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Julia Stone is just as sweet speaking in interview as her singing is on record. Taking a break from her sibling duo, Angus & Julia Stone, the charming female half chats to Cream about her international travels, writing songs “from memory”, and losing count of clip hits on Youtube.
Interview by Antonino Tati.
You’re from close to Avalon, part of the northern beaches of NSW. Do you still call it home?
Well I still call Australia home, for sure, but I can’t really say I’ve been home for a long time. I’ve been based a bit in LA, and a bit in London, largely due to how convenient it is to be overseas [for recording]. I also enjoy the difference of being overseas. I grew up in Australia and have seen a lot of Australia already, so it’s kind of good to venture out a bit and see other worlds.
I believe a lot of the writing and production for your solo album By The Horns was done in places as afar as France and India, LA and Australia. Did you enjoy the transcontinental journey?
A lot of the songs for By The Horns were written during touring with Angus, and so a lot of that time was all over the place. Angus and I always write while we’re on the road. So the solo record came together because we were travelling. Even between tours I like to travel; I especially like going to India which is one of my favourite places to travel to, and so I wrote a few songs there. But production was predominantly done in New York.
With the writing side of things, do you find you get a different buzz and different influences depending on where you are? Are you in a different frame of mind when you’re in California than, say, when you’re in India?
I’ve never really noticed. I wouldn’t be able to tell you how different I feel in different places because I haven’t really paid that much attention to it. I think I do feel different in different places but I don’t know if it’s solely the environment – you know, the weather, the people, and the culture– that makes me feel that way. It’s also the frame of mind I’m in at that particular time; how I’m feeling mentally and emotionally at that particular time. I’ve been to India about six times now, and each time feels different: going straight after a breakup compared to going when you’ve just met someone, start falling in love and then go to India! Do you know what I mean? And it’s not just the relationships that influence your way of thinking; it’s the friendships, family… Life is so vast and complex that it’s hard to pinpoint just where a song comes from. It’s like, is this coming from sadness, is this coming from pain, is this coming from beauty, is this coming from love? There’s just a massive array of shit that goes on in life.
So the songs come as they come?
Yeah, most of the time. Occasionally I get asked to write something specific for somebody, like for a friend’s wedding, or I’ve been asked to write songs for films and TV shows. Then I’m much more conscious about what the idea behind the story and song has to be.
Do you songwrite old-school style with pen on paper or on a PC or Mac?
I actually don’t do either. I sing and I just remember. I don’t actually write down lyrics. The only time I do write down lyrics is when they’re needed for album artwork. Mostly, they’re written in my head.
Does that mean that when you get into a studio to record, there are often changes to a song?
Absolutely. A song like Justine – those lyrics changed about 15 times over the period of a year of singing that song for fun. It was just one of those songs that I love the melody of but I was never really attached to any of the lyrics for too long. Even in the studio, each take was with different lyrics.
After two albums and six EPs, and some very successful ones that, with Angus, how tough is it to branch out on your own? Are there big decision-making processes or do you just go on gut instinct and go with the ride?
Pretty much the second one. It’s very much a go-with-the-flow kind of journey. Even with Angus and I, I don’t think we sat down and planned things – to play together like this. We’ve had moments where we’ve gone, “How did I end up with you, doing this for six years?”. And now we just feel it’s time to have some creative space of our own.
You guys grew up together; don’t you ever get tired of being in each other’s faces? Is it necessary to go solo occasionally just to find your own place?
I think it’s really important for us to do that. We’ve grown up a lot together, and it’s certainly challenged us in ways that family do challenge you. But I feel really lucky for having that opportunity to work with family. Because Angus and I have been living together, and working together, and making music together for so long, we’ve really had to process a lot of stuff and be kind to each other in ways that were different to when you were a kid. When you’re a kid, you fight and you’re a bit vicious. We’re adults now and with that comes a certain maturity, and I’ve been really grateful to have that with Angus. I think, too, that it gave us a lot of confidence to have each other there while doing such a strange job where you’re always away from home and you’re constantly thrown into strange situations. And now, for both of us to go solo, it’s not a big deal.
Not a lot of people realise it, but you started out with solo ambitions, anyway…
Yeah, like I said we didn’t plan Angus & Julia Stone. He was very much writing his own music and I was writing mine. But we lived together and it just made sense to have open mic nights. I’d sing harmonies on his sets and he’d sing harmonies on my sets. Thought we always supported each other, we never thought of ourselves as a combined act. It was just a course of events that lead to us wanting to turn it into a combined band. Actually, we won this random competition to play a festival. We both won it as solo artists, but we both won the same spot in the festival. They said, “You guys can both play solo spots but you’d have to split the set”. Then it just evolved into working together.
How does it feel to have something like 11 million hits on Youtube for one song and video like Big Jet Plane? Is it surreal?
To be honest, I can’t get my head around that number. Eleven million is a lot but I just don’t even know what it looks like!
Do you like that these days an artist can go online and see public reaction without having it filtered through record company execs? You’ve comments directly from your listeners, with no fan clubs or suits in the way…
I try not to go online and look up [ie: Google] myself. It’s kind of disturbing whether people are saying good things or bad things. A couple of times I’ve gone on to check a video or something, just wanting to make sure that it’s the right ratio and not being squished. And if I see there are comments underneath, I’ll quickly close the page because even if they’re positive, it can really play with your head. Whether people say good or bad things, it doesn’t really matter. I just love making music. That said, the internet’s a great thing and I love being able to download stuff and watch things on Youtube, but as a performer and an artist I don’t particularly like the idea that I can potentially see a video of me playing last night. I don’t like that things can be recorded and put up the next day, because it’s embarrassing! I don’t wanna see myself dancing around…
I’m wondering, what is the most surreal place you’ve been in and heard one of your songs being played?
I was watching a movie called Easy A and I love Emma Stone [in the lead role] – I think she’s a beautiful actress. Anyway I was really enjoying the film and there’s a scene where she’s driving a car and all of a sudden I can hear Angus’ voice come on, singing Big Jet Plane, and it totally tripped me out. I don’t remember getting an email about it. You do get emails and information [from the record company] but I barely follow all that, so I do get shocked when things like that happen.
Thanks, and I hope we hear a lot more solo work from Julia Stone, and from Angus & Julia in the future.
Thank you, it’s been great talking with you.
By The Horns is available through iTunes, distributed through EMI Music Australia.
Julia Stone is currently on tour, dates and venues as follows:
Saturday 8th September
Meeniyan Town Hall, Meeniyan VIC
Wednesday 12th September
The Abbey, Canberra ACT
Thursday 13th September
Lizotte’s, Newcastle NSW
Saturday 15th September
The Metro, Sydney NSW
Wednesday 19th September
The Courier-Mail Spiegeltent, Brisbane QLD
Thursday 20th September
The Courier-Mail Spiegeltent, Brisbane QLD
Friday 21st September
Community Centre, Byron Bay NSW
Friday 28th September
Astor Theatre, Perth WA
Sunday 30th September
Bird In Hand Winery, Adelaide SA
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