PLAYING MELBOURNE: Violinist Xani Kolac Learned to Embrace Pop for Forthcoming LP

Pop musician Xani Kolac is a rare, prodigious creature. Best known for touring the festival circuit throughout Australia with her her violin-and-drums duo The Twoks, Kolac has been steadily releasing solo EPs that blend strings, electronics, and her beguiling voice since 2017. Her third EP, a collection of instrumentals released last year, was entirely improvised in the studio. Kolac has been building toward releasing her first full-length for a while now, and this September, she’ll see that dream come to fruition with From The Bottom Of The Well, which she says contains “pieces of personal growth, connections with other caring and surviving souls, wisdom and words of advice and pop songs to pick me up” despite being “written down in the depths of despair.”

Kolac began playing violin at the age of seven, and says, “By the time I was eleven I was recording myself playing violin on cassette tapes and overdubbing layers of additional violin and singing. I loved writing lyrics at that age, mostly songs about about knee-high socks falling down.” She recalls collaborating with her younger sister Meg as a jazz duo playing gigs at the local pizza restaurant in Melbourne, too. “We were a hit there, so we decided to write our own ’50s-inspired girl pop and started our little duo called Fluffin’ The Duck, with me on violin and Meg on double bass,” she remembers. “Some of my favourite collaborations are with my sister or close friends, just sharing music together.”

Her upcoming album, recorded in her lovingly constructed home studio, has evolved mightily from primary school topics and pizzeria tours  to explore sacred music, art and instrumental adventurism. “If I had to break this album into three parts, I’d label them art-pop, instrumentals and atheist hymns,” she says. “It’s taken me ten years on a scenic route to get back to a place of clarity, knowing exactly what I wanted to make and how I wanted it to sound. I’ve recorded and performed songs I wrote in an Americana/Country style to completely improvised instrumentals for this new album, but I’ve also jumped from genre to genre to cover ambient sound and dance pop, too.” The first single from the record, “Who Would’ve Thought,” documents the unexpected twists and turns of Kolac’s journey in her typically playful style.

Kolac’s “scenic route” also saw her collaborating with various producers and engineers who sculpted her sound, though it wasn’t until the making of From The Bottom Of The Well that she felt ownership for her work. “This album was made by me. I wrote all the songs over time, reflecting on the experiences that have shaped me over the past year or two,” she says. “I chose myself as engineer and producer, invested in a home studio set up and learned to make my own album. It has been the best fun, and most challenging experience to date.”

One of those life-altering experiences included the recent completion of a semester of Indigenous Studies at university, which ultimately inspired Kolac’s most recent single, “Grey.” It’s a cheeky analysis of the conflicting actions – seemingly harmless things like buying a latte on the way to a march for climate change – that can undermine our activist ideals if we’re not careful. But Kolac isn’t preachy, ultimately landing in the titular grey area where most of us live our day-to-day lives. She wrote it while sitting on her new three-seater couch, “an extravagance my boyfriend and I awarded ourselves for being grown-ups,” just as she says in the song’s opening lines. “Here I was on this luxury furniture item, reflecting on what it meant for me to be white in a country belonging to – and never ceded by – First Peoples, writing a protest song,” she says. “One of the lines I sing is ‘Can I call Australia my home if I was born here but on stolen lands?’”

Kolac may not have the answers, but at least she’s asking the right questions. She’s working toward a more balanced future, particularly in the music industry, by founding SPIRE, a collective of female instrumentalists available for hire on stages around Australia. And her work itself is a testament to the potential for evolution, blending as it does modern electronic production, like live looping, with her classical contemporary training. Part of that process was finally finding peace with being a pop artist.

“On my record there’s a track called ‘Fix It.’ Before that song I hadn’t even considered including a pop track in my repertoire,” she says. “My uni training had made me slightly ashamed of my love for pop music, but I recorded it anyway. I remember feeling so excited. The song made me wanna sing along and dance and it felt good. Now I lay down pop tracks all the time; arty, conventional, violin-laden pop tracks. I still love that track and I try to remember that when it comes to making songs, there’s nothing to fix.”

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