” Admitting she’s not listening to much at the moment, too occupied with some top secret project that will be hitting the airwaves soon, the two artists Julia cites as her current inspiration are Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. “There’s a great record, Time the Revelator. I did a road trip up the coast of California with a friend of mine and we had it on repeat on that trip, over and over again. I just loved it. I revisited her and that record again recently, it reminds me of that trip, but it’s also just a really beautifully put together piece of song writing.”
After saving the day stepping in for Childish Gambino at Spilt Milk, you can keep an eye out for Angus and Julia’s own beautifully put together song writing live this festival season. Hitting up all the major cities on the East Coast, Julia hinted that they’ll be ‘bringing some of [our] odd collaborations’ to the stage as part of Paul Kelly’s Making Gravy tour in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Grab some mates to catch the brother-sister duo, as well as some other stellar Aussie acts, including Courtney Barnett and Ruby Fields up at Kariong for Mountain Sounds Festival next year. Either way, we’ll all be keeping an eye out for some more acoustic releases and relaxing by the beach with Chateau and Youngblood in our Summer mix.