Aarti Jadu Auto-Tunes Sound of the Sacred on Debut LP L’Ecole De La Caz

Photo Credit: Nicole Reed

For Aarti Jadu, sound – whether voice, instrument or digital manipulation –is how they make sense of the unmapped inner geography connecting their Indian heritage and their own identity as a first-generation Australian. Jadu’s explorations have manifested as trauma-informed workshops for voice and somatics, and neuroscience-informed artworks that explore how the interplay of voice, music and physical space can convey human experience and perhaps address emotional trauma. Jadu is an anthropologist, an explorer, and an experimentalist when it comes to sound – and on February 11, they released their debut album L’Ecole De La Caz via Heavy Machinery Records.

“The concept was to try and make it like an alien choral folk album,” Jadu states. It was made under the multi-directional pressures of COVID lockdowns, an unstable home situation, financial pressures, and their own personal expectations, doubts and insecurities. But with funding from Flash Forward, the opportunity to make new work was impossible to pass up.

“You do what your life’s calling is and the gamble is that you might not feel stable,” they concede. “I called it ‘school of house’ in French; learning what it is to reinvent the idea of home and house and strength in the self as opposed to the material world around my body.”

Jadu was raised in Perth before following their brother across the country in 2011 to settle in Melbourne. Though they loved singing, their life’s calling seemed to be another creative form at first.

“I just came out of studying fashion and did an internship with a fashion designer here,” Jadu recalls. “Through doing that and seeing how much of my energy was not being used for singing, which was a really important part of my being, I decided I should put more focus on music and make fashion a secondary creative outlet.”

For nine years, they’ve been a student of Vinod Prasanna, a performer and teacher of traditional and contemporary Indian devotional music. “I started off in devotional music, singing chants and group songs [or] bhajans, which are primarily used to activate a spiritual or deeper sense of self with a community. Only when I was 20 or 22, I started writing songs of my own that were more poetic and not for that purpose, but for my own enjoyment.”

Yoga, too, has been elemental in their mind-body-spiritual practice. Jadu’s teacher, Nina Alfers, is depicted on the album artwork, having planted the concept of finding home within the body within Jadu’s mind.

“I think yoga reminds one that it’s always a practice and that it cannot be sold and that we always have a responsibility, and an opportunity and right, to reach for something that is spiritual, and that comes from within through expressing outwardly, a recognition of ritual,” Jadu says.

Jadu’s intention on their first album was to make sense of how their two worlds – making devotional music and their artistic and electronic works – could share a language and an intention. “How do I create devotional music and also these wider spaces of my self in a club, or a performance space where the shrine is the person as opposed to this other, greater, higher existence?” she asked herself.

When the State of Victoria/City of Melbourne Flash Forward project arose, providing funding to create an album to a brief deadline (a couple of months maximum), Jadu was conflicted since they had another artistic commission and a course in public art creation underway simultaneously. On the other hand, they felt compelled to create a cohesive body of work that channeled two of their biggest fascinations: Auto-Tune and devotional music. These explorations into the digital manipulation of sound, voice and instrumentals inform L’Ecole De La Caz through each of its seven hypnotic tracks.

First single “IT/THAT” feels akin to fka twigs’ strange, digital, ghostly RB harmonies, punctuated with breathing, gasps, moans and whispers. As the twisting, modulating voices in their upward lilting melodies – both celestial and artificial in tone – layer and build, they embody the nature of gospel, hymns, chanting and sacred ritual. It begs the question: are these sounds sacred purely because they mimic all the elements of sacred music? Does it matter whether these sounds are made by human or machine? And then, where do we define who exists, who is holy and who is laity, and why do we insist upon divisions when all beings are drawn to the very natural, organic act of making music in harmony and praise whoever our Gods or higher powers are?

Arranged like a choral album, but with a twist, Jadu used multiple Auto-Tune sources to create an Auto-Tune choir of some sort. “Choir music indicates that there’s a sense of leaving yourself and joining others and becoming one big instrument rather than having individual ego or something to say that’s separate to the other,” Jadu explains.

It’s a unique sense of comfort, one Jadu desperately needed when circumstances left them without a stable home. The impermanency was emotionally exhausting, and as Jadu speaks about it, it sounds like it remains a thorn in her soul. “Unfortunately for many musicians, it’s always a transient space – to have the rug pulled from under your feet so many times,” they reflect.

But despite all that, Jadu offers the sense of soothing too often in short supply on L’Ecole De La Caz. Even without intellectualising, or trying to tackle the big existential queries Jadu has been in dialogue with in the making of this album, it is thoroughly immersive and transportive. Listen without analysis, be moved, and perhaps be transformed subtly and incomprehensibly.

For the string arrangements, Jadu called upon Aurora Darby and Esther Henderson. Their vocal ensemble comprised Abbey Howlett, Aurora Darby, Emma Ovenden, Joli Boardman, Melanie Taylor, Olive Yaah, Siobhan Housden, Stav Shaul, Xan Coppinger and Yannick Rosette.

“A lot of the fleshing out was done at home in the beautiful room that I eventually left, so it was precious to have it as a time capsule. We set up in an empty room in the house [in Coburg]… to record strings in and the choir,” Jadu says. “I was fortunate enough to also jump into a studio and track some of the vocals that I needed to sound fairly intimate and clean.”

They’d been accustomed to Auto-Tune pedals after becoming hooked on Algerian and Spanish pop songs that heavily relied on vocal tuning. They’d been experimenting with manipulating their vocals for a couple of years and gigging with the pedals between lockdowns.

The heavily treated vocals make it difficult to differentiate between human and computer, inviting listeners to question why and how they are drawn to this sound that is both ancient and familiar, but also strangely artificial and engineered.

“I varied the microphones considerably and I also used Auto-Tune or hard tuning effects – what you’d hear on Cher or T-Pain,” they clarify. “I find Auto-Tune a very sophisticated pedal and I used software and hardware to create various version of that. Some of the synths sound like vocals and some of the vocals sound like synths. That was a whole lot of fun to try things out.”

Jadu used Logic to make the whole album and the Antares plug-in, as well as the Boss VE-20 Voice Manipulator and looping station. “I just enjoyed how crisp and tacky to process it through hardware before putting it into the digital world,” they explain.

The result on L’Ecole De La Caz is indeed an alien choral folk vibe. After the intensity of making it, discovering what they knew and didn’t know, and proving they could improvise under pressure, Jadu says it’s a relief to share it with the world. “I didn’t want to let it go. I wanted to keep fixing it,” they say. “But it’s a good process to let it go and I was quite happy to move on and make something else.”

Follow Aarti Jadu on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Bitumen Dance Through a Dark, Industrial Soundscape On Sophomore LP Cleareye Shining

Photo Credit: Emily Herbert/Joshua Watson

Dark, viscous, harsh and dramatic: fair to say that Bitumen lives up to their moniker with a sonic offering that weaves elements of metal, post-punk, synths and layered harmonies. On sophomore album Cleareye Shining, the four-piece sounds like the lovechild of My Bloody Valentine and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. It skins your knees one moment and soothes the rawness with dreamy, nuanced melody the next. This month, the album finally sees release on vinyl and CD, having been available digitally since November 2021 via Heavy Machinery Records.

Melbourne is laying claim to them, but Bitumen – Kate Binning, Bryce, Simon Maisch and Sam Varney – originated in Tasmania’s capital city of Hobart. Binning and Varney have been partners for eight years, while Varney and Maher had been best friends for even longer. And Maisch? “We knew Simon peripherally, but he was in this punk band [Bears] – he was this intimidating guy with bleached blonde hair and a cool tattoo,” Binning recalls. “We moved to Melbourne in dribs and drabs over six years ago. We were all in bands in Hobart that ended when we moved so we were all, individually, looking to start something. Simon was really the catalyst because me, Sam and Bryce were all living together and Simon invited us over to his shed in Preston [in Melbourne’s inner north] for a practice, and it came together super well.”

Bitumen, having established a solid camaraderie as musicians, and with the bonus of Maisch’s production and engineering skills, made waves with their 2018 debut Discipline Reaction, recorded at Magnet Studios in four days.

That debut showcased the metallic echo of distorted, furied post-punk guitar on “Twice Shy,” which rubbed up against the clanging percussion, mewling guitar and ghostly vocals on “At Bended Knee.” The vampiric, wild spirit of Bauhaus lurks in the wings, along with a sprinkling of the pop-driven catchiness of The Cure and the midnight splendour of Dead Can Dance.

Cleareye Shining was financially and artistically supported by City of Melbourne and the Victorian State Government’s Flash Forward program. It sounds like an organic evolution, a consolidation of their sonic identity, rather than a left-turn from Discipline Reaction. “We wanted to keep, even expand on, the drama, really, [and] the cinematic nature of the songs, make them even more dynamic,” proffers Binning. “I think of the songs as little movies that have act one, act two, act three and they really go somewhere.”

Whereas their debut album was recorded with the intention of capturing their live energy, Cleareye Shining was very much an investigation of what they could create with layers, synths, production and with the financial and creative freedom given by the grant. When the pandemic struck in February 2020, the band had most of the songs for Cleareye Shining in draft stage. Their intention to create an album that captured the fizzing, unvarnished effect of their live performances transitioned into the sharper, more polished studio album of nine tracks.

“We just leaned into doing a studio record and we weren’t as concerned about capturing the energy of playing live. [Instead] we went about crafting something really meticulous,” Binning says. “We’d been listening to ‘80s big production – Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush – where the production is its own element as much as the instruments and the words; the way something is recorded and put together is an artistic choice.”

Theirs was a decision made in the dire circumstances of lockdowns, but rather than lessening the impact of their lusciously layered, immersive, and savage metal-dance dramatics, the careful production emphasizes the almost mathematically precise measures of bass, synths, piano, menacing guitar and honeyed vocals. If you put a bunch of ‘80s goth anthems, ‘90s Nu Metal bands and a bunch of lusty machines through a meat grinder, it might sound a lot like Cleareye Shining.

“The beat or the percussion is evolving all the time as the songs are evolving. It’s constant. We’ll be making a demo, thinking about it for the next week, then going back to practice and adding or changing,” says Binning. “On this album, we started using synths because we let go of the idea that it was something we’d perform live. So we leaned into layering it up and having people making a few different instruments on the same song. My lyrics and vocal melodies would usually come in at the last second.”

Binning had a notebook of words, ideas, and phrases that she translated into lyrics once she could decipher the mood, energy, and visuals associated with the instrumentals and melodies. That cinematic quality was the overriding essence of the album. She’s already envisioned the film it would soundtrack.

“We said it would be like an erotic thriller meets a dystopian action movie,” she reveals. “I love Paul Verhoeven movies, I think he’s a genius. I said it was like Basic Instinct meets Robocop. A lot of the songs are futuristic dystopian, or utopian, leaning. It’s intrigue, it’s romance, and it’s drama.”

Photo Credit: Steven Patrick

The band, a tight unit that thrives on collaboration, experimenting, live drum sequencing, looping and sampling, were determined to only create when they could be in the one space together. Trading files and Zoom meetings were not on their agenda. So when restrictions allowed, they recorded the majority of the album at their Brunswick studio, then did a final block of six days at The Aviary to achieve the final overdubs, vocals and re-amps.

Bringing in accomplished Melbourne engineer, producer, and guitarist (in metal band High Tension) Mike Deslandes on mixing duties was “invaluable,” says Binning. “When we handed it off to him, there were 80 different tracks in the sessions, so he had to go through all of them and mix it all together, which I do not envy.”

“Because we’re so insular and work on our own all the time,” she continues, “it was the first time someone had listened to the whole thing with fresh ears. So it was interesting hearing his take on certain songs. He’d say, ‘This is a pop song,’ and we hadn’t thought of it like that… Mike is genuinely almost like a savant! Watching him use the computer… it’s all a mystery to me. He’s able to wrangle sense out of a fairly nonsensical arrangement, sometimes.”

Billing readily nominates “Spun Gold Heaving” as a favourite from the album.

“That is just so fun to play live. The germ of the idea for that came from listening to – I hate name dropping Nick Cave because it’s so cliched! – but listening to [1996 album] Murder Ballads, and even that whole genre that goes back to the whole blues tradition of murder ballads,” explains Binning. “What does that mean, not to write a song that’s personal or confessional, but as a character who’s awful and a murderer? The guitar parts the boys came up with were really intense and made me feel really powerful so that was a great song for me to make my murder ballad. It’s tongue-in-cheek and also so raucous and heavy.”

The last song on the album, “Luxury Auto” slithers in like a ravenous viper seeking prey. Binning’s ghostly, femme fatale vocal bristles with malevolent, vampiric intent. The guitars shiver with kinetic energy, letting go into frenzied metallic whips. It’s elegant, sexy, and full of glamorous, gothic drama.

“That’s the last one we wrote in the chronology,” she says. “We had all the other songs ready. It came from quite an organic jam. The boys named it ‘Luxury Auto’ when it was still an instrumental because it felt mysterious, thinking about espionage, spy movies and that European feel. Then I found it to be really emotive and was thinking about the espionage theme. In life we all have our missions, and our allies, our enemies. It can feel very mysterious not knowing other people’s intentions and who’s out to get you. The vibe of the song emerged from the music and I just naturally went from there. We haven’t worked out how to play that one live yet, but that’s one of my favourites as well.”

As long as they’re crafting melodic, utopian, immersive synth-guitar soundscapes worthy of an Alex Proyas, Luc Besson or Paul Verhoeven movie, Melbourne is going to lay claim to Bitumen. Just don’t tell Hobart.

Follow Bitumen on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Grace Cummings Strikes a Dramatic Chord on Sophomore LP Storm Queen

Photo Credit: Ian Laidlaw

On her sophomore album Storm Queen, Melbourne’s Grace Cummings has refined her musical arrangements into theatrically-inclined, intricate stories in which horns, strings, guitar and bass each have a voice – a role to play, even. As an actor who has performed in, and co-headlined, major state theatre productions, Cummings can indicate a mood with the raise of an eyebrow or the timing of a small gesture on stage, a less-is-more approach she mirrors when it comes to her music. She channels her energy into the potency and alchemy of each of the eleven tracks on Storm Queen, and the effect is magic.

“Because all the songs came from me at a particular time in my life and in my thinking, they naturally do have a thematic through-line, if you will, instead of having a bunch of songs over a few years,” she explains from her home in the inner north of Melbourne, where she lives with her bassist Lain Pocock and Gil Gilmour, who shoots many of her videos.

She is reluctant to delve into the personal events or experiences that fed her lyrics, hoping that there is just enough slip room that listeners will read between the lines and make sense of them as they need to. But the chaos of disasters that occurred between the end of 2019 and continued throughout the pandemic focused her mind on questions of nature and the concept of a higher power – a sense of God, though not in the strictly religious paradigm.

“Some things that do pop up is nature for one, a kind of existence or lack of some kind of God that I don’t really believe in, but mention a lot. I suppose [that’s] to try and label something that I don’t understand that’s quite great, dramatic and bigger than anything that we know about,” she reasons. “That connects a lot to the beauty you see in nature. Especially in Australia in the last couple of years, the landscape is beautiful but also terrorised by things like fire. I was also surprised at how much I referenced childhood things as well.”

Life, death, God, nature, chaos and birth. It makes sense that in considering the value of life and what governs this whole shebang, you’d be inclined to reflect on your own existence.

Heaven” reveals her throaty, bass-rich voice in all its majesty, heaving with the gravitas and hurt of a lifetime. Tambourine jangles, she calls out “Ave Maria” with blood curdling desperation, and you well might wonder, is that Patti Smith? I mean this with the greatest flattery, of course. For anyone who has heard “Because The Night” or “Birdland,” you’d have to wonder if Cummings was playing the Australian Patti Smith to some degree.

“I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this,” begins Cummings. “I never really got into Patti Smith. I like a lot of her songs, but I read her more than I listened to her growing up so I actually haven’t listened to a lot of Patti Smith. I think she’s fantastic, just not an artist that I listened to growing up.”

Nonetheless, the sometimes guttural roar and ragged edges of her furious delivery do elicit Smith’s impassioned, poetic songs. “Lord oh Lord, I don’t want anything to change! The shepherds have led their sheep and it’s all going up in flames!” she wails in a voice that hovers between growl, shriek and cry on “Up In Flames.” It’s all hellfire and brimstone, bloody damnation. Is it genuine, or is it theatre? Audiences will decide, but perhaps it doesn’t matter; certainly, there was critical and audience acclaim for her debut album.

Refuge Cove was released in 2019 through Melbourne-based label Flightless Records, run by Eric Moore, drummer for King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. “I wasn’t intending on really making an album when I made Refuge Cove,” Cummings admits. “I went and recorded a bunch of songs and when Eric Moore from Flightless said, ‘Do you have an album that we can put out?’ I said ‘Yep!’ and gave him that, and it became the album.”

Storm Queen, out January 14th via Sugar Mountain Records/Virgin Music Australia, is a much more conscientious body of work. “All of these songs were very much intended to go on an album that I was curating to be an entire piece of work,” she says. “’Storm Queen’ is one that I really love to sing and is often my favourite on the album that I’ve been listening to over the million times you do when you put something out. I also love to sing ‘Fly a Kite.’ Miles Brown plays the theremin on ‘Fly a Kite’ and that’s one of the reasons it’s my favourite songs on the album, because he’s playing on it.”

In April last year Cummings played Charlotte in Joanna Murray-Smith’s Berlin at the Melbourne Theatre Company. Her belief is that creating, whatever the platform, fuels the artistic muse within, though she demurs on finding direct commonalities between her two professions.

“It’s really funny. I see the two things – while they’re so similar – so differently,” she says. “I suppose that one of the reasons is that in one of them I’m absolutely myself and everything comes from me: I’m the person that’s onstage, with my name and my songs, my words, and I can move the way that I want. In a role that you play, it’s the opposite: you’re in someone else’s body with someone else’s voice or accent, someone else’s words in someone else’s house. I find it to be a little bit of a sport. Theatre is like you’re an athlete and being a musician, you’re just your scummy self.”

Cummings is the least scummy creature imaginable, but she’s looking forward to the (potentially scummy) stages and scuzzy beer-stained carpets that are the natural stomping ground of Melbourne’s musos. She’s touring in February as support for Springtime, the supergroup lead by Tropical Fuck Storm’s Gareth Liddiard.

“Performing live is always my favourite thing in the world,” she says. “I don’t think you can replicate the feeling that you have being on stage and in front of people… and singing to them. I’m not sure anything can really beat it.”

She’s reassembled her band after a lengthy hiatus from touring, and it’s a stellar collection of musicians: Cahill Kelly on guitar; Lain Pocock on bass; Tyler Daglish on drums; and Alex Hamilton on guitar. Cummings’ voice brightens as she rattles off each name. “Cahill and I swap around playing keys, which has been really fun on the last couple of shows that we’ve done,” she swoons. “We have guests: Kat Mear, on fiddle – she’s a good friend of mine, I’ve known her for many years, she’s just the fucking best; Harry Cooper plays the saxophone and I hope that he will get on as many shows as he can with the tour as well.”

While simultaneously touring, Cummings is anxious to get started the next album, and she’s intending on a big sound, a full band sound with nothing minimal about it. “I have written stuff for another album,” she confesses. “Knowing me, I’ll probably write the songs I want to be on it the day before I start recording, but I do have a bunch of songs. Sonically, they’re very different – Storm Queen is very pared back, whereas I don’t want this one to be minimal at all. But let’s see, who knows?”

Follow Grace Cummings on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Gabriella Cohen Manifests Globe-Trotting, Genre-Hopping Genius on Third LP Blue No More

Photo Credit: Sara Yael

On her third and latest album, Blue No More, Gabriella Cohen has arguably crafted the most emotionally intense, groovy, candid and beautiful portrait of being a young woman feeling her way through a harsh world. From the seaside lullaby of “Water” to the Americana and gospel-indebted call and response blues of “Son Of A Gun,” through the pensive but powerful title track, she seemingly holds your heart in her hand and squeezes it as she sings.

Blue No More captures elements of all the places she’s called home in the last five years, from Melbourne’s beachy, palm-lined bayside suburbs and Queensland’s Sunshine Coast to New Orleans’ French Quarter, which is where the album began to take form.  

“I left Melbourne in 2019 and myself and my drummer Danni [Ogilvie] went to Austin to do SXSW and I stayed on after that, living in New Orleans for a bit. I was kinda lost at the time, as you do in New Orleans: lose yourself, find yourself,” she tells Audiofemme. “I don’t know if I ever found myself. I was having a hard time in New Orleans and after playing SXSW and how vast it is, you’re not touring and you’re in one spot thinking ‘what is my purpose?’ I didn’t know what the hell to do. I was down and out riding along the French Quarter, having a miserable time. I was subconsciously penning the start to Blue No More.”

Eventually, Cohen returned to Australia, moved in with her sister in Melbourne’s St Kilda, and got a job in a local fish and chip shop while spending her free time working on what would become Blue No More. “It took two years before I realised what I was actually writing, and lots of things happened in between, which made it slow,” she admits. Then, the pandemic hit and provided just the right amount of chaos and cataclysmic energy for Cohen to begin the recording process.

As Australian states were closing their borders, Cohen and her sister left Melbourne before the restrictions prevented their escape and spent a year at Crystal Waters, the 640-acre Queensland eco village built on sustainable agriculture and permaculture principles where her parents live.

“I started recording in a cabin on my parent’s property, then I was recording in a water tank converted into a studio across the lane in the village. Sometimes I would go to Brisbane and I recorded with Sam Cromack from Ballpark Music and another friend [folk musician, producer] JB Patterson. It was half done in Crystal Waters and half done with three friends in Brisbane. All the songs need their little home and I could never do a record in one place,” Cohen says.

That seems fitting given the whirlwind beginnings of Cohen’s music career. After playing in a band called Coco Loco at university, she met and formed The Furrs with Jim Griffin. The duo released their self-titled four-track EP in 2013, and by the following year hit the road with Cults, DMAs and The Babe Rainbow respectively, Cohen honing her craft as a songwriter, recording artist and touring musician along the way.

Cohen and Griffin were in a relationship for two years, the length of the band. “I fell in love with Jimmy and I thought that’s what you do, start a band with the people that you wanna be around. He’s an amazing musician. I was drawn to his demeanour and how talented he was,” she says. “It all came together at the same time which is wild and unstable, but you get great songs out of it!”

Luckily, Cohen also formed some longer-lasting relationships, like one with her current guitarist and collaborator Kate Dillon. “I met her about halfway through The Furrs and as soon as we met each other, we were circling around each other and we knew, or I knew straight away, this is a powerful collaboration waiting to happen,” Cohen recalls. “I was with Jimmy and she was with another of my ex-boyfriends. I whisked her away and we moved to Highgate Hill Park in Brisbane.” The move left them alienated in more than a geographical sense; the top of the hill was “the beginning of the end” of The Furrs, but ushered in a feminine uprising.

By 2015 she and Dillon had moved to Melbourne with drummer and soul singer Bella Carol (Moses Gunn Collective). The same year, Dillon’s parents went on a ten-day cruise and asked their daughter to housesit. Mired in depression and sick of her dead-end day job, Cohen had just broken up with Jimmy, so Dillon suggested they record an album while housesitting. With two microphones, a borrowed drumkit, and no soundproofing, they played all the instruments (bar Marcus Warren playing bass on one song) and ultimately, Cohen’s 2016 debut solo LP Full Closure and No Details resulted.

The album’s lusciously dark but captivatingly catchy mood heralded her as a talent to watch, though not at first. Cohen and Dillon spent eight hours a day at their local café emailing labels and international distribution with their album. “We didn’t get much response. It wasn’t until we left Brisbane for Melbourne and played the record in full that people started responding,” Cohen says. “We got signed to Remote Control, then Captured Tracks, then we went to the US and things went from there. It sounds like a dream, but it was a plan. Brisbane, Melbourne then international. Dare I say, it was manifested.”

Cohen established herself as an artist who works well under pressure, on the road, with limited resources and a makeshift family of musically-inclined friends to pitch in and bring her vision to life. Her second album, Pink Is The Colour of Unconditional Love, was similarly born of unpredictable but fortuitous circumstances.

“We moved to the country town of Seymour, this big private property – a family farm. We lived and recorded there for six weeks then we got the call we were going on tour with Foxygen, another dream come true. We did lots of serious wishing and praying, it’s crazy that even happened,” Cohen recalls. “We did a lot of our overdubs in the tour van and in dressing rooms after shows and coerced members from Foxygen to do heaps of the backing [instrumentals and vocals]. We’ve always done bits and pieces with this gung-ho kind of energy because that’s the only way we could really survive.”

Cohen’s attitude to recording is akin to her off-kilter genre hopping, though there’s nothing haphazard about Blue No More. It scoots around conventional genres to take elements of gospel, doo-wop, blues, folk and soul and create gorgeously organic, heart-rending miniature homages to place, feeling and memory.

“Son Of A Gun” has a very Stax Records, Motown, Staple Singers-style attitude, complete with maracas and a whisky bottle tapped with a pencil for percussive good measure. “I’d learnt this blues piano riff and I just knew I needed those soul kinda voices, like that choir, that gospel sound. I’ve always been really drawn to that feeling,” she explains. “It’s an amalgamation of everything I listen to from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. There was no direct reference.”

Its lyrics are true to life. “In New Orleans, I was living with my partner at the time and we amicably broke up when I returned to Melbourne but I was heartbroken. We’d always walk to the corner store and I’d get a salad roll, he’d get a Coca-Cola. It was definitely more romanticised as I was writing about it after, but it’s all very autobiographical as everything is, I guess.”

“Water” on the other hand, was a song to herself. “That was my lift-me-up song,” she says. “I was having a hard old time. Don’t they always say what you preach, you need to hear the most? I was working at the fish and chip shop and the water around me was the most uplifting thing.”

“But I Wanted To” is a rocksy beast. “I wrote that in 2015 right before we left for Melbourne. It was the end of a relationship and it was this bittersweet… you know when you’re desperately in love with the wrong person and it’s not reciprocated? I’d held onto it so long and I didn’t know what to do with it. It feels fresh on this record, reimagined with all the musicians on it.”

Danni Ogilvie helped to write the drum parts, but it was Luke Hanson (from Dillon’s Full Flower Moon Band) who played the drums. Jess Ferronato from Nice Biscuit played guitar and bass. Kate Dillon, Billie Starr and Grace Cuell from Nice Biscuit did all the harmonies. It was recorded at the Chaos Magic Studios in the West End of Brisbane.

“I think I just wanna make records with everyone I love,” Cohen laughs.

Independently released on January 21st, Blue No More leaves no room to doubt Cohen’s reserves of talent, ideas and musical nous, nor her savviness for curating an album that sways, swerves and wheels around and through genres with no adherence to a strict, straightforward road. You don’t say no to riding shotgun with Gabriella Cohen – she’s going to show you all the places you’ve been before, and some you haven’t, but through her own hazy, sun-drenched gaze.

Follow Gabriella Cohen on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

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.

Liz Stringer Gets Accustomed To Her First Time Really Feeling

Photo Credit: Kristoffer Paulsen

Let’s time warp back to April, back when it was just over a year of lockdowns, restrictions, fear (and loathing), and a sense of exhaustion reigned globally. It was glum, in short. But in the bleakness, Liz Stringer released her sixth album, First Time Really Feeling. On it, she revealed the newfound sobriety that it took until her late 30s to embrace. It is a confessional album, her most honest to date by her own admission in multiple interviews. The country, rockin’ folk vibe sonically is warm and lush and the straight-talking lyrics are unvarnished and untarnished by a haze of alcohol and hangovers. It marked two years since she’d been feted at Woodford Folk Festival in 2019 by fellow performers Catherine MacLellan, Tim Levinson, Jessie Lloyd and Jeff Lang, who paid tribute to her catalogue to date by covering their favourite Stringer songs.

In October the same year, Stringer joined fellow musos Jen Cloher and Mia Dyson for the second time since releasing a 2013 tour EP to record their debut Dyson Stringer Cloher LP. The album was a celebration of some of Melbourne’s finest songwriters, voices and guitar talent, though Stringer had moved to Toronto a year earlier to avoid the party scene she’d become prey to in Melbourne. As she told Conor Lochrie at Tone Deaf: “For me there was a lot of grief in getting sober, against all the amazing stuff. There was a period of having to mourn my life that I had been living for around 20 years. That was a big reason why I left and moved to Canada in 2018 because I couldn’t be around here, it was too triggering. Everywhere I went I remembered getting shitfaced there or hanging out there or going to the party there. It was constant!”

Melbourne has welcomed her back with open arms, though – her album received praise widely in media and she’s got tours booked through the end of 2021 and early 2022. She had been touring with Dyson and Cloher in 2019 until the borders closed and she found herself inadvertently but willingly back home.

Stringer’s sisterhood of songwriters did not begin and end with Dyson and Cloher. In 2008, she’d been invited by the esteemed singer-songwriter Deborah Conway to take part in the Broad Festival project. The Australia-wide tour was a vehicle for Stringer, Laura Jean, Dianna Corcoran and Elana Stone to perform their own work and reinterpret each other’s songs on stage. It has never been lost on her industry cohorts that in Stringer, the strength of her songwriting and performing – travelling the country-roots-folk route – are a phenomenon and have been since Soon, her 2006 debut. That was followed by Pendulum in 2008, Tides of Time in 2010, Warm in the Darkness in 2012, Live at the Yarra in 2014, and All the Bridges in 2016.

It was fortuitous and fitting that Cloher’s Milk! Records (founded with Courtney Barnett) signed Stringer in February, merely two months before she dropped First Time Really Feeling – easily her most raw, real album to date. The album, as much as it is about Melbourne and the weight of addiction on her mind and body, was recorded in Toronto in 2018.

“When I made the record, it took so long to bring out, because I didn’t have anyone,” she told Lochrie. “I was totally on my own, I had no money, I was in Toronto working as a session musician. And I just knew instinctively that either I put this album out well or I just don’t. I thought maybe that’s it, maybe I’m done. Then ironically during the pandemic it came together.”

First Time Really Feeling had to arrive when it arrived, which sounds obvious, but really – it is nigh on impossible to dig into the hurt, the grief, the true depths you’ve plunged into as an addict when you are still an addict. Stringer did not make the album all about herself though. As with her prior work, her songs are the collected stories of creatives who have nurtured their craft in ways that are self-destructive, no matter how necessary they feel at the time.

The title track is a percussive, country-inflected ballad in which Stringer’s earthy, plaintive storytelling comes to the front. “Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me!” she croons early on. Later: “It feels like I’m always leaving, and love, it ain’t a conscious thing/My body is still reeling/The fear of losing everything/When it’s the first time you’re really feeling.”

On “Metrologist,” she channels the Liz Stringer of old: propping up the bar. “I’ve never seen you here before, have you got time for just one more?” is her opening line to the metrologist she meets. An expert in measurement, her newfound friend prompts her to consider the distance between her bar stool and the table, the weight of alcohol, and inevitably the lyrics get darker and the mood more threatening as she begins to probe deeper into weights and worthiness.

“Can you tell me how long before I disappear? What’s the point look like at which I am no longer here? If my body’s too heavy and my list’s too long, have I failed as a woman ’cause my measurements are wrong?”

Then: “What’s the unit for the negative shit in my head that only drowns when I down a solid litre before bed?”

Her voice is a sturdy, weathered, rootsy creature that is delivered in a defiant, captivating, shamelessly Australian accent. There’s a reckless, almost breathless urgency to her realisations that being a woman musician might not measure up to much that is crushing to listen to, let alone to write – I imagine.

On “Victoria”, she sums up the juxtaposing love-and-fear relationship she maintains with the state she has lived most of her adult life in. “Bluestone lane, brick wall and gutter/Every house I got fucked up in ’til they all looked like any other/Informs it all since I could crawl/You taught me all I know, Victoria, Victoria.”

For the most part, tracks are pared back to rocksy, rootsy guitar, vocals and a steady, complementary drum. If it needed to be classified, it wouldn’t be astray in the Alt-Country box. There’s something of the dramatic, frank delivery of Brandi Carlisle and the deep, soul-moving realness of Linda Perry’s voice in Stringer’s sound.  

The thrum of guitars creates waves upon which Stringer lands her serene, resolute ode to “Little Fears, Little Loves.” It’s anthemic, without trumpeting its arrival. “When we see who we are/Every secret, every scar/It’s only that moment that we’ll feel love,” comes the rousing, poignant and subtly sentimental message.

Like love, like addiction, like finding a sense of home, this album is the eye of the storm: the peaceful calm within the noise of living. Find your own solace with Stringer’s voice, so close to you, and really feel it.

Follow Liz Stringer on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Lady Lash Pushes Boundaries with Power of the Feminine Divine on Spiritual Misfit LP

Photo Credit: Nicole Woods

As Lady Lash, South Australian artist Crystal Clyne (née Mastosavvas) translates elements of hip hop, R&B, soul, and electro into a language all her own. On her fifth album, Spiritual Misfit (out November 22 via Heavy Machinery Records), she pushes back on the expectations on her as a woman, a mother, and an artist; the sonic mood of the album is a distinct shift from her primarily beats-driven, hip hop roots. “This album, I feel, was in the frequencies of my alien brain, coming from hip hop to this completely other sound. I feel it’s a journey through light and dark worlds, exploring who you are outside of society’s boxes, not being afraid to change and evolve,” she tells Audiofemme.

When she started writing the album, she recalls thinking, “There’s something happening here;” that was nearly two years ago. “I felt like I was moving into this different musical frequency in my brain, and I had to step away from hip hop for a bit. The first song that came out… was ‘Love My Darkness,’ which began as a straight guitar track, very simple.”

Last year, Clyne received funding and creative support from the Victorian Government and City of Melbourne’s joint initiative, Flash Forward, allowing her to transition the songs she’d been working on into an album. Her co-producers, composer and artist Miles Brown and Wiradjuri studio engineer/experimental interdisciplinary artist Naretha Williams, were supportive of Clyne’s intuition that “Love My Darkness” needed more “edge” and more feeling. Brown added the synths and bass to flesh it out, and the result is a full-bodied, immersive tour de force.

The song was the first of nine tracks that pay a creative homage to her psychological and spiritual hurting and healing over the past few years. “Through my life I’ve been in domestic violence relationships and the trauma that sits deep within your liver, your heart, your soul, it was a massive journey for me,” she reveals, now having overcome problematic drinking habits and broken free of damaging relationships. “I’d also given birth to my third child and I felt a massive shift, a massive rebirth and I wanted to be more poetic in the lyrical content, but also understanding myself, because it is therapy when I write. It’s like a diary of my life.”

Lady Lash is no stranger to establishing her own identity through making sense of various languages of speech, song and family. She spent her teenage years on Koonibba mission in South Australia with her family, of both Greek and Indigenous Kokatha descent. These two ancient cultures have at least one obvious cultural commonality: a love for the ocean and an appreciation of it as both a source of life and beauty. Her earliest memories are of playing with her brothers and sisters on her dad’s boat.

Her albums have harked back to the ocean and family, not the least in their titles. Her debut EP Pearl came out in May 2010, followed by Crystal Mercy: The Fisherman’s Daughter in 2013. It honoured her father, whose family migrated from the Greek villages of Siana and Kritinia on the island of Rhodes. Her grandfather, Bapoul George Clyne, was born in Ceduna in South Australia, later becoming a fisherman. Samuel, his son, met and married Theresa Ware, and Crystal is the first of their six children.

It was a far cry from the seaside coast of Adelaide to Melbourne, where she moved in 2009. The hip hop scene in this city is strong and she was a fresh talent, energised and intelligent. When she dropped Pearl in 2010, it drew critical acclaim. She was nominated for a Deadly Award, won Redfern Records‘ “Female of the Year” award, and was invited to perform at the One Movement Festival in Perth. When she released her debut LP, the awards kept coming: a VIPA (Victorian Indigenous Performer Awards) for Most Promising Act of 2013 and a nomination for “Best Indigenous Act” at The Age Music Victoria Awards of 2016.

The references to the natural world made way for the cosmic with second album Milky Way in 2015. From the oceanic to the interplanetary, she then took a 180 degree spin and came plummeting back into her own psyche for Therapy Tapes in 2018, exploring themes of transporting her consciousness beyond her physical body to take in the world from a far-distant view, whether from beyond the Earth or looking back into today from a day centuries in the future.

On it, she had fully embraced a jazzy boom-bap vibe. It’s a flowing, melodic adventure that sounds like a pared back Lauryn Hill on tracks like “Self Love,” in which she depicts the crystals on her windowsill, the dreamcatcher nearby as she meditates. “Organic Domes” reveals her struggle with loneliness, being in a place with “no friends,” and trying to imagine an escape through the sensation of flying.

Her focus is more earthy and introspective on Spiritual Misfit, where Clyne has morphed her sound palette again to introduce synth-pop, sultry beats, and echoey, almost New Age ambient soundscapes. She is not the fierce MC on The Fisherman’s Daughter. She is a dramatic pop singer – sounding like the lovechild of Adele and Florence Welch on tracks like “Love My Darkness.”

On “Mother’s Cries,” Clyne channels her newfound sensation of being both a mother and a grandmother (her daughter gave birth last year). On the track, fellow artist and friend Katarina Stevens plays the bağlama, a stringed instrument traditionally used in classical Ottoman and Turkish folk music. It was at the peak of Clyne’s darkest period during COVID that circumstances conspired to bring the two women together.

“She’s another Greek sister and we connected through Facebook last year. I’d just separated from my husband of many years during COVID and I was in such a dark place,” she recalls. Stevens messaged her in response to Clyne’s post about suffering and feeling alone. “After that, things evolved to understanding that she’s a Greek artist playing these amazing instruments.” Once the sketch of “Mother’s Cries” had formed, Clyne sent over the skeleton and Stevens laid her bağlama over it.

“As I was writing it, I wanted to write about a woman understanding her ancient voice: a witch, a goddess, an empress. I wanted the sound to be big and to use all my vocals to project it out and let people feel the strength of a goddess that sings to the universe, that sings to Mother Earth,” Lady Lash explains. “Adding the bağlama, I felt the Greek side of me and the Aboriginal side of me coming together and using that in a powerful way.”

Follow Lady Lash on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Ruby Jones Brings The Woman Who Loves You to Life

Photo Credit: Lilli Waters

In the years since recording and touring with one of Melbourne’s most renowned jazz bands, Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rackettes, came to an end for Ruby Jones, the Melbourne born-and-raised singer-songwriter has crafted a folksy, guitar-driven spectrum of pensive, redemptive love songs. She’d been writing with her long-time friend and bandmate, lead guitarist and songwriting partner Jules Pascoe (Husky, JAZZPARTY, Jaala) throughout their time with the Rackettes, amassing a catalogue of songs to suffuse with blood, breath and life. But Jones admits that she’d initially written the songs with the intention of giving them to someone else.

“There’s a certain level of safety; you can be really vulnerable when you’re not planning on singing any of the lyrics yourself. Actually, that’s something I learned in the Rackettes; I was so open, vulnerable and honest in that band because at the end of the day, I could give it to Clairy and she’s such an incredible vocalist that it was a real joy, at the time, to write these songs and not have to sing them,” says Jones. In 2015 when the Rackettes ended, she adds, “I was not interested in having a band, but I wanted to write songs. And in Melbourne, if you want to get into the publishing side of things, you had to play them live or sing them yourself. Jules and I, then eventually my partner [bassist Joel Loukes] and [drummer] Selwyn [Cozens] got together and it was the perfect fit.”

As their muscular, well-honed supergroup coalesced, the songs Jones had written grew on her, too, and she could hardly picture anyone else singing them. “I didn’t really want anybody else to do it, and that’s when I knew. It was like, oh shit, I guess I have to do them now,” she confesses. “I went into this record being as honest, as vulnerable, as heartbroken as I wanted to be because I wouldn’t have to own it and seven years later, be talking to journalists about it!”

On November 12, Ruby Jones finally delivered her vulnerable, heartbroken, and ultimately healing folk-rock stories on debut LP The Woman Who Loves You. Each of the ten tracks has a throbbing heartbeat of its own, a storyline and a bristling sensory system that connects to the invisible spine running from the opening title track through to “Closing In.” There’s so much feeling in Jones’ voice, in her lyrical candour and the genuineness with which she addresses listeners, it’s as if we are part of the stories. As if we have lived these tales, too.

There’s also a romantic wink and a nod to the witchy magnetism of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, especially in the heartbreak-hurt of “Griffith Park.” That mid-70s luscious noodling guitar anchoring ethereal, psychedelic excursions into dreamy melodies gives a nostalgic sheen to the musical arrangements. There’s nothing sepia-toned about Jones’ songwriting and vocals though. Her melodious voice is gravel-edged on “Cruel” and sandpaper raw at the tip of her plaintive appeals to a careless lover, of whom she asks, “Why are you so cruu-eel?”

“’Cruel’ was the very first song that we wrote. I’d written other songs with Jules before this, but it was the first from our sessions together that made it onto the record. Originally, I came up with some of the chords on the piano because I wanted to bring something to our session. We’d started writing but I didn’t think anything would come of it,” Jones reveals. “The interesting thing about this song is that it’s gone through so many sonic iterations. It’s changed the most. The original demo is a piano-based country thing, written as a duet, a lot slower; then it went really country, really Americana, then we arranged it again almost as a Twin Peaks, prom night, rock ’n’ roll feel – which was my favourite version – but nothing felt right. Now, honestly, I think it sounds like a Prince song. It has a Purple Rain feel.”

On “Cruel,” she refers to her inability to let go as being “like Stockholm Syndrome” and the sense of being alone in the depths of a one-sided love affair is delivered in the downbeat atmosphere, a weeping guitar, intercut with savage fuzzy riffs towards the latter half of the song as backing singers bloom into harmony where both redemption and freedom seems possible.

Sprinkling the album with these beautiful harmonies, celestial songs and stardust seems to ease the soul-squeezing sadness of love lost, as well as deeper traumas. “Make It Out” sounds like an overexcited dog pulling its powerless owner towards sand, saltwater and sunshine; a subtle but frenetic beat keeps pressing the cadence upward, while a warm, sanguine bass line adds a lush laziness around the whole affair. But it’s deceptively upbeat.

“You know the song ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast? I love that song and everyone gets down to it, but if you actually listen to the lyrics, it’s a really sad breakup song. I’d look out and people would be singing along [to ‘Make It Out’] so joyously and yet, it’s a song about a domestic violence situation. The verses are pretty dark,” Jones points out. “It feels like an exorcism.”

“I wasn’t in a super happy place at the time… it was one of the last songs that made it onto the record. It [was written] in 2018, two years after every other song on the record, primarily because we didn’t have a lot of up-tempo songs,” she continues. “The way that I approach songs is that I take inspiration from many different places and people in my life, and even relationships which I observe in others. ‘Make It Out’ was not about me at all. That’s the beauty of songwriting – you can shift the pronouns around…[but] some songs are pretty cut-and-dried autobiographical.”

Luckily, she doesn’t have to explain where her lyrics come from to her songwriting partner. “Jules and I are Irish Catholic so we don’t really talk about our feelings to each other, we put it into our music. That’s what makes our writing relationship function how it does,” she says. “He’s really good at what he does, and I’m really good at what I do, so I don’t really ever give him notes on the songs. Likewise, he never critiques what I have to say lyrically – he stays out of my way when it comes to our songs. We work well together in that sense.”

Jones’ vocal delivery harks to another singer capable of channeling dark tales with a country-folk-jazzy buoyancy and oozy sweetness: Rickie Lee Jones. The funky play on tempo and vibe that sounds like a starbust of Broadway, doo-wop, old-time rock and Americana on Pirates is a spiritual sister to Jones’ debut. High praise? It’s deserved. The melancholic, anthemic beauty and broken-but-healing resolve of “We Belong Together” channels its soul anew into Ruby Jones’ “Griffith Park” and “Backbone.”

Jones admits that Melbourne’s world-record breaking lockdowns were not a time of enormous productivity, but on the day she speaks to Audiofemme, she’s headed for Bakehouse Studios to record vocals for the second album.

“I learned from the Rackettes that when you’re going through something that’s really a traumatic, altering experience, for me personally, I just have to survive it then I can write about it,” she says. “I didn’t do anything in lockdown. I watched Buffy and ran on my little treadmill. As we started to get out of it, I had some ideas… Jules was the total opposite. He emailed me ten songs – these fantastic guitar pieces – when I reached out to suggest getting together. So, we’ve got seven songs. I think we’re all just gonna want to get into the studio as quickly as possible.”

She takes a moment and the smile in her voice beams through as she dials off. “We’ve been playing Woman Who Loves You for five years now… I’m excited to make some new music.”

Follow Ruby Jones on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Kult Kyss Nurture The Heartbeat of the Melbourne Dancefloor on Ultra Sound EP

Photo Credit: Zachary McSweeney

From the first lush sonic textures and waves of synth on Ultra Sound, the debut EP from Kult Kyss out November 12th via TMRW Music, it’s hard not to envision a smoke-filled dancefloor. Vocalist Rromarin (Claire Rayner) and producer Haxx (Jack Arentz) have crafted a throwback to the big beat, anthemic dancefloor bangers of the ’90s; the Melbourne duo’s music is a delicious, shameless montage of building beats, thrilling climaxes, snaky vocoder-edged vocals, boxy beats and dubby, trap sounds.

So Alive” epitomises their paean to the Melbourne dancefloor of the late ‘90s and noughties. The clever two-step foundation is fleshed out with a soup of synth bleeps and bloops, and a catchy vocal mantra (“I feel so alive”). Rayner traces their sound back to a surprising source of influence.

“Funnily enough, the closest thing to being my first formative dance banger experience was probably Savage Garden’s ‘I Want You.’ That track rocked my world,” she says. “I think there’s still parallels today, with my vocal sound and processing. You can hear things harking all the way back to that song.”

Since his partner is confessing to mid-90s crimes in musical coolness, Arentz confirms his own first album was from a series of trance mix albums that compiled relentless, ear-pounding remixes of well-known club tracks (think Bomfunk MC’s, Kylie Minogue, Craig David and Love Tattoo).

“My first CD was Wild Volume 13, during the Nick Skitz era of crazy mashup CDs. I remember rinsing it pretty hard! That was right around the time Da Rude ‘Feel The Beat’ and ‘Sandstorm’ were peaking. That High-NRG stuff,” he says.

Their tangible, deeper connection with dance music evolved more recently, with immersion into festivals and parties in Melbourne and beyond, explains Rayner. “The most formative years have been the last five to ten years of festivals and parties, and the experience of dancing as a collective. That’s the source of a lot of inspiration for Kult Kyss songs. Lyrically, you can hear that theme echo throughout our tracks – ‘Rituals’ specifically is literally that, the ritual of people coming together to dance. ‘God Is A Bassline,’ as well. A lot of Kult Kyss tracks are basically me worshipping at the altar of dance music.”

“Rituals” is a throbbing, bass-heavy groove number, in which Rayner’s croon slinks around the beats like an espresso martini on ice. There’s no sign of high-NRG, trance or Craig David, but the sexy smooth pop feel is – wonderfully – redolent of Savage Garden, though I wouldn’t have picked it if not for Rayner’s directive. There’s threads of more than one of Australia’s most commercially successful pop duos, though. Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again,” with its boxy synths, slinky vocals and simple keyboard progressions paved the way, as did Roisin Murphy’s early band, Moloko. “The Time Is Now,” with its clever layering of vocals, hook-filled choruses and unexpected use of flamenco guitar and hand-claps heralded an adventurous spirit of dance music when it was released in 1999, in which synths and live instruments opened up a welcome blending of genres and musical experiments.

Arentz and Rayner are emblematic of this cross-genre experiment working wonderfully both creatively and in life, generally. Arentz’s background was in live bands, while Rayner’s school and university years were dedicated to training in classical music.

“I was very heavily involved in classical music throughout high school then I went on to do Bachelor of Classical Music at the Melbourne University Conservatorium of Music, but I’d always wanted to be in bands and make contemporary music – pop, electronic, dance. When I met Jack, he helped me cross over to the dark side.”

It was an easy move for Rayner, but she admits, “everyone was very disappointed that I wasn’t continuing with classical music.”

Her instrument throughout university was the bassoon.

“Since I wrapped the degree, I haven’t picked up a bassoon because I so wholeheartedly wanted to move into a different realm of music,” she says. “I feel so grateful for that foundation… The only claim to fame for the bassoon is Howard Moon from Mighty Boosh!”

Arentz recalls, “I moved to Melbourne in 2010 to be in a rock band, which I won’t name for the shame, but that’s when I met Claire – around that time – and we started making music together. Originally, before Kult Kyss, [our music] was a hybrid of guitar, piano and electronic music. But it became progressively more and more electronic. Then we started running a rooftop studio together; we were having more rave events on the rooftop and that coincided with the birth of Kult Kyss and our love for ravier, electronic music.”

That studio is Joyluck, based in the inner northern suburb of Thornbury in Melbourne. Throughout the pandemic, the duo spent their time renovating it into a multi-arts venue for production and performance. It is the culmination of years of organising events, producing for other artists, performing at festivals and DJing.

It was their DJ sets that first attracted the attention of one of Australia’s most prestigious dance music duos. Kult Kyss covered The Presets’ “This Boy’s In Love” at the end of 2016, attracting the attention of the Australian band, who inveigled them onto their national HI VIZ tour of 2018. “Shout out to The Presets, who were a huge influence, and particularly for me,” says Rayner. “Obviously, that’s why working with them and touring with them was a dream come true, because we’ve been listening to them for a very long time.”

That influence simmers away in “God Is A Bassline,” which is cinematic, throbbing along like a futuristic Batmobile heading into the night with heroics in mind. It’s the sort of pulsating beat that convinces a fluffy-slipper and tracksuit-panted Melbournian that they can swipe some glitter over their eyelids and bravely get out of their apartment. Perhaps to the dancefloor, as restrictions loosen.

“The place where I feel most connected to strangers is on a dancefloor,” says Arentz. “That’s what really drew us into dance music the most, having these friendship groups running their own raves and events around a fire or on a rooftop. You get involved in music because you want to be connected. At its best, it’s like a fantasy world where you make friends on the dancefloor… all these people you’ve never met before have everything that you need.” Adds Rayner: “I feel like we’ve been off dancefloors for so long, but the community in Melbourne has been incredibly loving, kind, welcoming and safe.”

Follow Kult Kyss on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Cong Josie is the Camp Cowboy Challenging Aussie Machismo and Colonialist Agendas

Photo Credit: Margarita Strateas

Cowboy iconography has long since morphed from being overtly-masculine in the spirit of spaghetti westerns and John Wayne to kitschy costumery. Behind the cowboy-hatted, snakeskin booted persona of Cong Josie is Nic Oogjes, a Melbourne music veteran whose latest project straddles the line between hyper-masculine and wink-wink-nudge-nudge camp. He’s just released his debut Cong! via It Records by way of introduction – ten tracks in which listeners are immersed into grimy synths, sleazy saxophone, and Oogjes’ modulating, punch-drunk vocals delivered in lounge lizard croons and faltering falsetto that adventures up, down, and around the tonal expanses of the lowest octaves.

The name Cong Josie is not so cryptic as it might seem, Oogjes explains. “It came from an anagram generator, from the shortened version of my name, Nic. In the spirit of the project, the first thing that comes up, go with it and don’t overthink things. It’s still me, but from another angle.”

No stranger to playing characters, Oogjes was the larger-than-life frontman for wonky funk-punk eight-piece NO ZU (currently on hiatus). The band is known for throwing synths, bass, relentless percussion and brass into highly performative outings that left live audiences feeling both ecstatic and exhausted. Begun in 2007 as a quartet made up of art school friends, the band – for all its raucous fun – intended to challenge the machismo and colonialism that still underpins all Australian systems of governance, culture, law and life.

A few years ago, Oogjes began therapy in response to the stresses of touring and performing, igniting an exploration of his own identity through his onstage persona. Giving that persona a name was fundamental to the investigative process. “[Therapy] really started off something and opened a Pandora’s Box kind of thing, where I started seeing things very differently,” he explains. “[Cong Josie] is really more of a process of unravelling a side of me, or parts of me, that have been building, especially over my musical life in the last few years. I am probably naturally introverted, I keep to myself a lot, I’m not hugely social. I like gardening and drawing and writing and solitary things, from an only child’s upbringing… Even in my first band, I found this other side of me that just became somebody I didn’t quite recognize on stage, but also felt like I was blossoming in a debaucherous way.”

His co-conspirator in writing the album was long-time friend and enabler, Cayn Borthwick, who also wrote and performed with Oogjes in NO ZU. “Cayn has a little studio in Brunswick and when we were allowed in there, I’d go in there…” says Oogjes. “The majority of the album was written with Cayn – he’s classically trained… doing his PhD in composition, and [he has an] incredible music mind. He can play so many instruments… He’s just so open to things and then brings so much of his own personality into play, but the cool thing is that we both understand what the projects are and the limitations, and he knows exactly where I’m coming from.  We can basically read each other’s minds.”

Oogjes told Broadsheet in 2017 that the foundation for NO ZU was the sense of absurdity and mordant humour in Nick Cave’s early post-punk band The Birthday Party. The same spirit of gothic, sarcastic wit exists at the core of Cong Josie. The sonic landscape of Cong! is the amalgam of Oogjes’ travels during the making of the album, from a Greek fortress where he recorded the vocals to “Leather Whip” to his own suburban Melbourne home, “using not much gear at all: a couple of synthesizers and a drum machine.”

The Grecian landscape also figures into the video for “Leather Whip,” shot in Mani, Greece. “It’s a beautiful place: really rocky landscape, the ocean is right there, and it’s got a fascinating history, a lot of fortified houses and towers, because there were a lot of clans and wealthy families shooting cannons at each other,” says Oogjes. He spent time there with his partner Margarita and their nearly three-year-old daughter Persephone, both of whom have namesake songs on Cong!.

Margarita’s parents live in Saidona, in the Peloponnese region of the south, not far from Kalamata. His in-laws had a little attic, so all he needed was an interface, a microphone, a little synthesizer and a computer. Though he had to work in his sparingly few moments along, two hours was just enough time to record “Leather Whip.”

Elsewhere on Cong!, breathy, romantic whoops on “Wedding Bells” emerge from a drum machine-sax solo-electronic keyboard funk. It’s a bit Serge Gainsbourg meets 80s goth-synth outfit Love And Rockets (remember “So Alive”?). Squelching, swampy synths sound like umbrellas pulling out of deep marshy pits in an attempt to escape an impending storm on “Lorelei.” The synths whip around like sheets of silvery rain and the faraway noodling of a lonely, electric guitar emerge now and again as if from a dream. “Lorelei” is perhaps even more gothic and bluesy than any of the other tracks, a particularly macabre way to end the album; it was inspired by the guardian angels who gave up immortal life for love in Wim Wenders’ 1987 film Wings Of Desire.

Oogjes, a fan of the later, funkier, stranger work of Gang of Four, thought he was wearing his influences on his sleeve when he began recording Cong!, “but when I listened back, I could hear so much of myself in it,” he says. “That first track [“I Want a Man”] set the template that there’d be a fantasy element in each track, but there’d be something real and vulnerable if you scrape the surface.”

Follow Cong Josie on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Katie Underwood Joins Bardot Bandmate Belinda Chapple to Debut Duo Ka’Bel

Bardot bandmates Belinda Chapple (left) and Katie Underwood (right) have reunited to release their first single as Ka’Bel.

Katie Underwood and Belinda Chapple battled through a pandemic, an ocean between them, and their own doubts to form a duo and release new single “Broken Hearted” under the moniker Ka’Bel – 20 years after they experienced massive national success in Bardot.

They met for the first time in the hothouse of reality TV. Both had taken part in Australian reality TV show Popstars back in 2000, which took the winning contestants and formed them into pop band Bardot. Together with Tiffani Wood, Chantelle Barry, Sophie Monk and Sally Polihronas, they were picked from over 2,500 wannabe entertainers who auditioned for the show. Having made it through multiple elimination rounds, the band were moved into a shared house and flown to Sydney to record a debut single. The program was hugely popular in Australia and each of the girls was followed by paparazzi, their every word and outfit analysed – and criticised. The relentless attention resulted in chart-topping hits (debut single “Poison” ranked number 1 on the ARIA singles chart after selling over 60,000 copies in its debut week) and major album sales, but it also proved an exhausting and damaging experience of the music and TV industry. 

“What didn’t we learn?” reflects Underwood from her Melbourne home. “One of the really amazing things about Popstars and the Bardot experience was that it wasn’t like being in a normal band… we did everything all at once, to the max. Almost immediately upon forming the band, we started recording. We also started preparing for tours, doing dance routines, doing fitness programs, doing media training, constantly being interviewed, doing fashion shoots, makeup shoots, product endorsements… everything you could possibly do with and around a band we did in the first year, even in the first six months…it was like an industry apprenticeship. We did everything, [and though we] didn’t get paid very well, we learned a lot. ”

A year after they stormed the Australian charts, the band was flown to the UK to promote their singles and begin work on a second album. It was there that Underwood informed the band she was quitting. Soon after, the band made changes to management, released the album Play It Like That, and toured, but ultimately broke up officially in April 2002. While their second album didn’t blow up in the charts like their first, it was strong. It featured co-writing credits from all the members of the group, and their live performances at the time proved that there was no production trickery: they were all genuinely talented singers in their own right.

Bardot-era Underwood and Chapple

It seemed inevitable that some, if not all, of them would continue to make music. And so it’s proven. Last year, in celebration of their 20 year anniversary, Underwood, Chapple and Wood performed “Poison” online from their respective remote locations. It preceded a greatest hits album on vinyl in January this year, in addition to a remix compilation album.

“All through 2020 we were in communication with two of the other Bardot members, Tiffany and Sally, and tossing around ideas about what an online reunion would look like and whether we want to revisit the Bardot stuff,” Underwood explains.

Ultimately, Wood and Polihronas stepped back from any commitment due to other commitments, and it was touch-and-go as to whether Chapple and Underwood would continue.

“We floated the idea of what it would look like if it was the two of us – would people think that we’re desperate?” remembers Underwood. “I think that was Belinda’s concern initially. She was concerned what people would think, but only for a hot minute, and then it was more the logistics, because she was still living in Singapore.”

With Chapple overseas, she and Underwood hadn’t been in contact until the end of 2019 when they reconnected to discuss the anniversary, apart from a brief reunion in 2010. But that didn’t mean their connection was lost. “It doesn’t matter if it’s two years or two decades that have passed, we picked up as if it was yesterday,” says Underwood. “[Our relationship has] probably matured a little bit because we’ve had our trials and tribulations over the years. She seems always to be comfortable sharing her truth with me, and me with her.”

Ultimately, they went ahead with Ka’Bel once Chapple and her husband decided to move back to Sydney, though she recorded the vocals for “Broken Hearted” in Singapore. She emailed the result to Underwood, who added her vocals, with production by LA producer Dylan Bowes. The song was sourced by their talent agent Joe Dadic; with both Underwood and Chapple determined that they’ve proven themselves as songwriters decades before, they were selective about a ready-made song.

“Broken Hearted” is no holds-barred, disco-style pop that channels some Kylie Minogue diva vibes, unashamedly made for the dancefloor with its dramatic string arrangements, four-to-the-floor beat and catchy-as-all-get-out bridge and chorus (“Am I crazy? I just can’t get enough/When I’m fading, I’ll make you believe in love”). It is a lovesong that recognises the trials and tribulations of women in their 30s and 40s, who don’t want to sing about getting ghosted on Tinder or falling in love over TikTok.

These days, Underwood is a single mum to 10-year-old twin daughters. She is a qualified remedial masseuse, teaches meditation and makes mantra-based music for relaxation. Chapple has lived overseas for the past 15 or so years and runs her own interior design business, House of Chapple Interiors.

Underwood’s confidence in Ka’Bel is unswayed by armchair critics. She’s already experienced chart-topping success in the industry, so there’s no need to chase it now. “We’re both in the same situation where we have nothing to lose,” she says. “This project is not suddenly going to become a full-time project for us, but it’s a wonderful side project to have.”

“Over the  years from my early 30s – I’m 45 now – as every year passes, it’s not that I don’t care, but I don’t let other people’s opinions of me make a dent,” she adds. “The view from here is amazing. I thought my 30s was pretty good but my 40s has been even better. You get a little bit more confident, less stressed, more discerning about who you let in your life. I care a lot about a lot of things, but caring about other people’s opinions of me, I’ve let go.”

Follow Katie Underwood and Belinda Chapple on Instagram for ongoing updates on Ka’Bel.

Screensaver Pay Homage to Classic Post-Punk with Debut LP Expressions of Interest

Discovering screensaver’s debut album Expressions of Interest (released October 8 through Heavy Machinery Records) might make you wonder if you’ve stumbled upon a B-sides and rarities album from the late 1980s. Somewhere between Siouxsie And The Banshees and Visage, the lush synths and dramatic dance punk guitars suggest more than a passing passion for the indie-New Romantic era that spawned Cocteau Twins, Echo & The Bunnymen and My Bloody Valentine, too.

The Melbourne four-piece began as a bedroom project between Krystal Maynard and her husband Christopher Stephenson back in late 2015, when Perth-born Maynard was living in Melbourne and Stephenson was still in his hometown of Austin, Texas. The two had met in Berlin in 2014 when both were on the same bill in their respective bands.

“For about two years we were living in separate countries, but we had screensaver – though it wasn’t named at that point – as a project between us, [with material] that we’d send back and forth and collaborate that way,” explains Maynard. “We did that for a long time, very low-key, starting in late 2015, with no intention of it becoming anything other than a way for us to be creative while living in different countries.”

When Stephenson moved to Melbourne in 2017, he was familiar with the city from having toured there in the past. Though he initially took some time to adjust, both Maynard and Stephenson are “lifers” when it comes to music, and it wasn’t long before he’d joined two Melbourne bands. He currently drums for Exek and Spiritual Mafia, while continuing to collaborate remotely with Spray Paint (with members in upstate New York and Austin, respectively).

After putting a couple of demos on Bandcamp, screensaver began to get asked by friends if they would play shows, though “we actively wanted to avoid playing live, because we’d played in a lot of live, active bands,” says Maynard. “We were nervous about it because things become so busy and we both had multiple projects. I had two other bands on the go back in 2017, so we wanted to keep it as a bedroom project where we focused on writing.”

Realising that as a duo they’d either need a sequencer if they were to play live, or a band, Maynard and Stephenson set out to find additional members. First came Giles Fleike (Low Tide), who had been in a band with Stephenson called Orange (“I doubt anyone’s heard of them, they only played a few gigs,” admits Maynard).

“He’s a friend of ours, so we asked if he’d be interested in coming in to play bass… he’s also an amazing keyboardist and knows a lot about synthesisers and noise, so he brought a lot of different sounds to the band,” she says.

In keeping with their ethos of working with friends and criss-crossing personal and professional divides without fear, it was only natural to invite James Beck (of Personal Touch and Rat Columns) to round out their band.

“[James is] very, very old friend of mine, since I was five and he was three. We were neighbours,” she says. “He does a lot of electronic producing, so I thought he’d gone solely into producing electronic music, but when I sent him the demos… he liked the demos a lot, so he decided he would play live drums again. I joke that I pulled him out of retirement and back onto the kit.”

Those demos felt to Maynard as if she’d come full circle to the music she’d developed a passion for as a club-going teenager in Perth. At a club called Dominion (as dark and gothic as the name suggests, she confirms), she first heard goth and industrial bands like Skinny Puppy, The Cure, Joy Division and Bauhaus. She later got into Gang of Four and Wire, Magazine, and Modern Lovers, and the world of art punk. All these influences are reflected in their new album.

An admitted goth teenager, obsessed with The Cure, Siouxsie And The Banshees, and Joy Division, Maynard’s influences are worn on her sleeve. “They’re a core part of my formative taste, so it felt very natural to be playing in a band that is influenced by post punk from that first wave British era, New Wave and electronica, all of that,” she says.

The Cocteau Twins’ “Heaven Or Las Vegas,” with its luscious swirl of synths and echoing guitars, could have planted the creative seed of “Soft Landing,” while “No Movement” feels like a B-side to The Cure’s “Killing An Arab.” Elsewhere, “Buy Sell Trade” drives a serrated-edge synth saw through the sonic darkness in a Gary Numan-meets-Bladerunner shock of pure adrenalin.

Maynard started playing in a band when she was 15. Since she was under age, she often snuck into venues to play with her older bandmates. But even earlier, it was her father’s prolific record collection that opened her eyes to the possibility of a life in music. She’d comb the records looking for women artists, and it was seeing Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, then Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, who kickstarted her passion for finding “anyone who wasn’t a white male playing in a band.”

When she met her first bandmates, they were into L7, Babes In Toyland, and Bikini Kill. Having invited Maynard into their band, where she “smashed out 3-chord riffs,” they gave her time and support to learn how to play guitar. It was their generosity and the riot grrl ethos of “girls to the front” that remains central to how she lives her life.

“I’m 100% a feminist. I don’t understand anyone who isn’t these days. We have to be and we have to continue to be,” she says. “If you don’t see representations of yourself, or somebody like you, doing things, then you won’t go out there and do it yourself.”

Screensaver intended to make an album in 2020, and they’d begun the recording process just prior to lockdown. Once the pandemic effectively closed the city, Beck set to work programming the drum parts, while Stephenson and Maynard wrote their parts over his beats.

“We have songs that we write, like ‘No Movement,’ which we created in a jam room. But when you sit at home and nobody is waiting for you to come up with a bass riff, you can come up with music that’s really considered,” Maynard says. “So, half our album is written pre-lockdown in a jam room while the other half is written ‘in the box,’ where someone has written a foundational synth part or drums, then we’ve built it up that way. It’s meant that we have an album that’s well-rounded, not just ten straight-up, post-punk songs. They have a different energy to them.”

She put the demo for “Skin” together in 2019, the first time she’d demoed a song with the foundational drums and synths, which she sent to the band. “I’d been teaching myself to program drums, and I’d programmed a song with all the drums done. For me, being able to demo a song like that and having done it all in GarageBand was exciting for me,” Maynard remembers. “Chris was overseas when I put the demo together, so he was listening to it in another country. He’s an engineer and he’s great at producing music, but for me it’s all new and exciting. He loved it and was thinking of parts for it straight away. I feel like I was the genesis of that song.”

Another of her favourites, “Buy Sell Trade” began with an “incredible, catchy synth line” written by Stephenson that underpins the whole song. It’s a “motoric, kraut-rock jam that’s danceable but kind of psych-y… sometimes you write a riff and you go, ‘That’s a hook!’” she enthuses. Maynard is convinced she doesn’t have the music theory knowledge nor the co-ordination to intuitively play drums, so it’s been empowering to master it digitally. “I can build an interesting, eclectic drum beat that breaks the rules of timing,” she says. “It’s so fun. It opens your world. If you can build a drum beat, you can write a song.”

Follow screensaver on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Mindy Meng Wang Draws Ancient Chinese Harp Into Contemporary Movement on Phoenix Rising

Mindy Meng Wang is not interested in living in a time warp. She is confidently, elegantly weaving traditional instrumentation into a contemporary soundscape to reveal new possibilities for ancient tools. Chinese born, the Melbourne-based Wang is an internationally renowned composer and expert in the Chinese horizontal harp, or guzheng. On her latest album Phoenix Rising, released September 24, she has collaborated with some of Australia’s most renowned modern songwriters and composers, including jazz master Paul Grabowsky, Violent Femmes’ bassist and Dark MOFO founder Brian Ritchie, and orchestral percussionist Claire Edwardes. Lesser known in the mainstream scene, but just as prolific and fascinating, are collaborators Ma Haiping, a Chinese producer and techno DJ, Vietnamese-Australian pianist and experimental electronica composer Fia Fiell (real name Carolyn Schofield), and multimedia composer and performer Daniel Jenatsch. 

Phoenix Rising emerged from the collaborative Flash Forward project, in which the Victorian State Government and the City of Melbourne provided funding to 40 musical acts to create original albums within three months. Melbourne-based vinyl producer Heavy Machinery Records and Music in Exile cooperated to release the album, and it is utterly captivating.

“This album really summed up all the styles I’ve been working on the last couple of years,” says Wang. “All the styles I explored in there are things I’m really passionate about. The music I really love to listen to usually is very intense, very emotional. All genres have this, from a really deep cello in classical music to the build-up in electronic, to pop even. It’s more about the emotional style – I really enjoy when you listen to music that wakes up that deep emotion in your heart.”

Hauntingly, heart-achingly lovely “Night Storm” opens the album; Grabowsky’s glassy, cascading piano tumbles upon tumultuous, dark waves, echoing and seeming to glisten under a half-hidden moon. The weighty, atmospheric guzheng is at first blunt and uncertain, then it becomes delicate, tip-toeing tentatively through the curtain of night to reach a midnight rendezvous with the now rumbling, swarthy piano. The two instruments encircle each other in a beguiling call and response, eventually so entwined that there is only their shared song.

“For this album, there’s not a lot of surprises because I’d worked with everyone before,” says Wang. “Individually, they did surprise me though. A lot of the pieces were created via structured improvisation, so I had an idea for the kind of quality it would be, but I didn’t know exactly what it would sound like. I have to say, all the pieces worked in a surprisingly good way.”

In introducing the guzheng into Western musical genres over the last decade, Wang is a pioneer. The instrument had been played in traditional form for 2500 years in China. In finding ways to merge it with jazz, pop, electronica and Western orchestras, she had to experiment with new techniques and tuning systems on the guzheng, resulting in entirely novel sounds. Her curious spirit was likely nurtured by the progressive city she was raised in.

“I was born in a city in Northwestern China, Lanzhou. It was a trading spot on the Silk Road, so everyone came there from India or Europe, even. The Chinese would travel from the capital to here. So, the culture is really mixed and the people are diverse. We have more than 40 ethnic groups living in the city, and that’s where I grew up,” she explains.

That same dichotomy of diversity and unity is reflected in the selection of songs here. Each song, like the first, is deeply atmospheric, conjuring dream visions and glimpses of a landscape that may be real or imagined. It was Wang’s vision to seduce the imagination of her listeners, to glide through their defensive barriers and prejudices and let her music speak for itself. She wanted listeners to discover the guzheng and be moved by it without needing to name it or know it, just as she discovered it as a child.

“My generation is the generation where parents decided that children needed to do something more than just go to school. So, we had to choose a class after school and I chose music,” Wang remembers. “I just happened to have the best teacher in the city as my neighbour, so from a very young age, maybe five years old, I was well looked after by this guzheng teacher. I always loved the sound of her music. When they asked me what music I want to learn, I pointed to her and said that’s what I want to learn.”

Between the ages of six and nine, Wang grew increasingly serious about her playing – there was a lot of training, exams and competitions. At sixteen, she had competed in all the provincial and national competitions. “I thought I’d go to a conservatory and follow this career path, becoming like my teacher,” Wang says. “But then I had the opportunity to go to England for a short-term English course.” That was on 2002; Weng was only seventeen. But she decided to stay and learn Western music. She completed her university studies in music performance, then moved to London.

“Before I went to England, all the music I played was traditional,” Wang says. “But when I got to England, I saw all my classmates playing classical, to pop, to jazz. I thought why, on my instrument, can I only play traditional Chinese? I thought, how can I have more fun with my music?”

In London, she joined the Silk String Quartet. It belongs to a bigger organisation, including London University. It’s one of the best modern string quartets in Europe, and performs festivals across the continent. She was able to work with acts as diverse as the London Symphony Orchestra and, in 2010, Gorillaz.

Collaborative adventures aside, her curiosity about other places drew her to Australia in 2011.

“I had no friends, no connections, no work, nothing. It wasn’t easy for my career, and for the next three years my father was quite sick in China, so between 2012 to 2015, I was travelling a lot between London, Melbourne and my hometown to look after my father in hospital until he passed away,” Wang says. “After he passed, I really thought about things. I had more responsibility and realised I had to settle down in one place and to be able to look after my family. I decided that Melbourne was a better choice than London, which is so busy and has a less intense overall lifestyle.”

Though it was a rocky first few months trying to establish her musical career here, she became involved with Multicultural Arts Victoria,  which supported her as a solo artist and in cooperation with artists across various disciplines. “It made me feel more confident and comfortable to live here as a musician,” she says.

Part of the challenge was convincing fellow musicians and artists that this ancient instrument could offer such richness in contemporary practice. “Even the professionals need to get convinced,” she says. “People are not drawn naturally into something they have no knowledge about. People are comfortable with things they know, even musicians and creatives. Sometimes when I talk this instrument , its tuning technique, its philosophy… it just looks like a very strange object to them. So, how could they have an inspiration from that?”

There is no shortage of inspiration on Phoenix Rising, and the emotive, immersive nature of the album is a credit to the adventurousness of all the artists involved.

“When I started making this album, it wasn’t so clear. The concept was that I wanted to collaborate with artists that I hadn’t documented collaborations with before. Some musicians, I had long-term plans with, but some artists I’d only played with once or twice but really treasured, so I wanted to document those moments,” Wang says. “The musical style became really intense because it was recorded between lockdowns. It was a way of letting out our emotions. Later on, I looked back and [saw that] we were playing music as if we were having a conversation, and those conversations are not polite. I wanted to create something that can touch people deeply, and make them feel that it’s okay to be emotional or feel heavy during those times. I wanted to create a safe space to let them, through the music, get into their own world and release their emotion.”

Follow Mindy Meng Wang on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Erica Dunn is a Triple-Threat Rocker Fronting Palm Springs, Tropical Fuck Storm, MOD CON, and More

Erica Dunn with MOD CON

What’s more impressive than being the member of one of Melbourne’s most iconic rock ‘n’ roll bands? Being the member of several. Erica Dunn – of MOD CON, Tropical Fuck Storm, Harmony, and Palm Springs –  is a rarity.

The signs were all there early, though. Her school guitar lessons morphed her into a non-stop busker at the age of 13. She recalls taking the train into Melbourne’s city centre with a friend, then “playing the most horrific, full-on, original compositions,” she tells Audiofemme. “We were really serious about it!”

Somewhere along the line, she recalls, she got into punk and rock ’n’ roll bands and immersed herself in the British live music scene. She returned to Australia and began hosting her own radio show (Mixing Up The Medicine) in 2008 – which ended up running for 11 years on Melbourne’s community station PBS 106.7FM before her schedule with Tropical Fuck Storm, MOD CON and Harmony took precedence. “I had this show that was my special little pocket, and I only had to give it up because we were touring so much. I still miss it,” she says.

Before leaving the show, she also began solo project Palm Springs to exercise her acoustic persona. Back in 2017, Dunn applied and got a songwriting residency in upstate New York, where she felt duty-bound to write a record. Palm Springs & Friends came out of that time; the album was released in limited edition on cassette, and the gorgeous, pared-back sound is reminiscent of recorded-to-tape, ’90s lo-fi bands. That’s no accident – she tracked most of the album at NYHed Studio, which she describes as “this amazing underground 8-track tape analog place on the Lower East Side. It was a real dream.” It was mastered by prolific producer/engineer/musician Mikey Young. Soon, Poison City Records will put out a Palm Springs best-of collection on vinyl. “It’s amazing that anyone cares,” Dunn says. “It’s really nice to think that someone values it and wants it out on record. Mikey’s been on the blower today because it’s his job to master everything.”

Dunn inhabiting her Palm Springs persona

It is in Palm Springs that Dunn is at her most vulnerable, though her punk-rock soul meant she’d chafed at being boxed into the stereotype of a folk rock girl. “My relationship with just being a girl and a guitar, having that pigeonholed, I full on flipped and rebelled against that,” she explains. “It’s been interesting to get back, enjoy the depth of the craft, and just picking on a nylon string guitar, which is so terrifying and such a stretch of skills. There’s no distortion pedal, nothing to hide behind at all. I really love playing in that way.”

Around the time she started Palm Springs, she was living with Raquel Solier, who played drums on a few of the project’s early 7 inches. Along with bassist Sara Retallick, Palm Springs put out a tape called Flowers in a Vase as a three-piece, but their work together quickly mutated into the energetic, angular MOD CON. “When we began writing together,” Dunn remembers, “we saw that Palm Springs was one thing, but MOD CON is a whole other thing.” Their fabulous single from June, “Ammo,” is all-femme power-punk, with guitar sweeping over the atmosphere like a venomous tail. Ten days ago, they released a second single, “Learner in an Alpha;” both will appear on their forthcoming LP Modern Condition, out October 22 via Poison City.

“You start a little band and you never know the longevity of it or what’s going to happen… especially, three women. You play in punk bands in your 20s and then people have families, or they start to treat it as a hobby,” she points out. “Raquel became a mum, Sara does this high-level study, and I’m away all the time, but actually the three of us are like, ‘This is part of our identity, this is how we express ourselves.'” Dunn says it was “a great relief” that Solier and Retallick both opted to continue MOD CON.

But Dunn’s most well-known musical endeavor formed practically on a whim, and has endured, seemingly by happenstance, against all odds. She was on tour with dark pop project Harmony (“I Love You” on 2018’s Double Negative is both pleading and seemingly resigned, with its sad doo-wop harmonies, the thunk of a drum that sounds like it might just give up, and a sense of echoing loneliness around vocalist Tom Lyngcoln) supporting The Drones when she became fast friends with Gareth “Gaz” Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin. They’d just started a side project called Tropical Fuck Storm and were fleshing out the lineup, which would also come to include Lauren “Hammer” Hammel.

“We’d go up to their ramshackle place in the bush in the summer, hanging out. I’m not sure exactly when the conversation came about, but it took them a little bit of time to work out what they wanted TFS to be like,” Dunn recalls. “It was really exciting. There’s not that many people in Australia who can make music and live off that, and they spend most of their life touring. They’ve got big plans, always looking to make something out of nothing. One moment they’re like ‘Do you wanna jam?’ Then they’ve booked a tour to the States!” That’s exactly what Tropical Fuck Storm did, releasing debut LP A Laughing Death in Meatspace in May 2018, less than eight months after their first live shows.

“It was a crazy time, that initial year,” Dunn says. “It’s amazing working with people who are so gung-ho, who live, breathe and do. We made an album, then we were away playing hundreds of shows. It was intense, but then of course last year, we came to a total standstill.”

Tropical Fuck Storm / Photo Credit: Jamie Wdziekonski

Dunn was in Melbourne, but domestic partners Liddiard and Kitschin live in regional Victoria, which was off-limits during lockdowns. “Gaz and I were trying to send each other videos and audio but it was crap because we’re so bad with technology,” Dunn says. “When the ring-of-steel lifted in November, I went and lived with them for three months and we recorded up there. It was strange, getting back into it. We’d been in a van all together every day, and we wondered if that intuition would ever come back. When you think you’ll never do anything like that ever again, it was so exciting to play as a band together again. I plugged my guitar in and was like, ‘Can I even use this?’”

In fact, Dunn plays guitar and keys and shares some of the vocal duties on Tropical Fuck Storm’s latest release, Deep States, which arrived in August of this year via Joyful Noise Recordings. The album “absorbs and distils some of the madness of the time” they spent getting used to one another again. “It’s funny – we were trying to have days off but we’re used to being up in each other’s grilles in a way. It was like I’d missed my family for a year and the ridiculous sense of humour we have grown together with,” Dunn says. “We’d work hard, then have times of just going swimming. We’d be trying to make a barbecue, but discussing the bridge, the harmony, the lyrics. Three months is a long time. It was a hard slog; it was great.”

So too, does Deep States mine the current political and social climate for all its gory, disturbing and darkly humorous gold. Single “G.A.F.F.” is a cosmic journey of fuzzy, furious feedback, raw daggers of reality delivered by Liddiard’s snarling vocals, all riding upon a twangy bassline that treads a narrow brick wall, threatening to fall and crash any moment. And, in Melbourne’s sixth lockdown, the sentiment – “Give A Fuck Fatigue” – hits home. Elsewhere, “New Romeo Agent” is a melodic post-punk ballad delivered over the gentle handclap-style drums and jangle of keyboard chords.

With so many of her projects finally releasing material again, Erica Dunn is not likely to leave Melbourne’s musical radar this year. There are even tentative plans to record again with Harmony. Hailed as something of a cult hero, Dunn explains her wildly prolific output rather humbly. “It’s funny to have these different hats and different projects,” she says. “The different things that I’m inspired by seem to present a different trajectory in what I’m making and doing.”

Follow MOD CON, Tropical Fuck Storm, and Palm Springs on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Aussie Abroad Larissa Tandy Pays Homage to Three Hometowns with Singles Series

Photo Credit: Kane Hopkins

Australian-born, Vancouver-based Larissa Tandy is looking on the bright side in her latest single “No Fun.” It’s the final in a trilogy of singles she’s put out this year, following “Drive” on July 23 and “Sirens” released on May 21. All three were written and recorded between Nashville and Memphis with the help of Nashville’s finest session players and a legend of the Motown scene, Funk Brother Jack Ashford.

The trilogy concept was birthed through a very rational decision. Tandy knew she could only afford to create and promote three songs, as opposed to a full album. But by releasing them as a trilogy, she’s inadvertently captured a snapshot of her life across three cities.  

“They do speak to the different parts of my life,” affirms Tandy. “‘Sirens’ is very connected to my past in regional Victoria. The second song, ‘Drive’ is very much based on my time in Nashville – the people I was writing with, and stylistically fascinated by – and then the third [‘No Fun’] is related to my life in Vancouver. I do feel like I have three home towns.”

Riffing on Vancouver’s reputation as a beautiful, but boring place to live, Tandy complains that never stops raining, that everyone says they’ll call then they never do, but then finds the silver lining in they city’s overcast skies: “there’s still a million reasons to never leave this town.” Primary among these – Vancouver offered sanctuary when Australia refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of her marriage. She met her partner, Elisabeth, on a holiday visit to British Columbia in 2007. Tandy returned to Melbourne for nearly seven years before she and her wife made their home in Vancouver in 2014, and the couple welcomed their daughter in 2019.

The video, however, won’t be lauded by the Vancouver tourism authorities, with an unenthusiastic Tandy posing in various mundane settings around her adopted hometown, her head poking through an oversized postcard reading “Beautiful NO FUN”.

Tandy made it herself, including designing the seagull who’s mouth she inhabits in the video. “It’s currently propped up against the house in the backyard. I might actually do something with it at some point,” she muses. Sounds like fun, so that’s probably against the local laws.

Tandy’s accent is unmistakable in its broad, Aussie frankness. Her knack for storytelling and unexpectedly candid confessions in the least melodramatic of moments are also typical Australian traits. Now 45, Tandy was born in Sydney and grew up with her parents and older brother Ryan in regional Victoria, on the Mornington Peninsula, before making her home between Vancouver and Nashville.

“My dad was in the Navy,” she explains. “My dad was from Sydney and my mum was from Melbourne. I must have been so little when we were relocated to Melbourne, and there was also a short period when we moved to Tasmania. I got kicked out of boarding school, returned to Victoria and spent my teenage years on the Peninsula. I don’t think I’m normal enough to thrive in that [boarding school] environment. I was 10 when I went, so I was making sense of this whole other world, this reality I had no idea about before.”

A reality that did make more sense to a young Tandy was songwriting and singing. “Ryan had been in every single band that I’d played in, we’d worked together on everything,” she remembers. “I started a band around 2000. I’d been playing bass in this 3-piece but the other two people were a couple and they had a spectacular break-up during one of our shows… my brother was like, ‘Start your own band – just do it!’”

They did, expanding with bass players, backing vocalists and a drummer, but they had a booking agent who lamented that his venues wanted “quieter” bands. So, Tandy improvised and insisted they did have a quieter band, inventing the name Strine Singers.

Ryan and Larissa joined with another brother-sister duo, Mick and Lou Rankin in 2011, releasing their EP Counter Canter two years later. The folk-meets-country harmonising over gorgeously simple, steely guitar still sounds just as fresh and affecting as it did upon its 2013 release. The band amicably parted in 2014, though they’re all still close Tandy confirms. “They coaxed me out of my shell, and encouraged me to put more stock in my own work,” she says. “It was a good, really supportive environment, but I was ready to move into a solo thing that I could put my name on.”

Since 2016, she has travelled back and forth between Nashville and Vancouver, writing and collaborating fervently in East Nashville. Vancouver is home though, and upon settling there with Elisabeth, she wasn’t sure how to break into the Canadian music scene. “I’d just landed in Canada. I really didn’t know what I was gonna do. Strine Singers had wrapped up. I had this idea that I’d release stuff then go back and tour Australia,” she says. “I had all these songs and I thought I may as well try to make a record, though I had no music network in Canada. I did some research on Canadian albums I loved.”

That was how she met Jim Bryson, a studio owner in Ottawa who would eventually produce her 2017 solo debut The Grip. “Jim was [a collaborator and guitarist] in the touring band for Kathleen Edwards, a beloved Canadian alt-country artist. I really loved what Jim brought to that band, so I reached out to him and next thing you know I’m flying out East to make a record with him,” she recalls. “I stayed at his place for two weeks and we worked everyday trying to play as much of it as we could.”

Fortuitously, Australian friends and acclaimed singer-songwriters Liz Stringer and Kat Lahey were on tour from Australia so they featured on the album, too. They recorded it mostly in 2015 but it took a lot of research and work for Tandy to find a distributor (MGM Australia in Sydney and Nashville). At the same time, she was trying to juggle being her own manager, with no support team, and she’d also had four hip surgeries within that period.

“I really didn’t know how to put a record out… but that whole experience has a lot to do with where I’ve got to now, which is how to find a way to release things as close to when they’re written as possible,” she says. The Grip spent four months on the US Americana charts, attracting positive reviews internationally and winning her the prestigious Nashville Songwriter Residency. And releasing these latest singles in a purely digital format symbolizes Tandy’s rebellion against the slow-moving traditional system that dictates when and how artists should make and share their work.

“I founded the more I started to complicate the process, the more I created delays, whereas doing things digitally kept things simple,” she explains. “I created visual assets, the videos, and tried to do away with anything that interfered with the process and slowed things down. I had the opportunity to do this without thinking about the commercial aspect, I had some budget to do it and I wanted to get the ball rolling. I entered a great creative period of my life, I just wanted to clear the decks and make some space for it. I didn’t want to be stuck in the standard release system of releasing an album every two years and sitting on work for so long. I think it’s possible to build your own audience and the best way to do that is to keep nourishing the patch of turf that you have with more and more of your work.”

Tandy has her own home studio, which is where she’s assembling a collection of songs that she intends to release as twelve stand-alone singles, beginning in mid-2022. But Tandy plans to preview two songs per month via Patreon beginning in September, followed later by a traditional album that offers the songs as a cohesive collection.

“The songs that I’m writing for it are really personal so I’m trying to create something low-vibe,” she says. “I’m pulling them up, tinkering, it’s a different way to work.”

It’s a great time to get personal – with prime examples of women in country music writing about their sexuality, speaking about their partners and their queerness in interviews and owning it. “There’s a real movement in queer country that is so exciting. The amount of artists – queer or otherwise – who have endorsed hat movement, or expressed their allyship… there’s a sense that things are really changing in the industry and where the power once was, it no longer is,” Tandy says. “If someone tells me my music is ‘too gay’, I say it speaks to some people, and so be it. I identify as non-binary so I see it as a challenge that in this fast-moving environment, people want to understand things quickly and easily so the more complicated things are, it can be an obstacle [to people understanding]. The more authentic you are, the better off you’re gonna be.”

Follow Larissa Tandy on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

JAZZPARTY Revel In Sparkly, Seedy, Multi-Genre Glamour on Sophomore LP Nobody Gets Away

Photo Credit: Le Tans

When Loretta Miller’s glass-shattering, big band voice balloons from the jazzy, sax-rich funk of “Bad Dreams,” you know you’re in for a good time. On JAZZPARTY‘s recently-released sophomore album Nobody Gets Away, no dance shoes will emerge without heavily worn soles.

“We were really happy with what we did on the first record [2017’s Monday Night] and we wanted to keep going, following our love of making whatever feels good to us, whatever style and genre feels right,” explains Miller. “A lot of people get confused by our name, which is really frustrating. We’ve considered changing it, but it’s who we are. I don’t look at it like we’re a band who play jazz; we’re a band who play original music. We’re way more rock ’n’ roll and punk really.” Add to that a dash of gothic blues, doo-wop, garage rock and funk for an idea of what makes JAZZPARTY so intoxicating; with nearly five years gone since the band’s debut, the time was ripe for another release.

As with so many of Melbourne’s bands, JAZZPARTY formed after numerous loungeroom sessions at house parties, leading to residencies at city venues and national festivals. There’s been a fiercely rich culture of soul, funk, jazz and hip hop in Melbourne for decades at least, and oftentimes, the same names pop up within newly assembled bands or at the engineering and production desk. Darcy McNulty, Jules Pascoe and Loretta Miller are all former members of Clairy Browne & the Bangin’ Rackettes, and Gideon Preiss, Lachlan Mitchell, Dom Hede, Grant Arthur and Eamon McNellis have all made their names on the scene in other bands. Preiss and Pascoe played together in Husky; Pascoe is also active in Ruby Jones and On Diamond. Mitchell is best known as Laneous and from his work with Vulture Street Tape Gang, and Hede is also a member of Oscar Lush and MYRINGA.

Founder of JAZZPARTY and saxophonist Darcy McNulty immersed himself in the Melbourne jazz scene after moving from Brisbane. Finding it formulaic, his antidote was to assemble a collective of instrumentalists and vocalists to throw their assorted ideas into a big wok and fry it into something addictively tasty. It worked. Their gigs at Memo Music Hall, Howler, Melbourne Bowling Club and Builders Arms Hotel are legendary for their raucous, epic, take-no-prisoners performances. Though the band has been around for a decade or so, the core group formed from its revolving lineup approximately six years ago, though “time dyslexic” Miller can’t be certain of exactly when. “I always sang with the band, but I can’t tell you when I joined officially,” she admits.

Through various residencies, JAZZPARTY honed their eclectic sound, fortified their lineup, and garnered a fanatic following. The first of these was at the Builders Arms Hotel, where Si Jay Gould (who manages Hiatus Kaiyote and is one of McNulty’s oldest mates) was offered a month of Monday evenings to put on events; he organised poetry readings in one room, old films in another room and a New Orleans-style band space. “It was free entry, it was so popular,” recalls Miller. “We did a month-long residency there, then a month off, then we’d show up somewhere else. We had some really notable stints at Captains Of Industry, The Curtain and The Evelyn. They’re our spiritual homes, those places! There wasn’t a plan to be a full-time band at that time. Our rules were that we bring our piano, it’s gotta be free, and we don’t play on the stage. I was so into it that; I was thrilled to be a part of it.”

The title of their debut album is a nod to those early residencies (and there’s a sultry, serpentine track on Nobody Gets Away also called “Monday Night”); while other Melbourne jazz-funk bands typically name hip hop, soul and jazz icons as their major influences, there’s no denying the influence of garage punk, bossa nova, acapella doowop, and even the wild fabulosity of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ dark underbelly of stomping rhythm and blues on songs like the gloriously smoky, seedy single “Rock n’ Roll Graveyard.” Its closest spiritual predecessor on the latest record is its title track; Tom Waits would have felt right at home on either. If they’d made a whole second album dedicated to the same sound, nobody would have complained, but – just like wasabi with peas – sometimes you get a complete blast of your senses from something as safe-looking as a little green ball.

Miller is the wasabi, and genre is the pea, to be clear. On “Hearts Gonna Leave,” a gospel-style hymnal harmony opens the track, only for a rollicking, thunking country-style guitar to throw the barn doors open. The butter-wouldn’t-melt vocals of Miller warn her lover, “My heart’s gonna leave you soon,” the harmonies float back in, there’s a ‘60s surfer vibe to the bass, and when the brass begins… well, it’s a barnstormin’ banger.

“Darcy is the key writer and he also wrote a lot for The Rackettes. His song ‘Love Letter’ for The Rackettes was a hit here and in the States,” says Miller. “He’s an incredible songwriter and is disgracefully underrated in Australia. I’m doing more and more co-writing and trying my best. Everyone in the band is a wild, insanely talented artist in their own right. Darcy and I pre-arrange a lot; we have an idea of what we want songs to feel like, and the band are great at bringing their gifts to it. We’re super lucky, we’re a great team of freaks.”

As the only female member of JAZZPARTY, is she underestimated by fellow music industry people and the audience when it comes to her musical talent and ability?

“Yes,” she responds immediately, with a laugh. “I think it’s more [about] underestimating singers… There’s a ‘dude culture’ that thinks singing isn’t a real instrument. If you’re a singer, you need to play an instrument to be considered talented. If you’re a singer, you need to be a songwriter. I don’t agree that everyone needs to write songs. A singer’s ability to interpret music is a craft and a gift. Not everyone should be a songwriter; being able to interpret someone else’s lyrics is really important.”

“Darcy and myself bonded over the fact that we’re both drop-outs, both untrained; he’s an insanely talented songwriter but he doesn’t read music,” she adds. She’s exaggerating, in fairness. While she did drop out of high school, she graduated her final year through community school and went on to study music performance for a year afterwards. “We’ve both been underestimated by others and the music scene has been a man-scene for so, so long. Darcy has had a lot of faith in me and strengthened me, so that I feel I deserve to be here. I think some of the guys found it a bit hard when I joined, but I’ve been a driving force in a sense.”

Photo Credit: Lilli Waters // Jacket & Set Design: Anna Cordell

That sense of stepping on male egos must have been even more profound considering that soon after the band began their Monday night residencies, McNulty and Miller became an item. The various moods of the album – sometimes confident and sassy, sometimes heartbroken and vulnerable, are all true to Miller’s own experiences.

“A lot of it is very personal and, obviously, Darcy has written songs for me, with me in mind. We talk about the material and the vibe of the song while he’s writing it and we work on it together quite a bit,” she says. “It’s a relationships story, to me. There’s notes on how hard a relationship can be, but also that struggle of trying to find positives and lift the other person. Both of us were in that position. For Darcy and I, definitely working together, running a band together and having a relationship is insanely hard.”

McNulty has been her biggest cheerleader though, enabling her to feel capable of pursuing her own solo work, which she reveals is different to the JAZZPARTY sound. Still, songwriting with her professional and personal partner has had its confronting moments, where the material felt especially heavy. “It’s definitely an experience to sing those songs if you’re not in a good place,” she admits. “‘Bad Dreams’ is a song on the record that’s very much about feeling angry, upset and wanting to self-destruct because you don’t feel like you can connect; ‘Stone Gaze’ is about feeling not connected to the person you feel you should be connected to, or anybody. But on the last record, he wrote a ridiculously romantic, beautiful love song, ‘Gravity,’ so you win some, you lose some!”

Miller takes it all in stride, appreciating a musical life that’s intertwined with her personal life for what it is. “It’s been the most important working relationship, the most supportive, in my life,” she says. “It’s an emotional rollercoaster, that’s for sure. Our life has definitely had elements where I’ve thought, ‘Is this a movie or is this real?’ It’s not always good, but it’s always interesting.”

Follow JAZZPARTY on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PLAYING MELBOURNE: The Emerging Artists and Established Acts You Need to Know About Now

Melbourne-based rapper Sophiegrophy returns with “Drehpehs” single (listen below).

Melbourne has been battered by COVID-19, but our city remains the music capital of Australia, regardless of what Sydney may try to claim. Across genres, there’s been no shortage of recent releases and emerging artists worth crowing about, or crowing at, or pursuing via social media with zeal. There’s no definitive sound to this city, though fanatic genre fans may argue otherwise. There’s an appetite, rather, for music that reflects individuals and leverages the enormous talent who work in studios, backstage, producing, writing and recording all the phenomenal artists emerging in this city.

Freshly out of our fourth lockdown, Melbourne is still wiping the tears off her mascara-stained face and adjusting her sunglasses to the winter sun. Live music is only just starting up again. It’s good to go out in the evening now and hear the wall-shuddering sounds of live music, the whoops of hungry music lovers. From wherever you’re listening, here are five Melbourne artists you need to know about (in no particular order), and one track that is definitive of their sound.

Civic – “Shake Like Death”

Civic formed in 2017, but their recent debut LP Future Forecast has rocketed them onto Melbourne community radio airwaves and won them a new coterie of fans. They deliver merciless, driving rock that practically sprays sweat from the riffs, shakes the bones of your home, and sneers when you smile. The five-piece band consists of Jim McCullough, Lewis Hodgson, Roland Hlavka, David Forcier and Darcy Grigg. They’ve released two EPs since forming four years ago: New Vietnam in April 2018 and Those Who No in November 2018, as well as a pair of 7″ singles.

Released in March via Flightless Records, Future Forecast has cemented the band’s “garage rock” or “gutter rock” classifications, but even that seems a rather lazy descriptor that Australian media tends to throw around for any band that doesn’t have a clean, super-glossy approach to production. None of the Civic members are new to the game; between them, they are made up of former members of A.D. Skinner, Drug Sweat, Whipper, Cuntz and Planet Slayer. The deafening, thrilling feedback that opens “Shake Like Death” heralds a snaking, menacing bassline before violent riffs tear the seams of civility wide apart. McCullough’s snarling, growling vocals hark to the raw, visceral energy of Black Flag. There’s more than a nod to Black Flag’s “Rise Above” on this track, in the best way.

Time For Dreams – “Death to All Actors”

Significantly less frenetic and sweaty, Time For Dreams is an ethereal, trip hop-inspired duo that fans of Portishead and Mazzy Star will likely love, with Tom Carlyon on guitar and electronic instrumentation, while Amanda Roff plays bass and handles vocal duties. Their album Life of the Inhabitant has a tentative September release date, and the seductive, atmospheric “Death to All Actors” has been crackling and slinking from radios in anticipation. The echoing percussion provides an anchor, while swirling, somnambulic synths build a forest of sound before Roff’s breathy, sardonic vocals emerge organically from the lush centre. Their 2017 debut album In Time featured on community radio in Melbourne, but didn’t achieve the same attention and praise they’ve (justifiably) garnered recently.  

Freya Josephine Hollick – “The Real World”

Freya Josephine Hollick rode onto the cosmic country scene on her multicoloured unicorn when her 2018 sophomore LP Feral Fusion got national radio interested. It also convinced Creative Victoria to financially support her trip to the US to record with Lucinda Williams’ band, Buick 6, in Joshua Tree, California in 2019. The album came together at the studio of Eagles of Death Metal’s Dave Catching, Rancho de la Luna. Her lyrical themes, poetic and piercing, stem from her experience as a young woman – and a mother – in an industry of young dreamers and vintage rock dogs.

Hollick was born in Ballarat, in regional Victoria, just outside Melbourne. It’s a place that is steeped in goldmining history and there are still shopfronts and streets that hark back to the time of horses, panning for gold, and buying boiled sweets in jars. Perhaps then, it is only natural for Hollick to sound like something beautiful and nostalgic from old-time country radio. Her lovely “The Real World” is a sweet lament over pedal steel guitar to the universe we are eroding. As the title track to her forthcoming record from the Joshua Tree sessions, if there is more to come in this vein, then bring it on.

Gretta Ray – “Human”

Another solo artist, but one with a very different vibe, is Gretta Ray. The Melbourne singer-songwriter first broke onto the scene when she won national youth radio station Triple J’s Unearthed High competition in 2016, By her final year of high school, Ray had built a solid fanbase on the success of singles like “Drive,” from her 2018 debut EP Here and Now. After proving her popularity on national festivals, and supporting major acts, she’s finally set to release her follow-up, Begin To Look Around, on August 27.

Still in her early 20s, the album’s themes of the disillusionment of romance, untangling your identity from a partner, and first-time travel are all very much rooted in Ray’s formative years. She is adept at crafting a hook-filled pop rock song that tells a straightforward story without wrapping the meaning under a vast array of metaphors and mysticism, and latest single “Human” sees the singer relishing intimate moments with a new love, no overthinking.

Sophiegrophy – “Drehpehs”

Melbourne-based hip hop artist Sophiegrophy first garnered attention for her debut mixtape PURPULARITY in 2016, following up with super-smooth R&B verses and trap beats on “Fa$t Life” (2017); darker, sexier single “Bag;” and 2020’s BOLD EP. The Nigerian-born, New Zealand-raised artist has established herself as an unmissable live act, with spitfire skills as a rapper and also as a songwriter who can slink her way around a melodic hook; she’s performed at Rolling Loud, The Grass Is Greener, Brunswick Music Festival and Festival X. On “Bag,” she raps “I ain’t this, I ain’t that,” and indeed, it would be unwise to try to summarise her sound when she’s constantly evolving and surprising. Most recently, “Drehpehs” is another killer drop that fans of Missy Elliot, Ciara and TLC may find a lot of love for.

Lisa Crawley Premieres Retro-Inspired “Looking for Love” Video

Photo Credit: Karen Anne Patti

New Zealand-born Lisa Crawley had stars in her eyes when she landed on US soil. Having lived in Melbourne from 2014 to 2019, after a bit of back of forth between New Zealand and the US, she ended up moving to LA in January of 2020 once she got the Artist VISA; those stars might have sparkled their way down her cheeks in tears though, since a year of quarantine sullied her plans for songwriting, performance and collaborative creativity.

Not all was lost, though – the resourceful Crawley initiated live streamed piano karaoke sessions three nights a week from her Hollywood confinement, attracting singers from around the world. No wonder, really. For homebound amateur stars with Broadway dreams, it was a dream opportunity to join in on sessions with the lead from the Auckland production of Tony Award Winning musical ONCE, Banff Centre songwriter-in-residence, and recording artist.

When she wasn’t live streaming, Crawley was writing her own music with the assistance of Grammy-nominated Rob Kleiner. He both co-wrote and produced on her upcoming EP, Looking For Love (In A Major) – due out July 23. Thus far, she’s released two singles from the project: “Clear History,” and “The Right Way.” Premiering on Audiofemme is “Looking For Love,” which explores the awkward – and frankly, sad and true – reality that many of us are not content with the one we’re with, imagining instead a more ideal partner. The promise of online dating, which presents much like a shopping catalogue, can fool us into a “grass is greener” belief.

Crawley and Kleiner wrote the song at his place with their friend Kevin Gibson, who was in a Chicago-based band called Tub Ring with Kleiner and can be heard in the song’s backing vocals. “We had a few people in mind who inspired us for the song – those people who are never happy. You’re so sure, and then you’re not really sure, you know?” Crawley says. “We wrote and recorded that song in one day. Rob’s a really busy guy, and he’s quick. I dwell on things when it’s just me writing at home, but he motivates me to get to work.”

The video is gorgeously kitschy – and Crawley’s part-time gig had a lot to do with the aesthetic. “The video is inspired by asking a date at the time to take me to a drive-in, but he never did,” Crawley explains. “I started working part-time at a drive-in cinema, which is the first time I’d been to the movies in America. All those retro ads – dancing drinks and dancing sausages – seemed to fit with the song. It also made me think that dating can be a bit like fast food, so throw-away, too.”

That dovetails with the lyrical inspiration for the song, as well. “I did a little bit of online dating when I first got here, then I realised that it’s a bit early for that. Being new to the country, I wanted to make friends. I did a bit of Facetime dating, but mostly I was observing other people doing it,” says Crawley. “The song is based on observing the dating culture here. I grew up in a pretty traditional environment [in Auckland, New Zealand], so it’s pretty eye-opening. It’s harder to get away with in smaller cities and countries, but here you think you want something – you have it – and then some tiny thing sets you off to the next option. It’s easy when swiping on dating apps to be so judgmental. Being ghosted, it’s never fun. It’s about that person that’s never happy no matter what they have, because there’s always something wrong no matter what.”

From the opening seconds of reverberating bassline, Crawley hooks you. The tropical vibe is all sunshine, cocktails and romance novels by the hotel pool. For any Audiofemme readers who were teenagers in the 1990s, or have schooled themselves in radio playlists of the era, they might find themselves recalling Swedish band The Cardigans when listening to Crawley. There’s something of the playful, poppy, ultra-feminine Nina Elsabet Persson in Crawley’s delivery.

That carefree execution belies the stress Crawley was under in her first few months of living in the States. The Artist VISA requires applicants to show that what they bring to the table is unique and that they have work lined up in their field – music, in Crawley’s case. It’s a lengthy, expensive process and Crawley didn’t want to set herself back since the VISA lasts three years and took multiple letters from colleagues to support her case. When lockdown happened, she was determined to stick it out.

“I’m in a tiny studio apartment in Franklin Village,” she says. “Something I enjoyed doing in Melbourne was improv comedy and I thought it would be fun to live around this area because I’m living next door to the Upright Citizens’ Brigade. I had to take an online improv comedy course with them even though they’re right next door!”

Crawley admits it was an extremely lonely experience to move to Hollywood and find herself isolated so soon. “It’s been really lonely, so I fostered a cat called Iris, because I’d had a cat in New Zealand and Australia for 20 years. In fact, I didn’t apply for a VISA until my cat was really elderly. She was like my child, but when she passed I applied.”

She only had two months to try to find work and meet people, and she did have a good run initially. “I got booked for some gigs and worked with other artists, but I don’t want this to be a ‘poor me’ story. I had help from Support Act in Victoria; they gave out grants which was definitely helpful since I was living off my Patreon. I had a placement on a TV show, Nancy Drew – a song ‘You Won’t Be There‘ played, and that helped, too.”

On fact, one of the draws of moving to LA was writing and working with TV and film. Five years ago, Crawley began networking in LA with film and TV insiders to kickstart the opportunities for getting her work on screen. A conference in Hawaii introduced her to a sync licensing company that began to set her up with writers and enabled opportunities to place her music on shows. It can be highly lucrative, however varied. “It is one of the few ways that artists can make money these days,” she admits. “Streaming…well, I’m sure you’ve heard the numbers.”

Crawley has scored her friend’s web series, Ex-Sisters In Law (still playing festivals, but not publicly available yet). She’d been a guest musician on Tuesdays@9, which organises test scenes between actors and writers; it was via that group that she was introduced to Ex-Sisters, co-written by Suzan Mikiel. It’s only one of the many collaborative projects Crawley is involved in, as much as it has felt like she’s alone. It reminds her of her first solo travel, post-school.

For four months, aged 19, she worked in a very isolated Japanese town, Atami, “with no internet, in the middle of nowhere.” She was working seven nights a week in a hotel, performing the same show – singing, dancing and piano – to entertain tourists in the hotel bar. Since 15, she’d played in bars at night and churches in the mornings while also writing her own music, so entertainment is in her blood.

“I became more of an introvert after that Japan experience,” she says. But with plans to venture out and explore America – Nashville, Austin, New York and New Orleans all beckon – it’s hard to imagine Crawley can maintain her introvert status for long.

Follow Lisa Crawley on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Melbourne Punks Plaster of Paris Distill Queer D.I.Y. Ethos on Debut LP Lost Familiar

Photo Credit: Kalindy Williams

Melbourne three-piece post-punk purveyors Plaster of Paris are bristling, vulnerable and truthful on their debut album, Lost Familiar, out June 23. After years of thrilling Melbourne with brain-shuddering, pelvic-shaking garage rock on stage at some of Melbourne’s finest rock venues including The Tote Hotel, The Old Bar, and The Espy, putting their raw, live energy on record has been long-awaited.  

Formed nearly a decade ago, shifting lineups and changing band names solidified in the last five years, bringing us the Plaster of Paris we know and love today: Zec Zechner is on vocals, Sarah Blaby is the goddess of guitar riffs, and Nicola Bell is deadly behind the drum kit. Zechner came from a grassroots, feminist, DIY collective from the inner West of Sydney, while Blaby is Melbourne born and bred. The two met when their former bands played shows and toured together. Both were involved in queer-friendly, trans-friendly shows and bonded over their proactive political and personal attitude to art.

“We’re not your average four piece – we don’t have a bass player,” explains Zechner. “Essentially, Sarah and I write songs together. I write the lyrics, and I like to use a really organic process – having a theme, a really visual idea, and building a song up slowly, like a painting. I like to use really visually strong lyrics, built around how I see the world. It’s almost a diarised experience. We’ll hum along a melody, then Sarah will write a riff around it. Then I’ll polyrhythm, and weave it in and out of guitars. And of course, Nicola’s an amazing drummer and an amazing filmmaker, who’s been nominated for multiple awards for her films.”

Working with engineers Casey Rice and Paul Maybury, plus post-production by Nao Anzai, Lost Familiar was recorded at Atlantis Studios in Tottenham, a church-based studio in Fryerstown just outside Melbourne, and the rest was done at Secret Location studios. The mastering was done at Rolling Stock studios in inner-suburban Melbourne.

“We love Casey, we love Paul,” says Zechner. “They’re fantastic engineers and producers. We wanted to work with Casey because they’re from a really DIY, punk background in Chicago. They’ve also worked with [Melbourne punk band] Cable Ties. They get a really punk guitar sound, which suits Sarah’s angular, sharp guitar – not unlike Gang of Four. Paul lived close to us, and we wanted to get the work done and finish the album sooner, plus the two of them are friends. We wanted a bigger drum sound and guitar feel, which Paul executes beautifully. He has a reputation for that real garage vibe.”

Nao Anzai has worked with big names in Australian music, including studio engineering for David Bridie and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, as well as doing live engineering for Tropical Fuck Storm and Alice Skye. “Nao is a wonderful engineer. He has worked on Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, Teskey Brothers – a lot of big names,” gushes Zechner. “It was just really good luck and a good friend introduced us to them. He did a beautiful job, and he’s got magical hands. He does a lot of live shows, festivals and things around the country and overseas.”

Thrashing out of the speakers with the spiritual essence of Hole’s “Violet,” Plaster of Paris’ “Newcomer” was originally released in 2017 on a dual 7” vinyl along with another track “Oh Wow.” The band decided to remix and include them on the album.

“’Newcomer’ initially came to me when I moved to Melbourne, but it took time to make sense to me,” says Zechner. “I talk a lot about Australian experiences – being a newbie, and reflecting on being the daughter of migrant parents. Moving from a small town to a big city, searching through dusty bazaars… searching for lost family, found family and connections, someone you can rely on to be there. That’s where the album title came from, too.”

Zechner’s dad is Austrian, her mother from New Zealand. “That’s informed my experience as a queer woman, growing up in a small town [Albion Park, south of Sydney]. Since 17, I was always moving to the big cities, fleeing childhood trauma: I’ve moved to Darwin, Canberra, Sydney. I’ve had a nomadic life, trying to fit in. I’ve worked in Indigenous communities in Darwin, and Nicola has too. That’s a big passion for us,” explains Zechner.

Another track, “Danceflaw” was inspired by the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, which Zechner responds to with determination to take a stand against terrorism and fear.

“I love ‘Danceflaw.’ That’s one of my personal favourites,” she says. “Both Sarah and I were in LA for a lesbian wedding in Palm Springs in 2016. We happened to be there during Pride and we were going to go out that night, but [the nightclub shooting] happened that night. The song is about how it’s political to stay visible, and remain visible, and to keep going to the dancefloors as a queer woman and queer person. Don’t let homophobia or outside influences pressure you into not being your fabulous self.”

Zechner and Blaby ended up going out that night and being together with community, drinking cocktails and supporting each other. “The next day, I remember seeing rainbows drawn on the footpath around Silver Lake in LA, and thinking about how beautiful that was,” she recalls.

The political and the personal are intertwined, anthemic and empowering on Lost Familiar, which has a wholly fresh take on the early ‘90s riot grrrl sound that was exploding in Zechner’s formative late teens. “My dad bought me a classical, nylon-stringed guitar for my birthday,” she recalls. “I remember staring at the Hole Pretty On The Inside cover, Babes In Toyland, Sleater-Kinney – also Sarah’s favourite band – then going to see Nirvana at the Big Day Out [festival]. I loved Nina Hagen and those big diva vocals, Marianne Faithfull, Anita Lane, and of course, Kate Bush.”

Zechner’s passions also extend into goth and darkwave bands like Depeche Mode, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy and The Cure. “I love buying that goth stuff on vinyl because it’s so rare,” says Zechner. “I’d rather buy that than a meal. In iso, I was living in my Sisters of Mercy hoodie. I saw them in Melbourne and sang along to every song until I lost my voice.”

It was important to Zechner and the band that they align with like-minded people, so opting to release their album on Psychic Hysteria was an organic fit. “Psychic Hysteria has similar politics to us… we’ve worked really hard at keeping this precious DIY thing quite strong and really grounded,” she says. “Sarah worked with Kurt [Eckardt] at PBS [a local community radio station]. It was my idea to say, ‘Do you wanna put my band on your label?’ And he said ‘yeah.’ They’ve got some amazing bands like Hearts and Rockets, Zig Zag and Shrimpwitch.”

Having found a supportive community, Plaster of Paris are ready to thrive in 2021. They’re currently organising an East Coast tour; in the meantime, Lost Familiar provides a burst of their band’s “unapologetically queer, feminist and D.I.Y.” ethos, satisfying fans who’ve had to wait a while for a debut, and likely bringing new fans into the fold, too.

Follow Plaster of Paris on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Horatio Luna Trips on Jazz with his Psychedelic Freaks on Passing Through The Doorways of Your Mind

The Psychedelic Freaks take their own wild, whirling dervish-approach to jazz on their debut Passing Through The Doorways Of Your Mind, released on La Sape Records June 4. Like their name suggests, there’s a lot of adventurous, freak-out psych trips along a journey of the jazz spectrum. Vocals sound like they’ve bubbled up from deep underwater on the title track, which opens the record with its jubilant, eclectic sound centred around wah guitar.

The meeting of jazz with the tripped-out, mushrooms-and-disco biscuits world of psychedelic rock peaked in the late ‘60s as the same audience for Jimi Hendrix also spun Grateful Dead, Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington on vinyl. The genre-melding made sense: neither jazz nor psychedelic rock follows strict rules, both were always open to interpretation, individualisation and liberation.

Liberation and freedom in music while respecting its sacred nature is a hallmark of Horatio Luna (a.k.a. Henry Hicks), the Melbourne-based composer, improviser, producer and chief Psychedelic Freak behind this glorious, glimmering musical delivery. Founder of 30/70 Collective, a hip-hop/soul community, Hicks decided to move on after six years in late 2018. He’s also had his finger in the pie of multiple live and recorded acts and recordings around Melbourne. He’s restless, prolific, dedicated and – obviously – never short on inspiration and ideas. Also a member of jazz-house band Lush Life and collaborating partner to afro-house purveyors Teymori, Hicks may also be recognised for his remixes and contributions to numerous jazz/soul/hip hop compilations. Last year, his full-length album Boom Boom riffed on the joyful, juicy big beats of house music (titles like “No Words, Big Party” and “Bush Doof” give you an idea).

“I just don’t think there’s anyone creating this kind of fun, funky music in Australia,” says Hicks. “It’s like a time warp from the 1970s but explored in a new way, I hope.”

Stuck at home, Hicks was inspired to re-form The Psychedelic Freaks after starting and resting the project a few years before. The fruitful reformation resulted in their first, glorious LP, which – despite sounding live – was fully written and composed by Hicks then recorded on multi-track.

“Being in a room full of tape machines, effects pedals and guitars during the Melbourne lockdown, that’s when it all happened,” relates Hicks. “I’ve been a bass player for many years, and I’m a bass player first and foremost, but I really wanted to explore the guitar. I also really wanted to push the envelope in terms of what I could do with different genres like deep house, psychedelic rock and hip hop.”

Dreams, Fourth Way, Charles Lloyd and Don Ellis paved the way for big jazz band improvs into psychedelic sound. Think of a saxophone, trumpets, multiple basses and drums all working on nigh-on-impossible 17/8 time signatures or incorporating African instruments and call-response style vocals atop Latin percussion and Indian ragas care of the sitar, as Gabor Szabo did in the 1960s on LP Jazz Raga Impulse. In fact, Szabo’s quirky, country-meets-raga “Paint It Black” from 1966 spins The Rolling Stones’ classic right into another realm.

The Psychedelic Freaks’ “Illuminated Waterfalls” recalls the Afro-jazz of Fela Kuti, as well as tropical Bossa Nova and samba beats of the Astrud Gilberto school of Brazilian jazz. The bass is so prominent you might trip over it, were it not for the cosmic stardust glittering overtop.

The post-punk, doo-wop, spaghetti western guitars and wailing, punk rock vocals of 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” lurks ghost-like in the wheels and cogs of this album – even if it’s only in rebellious, vivacious spirit. But it is not the wildmen of the ‘70s so much as multi-instrumentalist, rapper and producer Madlib who really inspired Hicks. Madvillain (Madlib’s collaborative project with MF Doom) is compulsory listening for anyone interested in melodic, adventurous hip hop.

“I was listening to, and informed by Madlib’s music, which is so inspiring to me because it’s multi-genre fluid,” says Hicks. “My own style of music is jazz house, or nu-jazz, jazztronic, whatever you want to call it. So, for me to get really deep on jazz house, I wanted to check out jazz fusion and all the derivatives of that, like acid jazz and things like that. By going really deep on jazz fusion, I learned a lot through the process and it gave me a better understanding of jazz house and the dance-floor sensibility.”

Hicks composed the album by himself, then sent the parts out to each artist with some basic directions. The multitrack recording was produced in Ableton. “I was working with some sample loops. I’d compose around the loop, then take the loop away at the end, and the result is what you hear on the record,” he explains. “That’s apparently how Madlib would make some of his music, except he’d jam with the DJ mix then take it away and hope he had something cool.”

The Psychedelic Freaks are spread across Australia, from Adelaide to Brisbane and Melbourne, they include Dufresne, Rohan The Intern, On-Ly, Billy Earwingz, and Felix Meredith. They’ll be playing a one-off live show at Melbourne’s The Evelyn in Fitzroy on June 11. Hicks will be playing with his own trio as Horatio Luna before The Psychedelic Freaks revel in their trippy, jazz fusion brilliance.

“It’s gonna be very psychedelic,” Hicks says with a laugh.

Naturally, he’s already working on other projects.

“I’ve always been a relentless creative,” admits Hicks. “I’m making a video clip for Lush Life at the moment… exploring my creativity in other ways, which is important to me. I do have the next couple of things coming up and ready to go. I’m always working on something because I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to do so.”

Follow Horatio Luna on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Maple Glider Shares Fourth Single “Baby Tiger” From Upcoming Debut To Enjoy is the Only Thing

Photo Credit: Bridgette Winten

If Tori Zietsch wasn’t a musician, she’s pretty certain she’d be a gardener. “I’d be growing lots of veggies, and planting heaps of flowers for the bees, and getting all my clothes and face and hands really dirty.” she tells Audiofemme. As fate would have it, Zietsch became an accomplished folk musician instead, performing under the moniker Maple Glider. Hailing from the sunny shores of Naarm/Melbourne, her debut album, To Enjoy Is The Only Thing, tells stories of love, loss and growth to a backdrop of delicate acoustics and unapologetic lyricism.

Growing up in a religious family, Zietsch found herself reaching for her pen and paper to escape into a world of lyricism and poetry. “Music offered an escape from the reality of what life was for me at that time. I spent a lot of time making up songs as a kid and I’d then lock myself in the bathroom for hours to get that good reverb! It drove my parents wild,” Zietsch remembers.  “Songwriting is a skill I taught myself to self-soothe. Music just always made me feel really good. It took a long time before I even realised I’d spent a large portion of my life pursuing it as a career. I’ve just always felt compelled to be writing and performing.”

To Enjoy is the Only Thing is fuelled by self-reflection and inspired by a time when Zietsch took a break from music, moving to Brighton in the UK, and the period of time that followed. “In 2018 I decided to take a break from working on music, which was actually the first time since I’d started. Coming out of a relationship, reflecting on my religious upbringing, familial relationships, travel, and what it felt like to come home. The themes are pretty broad, but I feel very connected to the songs as a body,” she explains.

The album is out June 25th via Partisan Records and Maple Glider has shared a handful of singles so far as she gears up for the release. This includes hushed album opener “As Tradition,” in which Zietsch repeats the lyrics “love is just a word;” there’s a sense that by using it as a mantra she’s fastening herself to the belief as a method of protection, even as she offers a malleable persona up to listeners (“I can be soft/I can be just what you want”).

Swimming” picks up where “As Tradition” left off, with Zietsch’s vocals and the soft acoustic strumming providing an almost trance-like quality. The mournful, solemn lyrics detail the evolution of Zietsch’s relationship with her ex. “My ex wanted me to write them a love song and honestly that’s all I was trying to do. I really sucked at it though. I just couldn’t make a happy love song. It forced me to be honest about our situation, and how I was feeling. We broke up not long after,” she says. “There were so many beautiful moments within this song though. It’s nice that they can be held onto somewhere.”

Good Thing unpacks Zietsch’s past self-destructive behaviours; poetically raw and sonically rich, her vocals echo over some the album’s finest instrumentation, building to the powerful line “I guess that’s how we learn/By setting fire to things that bring us life/Before we get to watch them burn.” The tangible emotion in her voice only adds to Zietsch’s skill as a storyteller and her ability to relate to anyone with a similar self-destructive streak.

Maple Glider’s latest offering, “Baby Tiger,” emulates a lullaby and was inspired by a cat named Coriander. “I nicknamed our house share cat Baby Tiger; Baby Tiger hates closed doors. She’ll always want to know what you’re doing on the other side. It became routine to hear her scratching at my door. It was something that felt constant and unwavering and regular at a time when I was a bit vacant. Her energy made me feel lighter,” Zietsch says. She had just moved home to Melbourne after living away for a couple of years and was struggling with her mental health. “I think I started to use dating as a bit of a distraction from dealing with it,” she remembers. “I hadn’t really done that before; sought out comfort from strangers.”

Elsewhere on the album, “View From This Side” incorporates an intimate minimalist sound as the track renders delicate portraits of the lives of those around her; “Performer” explores the disconnect Zietsch feels between herself and her persona on stage; the album’s final track, “Mama, It’s Christmas,” juxtaposes the joviality of the holidays with the difficultly of an absent family member. Throughout To Enjoy is the Only Thing, Maple Glider guides the listener into their own world of contemplation and reflection through her rich vocals, which paint a mesmerising sonic picture. The combination of Zietsch’s raw emotional power with the tender instrumentation makes for an unforgettable debut.

“I’ve come to really value the time that I get to spend writing and recording music,” Zietsch says. “I feel so lucky to have been able to make my first record, and to have had the life experience leading up to it that really made me want to create an album so badly.”

Follow Maple Glider on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Stevie Jean Gets Raw and Real On Her Debut Album “The Dark”

Photo Credit: Jett Street

Stevie Jean is an honorary Melbournian. Hailing from Humpty Doo – a small town about 30 miles North of Darwin – she’s transitioned to the considerably colder, wetter city and embraced it as her own. And Melbourne has embraced her, or it will, once her album The Dark gets heard in live music venues around town.

“Honestly, the transition from Darwin to Melbourne was not too bad. I was dealing with hectic stuff in Darwin so coming to Melbourne, living with two of my best friends, and having my own room was a great transition. I’ve been going to gigs, it’s been a good old time,” says Jean.

Released on May 14th, The Dark is a mishmash of her influences from rock and hip hop that she’s made entirely her own. Determined to face her fears, Jean has eloquently revealed what haunts her most and given herself and her listeners permission to be vulnerable but also merciful through the scars we share.

“I was between 17 and 20 was when I wrote The Dark,” says Jean. “Some of the songs took 20 minutes and some took years, and I write alone. The only song that was co-written was ‘Menace.’ That’s got Kapital J on it, and Tasman Keith wrote a little bit of it. I co-produce with an amazing producer Kuya James, based in Darwin. He’s been in the industry a long time.”

Indeed, James is an ARIA-nominated producer, touring musician, songwriter and DJ who has worked with many artists based in the Northern Territory. Kuya means big brother in the Filipino language of Tagalog, and he’s certainly been a guiding force for Jean’s music.

Likewise, Jean credits her mother’s choice to send her to a Steiner school – an alternative educational model oriented more towards holistic learning and social skills than academic achievement – with her embrace of her own creative skills. “I had the privilege of going to Steiner school. My mother was involved in the school opening. She didn’t want me to go to a mainstream school, so the first day of that school opening was my first day of school. There wasn’t enough funding and there was only about 50 kids, so I graduated year 6 [primary school] and it was mainstream from then on.”

At home, Jean’s parents raised her in a music-loving household. “My mother loves R&B and folk and I grew up with rock. I was also hugely inspired by a woman named Netanela Mizrahi,” she recalls. Mizrahi is a composer, music therapist, and music teacher. She’s also the Darwin Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Second Violinist. “She does fellowships all over the world. She was my violin teacher and got me into choirs. She was one of my biggest influences growing up. When I graduated, we started working together on a different basis where she would call me in to do certain projects with her.”

Through primary school, Jean was exposed to “a lot of Vivaldi and folk music” but once she entered the mainstream school system, hip hop became her biggest inspiration. “I found Eminem and then Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj and then later, Princess Nokia, so much amazing hip hop: it’s rhythm and poetry, an incredible thing,” she says. These artists directly influence the EP she made with Tasman Keith, called Evenings, released in 2019.

But The Dark is much rockier and bluesier than her influences in hip hop would suggest, and is more akin to her Blame Game EP, also from 2019. “[The Dark] is my first album and I really wanted to pay homage to the rock that raised me,” says Jean. “So, Led Zeppelin and Black Keys, but then a lot of hip hop too with trap beats, 808… it’s an amalgamation, so you could call it psych rock or punk rock.”

Its title hints at the demons that inspired much of Jean’s lyrics. “I don’t talk about this very often, but for a few years I suffered from [an undiagnosed mental illness]. My brain tells me that nothing is real. I’m dealing with that in my own way – it’s an exaggerated lust for life, because if nothing is real, do whatever you want,” Jean says. “That’s where a lot of music on The Dark comes from. I’ve got it under control, but when you’re 17 and the world is a video game, it’s pretty scary. There are those moments where I felt ‘This is not okay, I don’t want to be here.’ I went to a counsellor who freaked out and booked me in with a psych who told me not to smoke weed, so I just never went back. I don’t want to be put in a box and judged based on having a psychiatric record, so I went on a really strict diet and that took the cloud out of my brain for a year, then I gradually reintroduced things back in, embraced exercise and that is still really important to me.”

Photo Credit: Jett Street

The raw, steely guitars that kick in on the opening track, “Send Me Home” merge with a groovy, boxy beat, and then Stevie Jean’s singularly beautiful, old school blues voice comes in. There’s something timeless about her voice, channeling both Erykah Badu and Rickie Lee Jones in its throaty melodiousness.

Things get much more hectic on “Menace.”

“’Menace’ happened so fast,” says Jean. “I was going to be in a movie, but that didn’t happen. They’d asked me to make a punk song for it, and Kuya James and Kapital J were in the studio and I sat down and wrote the song in about 15 minutes. It was a laugh, to be honest! Tasman Keith put his vocals on it then my backing band in Darwin, Draft Day, played their parts live over the track. That’s why it’s so hectic.”

The Dark was recorded across Park Orchards Studios in Victoria, with Benjamin Edgar sending his guitar tracks, recorded remotely from his home in Germany. The rest was recorded in Studio G (named after Gurrumul Yunupingu) in Darwin. 

Jean’s plan is to play the album live around her new home city, accompanied by “the cool kids” in her band: Miggy Zamba on keyboards, Takoga Smith on bass, and “an incredible drummer,” Myka Wallace.

What would her dream lineup be, if she could perform with a couple of other acts?

“My dream lineup would be Haarper, Ashnikko, Princess Nokia and if The Black Keys showed up, I would probably cry,” she reveals.

But when she’s not performing, she is a prolific writer. “I’m actually halfway through production on my second album – I love writing, I’d do it all day if I could,” she says. “I don’t know when it will come out, but I’m enjoying just creating every day. I’ve taken this album I’m working on in more of a hip-hop direction. The Dark has elements, but the next record is more balanced between rock and hip hop.”

Until her next album arrives, there’s enough soul, rock, and raw, honest truths on The Dark to warrant repeat listens. It is easy to believe Stevie Jean could be the next Australian artist to garner major international interest and shiny, big deals. But, like many talented artists in this nation and worldwide, she’s working a couple of casual jobs to get by.

“As artists, we get treated like we’re replaceable and there’s so many amazing artists in Australia working in [hospitality]. There’s nothing wrong with hospo, but it’s really taxing to work two or three casual jobs and try to write an album. I’m trying to be a poet, an actress, and a musician on top of a couple of hospo jobs. I’d love to see a change in the music industry, I really would.”

Follow Stevie Jean on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Gian Slater Segues From Jazz Cat To Synth Pop Siren On New LP, Premieres “Spider” Video

Performer, vocalist and composer Gian Slater could have limited herself to purely working in the jazz world – but why would she, when she excels at pushing boundaries? After eight albums of original music, and numerous collaborative projects, she pushes those boundaries yet again on her newest release, Grey Is Ground, out April 16th via Biophilia Records, with a small in-person launch show on April 17th at The Jazzlab in Melbourne’s Brunswick East. The album is awash in luscious synth-pop soundscapes that swirl, ebb, and twine around Slater’s spellbinding voice.

“The name was inspired by this sense of a neutral place, where you’re open to mystery,” explains Slater. “There’s colour all around you, amazing and exciting, but then there’s this neutral place that is my ground. Just because I feel uncertain doesn’t mean that I can’t feel the ground beneath me. That was the analogy I was trying to make, that there’s still ground. There’s honesty and truth to that neutral space.” Slater laughs. “I can describe feelings in songs, but trying to break that down in this conversation is really difficult!”

Gian Slater began composing Grey Is Ground when she was pregnant with her first child, and began recording when he was just six months old. This emotional atmosphere allowed her to question her priorities in life and in her work, and to sculpt soundscapes and lyrics that reflected her investigations. Rather than following her traditional methodology, Slater embraced the uncertainty that had previously instilled fear in her.

“It’s definitely a musical map of that time of my life. I really embraced the acceptance of mystery in the making of this album. I wanted to focus on listening, which as a parent is a continual lesson I learn daily,” she says. “The music itself, too, is really inspired by embracing the unknown. There’s great power in the vulnerability of not knowing the answer. With access to so much information these days, we feel like we should know the answers. So I found it cathartic to write this music.”

“Spider,” the intensely energetic opening track on the album, “cuts to the chase of what the whole album is about,” Slater adds. “’Spider’ is the centre of a web of mystery. I was interested in describing that knotted up feeling of uncertainty – the layers of doubt, questioning, anxiety, a search for truth underneath the superficial. ‘Spider’ is my metaphor for a truth that may be painful and dark – and a surrender to embrace the spider.”

Its unsettling lyrics (“Lift me up out of shell/Out of perfume-covered smell/Give me blood and bone/Give me essence not dilute/Give me wisdom over youth/Or give me just your eyes”) are brought to life by the “ambiguously rhythmic” dancing of Lilian Steiner and Melanie Lane in a video for the track, shot by Madeline Bishop and premiering today via Audiofemme. As Slater says, “The song rides on this rhythm, searching for the release of truth.”

“In the early stages of 2020, I reached out and asked if Lilian and Melanie would dance to ‘Spider’ in their homes, recording on their iPhones. Their improvisations reflected a duality of mystery, a truth in two perspectives; the shadow and the light, the flowing and the rigid,” explains Slater. “As soon as it became possible with COVID restrictions, we filmed the dancers together side by side, but still improvising freely.”

Slater says both she and Bishop were completely moved by the dancers’ interactions. “I was so drawn to way Lilian and Melanie improvised through ‘Spider.’ They embodied the power and vulnerability in the song in such an intuitively special way,” Slater says. “Then the very multi-talented label director of Biophilia Records, Fabian Almazan, edited the footage to create more texture, ambiguity and pace. He really added another layer of abstraction that reinforces the themes.”

In many ways, collaboration has become essential to Slater’s process. For Grey is Ground, she worked with Barney McAll, who has provided production and keyboards for Sia, Daniel Merriweather and Aloe Blacc, trumpeter Phil Slater, and drummer Simon Barker, with additional drum programming by EDM beatmaker ​Emefern​. ​Her collaborators are skilled in the art of merging classical instruments with a pop sensibility.

“I met Barney about 15 years ago in New York through mutual friends,” recalls Slater. “He’s an Australian who lived in New York for many years. He’d heard my debut album when I was in my early 20s and he was a very senior musician at that time. He’s been incredibly supportive, a mentor and friend. He’s one of my most significant musical collaborators. We made an album together in a band called Sylent Running. It made its way around, even though it was a pretty underground recording.”

Grey Is Ground took seed after Slater joined Barney McAll and Simon Barker for a performance at the Sydney Opera House in 2015. The trio found their groove, providing the impetus for Slater to start composing an album of music that played to their strengths, both individual and combined. “Simon is one of the most incredible musicians and drummers in the world. He’s got his own very individual rhythmic language,” says Slater. “So, I really considered that, and Barney’s world too.”

Slater says the first iteration of the album’s title track – the first written for the album – had a lot of improvisation in it, built on Barker’s layers of rhythmic ideas. “The verse has a straight, simple, floaty feel, and then it moves towards a chorus section. There’s three different rhythmic cycles; the keyboard part, the pulse, and the melody. They all meet and end at the same time, but they have different cycles occurring simultaneously,” she says.

The end of the track is a big “release section.” Slater explains that tension and release occurs when the song has been bubbling away, but then, towards the end of the track, the harmony remains in a loop without lyrics, as there is a surrender and letting go of the song’s tension.

Across the album, Slater’s mellifluous voice works organically with the instrumentals and patterns within the music. On lead single “Ocean Love,” she toys with timing so that her voice rides over and under the melody, playfully racing ahead or falling just behind its momentum, clever without being contrived. The synthesized drums hint at a slowed-down tropical house beat, the harmonised vocals layering like waves rolling in one over the other. Right at the end, like stars studding their light through a perfectly black sky, there’s a rain of snare drums, a patter of open hi-hat and cymbals enveloped in tinkling piano keys.

Internationally, in the world of jazz alone, Slater has swept up prizes galore and premiered new work at both the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and the Capital Jazz Festival in Canberra. She won the MJFF Apra Composers Commission in 2010, won Best Jazz Vocal Album (2010 and 2013) at the Bell Awards, and received the Creative Australia Fellowship in 2012.

When she hasn’t been creating and performing works for herself and in collaboration with other composers and performers, she’s worked as a lecturer in Jazz and Improvisation at both Melbourne and Monash Universities, the legendary Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and also The Manhattan School of Music. Inspiring her students to be brave and authentic comes naturally for Slater.

“I’m taking a year off from Monash this year, but I’m still with Melbourne University’s Victorian College of the Arts, as I have been for 15 years,” says Slater. “I’m passionate about teaching, particularly teaching vocalists and empowering them to make their own choices about the music they want to make.”

Likewise, Slater switched up her usual modus operandi when it comes to composing, which has typically meant finding the harmony, layering on the melody, then weaving in rhythm intuitively and finally. For Grey Is Ground, the rhythm provided the primary spark for each song, upon which Slater added melodies, interwoven with the synaptic-stimulus of synth waves.

“I think the electronic thing had been explored by Barney and I in Sylent Running. With this new album, I really wrote the music for Barney and Simon in an acoustic version, but it became clear really soon that the architecture of my compositions leant themselves to the electronic synth world,” Slater says. “I had been playing synth in other projects and using it in the composition process, so it’s a detour away from the other music I’ve been creating. None of my music neatly fits into a genre, but prior to this, it’s been definitely more jazz-influenced.”

The result treads beyond the everyday world into an ethereal wonderland, both familiar in its nostalgic references and intriguingly novel. “Barney and I were drawn to pulling apart this music, giving it a lot of love in terms of recording tracks with a sense of curiosity around trying stuff out and not just doing one or two takes. There were so many layers, we really tried to bring new things out us as artists and the compositions,” says Slater. “I can hear in each layer the enormous time and those magical moments that we found along the way.”

Follow Gian Slater on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Checking in With Melbourne’s Jezabel-Turned-Solo Rocker Hayley Mary

Photo Credit: Jesse Lizotte

While the world awaited Lana Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over The Country Club, diminutive Australian singer Hayley Mary tantalised us with a cover version of its title track for Australian radio station Triple J’s Like A Version series. In a metallic gold dress-coat by local designer Alice McCall, fishnets, and knee-high black heeled boots, Hayley Mary is every inch the rock star. Her smoky diva voice recalls one of Australia’s most well-known rock frontwomen, Chrissy Amphlett.

“Covers are hard, it has to suit your voice,” says Mary. “Musically, I’m a Lana del Rey fan; I think she’s a great songwriter and artist. But I don’t follow a lot of contemporary music. My favourite band is still ABBA. I wanted to do something contemporary and what that song had, like a lot of Lana’s songs, was enough depth of lyrics to appeal to me. It was a week or two old when we did it, so it was new. Plus, I’m a huge David Lynch fan and I get that vibe from it. It’s timeless, that’s what I like her about her.”

Hayley Mary fronted Sydney-based indie rockers The Jezabels from 2007 to 2017; in their decade as a band, they released three EPs (The Man Is Dead, She’s So Hard, and Dark Storm) followed by studio albums Prisoner in 2011, The Brink in 2014, and Synthia in 2016. Though they’ve been silent since, Mary hinted to NME Australia last year that there’s always potential to revisit the project, saying, “We never really stopped, we just don’t really have anything happening at the moment.”

Considering the band’s reputation as “volatile, provocative and intelligent” (Jenny Valentish for Sydney Morning Herald), their namesake – the infamous biblical Jezebel, who appears in the New Testament Book of Revelation and is described as “an unrepentant prophetess,” “the bad girl of the Bible,” and “the wickedest of women” – makes sense.

But was Jezebel truly a murdering prostitute hellbent on chaos? Not according to Hayley Mary, who explained to AllMusic in 2012 that in fact, she was misunderstood, an example of how women are misrepresented and maligned. “My dad was raised Catholic but he has pagan leanings, a cynicism for the establishment. [He] wanted to call me Jezebel when I was born, but my mum thought it was a bit extreme, so they ended up naming their cat Jezebel,” she explains. Studying “various ‘isms’ – feminism, Marxism, all that stuff” at the University of Sydney, she began to realize “there was a lot of revisionist history of misunderstood people from the past. Jezebel was a whorish figure in the way I’d been brought up, but when you actually read the Bible, she was a Queen who tried to escape. So, when did she become a whore? She became vilified, and it happens a lot throughout history.”

Also at uni, Hayley Mary met Heather Shannon, Sam Lockwood, and Nik Kaloper, with whom she would form her band. “Heather and I started Jezabels as a two-piece, and my cat was dead by that time – we thought Jezebel was a cool name,” explains Mary. “When the guys joined and we started making more rock music, they weren’t sure about The Jezabels, but I convinced them that it was a reclaiming of this misunderstood Biblical figure and they got on board with that.”

Photo Credit: Jesse Lizotte

Mary’s ongoing struggle with depression and Shannon’s ovarian cancer diagnosis forced questions of existence and purpose upon The Jezabels. Those same questions still challenge Mary, now in her mid-30s. She recalls trips taken across Death Valley (which inspired “Pleasure Drive” from The Brink LP), and living and working in London for a year. A nomad at heart, she is in her element when not anchored to one place, though she doesn’t “need to be overseas all the time,” she says. “I like living in different places for six months or so, finding a new world. I’m half-Scottish so I’m drawn to the UK. I found myself coming back and forth, spending a year in Sydney or Melbourne then returning to the UK again.” So, how did she cope with lockdowns 1.0 and 2.0 in her hometown of Melbourne?

“I ended up in Sydney for six months of the lockdown,” says Mary. “I did the first lockdown here, then went up to Sydney to mix some recordings and got stuck there when the second lockdown happened. It was productive in a way that I couldn’t have been in Melbourne. I was lucky to have the stint in Sydney.” She’s played a few acoustic shows regionally in NSW and Victoria, and has enough songs to form a new record, but is hesitant to “drop an album prematurely in a COVID-19 landscape,” she says. “I think I’ll put it out in a different sort of way.”

Mary’s solo career has seen her pick up a guitar and embrace being an independent solo artist, releasing her debut EP The Piss, The Perfume in January 2020. “I’m still in my love affair with rock, because as old as guitar music is, it’s so exciting to me to pick up a guitar. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel with this music, but it’s based on the old tradition of songwriting. I care a lot about the lyrics and the feeling,” she says. “There’s influences like Americana, but there’s also some punk in there and ’80s diva pop. There’s a fusion of genres and eras, I guess, like on my first EP.”

Mary explains that while she’s not pioneering anything as far as guitar playing and songwriting, it feels like she’s pioneering in her personal life, alongside Johnny Took of DMA’S. The relationship began when she was trying to find her footing as a solo artist, wondering “Who am I without Jezabels?” Mary says the loss of identity after thirteen years in a band is “still difficult,” and her management encouraged collaborations to help her through it. “Johnny was instrumental in helping me find my strength as a songwriter, and we’ve co-written a bunch of songs together,” she says. “He co-wrote my last single, ‘Would You Throw A Diamond?’ He’s been involved in producing and demo-ing. He’s my key collaborator. When someone can bring the best out of you, that feels like a good sign.”

Hayley Mary’s ideal 2021 involves the announcement of more shows, more videos and the prospect of an international tour by the end of the year. Until then, she’ll be writing, and she’s also studying audio engineering and music production at Melbourne Polytechnic. “I’m empowering myself,” says Mary. “I don’t want to be at the mercy of people so much. I want to take more control, be able to tell producers ‘I like it to be this way, for this reason.’”

Follow Hayley Mary on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.