Fanny Lumsden Lives Her Country Life On The Road With A Family of Thrillseekers, A Guitar and a Fistful of Awards

Photo Credit: Dan Stanley Freeman

It’s been a rollicking ride for singer-songwriter Fanny Lumsden over the last couple of years. The crushing experience of cancelled tours was ameliorated by sweeping up an array of industry awards, including ARIA Country Album of the Year for her third album Fallow and five CMAA (Country Music Association Australia) Golden Guitars. The album is an expansive, romantic, evocative canvas upon which guitars, strings and brass instrumental arrangements seem to organically rise from the earth and weave lush portraits from sun, dust, water, emotion and sound.

For her fans, and soon-to-be fans, who have only been able to hear Fallow through headphones and speakers, a comprehensive live tour – the Country Halls Tour – is the much anticipated, and well-delayed, experience Lumsden and her band, The Thrillseekers, have been readying for.

The title track sashays in on romantic, spare piano. It is, as intended, beautiful and over all too soon. Lumsden’s gentle, yielding voice rises and dips simultaneously with the sympathetic strings. “Our hearts, deep in the fallow,” she repeats. “Where did you go? We put our trust in the ebb and flow,” and the words hit home: what else could we do in the last couple of years but surrender to nature and circumstances?

Harmonising alongside her, his voice a delicate but lovely accompaniment, is her younger brother, Thomas Lumsden. “He’s just a talented boy,” admires his sister. “He did classical training when he was younger… and could have easily been an opera singer, but for whatever reasons hasn’t taken that up, so now we use that to our advantage!”

Thomas is a regular on stage and his absence often results in audiences enquiring after him. “He sang before he talked. Growing up, he used to lie in his cot and sing. He’s always been incredibly talented. It’s been a process to get him to do stuff solo. He’s an invaluable part of the team,” she adds. “Everyone loves him on stage… I’m super glad that we’ve been able to collaborate.”

The oldest of four siblings, the other two Lumsdens are yet to be recruited to the travelling van and the Country Halls tours. “On both sides of my family there’s a lot of music, from opera singers to concert pianists to musical theatre performers. There’s just a lot of music extended through both my dad and my mum’s side,” Lumsden says. “We played music growing up with my siblings and my cousins. Everyone plays multiple instruments. I haven’t quite convinced the other two to join the band yet, but there’s always time.”

Until then, there’s a tour to prepare for – no small feat for Lumsden and her husband (also her bass player), Dan Stanley Freeman, who have two young children; most of the writing for Fallow happened when Lumsden was pregnant with their son Walter, and she recently gave birth to her second child, Rupert. “Walter was born three and a half years ago and we went back on the road three weeks later with him, so he has lived on the road most of his life apart from last year when we were locked down obviously. He is very, very used to being out on the road and touring,” says Lumsden. Rupert will be only a couple of months old when he joins the travelling family roadshow. 

Fallow was recorded between babies, in an old stone cabin on Lumsden’s property in Tooma, New South Wales – a good six hour drive from Sydney. “It’s a bushman-type that used to be up in the mountains, made from stones, that was rebuilt down here,” Lumsden explains. “We live on property owned by the Paton family and they’re a very longstanding family in this region that used to take cattle up to high country, so they rebuilt one of the cattleman huts right near our house. It was an incredible experience doing it in there.”

To achieve the clarity and depth of sound, she once again brought on veteran producer, Matt Fell, who has worked with some of Australia’s finest country and folk artists including Shane Nicholson, Sara Storer, Matt Ward, Amanda Thomas and Vanessa Kelly. He drove to Tooma and stayed with Lumsden and her family for the few weeks while they recorded in the cattleman hut.

“Matt… came out with his family and we all spent this beautiful few weeks making the songs,” she remembers. They made do with the limited tools they had, turning the bathroom into an echo chamber at one point. “I couldn’t think of any other way to capture what I was trying to say other than by doing it right here. I was singing my vocals and looking out and seeing the cattle and the horses grazing. Storms would come through and we’d have to stop.”

She elaborates: “The value of having us record in the stone hut is because I don’t have the words. I usually use very weird descriptions, like ‘I want it to feel like that mist sitting down there,’ or ‘I want it to sound like that sunset.’ The overall theme was that I wanted to make something beautiful that felt like green grass and running water after years of drought. I didn’t want anything to feel safe. I wanted it to feel dangerous in the sense that you might lose it, but I wanted to make something hopeful.”

Tragically, much of the country around the valley that inspired Fallow was burnt – and Lumsden and her family were left without power for several weeks – after the “Black Summer” bushfires that devastated homes and whole towns in both New South Wales and Victoria. Fallow was released on March 14th 2020, just ten days after the last of the fires had been extinguished or otherwise contained. Then came the first national lockdowns.

The lyrics are prescient though, and it is haunting to listen to them knowing they were written prior to the ravaging of the land and the collective spirit of Australians during the pandemic. “Good or bad, things never last,” she croons like a sacred self-soothing mantra, on “Mountain Song/This Too Shall Pass.”

For Fanny Lumsden, lockdowns were a time of creative make-do, including filming and producing the video for “Fierce,” which features local women farmers (“the women who raised me, the women who saved me”), and playing live-streamed events. Lumsden also became a volunteer firefighter – after initially training in her high school years. Together with her siblings and their partners, they retrained to be bushfire-ready in 2020. She did all of this, while also summoning the energy to write and produce a documentary telling the story of making and releasing Fallow. The 2021 Albury Local Woman of the Year (in recognition of her work with regional communities) also sold out her national theatre tour.

Indeed, she’s got country music and the land in her bones. Born and raised on regional farmland in western NSW, she grew up knowing the demands of helping her parents with the routine tasks of landcare, tending horses and livestock, preparing for inclement weather and planning by the seasons. Hers was a musical childhood in a family that encouraged instruments, song, and performance, and Lumsden took to it like a duck to water, studying music through high school before committing herself to a Bachelor of Rural Science. After graduation, she moved to Sydney and found her groove in the local music scene, going to songwriter nights, playing clubs and pubs, and eventually meeting members of The Thrillseekers.

This album is a different creature to her last, by her own admission. It is not an observation, but a very personal response to the land she was raised on and is now raising her own family on. Taking it on the road to town halls all over the country is a natural extension of the album’s intention to celebrate Australia’s regional landscapes and communities.

“I began [the Country Halls tours] in 2012 so [this] is the ten-year anniversary which is mind-blowing for me!” she confesses. “It’s crazy. We’ll have played in over 200 halls by the time this run ends. It started as an accident really. I can’t stress how little I knew about putting on musical events. I was living in Sydney and I’d just started with this band… they were so wonderful and we went out and put on three shows to raise money for BlazeAid in the Riverina after the floods. I knew how to communicate to regional audiences because I’d come from that.”

Lumsden focused on making the events community-centered, especially since nobody knew who she was when she began. Now, regional communities around Australia email, text and message her asking her to come and play their town halls. She spends time choosing, then working with those communities before arriving.

“It’s a work in progress,” she says. “It’s my favourite thing we do and it’s built me as an artist. I’m forever grateful. I think it’s really the essence of what we do. I write songs about living in Australia, living in the bush, growing up in the bush and life experiences from that perspective rather than about that. Getting to go play these places is a privilege really – and it’s bloody fun as well.”

Follow Fanny Lumsden on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Ryan James Brewer Crafts Liberating Debut LP Tender

Photo Credit: Ryan Hartley

With his debut LP, Tender, Ryan James Brewer finds liberation from his past. 

Raised in a rural country town in Australia, Brewer admits it was difficult growing up queer in a conservative area. Brewer developed depression and anxiety at an early age that he is still working through today, with therapy and music serving as a healthy combination to help process these complex experiences. “I ran up against a lot of bullying,” Brewer shares with Audiofemme of his upbringing. “Especially as a teenager when you’re finding out about your own sexuality, the general ideals and values there didn’t really help with that. I think as a result of that it took me a long time work through a lot of that and I think I suffered a lot.” 

The budding artist eventually migrated from his small town to the bustling city of Melbourne, where he cut his teeth as a singer and songwriter. In need of a change of scenery and a desire to connect with his contacts in the alt-country and Americana realms of music, Brewer made the 9,000 mile trek to Nashville for a fresh start. It’s here he planted the seeds for Tender, a 10-track exploration of sounds as intricate as the stories they’re wrapped around that masterfully weave together in a avant garde pop masterpiece.

“The record does try to address my struggles as openly as I can possibly be with it all,” he expresses. “[I’m trying to find strength in vulnerability, and challenging the archetypal masculine idea that vulnerability is a negative thing, which I think it’s actually quite the opposite.”

Brewer rejects this norm in “Limits of the Heart,” wherein the song’s carefree spirit is backed by an intoxicating beat of synth pop sounds that create a dreamlike effect. The song is years in the making, as Brewer had begun writing the track inspired by “unsuccessful courtships” and the struggle of embracing his place on the spectrum of sexuality while living in Melbourne in 2015. After five attempts, Brewer tore the song down in order to build it back up again while writing with a friend in Nashville before he landed on the final adaptation. 

“I was definitely grappling with my sexuality and figuring out what sexuality meant for me at the time, coming to grips with my identity as a bisexual man – because in my past I had been conditioned to think that was a bad thing,” he explains. “Part of writing that song was working through a bunch of my internalized homophobia. It was a way of releasing that in a sense.” The line “one breath dispels the limits of the heart” is one of Brewer’s favorites – he drew inspiration from Arthur Rimbaud’s poem, “Ordinary Nocturne,” which he came across while fine-tuning the track. “To me, it speaks to a freedom within vulnerability,” he notes of Rimbaud’s work. 

“One Another” acts as a “companion song” to “Limits of the Heart,” addressing the push and pull Brewer felt between his own feelings and rural Australia’s close-minded views; trying to reconcile the two practically required multiple identities, and had an impact on Brewer’s sense of self. “I identify with that in a strong way, especially in terms of sexuality coming up against a negative association… that had been engrained from a super young age because of the place I grew up in,” he analyzes. “That song is working through that aspect.”

“Just Don’t Let Me Go” is a reflection on perfectionism, and “Ministry of Love” follows suit, serving as a tongue-in-cheek critique of social media where the narrator has an “erotic relationship” with an algorithm.

Like many, Brewer’s world started to shift with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just weeks before, Brewer was on tour with Nick Lowe in Australia and New Zealand. Soon after his return to the U.S., the shelter in place order was instituted. Initially plotting to make an album completely on his own, Brewer quickly came to the realization that a task that massive was beyond his capability and knew he needed help. “That prompted a mental breakdown of sorts that combined with everything that we’re all living through at the time, and still are,” he recalls. 

Soon after, Brewer followed his gut instinct to San Pedro, a small coastal community in Los Angeles, to work with producer Jon Joseph, the two building a body of work that is electric, yet moving and powerful. They pulled in unique elements to add texture to already vibrant songs. On “Taps/WMDs,” the moody instrumental blends bass guitar and crying trumpet with the sound of Brewer’s dripping faucet, recorded during an unusually cold night in Nashville when he had to keep a slow stream of water running to stop the pipes in his house from freezing. “Things like that excite me – something that’s sort of a plain and interesting rhythm in time that’s not something you would typically associate with music, like a dripping faucet,” Brewer says.

Likewise, “Chercher La Petite Bête” features snippets of a conversation between friends Brewer overhead on a train in Paris, enchanted by their accents and cadence. “That can be a really interesting rhythmic element that you don’t really associate that directly with music,” he muses. “I like those moments of tenderness.”

These effects bring moments of playfulness to an album that deals with heavy subject matter, like album opener “End of a Life.” Brewer describes it as a “direct confrontation with the idea of suicide or suicidal thoughts.” Partly based on Brewer’s own experiences, the song was also inspired by the death of Mark Linkous, the former frontman of indie rock band Sparklehorse, who had lived with depression for many years and committed suicide in 2010.

Admiring Linkous’ writing style and openness in talking about his mental health struggles, Brewer says he felt “seen” in Linkous’ work, and hopes listeners feel the same with his music. “End of a Life,” in particular, was written with the intent of inspiring much-needed conservation around the topic of mental health and suicide. Its free-wheeling sound cradles Brewer’s potent lyrics: “And I believe/I’m intimately afraid of the energy/Can’t make it work for me anymore/With the weight filling up my hands/In the shape of a lonely man.”

“I wrote it so that the depressive idea of suicidal thoughts is personified and structured like a relationship breaking down. I think that song is me working through suicide and the idea of that and trying to normalize the discussion around it. It’s important to be able to talk about that. That’s why I wanted to juxtapose a pretty heavy theme with an upbeat, sunny sounding track. I wanted to have some sort of accessibility there,” he observes. “That song is a way of working through those things. Hopefully in an ideal world you’d be leaving the listener with some insight so that they can identify with it on that front as it relates to depression and suicide.”

But Brewer intentionally ends the album on a “Tender” note with the title track that features him in a solo piano moment. It captures the spirit of freedom and vulnerability channeled into the album that sets Brewer’s past self free, while setting the path for a bright future ahead. “This is a super personal record and it’s my way of working through a lot of things for myself. But the ideal outcome is that I would leave whoever’s listening with some insight and something that they can identify with and carry forward,” Brewer conveys. “The final result is quite liberating.”  

Follow Ryan James Brewer on Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok for ongoing updates. 

Lenka Critiques Extreme Greed with Kitschy Video for Latest Single “Ivory Tower”

While the pandemic derailed tours and scrapped recording plans for many musicians, there’s one performer that actually found a freeing feeling in the midst of this past year – Australian pop wonder Lenka Kripac, better known mononymously as the purveyor of hits like “The Show” and “Everything at Once.” Kripac is the matriarch of a busy Australian home; between crafting with her children and jamming on her ukelele, she somehow managed to release twin EPs Discover (six original songs) and Recover (six covers of classics ranging from Pat Benatar to Bob Dylan). She also put together a video for follow-up single “Ivory Tower” via DIY means. “I shot the footage of myself on an iPhone in my five-year-old’s bedroom. The effect of the lockdown on creating content with whatever resources you have at home was actually quite liberating,” she tells Audiofemme

She sent her DIY footage to her old pal Mitch Hertz to achieve the lo-fi animation style she wanted. “We were going for an aesthetic somewhere between ’80s video art and Monty Python-like animations,” Lenka explains. “I had attempted to create a collage of the photocopied buildings myself first, but when I realized it was beyond me, I asked him to create that kind of thing for me. He went way further and made this whole revolving world.”

With lyrics like “I know your heart is torn, I know you see the difficulty/Do you save yourself?/Or do you like humanity?” the song is her attempt to get inside the heads of powerful capitalists hellbent on profit above all else. “It is a message to the evil, greedy types at the top of the heap,” she explains. “Like, surely they see that the choices they make are bad for humanity as a whole. Do they hate humans except for their fellow white rich? I assume they must feel some entitlement to protecting their own kind, otherwise I just can’t understand it.”

Since her earliest forays into music as a member of electronic rock band Decoder Ring, Lenka has recognized the value of collaborating; she recently released a cover of Future Islands’ “Seasons” re-envisioned with the help of Cleopold and Animal Feelings. “Doing it all alone is not fun for me. I like a bit of that but I also really love to do the whole process with others, from writing to production to touring,” she reveals.

As a young actress, Lenka had an a-ha! moment while performing in a play in her early twenties. “My character sang a song and each night I was inundated with people after the show saying I should be doing more singing. So, that was the shift, realizing that I could just work on my music at my own pace,” Lenka reminisces. 

From that moment, she went into the music industry as a performer, music writer, and even started a label, Skipalong Records, to self-release her work. She might add “mentor” to her long resume, but for now she is all about releasing music as it comes to her. “The pandemic and lockdown changed perspective for myself and a lot of creatives I think,” she says. “I no longer feel like I need to make an entire record before releasing something out into the world. It’s the benefit of the whole streaming and playlists phenomenon. I’m happy to just go one track at a time!”

Follow Lenka on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Teenage Joans Resist Sweetness on Bristling Pop-Punk Debut Taste of Me

Joan of Arc? Joan As Police Woman? Joan Jett? Any of these Joans, and all of them, have the unrepentant, independent spirit that sustains the indie-punk vibe of Teenage Joans. Adelaide duo Tahlia Borg, 18, and Cahli Blakers, 20, have been making ‘90s-style garage punk-pop under the moniker since 2018. Their sound recalls the pioneering musical style of The Pixies, with enough sass and bravura to conjure Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill. When this is suggested to them, they’re thrilled but honest.

“We’re influenced by Bikini Kill and The Pixies but they’re not core influences,” says Blakers. “One of our biggest shared influences is 5 Seconds of Summer [Australian pop band now named 5SOS]. We used to be a bit embarrassed, but now we own it. We grew up listening to them, and bringing guitars back to pop music is something we enjoy doing. Another one we share is [Melbourne band] Camp Cope – [they’re] girl bosses, we agree with everything they stand for, [and] we really look up to them. For me, I really love Yungblud’s individuality and style, The 1975, and Catfish and the Bottlemen.”

Since winning Triple J’s “Unearthed High” competition (a nation-wide hunt for the best high school act, which in previous years has championed Gretta Ray and Japanese Wallpaper) in 2020 with their track “Three Leaf Clover,” they’ve released singles “Ice Cream,” “Something About Being Sixteen,” and their latest, “Wine.” They’ve also performed at festivals (Yours and Owls, Summer Sounds and Mountain Goat Valley Crawl), as well as co-headlining shows with fellow Adelaide duo TOWNS and supporting The Chats.

Their debut 5-track EP Taste Of Me, released May 28, bristles with oodles of unbridled teen energy; it’s a riot. Along with their previously released singles, killer songs like “Therapist” and “Apple Pie” round out the tracklist, all sufficiently drizzled with fuzzy, grizzled guitar and sardonic humour. Like a sailor-mouthed Dr. Seuss, the duo are hilarious on top of being impressive musicians.

“Apple Pie” opens with the line “Give it up, you’ve got a bucket list that makes you scream fuck;” to paraphrase the lyrics, they can be sweet, but they’re not just dessert – and anyway, they “don’t wanna be the apple of your eye.” Blakers admits they don’t play that song much live. “It’s our weirdest song. It’s about someone wanting to be in a relationship with you, or be around you, romanticising the idea of you because they don’t see the less fun, less energetic side of you,” she explains. “It’s about navigating human connection when two people aren’t actually the right people for each other.”

Navigating human connection, especially in the midst of a global pandemic, are topics close to the bone for both Blakers and Borg. While Blakers finished school in 2018 and chose to work in a café while pursuing music (“the band took off a little bit”), Borg’s initial plans to focus on music and touring took a pummeling at the onset of the pandemic, so she opted to begin university studies last year.

“I said to myself that I was going to take a year off, just to see what happens with the band, but then when COVID began, I started Behavioural Science at university and I work in a music store,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but I pace myself and I can do the course over a few years. When we’re on tour, I bring my laptop with me and do work on the plane. I’m balancing everything; it’s working so far.” 

Taste Of Me was recorded with audio engineer Jarred Nettle at House Of Sap recording studio in South Australia over two weeks. “We love Jared!” they both enthuse at once.

“We call him J-Nett,” says Blakers. “He’s the best. He took every idea we had on board – nothing was too stupid, too out of the box. At least if something didn’t work, we tried. He took our stories and took good care of them.”

Perhaps he recognised, as their many new fans do, that the duo were born to make music. Blakers’ initial foray into violin from the age of 5 lasted until 10, when her passion for rock music and her pleas with her father for a guitar were answered.

Borg’s story is similar. “I actually started ballet when I was 6 and thought it was so boring, so I quit ballet and started drums when I was 7,” she recalls. “I used to go and watch my cousin play with his band; he’s a drummer too. I wanted to be like my cousin, who’s really cool, and while I did give it up for a few years like kids tend to do, I picked it up again and I love it. It’s a fun instrument.”

Her major influence embraces – as does Borg – controlled chaos when it comes to drumming with a band. “My biggest influence, drum wise, is emo band Mom Jeans because they do stuff that’s out of the box. They use wacky time signatures, they don’t always follow the guitar riffs. They do, but they kind of don’t.”

For Australians who want to see Teenage Joans bring raw guitar pop punk to the stage, their national headline tour is intended to begin at the start of June. With Melbourne under a lockdown at the time of interview, there is speculation about whether all states will be open for performances. “If COVID stays chill, then the tour will be going ahead which is very exciting,” Blakers says.

She’s just turned 20, but still feels like she’s not “100% an adult just yet,” and hasn’t abandoned the spirit behind the tracks she and Borg wrote as teenagers. “I feel like there’s a lot of youth in just being a human,” she says. “There’s a lot of things that excite us as if we were children, so I feel I can still relate to [the songs].”

Follow Teenage Joans on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Holiday Sidewinder Explores Weird Pop with Eccentric Collaborators on Sophomore LP Face of God

Photo Credit: Julia Rylskova

When indie pop songstress Holiday Sidewinder wants to make music, she goes directly to the best in the business. If the business is weird, transcendental, adventurous dance music, all the better. For her second album, Face Of God, she collaborated with dance music royalty Nick Littlemore, best known for his projects PNAU (with Peter Mayes) and Empire of the Sun (with Luke Steele). Australian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Littlemore has worked with Groove Armada and Elton John, while also stretching his composition skills as musical director for Cirque du Soleil in 2010. For her part, Sidewinder has been in the music business since her early teens, cutting her teeth with Sydney-based experimental indie rock outfit Bridezilla from 2005 until they disbanded in 2013.

Sidewinder has known Littlemore since her Bridezilla days, and says PNAU was the impetus for her own embrace of pop music. “I knew nothing about Nick before I met him when I was 15. I had been flown to Adelaide to sing on a Mercy Arms record and he was producing with Pete from PNAU. He had a shaved head and a missing front tooth when we met, so he had this big gappy smile,” Sidewinder remembers. “In a group of boisterous teenage guys, he felt like a cultured, spirited human that I could connect with. He told me I was a total pro and really boosted my confidence.”

In her final year of high school, Sidewinder did distance education while on tour with PNAU. “It is why I started pop music, actually,” she says. “After Bridezilla [shows], people would be crying, but with PNAU, people were having the time of their lives – they were so happy. It’s what spurred me on, and I thought I could make myself happier too. So I put sad lyrics to happy music!”

Still, working with Littlemore wasn’t on her radar until he asked her to sing his poetry over abstract music for his improvisational Two Leaves project. Both were living in Los Angeles at the time and recorded a rough version of Face of God in his Hollywood-based studio in just five days, with Sidewinder (a multi-instrumentalist in her own right) on guitar and bass. “Nick had that respect for me as an instrumentalist,” Sidewinder says. “I’m always writing my own lyrics, but it was nice to be able to meld someone else’s thoughts and ideas with my own in such an intimate way. Nick would leave me alone for hours to record vocals by myself, so I was able to sing however I wanted to sing without interference, to be vulnerable.”

But the album languished for years while Littlemore reworked the production with Broadway composer Billy Jay Stein and re-tracked the songs in 2017 with a New York-based band that included disco vets Nicky Moroch, Chris Tarry, and Doug Yowell. Finally released May 21 on Littlemore and Mayes’ Lab78, Face Of God is cosmic disco via transcendental dance, taking elements of psychedelic indie rock, electronica and new wave synths to result in a highly-referential, wholly new sonic playground. Depending on the age and musical knowledge of the listener, they may pick up on Bee Gees, Nile Rodgers and Blondie, or they may think it’s more aligned with Tame Impala and the xx, with a dash of Underworld and The Flaming Lips for good measure.

Holiday Sidewinder Carmen-Sparks (indeed, her real name) is right at home working with artists of the mind-bendingly wonderful variety. Her mother, Lo Carmen, is a singer-songwriter and actor, and her father, Jeremy Sparks, is a film set builder and engineer. Both her step-parents are well known actors (Aden Young and Claudia Karvan). Her godfather is the actor Noah Taylor.

As a teen, Sidewinder attended Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, which is where – aged 13 – she formed Bridezilla with a friend in 2005. Two years later, they were signed to Ivy League Records, and in 2009, Inertia Recordings. Their touring schedule included opening for John Cale, Wilco, Stephen Makmus, The Drones, Interpol and Sia. By 2010, the band chose to take a hiatus, re-emerging briefly in 2012, only to play their final gig a month after reforming. In the interim, Sidewinder had appeared on popular local TV show RocKwiz, performing duets with well-known fellow artists in the studio version and the live tours.

Two of those artists were friends Alex Cameron and Kirin J. Callinan, both known for their idiosyncratic artistry playing in bands and as solo artists. Sidewinder has known both since she was in her early teens. She’d toured with Cameron when he was in Seekae and Callinan when he was in Mercy Arms.

“We were a handful of people from that Sydney 2004 new wave, indie, electronic scene, who continued to do music and went on to have solo careers, which also includes Jack Ladder, my absolute best friend. We bonded over that and created a family of musicians,” explains Sidewinder. “Alex called me at a rough time, mid-breakup, and asked me to play keyboards on tour with him. I taught myself by ear how to play his songs and spent the new few years touring with him [until 2019]. Kirin would stay on my couch if he was in London and I’d do the same in LA.”

Once Bridezilla was finished, Sidewinder dedicated herself to relocation and her solo career. In London, she sought to establish herself in pop, and by 2014, had released the single “Carousel,” written with Mike Chapman (Blondie), followed by a string of singles: “Tra$h Can Luv,” “Baby-Oil,” “Whispers,” and “Leo” amongst them. 

These tracks made it onto her 2019 synth-pop debut album, Forever Or Whatever. But her latest album is a much stranger beast. Beginning with the concept itself, the album pushes the boundaries of pop; as melodic and catchy as it is, it is not background music. With Face of God, she was able to return to more of the work she was doing as a teenager, which is “formless, without structure.”

When we connect over Zoom to discuss her new album, Sidewinder is in Thailand after spending a few months in both Estonia and Cypress. She doesn’t know where she’ll head next; she doesn’t like to plan and is a nomad at heart. “I felt like there was a bit of a ceiling for me in what I could achieve in Australia,” says Sidewinder. “You play the same five cities over and over again… and it’s so easy to tour Europe and the UK. The same with America,” she says. “I think there’s more room for niche music, whereas Australia has a tastemaker in radio and if you’re not in that, then you don’t have much of a career. The same set-up exists everywhere – you need to get on BBC 1 or 6 in the UK, but you can still be a full-time touring band without being on the radio because you can be working, interacting with fans.”

Being raw and real suits Sidewinder, and her own passion for music as a listener fuels her desire to write and make music that creates an emotional response in her own audience. “I have always found solace in music – it’s all I’ve known since I was a kid,” she muses. “I’ve been writing songs since I was three. My parents, grandparents, everyone writes songs. My mum worked at a CD store when I was a kid, so we’ve got a lot of indie stuff from the ’90s. I like to do deep dives into genres: there are times I just listen to female rap, or Bollywood music, piano house music, but sometimes nothing is moving me and it’s not until a song hits the right spot that I feel it again.” One song that always gets her there is Callinan’s cover of “Vienna” by Ultravox, she says.

Despite her successes in the music industry, Sidewinder has always had to hustle to get by, never quite able to just pick up a microphone and bypass the typical casual jobs all teens and 20-something creatives rely on to pay the bills. She’s written honestly about her years of (horrible) experience working in bars and cafes on her website, proving herself to be an excellent diarist. It’s easy to imagine her name on the front cover of a book, too – which brings us to a bit of exclusive news for Audiofemme: Sidewinder is working on a book. Her personal posts on her website caught the eye of an agent in Australia.

A Hot Mess is a series of my memoirs, but I’m fleshing it out to write a whole book about my twenties, touring, and my life because I guess it is unconventional. I’m so slow, and I’ve just got to finish it. I think by the end of the year, I’ll have the full book together,” she says. “I’ve been really inspired by [artist and author] Eve Babitz. It’s so refreshing hearing a female voice writing about her life as it’s happening rather than looking back from some point of success in the future. As women, we get written out of history so much that it’s important we write our own stories and capture it.”

Follow Holiday Sidewinder on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Tana Douglas Relives Her Life as Australia’s First Female Roadie in LOUD Memoir

Photo Credit: Lisa Johnson

Rock ‘n’ roll’s first female roadie has lived with AC/DC, toured with Suzi Quatro, Leo Sayer and Status Quo, and though she couldn’t have imagined it as a teenager, she’s proven women belong backstage.

Tana Douglas, a teenager whose childhood was troubled by a spiteful mother and an incompetent father, found her escape in live music. It was largely fate and circumstance that lead to her beginnings as a roadie in 1973. Without a home, nor an income, helping the road crew to unpack and load the band’s gear back into trucks post-show was a means of making an income and feeling part of a community. Her dedication, her relentless hard work and “I can do it” attitude meant she was constantly working, her reputation forged through word-of-mouth commendations. By 1974, she was working for – and living with – AC/DC. Their management had set up the band, along with Douglas, in a suburban house in Melbourne’s St Kilda East.

“They were so welcoming and friendly and so close to my age. It was their first time away from home, and that’s what I’d been missing, so I thought it was great,” Douglas tells Audiofemme. “They may as well have been [my] brothers, since we were doing everything together and we all got on really well.”

Douglas and AC/DC would spend a lot of time listening to records. “The brothers, Malcolm and Angus, listened to old blues. Bon was into the new ZZ Top album, Tres Hombres, [and] Alex Harvey Band because all the Scots loved him,” Douglas remembers. “We’d sit and listen to all sorts of things: Jerry Lewis and Elvis Presley. I liked Janis Joplin and though I don’t think any of them liked her, they were polite enough to let me listen. Everyone was equal, there was no separation.”

Douglas has just released her memoir, LOUD, which recalls much of her early life and illuminates the contradiction between touring with glamorous, cult-favourite rockstars while knowing she had no home to go to in the evenings, nor family to call if she was lonely or in trouble. Like many women who forge a path for other women to follow, Douglas had to bear the brunt of criticism from male colleagues, threats and abuse from female fans who saw her as a competitor for attention by the objects of their obsession, and heckling from audiences when she could be seen from the stage.

But it is also the tale of a true music industry pioneer, forging ahead in her field thanks to ingenuity, work ethic, and passion. Douglas transitioned from the backline into working on lighting and sound, despite having no previous experience in either specialty. In those days, it was a matter of learning on the job – not always easy as one of the rare women working in the support crew.

“The technology has evolved immensely to this day, but it was the new technology of the 1970s and nobody really knew anything about it,” she recalls. “It was a starting point, and people like myself kept pushing the envelope. The work schedule back in the ’70s was so heavy – with AC/DC we were doing 12 to 14 shows a week. You learn by setting it up, and when something broke you fixed it. My biggest learning curve was with Paul Dainty’s production company ACT. We were learning first in the country from experts from the US and the UK coming through on tour.”

Early in her career, Douglas realised she’d be more likely to have ongoing, reliable and well-paid work if she was working for production and touring companies, rather than for artists directly. Her employment by TASCO, a London-based production company, enabled her to work with Status Quo, The WHO, Ozzy Osbourne, The Police, Iggy Pop and Elton John. When TASCO opened a Los Angeles office, Douglas transferred to the US and became a resident.

Douglas works on a lighting rig for Status Quo. Photo Credit: Alain Le Garsmeur

In the coming years, she’d gradually shift out of working on lighting and stage production into logistics for artists as diverse as Lenny Kravitz, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice-T and Pearl Jam – stars with star quality. “It’s how they hold themselves before they say anything,” muses Douglas. “You can just see star quality, they just ooze it. Iggy just oozes it. He’s very feline, he prowls, it’s amazing to watch. Other people, like Elton John, it’s the way he carries himself. You know he’s a star. He’s a bit stand-offish until he can figure out what’s going on in the room. Stars have a different nuance to them. George Harrison was so quiet, so low key, but you knew it when he walked into a room.”

As for the grunge era, Douglas says there still that star power under the flannel shirts, albeit less obvious. “With Pearl Jam, there was a more laid-back, of-the-people vibe but they’ve still got it. They’ve got cargo pants on, carrying surfboards, but you can still tell,” she says. “If you’ve got to put it on, then you don’t have it. Star power, you’re either born with it or you’re not.”

Tana Douglas says she would always make an effort to talk to fellow female roadies before and after the show to build a rapport. She’d suggest companies to talk to and people to talk to. “I’d also let them know that they’d have to work as hard, if not harder than the rest of the crew,” she recalls. “You would have to give up the feminine niceties of life, and if you started making demands to stop and wash your hair, it wouldn’t fly. The trade off is if you make sacrifices and you’re good at the job, there’s room for you.”

Even today, Douglas admits, “You pretty much have to justify yourself to someone, somewhere along the line. Young women have a similar struggle now – it’s not as bad or as obvious, but it’s one of the last frontiers of men’s domain. When I had my own company, I was running it and not a lot of people knew how to do that so they’d respect that. There were contracts I wouldn’t get because I was a female, but I had a ton of different clients who knew the job would be done at a good price and they could count on me.”

Photo Credit: Alain Le Garsmeur

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that women started to become the norm backstage. “It started trickling in in the 1980s and 1990s. Lollapallooza were very pro hiring females,” says Douglas. She’d met festival co-founder Ted Gardner on a Men at Work tour; Gardner and his wife Nikki Brown had established a management company that handled Jane’s Addiction, Tool, and other alt-acts tapped for early Lolla lineups.

“They were so supportive. There were so many bands that it became something where females would turn up, do their job, and it wouldn’t matter who they were. That was a shifting point in the industry, I think,” remembers Douglas. “Nikki managed bands, and [Gardner] knew females worked backstage way back. They were professionals who realised that what they were doing with Lollapallooza was different, so why couldn’t personnel be different?”

Douglas has spent long enough in the industry to know that women have greater capacity for some roles than their male counterparts.

“Females are really detail oriented so we make excellent tour operators. There’s also a lot of females in the video departments. There’s very few female production managers, but the few there are are very good. Females are good at departmentalising, figuring it out, organising and doing the job,” she says. “Men have been holding down these jobs, but women are good and often, we have an eye for things like lighting design. Perhaps it’s more of an emotion thing of the music and the colour; they really excel at it. Things like soldering and repairing equipment, these are things women excel at with finer attention to detail.”

Photo Credit: Alain Le Garsmeur

As for writing her memoir, Douglas found it “incredibly therapeutic.”

So much of her life had been spent on tour and between tours that the hardest part was working out how to write her memories in a way that made sense. She was able to go back to old itineraries and call old friends to confirm dates, events and stories. “I think we got it mostly correct, so fingers crossed!” Douglas laughs.

There was one figure who is especially responsible for Douglas’ wild career and someone who is at the forefront of her memoir. “Wane ‘Swampy’ Jarvis made room for me – he would listen and offer advice. He was a brother figure to me, and we remained friends for his entire life,” Douglas says. “That was a bond that couldn’t be broken and that’s miraculous. We met when I was 16 and 50 years later, there was always that bond there.”

In LOUD, Tana Douglas raves about the men who were supportive, who didn’t question her right to be there, and what really becomes clear is that for women to excel in male-dominated domains – like backstage – it requires both men and women to provide space and opportunities.

Follow Tana Douglas on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Deadly Hearts Showcases Indigenous Artists Performing Iconic Australian Songs

Mitch Tambo covers Vanessa Amorosi on the latest compilation from Deadly Hearts.

What is Australian music? Does it have a signature sound? Ask anyone from Arnhem Land to Arakoola, Melbourne to Mungo, and you’ll get a different response. What can’t be denied is that the original owners of Australian land had their own language – both literally and musically. In the last decade, there’s been a push by government and remote regional councils to preserve records and document Aboriginal languages, to recognise that the many languages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Australians define the land, the spirit of place and people for generations of families and communities.

Recently, the National Indigenous Music Awards showcased the diversity and wealth of talented Indigenous artists of all genders, ages and musical genres. The latest Deadly Hearts compilation (and third in the series) features many of those artists. Versions of Vanessa Amorosi’s joyous pop song “Absolutely Everybody”, Crowded’s House sadly sweet “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and the political ferocity of Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” are all given a fresh interpretation.

The Deadly Hearts series began in 2017 as a platform for a new generation of Indigenous Australians to respond musically to the question: “What song has spoken strongest to you about growing up an Indigenous Australian?” The 12 tracks on the original album combined synth, jazz and hip hop to reimagine songs that each of the artists had a personal investment in. Jimblah covered Warumpi Band’s “My Island Home” with an electro vibe, while Birdz turned Yothu Yindi’s “Sunset Dreaming (Djapana)” into a hip hop ode. Deadly Hearts 2, released last year, featured accomplished artists Alice Skye and Dan Sultan as well as upcoming artists Tia Gostelow, Electric Fields and Dallas Woods.

The latest drop from the series, subtitled Walking Together, comes ahead of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week 2020. NAIDOC began as a week long event in 1975, an observance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians’ history, culture and achievements.

Ziggy Ramo opens the comp with “Tjitji,” a soulful hip hop track that combines a trippy beat with a harrowing, vulnerable rap about contemplating and handling suicidal thoughts (“I see your pain, I felt the same. If you want real change, you gotta play the long game”). Just as he did in a recent performance for the Sydney Opera House Live series, Ramo skillfully blends the personal with the political even as he sings words originally written by Anangu/Torres Strait Islander Miiesha, who is also featured on the track.

She appears again backed by handclaps and a Woorabinda choir on a rendition of Brooks & Dunn country classic “Neon Moon,” raising it to the level of spiritual sanctuary. There is a lush spaciousness, where the voices are so divinely in harmony that you might be convinced Miiesha has been performing this for a lifetime. It’s quite a departure from Miiesha’s soulful debut album Nyaaringu, an award winner at the National Indigenous Music Awards this year, but the singer says, “We go mad for country music up here so picked one of our favourites.”

Miiesha covers Brooks & Dunn for Deadly Hearts, and features on a Ziggy Ramo cover of her own song, “Tjitji.” Photo Credit: Clare Nica

Stan Walker and Isaiah Firebrace duet on the gently compelling, lovely reimagining of Crowded House’s 1986 hit “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Walker’s voice sounds close to breaking into tears, while Isaiah introduces traditional language, an unexpected, fresh element to such a well-known song. Walker has just released an autobiographical book that reveals his experience of sexual and physical abuse growing up in New Zealand – while it isn’t imperative to know his history and life stories to be moved by this track, it does give it an additional layer of meaning and heartbreak. Firebrace was Australia’s Eurovision contender in 2017. Together, the pair highlight the original song’s subtle message of resilience.

DRMNGNOW is the moniker of Naarm/Birraranga-based Neil Morris. The Yorta Yorta MC and instrumentalist applies his poetic rapping skills to a simple piano-beats-synth backdrop on a cover of Archie Roach’s “Get Back To The Land.” Morris recently told Double J’s Tim Shiel, “It doesn’t appear that people fully understand the depth of Indigenous spirituality and the power of this country… We need more anthems. If people aren’t aware, maybe we need to put some anthems out there for that. Also for the empowerment of our people; to feel strong and empowered, that there’s anthems that represent them.” It makes sense then, that Morris would gravitate toward Roach; both hail from Mooroopna, and the song resonated with Morris in the years he spent “living off country on Wurundjeri land.”

As a member of the Steering Committee for Kimberwalli at the Western Sydney Indigenous Centre of Excellence, Sydney-based soul singer Mi-Kaisha is politically active, advocating for young Indigenous voices to be heard. But it is her own flawless acapella, paired simply and perfectly with piano and nothing more, that stands out loud and clear on Bee Gees cover “How Deep Is Your Love.” The Darumbal Murri and Tongan woman was also the NAIDOC Youth of The Year in 2019 – no surprise with a talent that rivals Beyonce and Christina Aguilera for stadium-worthy, diva vocals.

Other highlights include a riotous pop tribute to “Absolutely Everybody” the anthem of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, sung by Mitch Tambo. He sings in Gamilaraay language, also adding the rich, deep bass sound of didgeridoo throughout the track. And Aodhan, a teenage Dharawal artist who won Triple J’s Unearthed High Indigenous Initiative in 2019, channels Elliott Smith on his strummy, acoustic version of Tia Gostelow’s “Always.” So thoroughly gorgeous is his rendition, it’s hard to believe he didn’t write it himself – a sensation embodied by many of the tracks on this wonderful album.

Southeast Desert Metal offer an explosive rendition of Midnight Oil’s classic Indigenous Rights anthem “Beds Are Burning” on Deadly Hearts.

As if Midnight Oil’s ferociously political “Beds Are Burning” wasn’t driving home the message enough when it first came out, a brilliant version by Southeast Desert Metal ramps up the riffs and the volume to blow minds and speakers. Based in Santa Teresa, an hour from remote Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory, the Eastern Arrernte band showcase their influences proudly. Raised on a meaty diet of Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, the four-strong members released a debut self-titled album in 2015, following it with their Break The Silence LP in 2018. Both works aimed to meld Indigenous culture with heavy music.

“I just want to send a strong message to young people today,” singer Chris Wallace told Blunt magazine last month. “They don’t seem to care about their culture anymore; they’re just sort of going on their own paths, doing the wrong things. I grew up with my uncles and all that, [with a] cultural way of living. That’s the reason why I just wanted to share a bit of the story that I was told. I just wanted to pass it on through music.”

Deadly Hearts: Walking Together is uniquely poised to accomplish that mission, not just with “Beds Are Burning,” but with its entire tracklist. If you love this album, which may happen on the first listen or the fifteenth, it makes a great jump off for discovering a wealth of Australian artists past and present – and when you’ve explored Walking Together thoroughly, there are still two previous Deadly Hearts compilations to delve into.

Odette Announces Sophomore LP HERALD with Premiere of “Dwell” Video

Credit: Kitty Callaghan

Australian R&B artist Odette has a sound that’s as unique as her background. The 23-year-old, born to a South African mother and a British father who introduced her to punk rock, is simultaneously poppy and experimental, gentle and confrontational, catchy and political.

Odette is gearing up to release her second album, HERALD, the follow-up to 2018’s To a Stranger. The latest single off the album, “Dwell” — written in the studio with Pip Norman, Jantine Heij, and Nat Dunn — is a raw glimpse into the artist’s insecurities and emotional vulnerabilities. “Now I stand by the mirror and my fingers are shaking/lights are flickering darkness/please show me I’m changing,” she sings as her voice itself shakes with emotion before belting, “I’m getting high to hide the lows is what I do when I’m alone.”

“This song started as a wistful love song and ended up being a project that Pip and I took into the studio on our own to mess with,” she says. “It evolved into an absolute self-read, a reflection on my flaws and how I felt lost within them at that time.” She describes it as perhaps her most thoughtfully written song, and the only song she’s put on an album that took more than an afternoon to write.

Staccato instrumentals and pauses between verses spotlight Odette’s voice and give the song a sense of drama. “I wanted each section to be a vignette of different textures I associate with being overwhelmed,” she explains. “The verses are quite reserved, and then the bridge and chorus swell into these chaotic, sharp electronic sounds that remind me of not just the feeling of panic, but the urge associated with wanting to break free.”

The video conveys a sense of shame as Odette hides her face behind various paper cutouts and frantically reaches her hands around as if she’s trying to claw her way out of her body. Other shots show her dancing around outside, “a dance that is intended to express self-directed rage,” she says. “The shots inside are very much about the feeling of splitting, shedding, and becoming something new, which is a beautiful, natural process, but also deeply painful.”

Odette describes her album as “a catharsis and a huge change I went through as a human being.” Its release was planned for summer 2020, but got pushed back to February 5, 2021 – not just due to the usual COVID-related delays, but also to personal issues the singer was dealing with. “I was experiencing a lot during the time of creating this album and personally, I didn’t want to start the campaign before I knew I was strong enough to uphold my convictions,” she explains.

The album includes several slower-paced tracks that utilize melodious orchestral strings, like the folky “Mandible” and the rhythmic “Why Can’t I Let the Sun Set,” which shows off her vocal range. It also shows the technical growth she’s undergone since releasing To a Stranger; she was much more involved in the production and arrangement of HERALD, and she’s used the free time time quarantine has afforded her to further develop her production skills using the software program Logic, so we can likely expect even more experimentation and variety from her future projects.

“Things I was scared to try, I said, ‘Why am I afraid?'” she says. “I pushed myself with production and being involved in the technical nitty-gritty aspects of things. Before, I thought, ‘I don’t know how to produce?’ Now, I think I’m confident enough to produce something basic.”

Odette’s recent single “Feverbreak” (featuring Hermitude) is another example of that evolution. After opening with spoken word poetry describing a relationship in which a woman is treated like an object, Odette breaks into the soulful singing she does so well. “Feverbreak” attracted the attention of both the electronic group Northeast Party House and the DJ/producer Basenji, who created two separate remixes of the song.

Basenji’s sounds like it belongs in a nightclub, with warped echoes of Odette’s voice, a danceable beat, and energetic drops.  Northeast Party House chose to highlight Odette’s spoken lyrics, particularly “two wrongs don’t make a right/two hands stay intertwined,” using a darker production style. “It’s so weird to hear my music in that kind of style,” she says of the remixes.

Odette has also experimented more with genre on her latest releases. “On the first record, I really stuck to this kind of light pop,” she says. “But now, I don’t really know what genre I would even consider my music.”

Thematically, she considers HERALD a documentation of her journey, of “realizing my own flaws and coming to terms with the fact that I’m not really who I thought I was going to be at 22.” It was also written after a breakup and deals with her finding her identity after that relationship.

“A lot of these songs are written out of anger and spite and really ugly emotions. I really feel almost nervous putting [them] out into the world because there’s a lot of negativity in some of these songs,” she admits. “There’s also a lot of positivity and trying to hold myself accountable.”

Follow Odette on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Merci, Mercy Embraces Dysfunction Habits on Debut EP ‘No Thank You, No Thanks’

Photo Credit: She Is Aphrodite

“I hate myself so much that I cannot be loved,” Australia-based pop singer-songwriter and ukuleleist Mercedes Thorne — known by her stage name merci, mercy — sings on “Wonder What It Feels Like,” the fifth track off her debut EP, No Thank You, No Thanks. The rest of the collection is similarly raw and honest, delving into broken friendships, escapist drinking, and other experiences most people can relate to but may not openly speak about.

The 19-year-old considers the EP a snapshot of her life over the past year, both the ups and the downs, covering the challenges she’s faced in her relationship with herself and with others. Her voice contains hints of Sia, while her sassy, sarcastic lyrical style is more like Lily Allen.

The collection’s biggest standout is its catchy choruses, which contrast with the trying experiences depicted in the lyrics. In the endearing “Something You Like,” for instance, she sings against surprisingly soothing keyboard and ukulele about a tortured relationship: “I wake up, we break up/without any makeup/I push you out the door/and I’m crying on the floor/I want you, you with me/but it’s not that easy/I can’t change the way that you see me.”

“‘Something You Like’ is my favorite because it feels empowering while being very vulnerable,” says Thorne. “Sometimes, you are the only one who can help yourself, and the loved ones in your life need to realize that instead of on-looking and judging you without knowing. They’re your decisions; you’ll learn from them, good or bad.”

Thorne has a knack for rendering weighty issues in bold technicolor strokes—she does so quite literally in the video for “Fall Apart,” which reflects on a relationship that appears doomed from the beginning. As she doodles in her room, funny, comic book-style speech bubbles bring her ruminations to life. Bianca Bosso & The Interns, the illustrators behind the video, have also created lyric videos for merci, mercy featuring the same silly but poignant cartoons.

In addition to her interpersonal relationships, Thorne’s relationship with alcohol is a prominent theme on the album, also encompassing both the good and the bad. “Tequila and Lemonade,” for instance, is about going out and partying to avoid other people’s drama. “I’ll be dancing and celebrating/with tequila and lemonade/got no time to be throwing shade,” she belts. In “Fucked Myself Up,” which she wrote on her ukulele in her bedroom, she sings about getting intoxicated to mask loneliness with cutting lyrics like “too much is never enough.” 

These songs were inspired by the artist’s struggles with social anxiety. “[Alcohol] gave me the confidence to talk to people,” she says. “I was getting messed up on purpose in order to allow myself to be around people I didn’t know.”

The final track, appropriately titled “The Very Very End,” embodies the combination of cute and depressing that characterizes merci, mercy’s music, with a happy-go-lucky melody and sardonic lines like “you got me thinking that I probably should not exist/so I’ll take my snacks and just go home to self-loathe on my own.” The track contains the title of the EP, playing on the expression “thanks but no thanks” to sassily denounce a friend who acts more like an enemy.

She collaborated with multiple producers on the EP, including Dave Hammer, Chris Collins, and Kon Kersting. She also worked with a number of songwriters; Edwin White (Vance Joy) and Joel Quartermain (G Flip, Meg Mac) co-wrote “Fall Apart,” “Fucked Myself Up,” and “Tequila and Lemonade” with her.

“Working with various producers in studios around the country was a life-changing experience,” she reflects. “It gave me the confidence I was missing.”

Thorne wrote her first song after experiencing heartbreak at age 16, then continued to work on music after school instead of doing her homework. Eventually, she uploaded a song to Triple J Unearthed, an Australian site for discovering new music, which landed her an international label deal and management. Now that she’s releasing her debut, she’s rehearsing for her first post-quarantine live shows – the first of which took place earlier this week, at the sold-out Oxford Art Factory in Sydney, Australia. She’ll livestream the next one on October 23.

All in all, her music serves to reassure and comfort anyone who feels ashamed or alone in the dysfunction of their life, and that was Thorne’s intention with it. “I hope the songs from my EP will help make fans of my music feel less alone,” she says. “Also, [I hope they see] that it’s okay to be open about your mental health. I wanted to be really honest with my lyrics.”

Follow merci, mercy on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

JUMAN Expands Compassionate View on Latest EP Tear Time

musician Juman holds a large flower to her face
musician Juman holds a large flower to her face
Photo Credit: Kristy Juno Knowles

As the COVID-19 pandemic began its steady spread, Juman sensed it was time to movephysically and spiritually.  The Melbourne raised singer-songwriter-producer, who is of Palestinian-Turkish-Jordanian background, had battled a sensitive immune system since childhood and knew it was time to take self-care further, so she made some sweeping life changes that had both positive and negative effects on life as she knew it. But with the loss came something she never anticipated – radical compassion.

Tapping into those feelings, Juman turned to music. Tear Time is the latest in a string of bite-sized EPs released since 2018. Like all her work, she transports listeners into an eclectic musical world—influenced by Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, Amy Winehouse and jazz—via chill, kaleidoscopic sounds that are as seductive as they are gently vibrant.

Today, Juman says that the process has emboldened her calling to “facilitate safe spaces for women to journey musically together.” Here she speaks to Audiofemme about radical love, healing, and acceptance.

AF: What was happening during that month that inspired Tear Time?

J: March was a month of metamorphosis. Towards the closing of 2019 I made the decision to radically commit to my health and well being. My health is something that I have struggled with since I was a small child. My immune system was down, and I was extremely susceptible to catching everything under the sun. I have always been very dedicated to my health, but it was time to take it to new heights and radically commit. So, I moved in with my mum for a couple of months so that I could afford to pay for therapies and medical tests I was called to do.

Another commitment I made to myself was to move to northern NSW (New South Wales) by the end of February 2020. Since then, my health has never been better, and I now feel like I am thriving in such a newfound capacity. I have always had such a strong pull to this land and my body feels so alive here. This was an extremely hard decision for me to make for many reasons, but mainly because I was in a committed relationship. I was extremely grateful that he was in full support of my decision. He had seen me really struggle throughout our relationship with my health. Melbourne was no longer serving me, and he understood this. He wanted to see me thrive and be well. He was planning to move up with me in a few months, but that never eventuated. When I moved, an explosion of trauma arose to
the surface, boundaries were crossed, and trust was broken. We ended up parting ways.

Throughout this separation there were many fluctuations of contrasting emotions that arose, and the strongest one of them all that constantly held me together through this roller coaster ride was compassion. Such deep compassion! Compassion for our individual struggles and wounding and compassion for the terrified and hurt children that live inside of us that long to be heard, held, and loved! These series of decisions and events that then lead to this breakup inspired this EP. These songs were a way to emotionally process my experiences.

AF: You’ve recently written about “Eradicating those restricting ideas that have been existing in my mind, body and soul.” What are those restricting ideas you’ve been eradicating?

J: The ideas that I’ve been eradicating is this notion that I’m unworthy of love and believing it is unsafe to step into my power. A few stories were at play around these themes, one of them being the suppression of women by men in my culture and what they aren’t, and allowed, to do. It took much excavation to get to these core themes that were buried so deep in my subconscious. It’s all about seeking support. We aren’t here to do it alone. There are different self development modalities and therapies that aid in this exploration. Kinesiology and Somatic therapy have been life changing for me when it comes to uncovering and clearing these deep core wounding’s. When I say, ‘to make more space for greatness,’ I’m referring to this newfound life path potential that has awoken in me. A life of utmost beauty and perfection, heaven on earth!

AF: Did you grow up in a musical family?

J: I grew up with my mum and my two sisters. Nobody in my family played music or sang; they are all great dancers though, so I guess you could say they expressed music through their bodies’ movement. My soul Mumma Sandra, who I also consider to be one of my best friends, my mentor and second mother was a major musical influence in my life. She was my vocal coach and choir teacher when I was seven years old. We spent a lot of time together. She would take me to all of her jazz gigs and would always get me up with the band to sing a standard or two. I was exposed to lots of great music but mainly jazz, soul, and some folk.

My Grandmother who I feel very spiritually connected to lives in both Turkey and Sharjah (in the United Arab Emirates). She used to sing Turkish Opera when she was younger. She was the vocalist in her school orchestra when she was younger, but when her father found out he forbade her from participating. Apparently, he was a very harsh man. Just to paint a picture, he was the general of the Army in Turkey – that’s got to say something. When she married my grandfather and had the freedom to make her own decisions, she brought music back into her life. She would organize regular gatherings with her friends and they would all joyfully sing Turkish songs together. I am very grateful that her gift of song was passed down to me.

AF: What drives your creative process?

J: Creating music is my own personal therapy. I would say this is my main driving force. To give myself the space and time to honor my existence. To really hear myself out. To hold space for myself. To be my own best friend.

All my songs are created from a place of love – love for myself, love for others, love for nature, love for my experiences past, present, and future. Whether they be “good” or “bad” there is always light in the darkest places. Even when I’m expressing anger or pain in music, it is always held with love and acceptance for what is present. Self love is one of the most powerful gifts I am able to give myself. The music I create is an expression of this and is the most loving thing I can do for myself. It’s a space to feel into things without judgment regardless of how ugly or confronting. To just hold myself and the world around me with love and acceptance.

AF: What do you want listeners to experience when they listen to your work?

J: I want my music to act as therapy, motivation, and inspiration for listeners just as my music does for me. I hope that the heartwarming and healing experiences that I have with my music creation is reflected in how people experience it also. I hope that my music inspires people to love themselves more and more each day, as it does for me.

Follow Juman on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Bel Marries Avant-Pop and Activism with First Installment of her TRILOGY EP

I first met Bel perched up at the bar of Max Fish on the Lower East Side during the last existing Fashion Week before COVID hit. Clad head to toe in vintage designer clothing, she exuded a unique warmth, juxtaposed with a cerebral demeanor – the encounter was refreshing during a season that can too often feel like a cesspool of egos and expensive handbags. We immediately began discussing her interest in psychology, feminism, her work in music, styling and love for refurbished fashions. Bel exists in a world of her own design – grounded, authentic, unfiltered, and of raw nature. Avoidant of the typical rose colored glasses worn by a fresh Aussie in the Big Apple, she’s real. There’s no veil to hide her imperfections or inner truths. Unashamed and unwilling to compromise in her approach, her ambition echoes like a delicate flame on the cusp of unleashing wildfires.

As a feminist activist and multi-disciplinary artist, Bel creates a striking visual world that accompanies her sonic prose. She decided to pursue music professionally at just sixteen years old. “I bought every book you could imagine on ear training, on classical music theory, to production, to how to make samples and all of these things, and I just went haywire for years,” she recalls. “So by the time I released my first ever song when I was, I think 20 or 21, I already had a pretty good grasp. And since then, it’s just been a work in progress… but I can definitely hold my own in a room.”

Raised by parents in the medical field, with a strong sense of morality, she found the hot air and spinelessness of certain industry personas stifling. “Unfortunately, the music industry does attract a certain type of person with a slightly different moral compass. And that’s just an industry that I’ve chosen to go into, willingly,” she says. “When choosing people to work with, I really am very focused on trying to understand who they are as a person as opposed to their job in the industry.”

Bel began her year with the release of “Better Than Me;” the track’s sleek production and syrupy charm made it a song not just to be listened to, but one to be consumed through all the senses. Marrying the avant-pop and experimental realms, Bel’s second single “Spectre” catapulted her to the forefront of Australia’s female pop ranks. Produced by Konstantin Kersting (Tones and I, The Jungle Giants, Mallrat), “Spectre” was a fearless return from an artist always on the cutting edge of sound and visual artistry. Bel worked on the music video with James Mountford, the creative director for BANKS and Chance The Rapper. The resulting art-house meets fashion film exemplifies Bel’s unique visual artistry and intense introspection, making a comment on the demanding and often misleading nature of the fashion and music industries.

Bel connected with Mountford via Instagram while living in Australia (he’s British, and was living in Los Angeles). Given the distance, Bel says, they had “obviously limited opportunity to work together,” but “just stayed in touch all those years connecting, celebrating each other’s achievements, supporting each other through awkward things, and just made a really nice kinship. When it came to the point where I could actually get myself over to LA, we cleared our schedules and we did it. [When] I first met him in the flesh, it was like I already knew him because we had been speaking for so many years virtually.”

“Spectre” addresses the imbalance of power in the music industry that led Bel to co-found a a network for women, trans and non-binary folks with fellow artist Sarah Wolfe, after Jaguar Jonze and hundreds of others came forward to out a well-known Melbourne-based photographer as a serial abuser. Bel bravely details her own experiences with sexual assault in a powerful essay titled “Unmute Us,” noting that over a thousand artists, managers, producers, publishers, label heads, publicists, journalists, A&R, tour managers, and media lawyers joined her collective in the first week of its existence – obviously, the safe space she’s attempting to create is sorely needed in an industry where toxic dynamics and pressure to immediately bond in sessions with male co-writers and producers foster the boundary-less behavior that quickly escalates to something predatory in nature. Too often, it leaves women – particularly those who are just starting out – feeling inferior, as though they have no place in the industry. “In the piece, I wrote specifically about the psychology of shame, and the psychology of guilt when it comes to these things because we somehow turn it in on ourselves and internalize it when that’s just completely unnecessary, and unsolicited,” Bel points out. “Shame is the universal theme when it comes to dealing with these men; as women we often internalize it and turn it in on ourselves.”

With a newfound sense of empowerment, Bel is ready to take on her next project – a three-EP trilogy, the first installment of which arrived at the end of August. T1 compiles singles “Better Than Me” and “Spectre” alongside the recently released “Good News” and opens with a beautiful spoken word intro. A natural poet since age five, explaining her ethos behind the body of work is an important component to Bel’s musical repertoire. “That piece was written in no more than 20 minutes, and I didn’t edit it, I didn’t fix it. I just wrote it. And then that was it. Poetry and spoken words, specifically the delivery of it, is really exciting to me,” she says.

When asked her advice for young women developing the courage to go after their dreams, Bel answers thoughtfully and instinctively. “I still [ask myself] what if I didn’t choose music, and why did I choose this? The thing that I come back to time and time again, is trust your intuition and trust your gut because there’s nothing that’s going to scream louder than that when it comes to keeping you safe and keeping you on the right path,” she says. “Whether it’s dealing with a person, or making a decision for your career or anything like that, if something is screaming out, you have to listen to it.” With so much to say, it’s time we listened to Bel, too.

Follow Bel on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PLAYING MELBOURNE: Alice Ivy Takes Collabs to New Heights on Sophomore LP Don’t Sleep

Photo Credit: Michelle G Hunder

Producer Alice Ivy (otherwise known as Annika Schmarsel)​ has become a name to know in the Melbourne music scene; her blend of ’90s house beats, lush layers of synths and raw instruments along with a voice sweetly attuned to pop sensibilities made her 2018 debut I’m Dreaming an instant cult classic. Whether fans hear her doing cover versions on radio, such as the 2018 Like A Version session she did for Australian radio station Triple J (in which she covered “American Boy” by Estelle), or whether fans come to her via a collaboration she’s done with a popular artist like Bertie Blackman (“Chasing Stars“), she’s built a solid base of support for her exciting pop-dance productions. It is Ivy’s skill for partnering with complementary collaborators that makes her sophomore album Don’t Sleep such a revelatory follow-up.

Ivy’s influences include Kaytranada, the xx, The Avalanches, J Dilla, and in a similar vein, she channels the vibe of fellow Australians Pnau, who build looped beats, keys, glitchy samples and live vocals in studio and live performances. “When I was in my early twenties, and beginning to dabble in electronic production after half a lifetime of playing the guitar, I discovered J Dilla’s monumental album Donuts. It was a major turning point for me. Once I was introduced to the world of sampling I was totally hooked,” Ivy recently told Acclaim.

Her current influences are a far cry from the clarinet and guitar lessons she was given as a child from well-meaning uncles and aunts. Ivy’s family immigrated to Australia from Germany when she was very young – she was the only child in her kindergarten group (preschool) who didn’t speak fluent English. This ability to traverse languages has echoes in her love for sounds and the ability for seemingly incongruous vocal samples, radio, TV and movies to make sense when partnered with looping keyboards, horns and drums.

At only 27, Ivy has lived long enough to have explored musical genres such as house, Motown, hip hop and acoustic to borrow what she likes and to confidently twist the sounds using the digital tools that younger, DIY artists are so enthusiastic for. Ivy has used multi-faceted software Ableton to mash up her loops, samples, collages of vocals and instrumentals. “I usually build a song around a sample,” she told Linda Mariani, Triple J radio host in 2018. “I started looping stuff, I put delays on keys and started pitching the keys… then I [add] samples to it.”

Ivy played guitar in a 25-piece, all-girl Motown and soul band during high school, The Sweethearts. Her proclivity for using horns as an atmospheric texture reappears across Don’t Sleep, as it did on her first album, proving that not all of us forget everything we learned in high school upon graduation. She would later study for a music industry degree, which is where she was introduced to Ableton.

In 2017, she performed and spoke as part of the global series of TEDx Talks, TEDxYouth@Sydney. Her lively performance covered singles “Charlie” and “Touch,” impressively allowing the young producer to dance about on stage while also manipulating a keyboard, laptop and electric guitar. Her pure focus on the music and clear joy in getting lost in it is palpable.

The eclectic, celebratory nature of what is ultimately a great party album is so much richer for the inclusivity it invites, both from collaborators and listeners. Whether by choice or pure coincidence, Ivy gravitates toward collaborations with BIPOC, LGBTQI, non-binary and female artists. Indigenous Australian singer-songwriter Thelma Plum makes a cameo on “Ticket To Heaven,” which was co-written over five hours in an Air BnB set up as a studio. On “Sweetest Love” she collaborates with operatically-skilled Melbourne singer Montaigne, who is openly bisexual. Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon brings his rapid-fire skills to “Sunrise,” asking – or challenging – “Can you keep up?”  “All In For You” is a killer collaboration between Ivy and Papua New Guinea-born, Sydney-based artist Ngaiire, a much respected and celebrated singer-songwriter in her own right. And South African-born, Tamil, Sri Lankan artist Ecca Vandal features on “In My Mind,” one of the album’s standout tracks.

Videos for the album’s singles have promoted the album’s joyous oddball streak. Exuberant solo choreography (courtesy dancer Alex Dyson) lends a visual expression to the vocal dexterity of SAFIA’s Ben Woolner on “Better Man,” a fun and fluent collaboration between two skilled instrumentalists. The video for tropical-edged, reggaeton-infused title track “Don’t Sleep” shows Alice Ivy, imbi the girl, and BOI alternate between synchronized dance moves and roaring around on motorbikes. “If you’re losing the vibe, how do you feel alive in your body and soul?” goes the chorus.

As for the funny, clever promo photos of Ivy with her collaborators, she told Acclaim it was a joint decision by the artist and her photographer. “When it came time to shoot the promo photos for the album, I’d planned this big meet-up in Sydney with most of the collaborators and we were going to pose together for a group photo. My photographer Michelle G Hunder and I were referencing Solange Knowles’ wedding photos for inspiration. But when the pandemic turned up that idea went out the window so I switched it out for me on my lonesome in a warehouse with a bunch of lifesize cardboard cut-outs.”

The imagery might be a humorous, but there’s nothing flippant or two-dimensional about the eclectic, constantly dynamic sophomore LP Don’t Sleep, out now on Dew Process.

Follow Alice Ivy on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Imogen Clark Celebrates Resilience in Video Premiere for EP Title Track “The Making of Me”

Australian singer-songwriter and guitarist Imogen Clark first wrote the song “The Making of Me” about a really tough year that just seemed to entail one hardship after another. She remembers thinking when she wrote it that “if I made it through the year, I’d be a stronger, bolder version of myself.” In the chorus, she belts emotively against piano, “This year will be the making of me.”

Though she was reflecting on personal events from 2019, the lyrics provide an important reminder to a Americans still in the throes of the Coronavirus pandemic – or facing any other type of struggle, COVID-related or not. “I don’t want anyone to feel that level of anxiety, but obviously, a lot of people are [right now], and I hope maybe this song can be a bit of a mantra to those people,” she says. “What I meant this song to be when I wrote it was not a sad anthem about going through a terrible time and wallowing in it. It’s very much about going through a challenging time and letting that challenge form you into a stronger version of yourself.”

Inspired by a breakup, the song was meant to sound raw and stripped back, which Clark accomplished by recording herself in the studio with live piano accompaniment. In the same vein, the video, filmed in at Sydney’s Low 302, shows her playing piano to an empty room. Clark played her last gig there before the virus shut down public establishments, giving the emptiness of the room extra meaning. “It was quite eerie because it was like the apocalypse was about to happen,” she remembers. Clark decided to use the video to help live music venues recover from COVID, providing a link to her website, where people can find information about supporting local venues.

Clark’s other songs are similarly heartfelt, most with a pop sensibility. But on some, like “Collide,” the title track from her 2018 release, you can hear audible country influences – most notably hints of Shania Twain, whom the 25-year-old artist has opened for. She also notes Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, Led Zeppelin, and Joni Mitchell as big inspirations.

On August 21, she’s putting out her next EP, The Making of Me, which includes the title track along with the singles “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Found Me,” plus three currently unreleased songs. She recorded the EP in LA with producer Mike Bloom, who has worked with Rilo Kiley, Julian Casablancas, and Jonathan Rice, and chalks much of the sound up to him. He gave her directions in the studio, having her release emotion to the point that she was almost yelling at times, she remembers.

While she considers this EP poppier than her previous work, her goal was to feel unconfined to any genre; she even branched out into electronic sounds, making use of synths and drum machines. Several guest musicians added to the unique sound, including Pete Thomas, who has drummed for Elvis Costello, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench.

“It felt like the first time I was able to make music without worrying about the genre of the music,” she says. “People make it seem like it’s insincere and inauthentic if you’re embracing pop sensibilities, but we made this with no expectation about what genre it would be, and that was a huge leap forward for me and made me feel very confident and liberated, and I think you can hear both emotions in the songs.”

In fact, being yourself and resisting external pressures is a major theme throughout the album. This is perhaps most evident in “Push Me Down,” which was inspired by experiences Clark has had as a woman in the music industry. On the track, she stands up to men who have tried to belittle her and undermine her ideas.

“As a woman, the music industry can be a really testing place,” she says. “It can be as small as somebody making a comment about the way that you dress. Women are always made to feel like we need to show more skin or feel more sexualized in our content. What I’ve always thought of with my music is, if I want to sexualize things, I’ll do that on my own terms. I’m not going to do it because somebody else tells me to. The first and foremost thing in my mind is that I have something to say, and I want that to be at the forefront of people’s minds.”

In the spirit of hope and resilience that “The Making of Me” encompasses, Clark is planning her first live show, which is set to take place September 10 in Sydney. “We’ll be able to launch the EP in a proper live show, which is wonderful,” she says. For those of us still in limbo, the song’s reminders about our potential for growth may be just enough to get us through.

Follow Imogen Clark on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING MELBOURNE: Divinyls Frontwoman Chrissy Amphlett is an Australian Icon

Chrissy Amphlett’s husband, drummer Charley Drayton, christens a Melbourne laneway in honor of his late wife.

If you’re an intrepid adventurer, or fortunate to have the time to wind your way through Melbourne city’s many interlinked laneways, you may well come across Amphlett Lane. You’ll know it, if not for the signage, for the graffiti depiction of Chrissy Amphlett’s signature schoolgirl outfit on the corner building at the entrance to her namesake alleyway. If you’re not inclined to walk for hours, Google Maps will direct you straight there with ease. If you’re at home somewhere in the US, wishing you were here, Google Map it and pretend.

Chrissy, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, was the singer and songwriter who fronted Australian rock band Divinyls. She passed in 2013 at the age of 53 from breast cancer and complications related to Multiple Sclerosis. But through acting, singing, and authoring her own memoir in her short, eventful lifetime, she achieved what she had always wanted – to be a performer.

A determinedly free spirit, Chrissy revealed that she used to escape her teenage bedroom at night to go and see Billy Thorpe. “I liked that primal kind of thing, that rock. Growing up in Australia, guitar-oriented music was a huge inspiration to me,” she said, often namechecking Easybeats, Lobby Loyde, and AC/DC as influences – each of them renowned for their primal, noisy, guitar-centred pub rock style.

She escaped the confines of her parochial, industrial hometown of Geelong (just outside Melbourne’s border) as a teenager and explored England, France and Spain – where she was detained for three months for busking on the streets without a permit at 17 (she was kept in the penitentiary for six weeks before being put on a bus full of men to be transferred prison to prison).

Chrissy met Divinyls bandmate Mark McEntee in 1980. At that time, she’d had some bit parts on Australian TV and stage productions and was toying with the idea of being an actress solely. In fact, the earliest Divinyls songs were recorded for 1982 Australian film Monkey Grip (based on a novel by Melbourne author Helen Garner), in which Chrissy starred.

By the time Divinyls manager, Vince Lovegrove, succeeded in getting the band a US record deal in the mid 1980s – the beginning of their international success – Chrissy had refined her naughty schoolgirl persona. For Chrissy though, the professional wins were undermined by a stealthy alcohol addiction, legal fights with Lovegrove, a tumultuous affair with McEntee, drug-induced paranoia and the instability of being constantly on tour.

The hot and cold relationship between Chrissy and McEntee was documented, controversially, in Chrissy’s memoir, Pleasure and Pain (named, fittingly, for the lead track on the band’s sophomore record, What a Life!). Though they were a couple, they only revealed this to bandmates two years after forming Divinyls, since McEntee had been married to someone else when their relationship had begun. Both were heavily using drugs and drinking in the early 1980s and fighting noisily and messily in New York during the recording of Desperate, their debut album.

An interview with the beautiful, cool Amphlett and her black leather-clad bandmates with Australian interviewer Andrew Denton in 1988 shows her at her peak mysteriousness. In a short, tight black miniskirt, black winged eyeliner, heavy fringe and black heels, she epitomised the height of sexy rockstar. Her glassy-eyed, mumbling, rambling bandmates were cringe-inducing in their embarrassing insobriety, but Amphlett was thoughtful, sincere and articulate.

Between 1982 and 1996, Divinyls released six albums, charting high in Australia with singles like “Science Fiction,” “Good Die Young,” and “Pleasure and Pain.” But their biggest international hit and best-known single remains 1991’s “I Touch Myself,” reaching number 1 in Australia and number 4 on the charts in 1991.

By 1996, Divinyls split up and McEntee and Amphlett were no longer on speaking terms. It wasn’t until 2006, when the band was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association, that the two spoke again. They were inducted by Hugh Jackman, calling them “the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.”

In 2015, Chrissy did an interview about her breast cancer diagnosis and battling MS for over a decade. Her signature fiery red hair, blunt fringe and kohled eyes remind us she’s a born rockstar. With her husband, Charley Drayton, she is everything he attributes to her: “confident, optimistic, curious, willing, dangerous.” “Just the wife word, I’m so not wife material!” she exclaims. “I’m happiest in a storm, calm is boring.”

This year in March, a project inspired by the song “I Touch Myself” set out to break gender bias and ensure that health messages about women’s bodies reached the women who would most benefit. Called the 2020 I Touch Myself Project, it shares breast check instructions via a voice-assistant device. The creators, advertising firm Wunderman Thompson, said that “sexist and dangerous” censorship on social media means that messages around breast checks are often misinterpreted by social media platforms as pornography due to the mention or depiction of breasts and nipples. The project had early beginnings in 2014, a year after Chrissy’s death, with female Australian artists covering the track. In 2018, American tennis star Serena Williams covered the track for bra brand Berlei.

The campaign this year was launched on International Women’s Day, something Chrissy would have loved, I think. She was a champion for women and for artists throughout her life, someone who railed against gender bias and the censorship of women’s bodies and minds. I think she would have been proud to know her lyrics and her song are still being used decades later to educate and unite women.

In every interview, what emanates from Chrissy is a core of calm and centredness. As wild and explosive as her performances on stage always were, she was an intelligent and determined woman to the end.

In February 2015, Amphlett Lane was officially declared open by Melbourne’s Lord Mayor. The naming was the result of a petition that collected over 7000 signatures over the two years prior. I’m fortunate, as a local, to walk my dog past Amphlett Lane on a weekly basis. Without even thinking, I find myself singing along to “I Touch Myself” for about an hour afterwards. To myself, mind you. My performance skills and my dress sense aren’t nearly as fabulous as Chrissy Amphlett’s. She was a rare thing, a Melbourne icon, a phenomenal woman.

Visit Amphlett Lane on Facebook.

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.”

Follow Xani on Facebook for ongoing updates.

As Host of Highly Melanated, Eva Lubulwa Connects Uganda and Australia over the Airwaves

Every Monday from 10pm to midnight, Melburnians tuning into 3RRR can hear Eva Lubulwa’s deep, resonant and impassioned voice as she hosts her weekly radio show, Highly Melanated, “a melanin-soaked show celebrating the creative genius of people of colour locally, nationally and world wide.” A powerful and articulate personality, she can speak about matters that are personal and political without breaking a sweat. Lubulwa was born in Melbourne to Ugandan parents; her parents’ history and experiences have shaped their daughter and she is outspoken on racism in Australia. She’s also an artist – her black-pen drawings have been exhibited in galleries and bars around the city.

Lubulwa went to a private girls’ school where she was the only Black student in her year, but she never felt alienated. It wasn’t until she traveled with her Serbian-Australian husband through Asia and Europe that she noticed the everyday racism of men, women and children in their attitudes and behaviour toward her (trying to snap furtive photos of her, openly laughing and pointing). Lubulwa attributes the end of her marriage to this trial-by-fire, in which the constant mental and emotional toll of racism exhausted their partnership.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2017 – Lubulwa was given a graveyard shift at 3RRR, one of Melbourne’s longest running community radio stations. “My first engagement with radio resulted from my friend inviting me to do an arts show, and part of the promotion for the show was being interviewed on radio. I discovered that radio is a rush, you know? Trying to talk to people and be comfortable even when they’re not in the room, it’s a blessing,” she remembers. Having proven herself, she went on to establish Highly Melanated.

“My experience working with Triple R has been amazing,” she says. “They have loved my shows and my ideas, and are willing to let me go on this amazing journey. It’s not often you can say ‘I’m doing a show on Uganda and Australia!’ Tim from Teenage Hate used to do a show next to me, Mia Timpano has been a wonderful friend and mentor during this time – there’s so many presenters and people on the board and in the background who have done so much for me.”

The show “is about highly melanated people and all that we do,” Lubulwa explains. “I interview these people making amazing music in Melbourne, really exploring what it means to be African Australian. People who wake up and can’t do anything but making music – those are the people I’m super excited to talk to. I’ve been able to interview huge stars from Uganda recently: A Pass Bagonza; Judith Heard who is a Ugandan model and founder of Day One Global (an organisation that seeks to end rape and sexual assault);  Suzan Mutesi; and Mwanje, who is a singer and songwriter gaining more radio time and attention locally through performing in digital festivals like The Drive-In.”

For the radio host, it’s as much about showcasing others’ talents as it is connecting the two cultures that have shaped her very existence. “I’m a Ugandan-Australian constructing my identity backwards,” Lubulwa says. “Racism robs me of my Australian heritage and location robs me of my Ugandan heritage, because Australia is where I live most of the time. For me, I explore heritage through music. As time has gone on, I focus on Uganda and Australia and then I extend that out to the wider diaspora. The intention is to bring Australia and Uganda together over the airwaves.”

Lubulwa says she has gone on “a huge racial journey over the last few years, because racism would have slowly and surely killed me. Australia has been what I’ve called home for so, so many years. I had accepted or ignored the racism in this country for quite a while. When people look to you to talk about it and know about it, or to provide a solution to it, that’s a big burden. Racism is still here, it’s still strong and it’s tiring.” As exhausting as her experience has been, Lubulwa sees hope for the future. “The conversations that are getting louder, the murmurs that are getting stronger, the fact people – not just black people anymore, people everywhere – are saying no, shows we are willing to have a discussion,” she points out. “The problem with racism is that it affects the minority and the minority are required to find the solution, so it’s vital now that people come to the table and have the conversation when racism doesn’t affect them.”

Lubulwa is a music lover, obviously. I try to contain her to five artists she recommends Audiofemme readers check out.

Recho Rey is a hip hop and rap artist from Ugandan rap with dancehall, reggae vibes.”

Winnie Nwagi, she’s a Ugandan singer/songwriter/badass. They call her Firestarter because she dances like a genius, right? She has this deep soulful voice. She’s also done a song with Recho Rey.”

“F Wavey from the UK has just released a really great dance track, ‘Figure 8.'”

“There’s a whole bunch of really talented dudes from Perth – Jordan Dennis, thatkidmaz and Denzel have just released a song called ‘Doc Marty.'”

“JessB, a rap artist from Sydney, has just released a song called ‘Pon It.’ Absolutely divine, I’m completely obsessed!”

Eva Lubulwa presents Highly Melanated on 3RRR weekly. The show can be streamed from anywhere in the world or heard back as a podcast, with playlists also available.

Playing Melbourne: An Introduction

Image provided by Toff In Town

Welcome to Playing Melbourne! A little on me, your host. I was born and raised in Melbourne, so this city is in my veins and deep in my neural cells. It’s part of me, basically. Melbourne is known for three things, primarily: our music scene; our coffee; and being enormously diverse in terms of cultures, ethnicities and subcultures.

I have written on and reviewed music for just over a decade, but I’ve loved music as far back as I remember. Isn’t it funny that when you love something so much, you assume everyone else does? Perhaps that’s why I took Melbourne’s incredibly rich range of music venues, the artists and creatives who make up this industry for granted for so long. Melbourne’s music scene encompasses world-class live performances, albums, studios, videography and art, to a ready audience of local and international fans.

Right now, there’s more opportunity than there has ever been for international audiences to engage with Melbourne’s music scene. You can check out a playlist on Spotify, watch a weekly gig on The State of Music, a government supported platform for Victorian musicians, or buy a ticket to support artists at Delivered Live (live streamed on Saturday evenings, Melbourne time).

Melbourne is home to over three times the number of music venues per capita than Austin, Texas; this city hosts over 62,000 live music events annually (though currently, those events are on hold due to the pandemic). Right now, venues are at risk of closing down permanently and many in the music industry are questioning whether they have a career when restrictions ease. As dark as this is, there’s also a lot of good news. Music Victoria has been prominent in championing the need for casual and freelance workers in the music industry to be eligible for government income support as well as ensuring grants are open to artists and venues to enable them to continue creating and operating in some capacity while they can’t do their usual thing.

We’re fortunate to have a number of community radio programs that champion local music, as well as state and federal funding and arts/music organisations that support and promote music and the people who work in the industry. Our community radio stations really reflect how diverse this city and its population is and if you’re truly curious about this city in regards to music and to its spirit, it’s worth tuning in live or listening back to recordings of Melbourne’s community radio stations online, like 3RRR, PBS106.7, and Australia’s first and only LGBTQI+ community radio station, JOYFM. Triple J, a national radio network that has supported and discovered many local acts in their infancy, provides another great sources of Melbourne sounds and culture.

But it’s the musicians themselves that make Melbourne what it is, and there’s no one genre that dominates the scene. Ngaiire performs soulful R&B, combines glitchy electro with melancholy instrumentation. She was born in Papua New Guinea but has really been adopted as a Melbourne music identity. In March, she released “Boom,” the first official single from her third album, which will follow 2013 debut Lamentations and 2016 sophomore effort Blastoma.

Likewise, Sampa The Great was born elsewhere (she’s Zambian and was raised in Botswana) but has been adopted as Melburnian. She raps about her own life and cultural observations over hip hop beats. Her 2019 album The Return was nominated for the NME Award for Best Australian Album. A prolific collaborator, she’s features a wide swath of Australian artists on her own releases, as well as appearing on tracks by Wallace, Urthboy, Jonti, and Ecca Vandal.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring are a garage rock band that has shied from doing much media promotion in favour of plying their trade. They’re favourites locally for their blistering live sets and no-frills, no-fuss personas. Along with associated acts like Total Control, Dick Diver, and UV Race, they carry on the lauded “Little Band” scene of the early eighties instigated by Primitive Calculators.

Lupa J (aka Imogen Jones) got her start by posting a couple of tracks on Soundcloud as a 15 year old. Now 21, she’s got two albums under her belt – 2016’s My Right Name and last year’s Swallow Me Whole – combining synth, soul and R&B to deliver personal, melodic songs. She carries on that tradition with her latest singles “Half Alive,” “Out to Wreck,” and “Limbo.”

Alice Skye is a Wergaia woman from Horsham, just outside of Melbourne in Victoria. She released her first album Friends With Feelings in 2018 and has toured with like-minded female folk singer Emily Wurramara. Her identity as an Aboriginal woman and her connection to the land in this way has informed her sound and her songwriting.

Whether you know one or two Melbourne acts or your knowledge on the Melbourne music scene rivals Wikipedia, I hope to bring you insight, profiles, interviews and recommendations that convince you – once travel is available and safe again – to spend some time in this city. If you love music, Melbourne loves you.

PREMIERE: Bloods “Girls Are Just Fucking Cool Like That”

Photo Credit: Lisa Businovski

Marihuzka Cornelius, aka MC, grew up in what many consider a rough part of Western Sydney, Australia. In the ’90s, you could find her dressed in regulation plaid, with Nirvana on blast in the background. It was her neighborhood’s diverse immigrant population, however, and her own modest upbringing that inspired the subject matter she still tackles today: racism, sexism, ageism, classism.

“It gave me a very grounded perspective on life in general and different people’s life experience,” MC said on a Skype call earlier this month. “It’s a blessing. I think when you’ve grown up that way, not necessarily in a picturesque, white-picket-fence situation, with lots of disposable income, your parents living week-to-week, that can feel really heavy on you when you’re a kid and you just want to live like they do in the movies. But I think when you’re an adult, having lived that, it just makes you have so much more patience and perspective. That lived experience I think is invaluable. Having a bit of struggle in your life, it ends up being a huge part of who you become as an adult.”

At the tender age of eight, MC picked up the bass. In high school, she played in a variety of garage bands, always as a bass player. The urge to sing was something she fought against (in spite of recording herself singing Madonna into her parent’s dictaphone as a kid). Even after she began to sing, bass remained the foundation of her music, with bass lines written first, lyrics second.

The original Bloods original lineup included Victoria “Sweetie” Zamora (vocals/bass), Dirk Jonker (drums) and Marihuzka (lead vocals/guitar). When they first started in 2011, no one knew how to play their instruments. “I hadn’t played guitar really before. Sweetie was a violinist, so she’d never really played bass. Dirk was a guitarist, so he’d never played drums,” MC remembers. “We deliberately started the band [saying] ‘Let’s just learn to play and write these songs and see how we go.'” The name was supposed to convey a bit of danger, as well as the connection the three shared.

Two years ago, Sweetie fell in love and moved to Melbourne. The band was in the middle of recording their 2018 LP Feelings, and after a schedule-conflict heavy tour, they parted ways. Jonker’s good friend Mike Morgan had been brought on as a producer during the recording process and subsequently joined the band. When he joined, MC didn’t mince words – she let him know up front what the terms of the deal would be. “In the tradition of Bloods, you have to play bass because that’s not your instrument. If you’re gonna be in the band, you’re gonna get out of your comfort zone,” she said.

Bloods’ new EP Seattle is the first for MC, Jonker, and Morgan as a trio. The EP marks the fulfillment of MC’s childhood dreams, as they recorded it at Jack Endino’s Soundhouse in Seattle, worked with audio engineer Steve Fisk (Soundgarden, Mudhoney) on production and mixing, and even got to use an amp Kurt Cobain played through. MC writes the songs, then takes them to the band to work out the parts. “Girls Are Just Fucking Cool Like That” is the third single off the EP and like all of Bloods’ discography: it fucking rocks.

“Well I had a baby, and I’m not dead, no matter what you say/Yeah she is amazing, but it’s okay, I’ve still got dreams inside my head,” the song opens, with MC’s voice happily belting over a steady drumbeat. MC wrote the song about and to her daughter; it’s a message of humor and hope, set against a lively, girl-band vibe. The video is an ode to the magazines and culture of the ’90s chick-flick aesthetic. MC has no qualms about loving those films, while also pointing out the lack of brown and black women within them. It’s the kind of nod the band is known for, an f-u sort of wink. There’s a casualness that’s refreshing within the lyrics: Women rock. There’s no need to argue or defend the gender. They just do.

“I think we have so many songs about how fucked up our situation is as women,” MC explained. “And all the shit: Fuck that guy, this is so hard. Those songs are so important because the struggle is real, everyone feels it. But I wanted to take an approach of writing a song about our resilience and how fucking cool that is. Iff you’re an older artist, if you’re a woman of color, if you have a disability, or if you’re a mother… all those things are seen as impairments and road blocks. And every day women get up and prove that they’re fucking not. I wanted to capture that positivity, instead of talk about what we can’t do, about how we actually do it. We do it time and time again.”

MC’s activism extends beyond her writing and even into band’s profits. Bloods joined the Share It Music label in 2018; the 501(c)(3) non-profit splits album sales between the artists, a charity of their choice, and the label. Bloods chose the Australian-based Indigenous Literacy Foundation, an organization that not only helps get books into the hands of remote Indigenous communities, but also helps those same communities write down and share their stories.

When asked what advice she has for young artists just starting out, MC didn’t hesitate: “Don’t fucking rush it. Don’t upload every song you write. Take time to figure out who you are and what your sound is and don’t fake it. It sounds so cheesy, but the only way to cut through is to be authentically you.”

Follow Bloods on Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Jess Day is On Her Way to Achieving Pop-Rock Hook Mastery, One Single at a Time

Photo by Daniel Sutherland

Photo by Daniel Sutherland

Jess Day does it all herself.

“I remember having a conversation with a guy once, trying to explain that my band members are essentially session musicians and I teach them all the parts… and he couldn’t comprehend that I wrote the instrumentation,” the Australian musician says. And while she sometimes wonders how she would fare in a more collaborative band environment, this is what works for her now. “I do like having 100% creative control with this project because I feel like my idea doesn’t get watered down at all. I don’t have to compromise the potency of it.”

Potent is certainly a good way to explain the killer singles Day has been dropping since 2018. While none of them are explicitly part of some greater project, every bit, from the instrumentation to the vocals, is delivered with a deftness that makes them feel more substantial than your standard LP appetizer. This is especially apparent with the songs released after her first single, “Waiting,” a sweet and somewhat melancholy singer-songwriter tune that was borne of a strangely practical revelation of Day’s.

“I never really was able to be in a band because I didn’t really have a lot of people around me that were into music,” she explains. “When I heard “Pool Party” [by Julia Jacklin], I was like, ‘Oh, this is music from a genre that I don’t usually listen to that I really like still.’ And then I was like, ‘Well, if I can’t do alt rock, I can try writing a folky sort of song because all I really need is myself to do it.”

The experiment worked, and some version of Jess Day was born, albeit one that was hiding the harder-edged Jess Day behind her like a kid trying to shove the contraband away before the teacher walks by. Not that there was any grand plan — she wanted to write, so she found the best way for a former country-kid transplant with a limited musical network to do it.

Despite its folk outfitting, Day’s second single “Why is She So Beautiful,” has the earworm power of a pop song with layers of expert production. “Oh, she’s funny like me, but makes your friends laugh harder/I hope you finish her like a dog with a bone,” Day laments during the second verse. Her voice is easily recognizable, with a storytelling-like cadence that gives off the impression that she is simply speaking the words directly to you in some secret treehouse fort, ones and zeroes between her and the listener be damned.

She describes her lyrics as functioning as “an open letter” to their subjects, but more importantly, as a hand extended to anyone else who may be headed for the same pain. “I’m like, ‘I feel like shit’…But I hope that by the time [other people] feel like that, maybe my song will be out as comfort.”

The core truth of ourselves always finds a way to out, and with each new release, Day sheds another piece of that indie-folk label, letting it flutter away into the wind with a fond but necessary farewell. “I went through a really awful breakup with someone who was pretty emotionally abusive,” she says. “After that, I had a lot of anger and resentment and I feel like the music that could express that was rockier music. I couldn’t see my words in an indie folk song. It just didn’t give me the release that I needed.”

And so came “Rabbit Hole,” a searing dress-down of an ex (and my favorite single of 2019). “I’ve got things on my mind to say to you/and they’re not very nice but they’re all very true,” Day sings with a purposefully detached air, like she doesn’t want anyone to know the true depth of her disturbance. “My whole point of writing songs is to articulate, I guess, like, our shadow self – the parts of us that we might not want to look at,” Day explains. “But I know everyone’s feeling [it]. We’re just not talking about it as much because it makes us feel vulnerable.”

It’s this “shadow self” element that is one of the major parts of Day’s appeal. Frequently, we try to distill our distress into something pithy and simple, citing bad exes, toxic friends, or unrequited feelings. But what do you do when your ex gets a new girlfriend who you wish you could hate… but just can’t? What do you do when you simply want to admit defeat, as Day does in “Rabbit Hole” when she sings “misery loves company/you took all the best in me”? And what do you do when you’re watching from the outside in as you drag yourself down by your own ankles?

In “Affection,” released in late 2019, Day stares down at the already smoldering refuse of a failing relationship, but just can’t stop herself  from asking for what no one should have to ask for in the first place: “I can’t have you come around once a month/I need some attention/I need some affection,” she sings, letting the last word repeat itself almost too many times, pulling back just before you start to feel as hair-tearingly frustrated as she must have been when she wrote it.

On her most recent single, “Signals,” Day attempts to come to terms with her current reality, summing it up in one single line: “Everybody says that time heals all wounds/but they’re so wrong.” How refreshing, if anything, to dispel the notion that false platitudes and declarations of newfound independence will heal a broken heart or a bad decision. Music is always an exercise in structured voyeurism — why else are people so obsessed with deciphering Taylor Swift’s catalog? — but what has me itching for more of Day’s music is the lack of a overly-sympathetic editorial hand that looks to hide away any “ugly” feelings. Fact of the matter is, there isn’t much fundamentally “ugly” about anything Day admits to wanting in her songs: to hate someone she is jealous of; to desire affection; to stop fighting to stave off the hurt from falls deemed irreparable. These are pretty simple, fallible human wants, albeit ones we have been taught to be ashamed of. That’s why her songs have such staying power.

Interestingly, for Day, it seems like this project is a lot less about the performance aspect than it is about trying to achieve the kind of songwriting prowess that places certain works in the lexicon of collective cultural memory. “Max Martin is definitely my favorite songwriter,” she says. “He did Kelly Clarkson, anything that was kind of pop but had chunky, heavy guitars in it… it’s just amazing. He’s probably the best songwriter in the world.” Day’s awe for Martin is palpable, and makes it clear that her goal is, fundamentally, to be the person behind the curtain, the one who places all the cogs just right, the hooks just so. And if people like Day are the ones gearing up to direct pop and rock into a new decade, I’m looking forward to her next move, whether it be from behind the curtain or in front of it.

Follow Jess Day on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Cate Von Csoke Celebrates Beauty and Danger With “Dream Around”

Photo Credit: Emma Kepley

Desert sun stretching over miles and miles of open space, not a soul in sight. With COVID-19 on the mind, it’s imagery that might conjure up thoughts of Mad Max or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But when Australian-native, Brooklyn-based songwriter Cate Von Csoke wrote her new single “Dream Around,” she didn’t have apocalyptic visions in mind. The single is a hazy, psychedelic interlude that conjures up visions of lovers entwined in the back seat of a car; the rest of the journey on hold for a moment.

“There’s a look in your eyes tonight / And it’s written all over your smile / I’ve been walking on dandelions / All I wanna do is dream around,” Von Csoke’s voice echos pleasantly. The repetition and reverb of traditional psych music are alive and well within the track, but there’s a refreshing subtlety in Von Csoke’s approach that reveals itself upon a repeat listens. Her upcoming LP Almoon, due out June 5th, is billed as a journey in “western noir.” Von Csoke, the desert’s answer to Lana Del Rey, dressed in all white, is delightfully mercurial in her promo pictures. The style is familiar, the music nostalgic, a much-needed dalliance with a simpler time.

Listen to AudioFemme’s exclusive stream of “Dream Around” and read our full interview with Cate Von Coske below.

AF: You’re originally from Australia and you currently live in Brooklyn. Would you say your sound is mostly influenced by your home country?

CVC: The desertscapes of both the US and Australia as well as the urban landscape of New York are all constant influences on my sound. However, I believe even if you aren’t mindful of a particular landscape or experience, you are taking it all in with the chance these moments will reappear in a dream or a sound unknowingly.

AF: When did you start writing music? And what was the first song you wrote that made you go: Okay, I should really do this?

CVC: I grew up in a family of musicians so it’s hard to recall a time when we weren’t “writing.” The first song I can clearly remember (perhaps because I sang it on the bus as a painfully shy 11-year-old) was coincidentally called “Dreams Come True.” Writing has always been a means of escapism and feels more like a necessity than a desire to achieve something. Moving to New York was certainly pivotal though and is an amazing source of inspiration and a place where dreams really do come true.

AF: You worked with Jared Artaud of The Vacant Lots and Grammy award-winner Ted Young on your upcoming album ​Almoon​. What was the recording process like?

CVC: I met Jared at a Slowdive show in New York and then played a show at a night he curates in New York called Damage Control. After the show he told me he would produce my album. Ted Young was there too and offered to engineer. They have worked on all The Vacant Lots albums together over the years as well as with many musical greats individually. All that experience and the relationship between them is extremely evident and valuable. We recorded at Sonic Youth Studio and were blessed to have Steve Shelley on drums and percussion. It was an incredibly inspiring experience and I believe we created something beautifully unique.

AF: Tell us about “Dream Around” – did this song start with a lyric, a memory, a place in your mind?

CVC: “Dream Around” is a celebration of the beauty and danger of dreams. It began with the line “I’ve been walking on dandelions…” romantic or crushing.

AF: The video for your debut single “Coyote Cry” was super dreamy. Do you spend a good amount of time curating a look to go along with your sound?

CVC: Thank you. I was fortunate to work with two dear friends, Nicole Steriovski and Jenna Saraco of Either And Studio on the music video. Their work embraces a subconscious reveal, the line between fiction and reality often blurred and up for interpretation. The aesthetic is genuine to an aspect of who I am as a person. We all play many characters in our lives, but the mysterious has always been something I’m attracted to as I’m often accused of being “off with the spirits.”

AF: In a few short words, tell us what we can expect from the album.

CVC: Almoon is a psychedelic, minimal-for-maximum effect eight-track offering of introspective anti-love songs, anchored by dark, hypnotic vocals and intriguing lyricism t​o not reveal, but hint at, the beauty and secrets of life.

Follow Cate Von Csoke on Facebook for ongoing updates. 

San Mei Premieres Dreamy Title Track from Cry EP

Photo Credit: Joshua Bilhan

It’s no doubt that up-and-coming artists can struggle to find their footing or assert their identity in an increasingly crowded music industry. For Emily Hamilton, an Australian singer-songwriter from Gold Coast who releases music under the name San Mei, that journey has been, at times, frustratingly slow. But with her forthcoming EP Cry (out March 20 via Sydney’s etcetc Records), San Mei set out to vent those frustrations, resulting in some of her most personal and relatable songwriting yet. Finally settling squarely on a dream pop indebted sound, Cry sees Hamilton coming into her own as a musician and producer, and with her unparalleled work ethic, there’s not much to get in her way.

Except a global health crisis. When I spoke with Hamilton on the phone, she had just arrived in Austin, Texas. Having played nine shows there at last year’s South by Southwest around the release of her second EP Heaven, Hamilton and her three bandmates had high hopes for the live debut of Cry. When SXSW was cancelled due to the coronavirus threat, they decided to go anyway and play whatever unofficial showcases were left, as they’d already invested quite a bit of their own money to come. But by the time they’d landed, those showcases we cancelled, too, with only virtual showcases in the works. Now, she’s looking at it as a much-needed vacation for the band.

Last year, San Mei played more than 45 shows, mostly in Australia, supporting touring bands like Ali Barter, Jack River, G. Flip, and K. Flay on weekend jaunts. “It feels like it was every weekend. It probably wasn’t but touring can get really tiring,” says Hamilton. “It just reiterated to me that it’s all about working hard if you wanna do well in music.” In some respects, she says, it made her question if this was the work she wanted to be doing. “Even energy-wise, I was like, I’m exhausted. I dunno how people who are in really successful bands just constantly tour. So what I got out of that was just like, this is a huge part of making music, and do I want to keep doing that, and the answer was yes.”

Those feelings of physical fatigue, feeling constant pressure to succeed, and feeling so far from her career goals were Hamilton’s biggest inspirations on Cry, most of which was written as she reflected on her accomplishments at the end of last year. An early single, “Hard To Face,” voices those frustrations most succinctly: “I know that time can be cruel when it’s wasted/But I know that if you run to the prize you can make it to the end/Running out of time, am I losing my mind?/Running for my life, why can’t I get peace of mind?/ Does it get better?” While supporting bigger artists on tour was an “amazing” experience for Hamilton, she said she found herself comparing their successes to her own trajectory and feeling inadequate, and eventually, she just had to get those feelings out.

“I’m usually a bit more private and careful about what I write, but I just had to say it,” Hamilton says. “It’s actually been a good challenge for me to be more vulnerable in my lyrics. I always have tried to be a bit more cryptic. I’m kind of at the stage where I just want to say what I mean and for it to obvious so people can be like, oh, I feel that too. So that’s where those songs came from.”

Elsewhere on the EP, Hamilton gets personal about hiding her faith (“Love in the Dark“) and also takes time to enjoy the company of others (“Cherry Days,” which Hamilton self-produced). But the title track, premiering exclusively on Audiofemme, differs in that it’s almost a mantra, a reminder that these moments – whether frustrating or exhilarating – will pass by in a flash, and sometimes it’s better to live in them and learn from them than let them slip away.

“You’re wishing all your time away/You wanna feel something else/Do you have enough to give away?” she asks; though her questions are addressed to another person, they could just as easily be the voice in her own head. Luckily, that voice reminds her “It shouldn’t make you feel so bad/You only have one heart to break/Keep it whole.”

“Cry” is an uplifting centerpiece for the EP, one on which Hamilton solidifies her sound squarely in the realm of dream pop. She says she was inspired initially by Lykke Li and Grimes, but also classic shoegaze artists like Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. “[That music] really resonated with me and it feels natural to me to write that way; I guess it wasn’t so much of a ‘oh, I wanna sound like that’ – it was more ‘oh, I connect with that, and that sounds like what comes out of me naturally, too.’”

Still, San Mei’s music never loses its pop grounding – Hamilton’s voice is clear and emotive, its breathlessness almost communicating the kind of whirlwind that the project has been caught up in. And that’s intentional – now more than ever, San Mei wants to connect with her audience on a personal level. “I’ve been very private, and now I want people to know my personality, know who I am now, what my message is,” Hamilton says. “It’s not just about me – if they can connect with who I am as a person then they can relate to those songs and not feel alone. So that’s kind of what I’m trying to work on at the moment; I hope that these songs can help other people too.”

San Mei’s Cry EP is out March 20th. Follow the band on Facebook for ongoing updates.

TRACK REVIEW: Stonefield “Sister”

Life is tough, and sometimes you need a dense track to complement that type of outlook. If you’ve found yourself in need of this type of song lately, then search no further than Stonefield’s track “Sister.”

It’s the perfect descriptor for a quartet of Aussie sisters who have been playing together since the youngest was only seven, the eldest just fifteen. The Findlay siblings hail from Victoria, and though their latest LP As Above So Below was released in their home country last year, it was only made available in the U.S. earlier this month, along with two special edition singles for “Changes” featuring “Sister” as its b-side.

Elementally, the track is comprised of hard-hitting guitar chords and heavy, spine-tingling synths that do well to perpetuate a sobering, hardened perspective. It’s a grungy garage rock track that would go well with a dreary rainy day or a bleak political atmosphere. One of the most exciting elements of this family band is that they create music that can sound wildly different on a track-by-track basis, which is expertly showcased in As Above So Below. Like a heavier version of Haim, these sisters are poised to take over America, having recently completed their U.S. tour supporting fellow psych-rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Check out “Sister” by Stonefield via Soundcloud below.

TRACK PREMIERE: The Hamiltons “Take the Hit”


An instant pop classic with an old-fashioned twinge, The Hamiltons’ latest single “Take the Hit” is a timeless piece that’ll have you swooning. It’s a unique genre-mashing track in that it’ll transport you from smack dab in the 60s to the mid-90s over the course of a few lulling notes and jazzy vocals.

Based in London after relocating from Sydney, this sibling duo not only performs their own music, but also produce and write it. And their investment in their music is apparent in “Take the Hit”–it’s dripping with passion and affection, carefully honed to present you with an entrancing final product. With influences in jazz, folk, country, and cajan, it’s no wonder their sound is so eclectic.

LIVE REVIEW: Lolo, The Griswolds, New Politics, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness @ Terminal 5



Any show at Terminal 5 is always a big one, so when I came to see the four-artist, co-headlined Wilderness Politics tour, I knew I was in for one hell of a party.

First up was LOLO, a young Brooklyn native with a lot of soul. Getting on her knees with passion, it was clear she was having the time of her life, commanding the stage with her ability to belt and hold some strong high notes.

The Griswolds have the look of your favorite early 2000’s pop-punk groups with a nice danceable flavor. They put out happy vibes with their upbeat songs. The energy during the quick set was irresistible — “If You Wanna Stay” was especially fun for dancing along.



Here’s what’s curious about The Griswolds — in spite of their incredibly fun tempos, giving the crowd all kinds of excuses to scream and dance, in songs like “16 Years,” lyrics like “I’m half the man I used to be/Tequila, lust and gambling/Oh, mama, I need rescuing” aren’t exactly the happiest upon closer listen.


In any case, there’s no need for anything flashy to enjoy a Griswolds show — they’re simply a group of charming Aussie guys wowing the crowd by having the time of their lives.


Journeys, the show’s sponsor, is holding a contest to win a pair of shoes hand-decorated by the band themselves.   Enter here!



I was almost caught off guard when David Boyd burst out waving a bright red New Politics flag, displaying their tally mark logo.

Boyd (vocals) and Søren Hansen (guitar) originally hail from Copenhagen, but Boyd called Terminal 5 a hometown show, trying to get the New Yorkers to be the loudest crowd yet. They’ve been living in Williamsburg since ’09, and met current drummer “Long Island Louis” Vecchio here in the city.


Boyd, a breakdancer, made the most of the beats center stage to showcase his skills, even if it doesn’t quite match up with the pop punk sound.


For the crowd favorite “Fall Into these Arms,” Boyd came out to the audience’s hands to dance and surf the crowd right back to the stage, leading into the multitalented Hansen performing a powerful solo on the piano. “Girl Crush” brought the energy back up with Andrew McMahon joining the band on stage.


The former lead singer for Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, Andrew McMahon now performs solo under the moniker of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. The set design, consisting of grass platforms for the keyboard and drums, and some turf to top the piano, was a rare display of greenery in the city, though it felt a little more like a suburban backyard, minus the picket fence.


McMahon performed a diverse set of songs from his previous bands and solo work. Fans responded well to songs like Something Corporate’s “I Woke Up In A Car” and “Punk Rock Princess,” evident as everyone seemed to know all the words.  It felt as if you could hear the echo of the audience for the duration of the set.


When I first walked into the venue, I was approached to have my cheek swabbed by volunteers of the Love Hope Strength foundation to register for bone marrow donation.  McMahon took time out of the show to talk about his own experience with cancer, having been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2005.  He announced that this marks ten years of being cancer-free, before performing the Jack’s Mannequin song “Swim” for “anybody who’s going through something.”


There certainly were crazier moments during the show, like McMahon crowd surfing his way down to the bar to get a shot of Jäger. The highlight, however, was the childlike joy that fell across the room during the performance of “Cecilia and the Satellite,” penned for his daughter.  He brought everyone back to elementary school with a giant parachute, making for the perfect encore.


All photos shot by Ysabella Monton for AudioFemme.