Julia Stone: “Angus and I probably would have just drifted off”

angus julia stone

BANDS split up and get back together for a multitude of reasons; whether it be for money, ego or another stab at the limelight.

For brother/sister act Angus & Julia Stone, however, it was different. Both were happily coasting along independently with their respective solo careers, until a legendary US producer sparked the flame that got them working together again.

“Rick [Rubin] said that he heard our music at a party and wanted to meet us,” Julia explains. “He contacted us when we were both on tour doing our solo records and it was very out of the blue. It was just so weird; we were like ‘what’s going on?’ We had our own paths set going solo, and we were both really happy doing that, and then Rick contacted us and came to both of our solo shows separately in LA. We hung out with him separately. I met up with him a few times in LA; we would hang out and go for walks, go on motorbikes and talk. Angus did the same when he was in town. Rick said he wanted to make a record with the two of us together, and that was kind of like the beginning of Angus and me talking; we hadn’t really chatted much between our solo tours. It was out of the blue, but it was a good thing, and it was a blessing. I think Angus and I probably would have just drifted off and not made an effort to be in each others lives. We really now have become friends because of this process, and I don’t think I would ever not talk to him for more than a week now, but at that time I wouldn’t have seen him until Christmas 2015, you know?”

Meeting and working with the Def Jam label founder has brought a new lease of life to the Stone siblings’ song-writing, the result of which is a new, self-titled album; their first since 2010’s Down The Way.

“It feels very exciting,” Julia says. “I feel like we know the record so well now, and I just assume that everybody else knows it. We’ve been playing a whole bunch of shows and summer festivals through Europe, and we play so much stuff off the new record and I forget that nobody’s heard it. I just sort of assume that everybody’s been living with the mixes as long as we have, but I’m actually excited that people will get to hear it for real, and not just in my head. It’s probably just the nature of what’s new in your life, but I feel that the new songs have a lot more energy for us. I think as well the [new] songs are a little more beat-driven and it’s more of a dance-y feel to a show, which is unusual for us. It’s fun to dance around a bit more.”

Not only has the rekindling of their personal relationship brought about a new album, but an entire new approach to song-writing for the pair.

“I think that for Angus and I, song-writing was always a really personal thing and it was space away from each other. All of a sudden, we’re Angus and Julia Stone and we’re this brother and sister thing. We were really young when it started and we enjoyed it a lot, so we kept on going with it, but there was a part of us that wanted to claim our independence from each other. I think for both of us, when we were on tour doing a lot of press and travelling, the song-writing was a really good way to express things that were personal to us and independent from the other person. The idea of writing a song together never even crossed our minds; it wasn’t something that appealed. This time around, we had had time apart and we had written and recorded on our own, and we felt that the only reason to get back together was to try to be different in the way we worked and in our relationship. I think the time apart made it possible; we established that we were independent, so when we came into the studio and started singing together, there wasn’t as much control and we felt more free.”

The new album takes the duo’s trademark folk sound and injects some unmistakeable American flavours, although the pair have no particular goals in that part of the world, Stone says.

“We signed to Rick’s label and he’s based out of the US, but I don’t know,” she says. “The guys from the label over there are really lovely and excited about the album. For us, we sort of just go to wherever we’re summoned to play music, and we never really know what makes a song work on radio or whether people are going to connect. We just wake up and play our songs, and whatever unfolds from it unfolds from it. We haven’t ever been known for our planning or goals about places or things. I think Rick’s great though, and his label’s really good, so we have a lot of support to tour there. Although I don’t really have a phone filled with famous people. It’s Rick and then family [laughs].”

The duo have lined up a September national tour following on from their homecoming show at Splendour, with dates already selling out.

“I was just looking at a tour schedule today,” Stone says. “We have so many tours, so many shows! We go to LA in a few weeks to do press, then we go to Europe to do TV and press and stuff. Then we have an Australian tour for September/October, then an American tour for November, then a Europe tour for December. Then I don’t know what happens after that. [I’ll] probably have a little nap.”


For Beat

Live review: Angus Stone + Steve Smyth – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane, November 2012

A packed Hi-Fi (on a night that sees Radiohead playing just up the road at the Entertainment Centre) is the venue on a rainy Brisbane evening, as the Angus Stone show rolls into town for the fifth stop of his Broken Brights tour. Having only ever heard rave reviews about him – and his sister Julia for that matter – but never seen him live myself, I’m here with a slate that’s as clean as a bean and a readiness to absorb the young New South Welshman’s charming folk-rock and psychedelic leanings. Sure, the crowd is made up of 90% girls, 5% brow-beaten boyfriends, and the rest of us are just wondering what the fuck we’re doing here, but with a drink in hand and a perch by the steps, the view is looking pretty good.

The surprisingly aggro-fuelled audience is already fired up by the time support Steve Smyth and his drummer saunter onto the stage, looking like lost Allman Brothers with an enviable array of angular facial hair and locks. “Good evening Brisbane, how are you this evening?” offers the singer, before setting forth on a varied selection of era-bending whiskey-soaked blues, gruff rock, and indie; combining the lot to craft perfectly-poised walls of noise that make the audience stop chattering and listen, impressed. As he swings his SG about like he’s trying to hit a persistent fly, Smyth sings in a voice that is alternatively coarse, clean, and at times even veers into falsetto territory. He ultimately grinds out a singularly bloody beautiful set of songs that leaves me, and I bet many others in the room, wanting to check him out further. Well played sir.

Angus Stone and his band stroll onto the stage in a haze of purple and red lights to the sounds of cheers from all corners. It’s clear by the sudden frenzy among many of the girls present that the singer’s appeal is greatly helped by the fact he’s a pretty handsome lad. How much of his appeal is based on that remains to be seen, although it’s clear that his simple and direct outlook on life is certainly a crowd-pleaser. As the singer and his band run through songs from his new album, with an extended ukulele wig-out thrown in for good measure, a large chunk of the audience sings along in a display of devoted fandom. By the fifth track ‘Bird on The Buffalo’ Stone addresses the crowd – something that he doesn’t seem to be naturally comfortable with – telling us that “when I have time off I like to sit on the couch and roll a big joint and watch television.” Well, who doesn’t, Angus?
‘Broken Brights’ and ‘Monsters’ again induce gargantuan sing-alongs, before Stone, implicating one particularly lairy rum-sodden girl, tells the audience “if anyone next to you is talking shit, tell them to shut up or else they never will. Their whole lives!” Cue massive cheers from all around, including the totally incognizant Bundy girl.

Towards the end of the evening I think I ‘get’ Angus Stone. His tunes are simple and sweet. His near-incoherent mumblings are ludicrously charming. He’s a hairy, earthy scruff that girls go ape-shit for. What else is there to say? The stratosphere awaits.