Australian Soul Royalty Renée Geyer Kickstarts Post-Pandemic Tour

Renée Geyer is a soul superstar in Australia. She is vaunted by various scenes, from jazz to soul to rock and blues. She is regal and rockstar at once, with high cheekbones and a cheeky smile. At 67, she knows her voice, her body, herself. And it’s been a ride thus far, with addictions and illness obstructing an easy path, which was never promised to women who want to work in the arts for a living in Australia anyway.

Perhaps that explains why Geyer is on the defence, known for her aggressive attitude toward journalists and anyone who she perceives to be wasting her time. I am warned by an industry insider that if she doesn’t like the direction of an interview, she’ll simply hang up. I rise to the challenge and make it three minutes in before Geyer accuses me of asking “a stupid question” and promptly disconnects our call. I allow the fumes to clear and try again. Why am I persisting? Because Geyer deserves to be known for her wicked talent, even if it means a verbal laceration.

“I’m known for doing things my way,” says Geyer, the next day. “I’ve gotten in trouble many times because I’ve stuck to my guns.”

In 1974, Geyer struck success with her second studio album, It’s A Man’s Man’s World (RCA) and rocketed onto the international stage as a backup singer for Sting, Chaka Khan, Joe Cocker and Toni Childs amongst others. She contributed vocals to albums by Neil Diamond, Sting and Australian rockers Men At Work, which kept her afloat in the decade she lived in the US from the mid-80s to mid-90s. As “a white Hungarian Jew from Australia sounding like a 65-year-old Black man from Alabama” (per her autobiography), she wasn’t easily marketable in the States and didn’t ever strike commercial success as a solo singer.

Australia proved more fertile ground for Geyer. Her 2003 album of soul, funk and R&B covers, Tenderland, reached number 11 on the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) album charts. It was her eleventh album, and her throaty, smoky-voiced magic resculpted Prince’s “Thieves in the Temple,” Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You.” Two years later, she was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.

She’d released her autobiography only years before. Confessions of a Difficult Woman was published in 2000, revealing her struggles with drug addiction and her rocky career trajectory. “I didn’t reveal everything,” laughs Geyer when I ask her about her autobiography being so candid. “Of course, there was some things I was not going to say, but I’m happy with the balance.”

As a child, Geyer had to confront the traumas of her family, not the least of which was being named after a Holocaust survivor who had assisted Geyer’s mother in Auschwitz. The family had moved from Hungary to Sydney, Australia to run a migrant hostel when Geyer was very young. Geyer attended various schools and was expelled from a prominent private school for petty stealing.

At 16, Geyer joined jazz-blues band Dry Red, which set her on the path to her now five-decade strong career. She went on to play with jazz-rock outfit Sun and R&B-influenced band Mother Earth before signing with RCA Records in 1973 as a solo act. Her debut self-titled album came out in 1973, comprising cover versions of songs by Bob Dylan (“Just Like a Woman”), Bill Withers (“Lean on Me”), Buddy Miles (“Them Changes”) and Van Morrison (“Moondance”). It was swiftly followed by It’s a Man’s Man’s World in 1974, but Geyer had tired of RCA’s demands that she not record her original material and hungered for her contract to end.

It was at this point that Geyer made the acquaintance of Michael Gudinski, who passed away in Melbourne earlier this month after a lifetime leading Mushroom Records and championing some of Australia’s best known music acts. Geyer struck a deal with Gudinski that meant she could record with Mushroom Records and her albums and singles would be released with a Mushroom logo stamped on the label. The first release under the new contract was Ready to Deal in 1975. “We’ve always been good friends, for forty years,” says Geyer.

Geyer was prolific from that point on, recording both studio and live albums, releasing her autobiography and performing live. Things came to a head in 2011, when Geyer crashed into parked cars, a tree and finally a shop front and was charged with careless driving. Her public response was to blame her driving on the drug she was taking to treat breast cancer. The intrusion into her private life was jarring. But if anyone is accustomed to public interest into her private life, and stripping away all illusions, it is Geyer. Confessions of a Difficult Woman revealed three near-fatal drug overdoses, six abortions and a battle with depression.

Understandably, Geyer is defensive about her private life and feels vulnerable when journalists pry into it. So, ultimately, the music must speak for her. The morning of our interview, I heard her version of “Soul Groove ’66” on Melbourne radio station 3RRR. The radio host was playing a tribute to long-time PBS FM host Pierre Baroni, who lost a battle with cancer on March 9 of this year. Geyer’s masterful rendition was recorded at Baroni’s request, in his studio. “At the time it wasn’t that significant, it was just a project he wanted me to do,” Geyer says. “It’s only with time that it’s become significant.”

Geyer’s most significant song, “It’s A Man’s, Man’s World” is inevitably always on the setlist, and will be when she plays upcoming Melbourne gigs, kicking off with MEMO Music Hall in St Kilda on March 20. While she’s had to postpone her tour, she’ll be in New Zealand in November this year. “I have a big Maori following in New Zealand, I’m very happy about that,” she says.

Perhaps it’s due to the hardships Geyer has faced, or the ferocity with which she lives on, but there is a unique fire that Geyer brings to everything she sings. Still, she is quick to point out that some of the most startling moments in her catalogue were never really hers to begin with – and that’s fine. “It’s always someone else’s song, whoever wrote the song,” says Geyer. “That I can do my own version is the sign of a great song, the fact you can do it many different ways. It’s always the writer’s song.”

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Julia Wilson Discusses Melbourne Roots and Founding Record Label Rice Is Nice

Julia Wilson is a Melbourne success story in the music industry. From an early age, she was immersed in the scene, working in record stores as a teen and shooting for now defunct Melbourne street rag Inpress straight out of her photography studies – her first live shoot, as she recalls, was likely No Doubt. Working in street press often means long hours, demanding publicists and advertisers, and little, if any, pay; it’s something one does for the love of music and arts, and fortunately, Wilson has no shortage of that. She wanted to use her experience to champion artists who had something unique about them – the basis for longevity – rather than artists who were deemed popular by the mass market, so she founded record label Rice Is Nice in 2008. Now in its 12th year, the label is home to acts that represent rock, electronica, psychedelia, acoustic folk and garage punk, has succeeded in showcasing its artists at Melbourne Music Week, and gotten media coverage for artists who don’t easily fit into typical genres, all without compromising their integrity. Black Flag legend Henry Rollins even gave her record label a shout-out on his KCRW radio show. There’s no hard sell with Julia, just genuine passion – despite her busy schedule, she seemed to have nothing but time when it came to talking arts and music with Audiofemme.

Wilson was born and raised in Frankston, on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It’s a well renowned suburb to the south-east of Melbourne, commonly and sometimes derisively referred to as “Franga.” Working in little record store that mostly sold metal records, Wilson says, “It was a seminal time for me and I used my time there to discover all I could about that genre of music. The store was full of Burzum, NOFX, Cradle Of Filth and Kerrang Magazine. I’m not sure how I got outta there alive!”

As an events photographer, Wilson became intimately familiar with Melbourne’s best-known music venues and events: The Corner, Festival Hall (“Where I saw my first concert Faith No More”), The Tote, The Evelyn, The Prince Of Wales, Big Day Out and others. “I did not love some of the competitive asshole photographers in the pit,” Wilson admits. “I was lucky to meet a few legends though, who gave me film when I had forgotten mine.” As digital photography became more prevalent, Wilson took the opportunity to move in a new direction.

Her first stop was Greville Records, located in the inner-eastern Melbourne suburb of Prahran. “That place is my spiritual home. The people and records in there paved a strong path for me,” Wilson says, giving a special shout-out to owner Warwick Brown. “You Am I played a free gig in the car park, and there were loads of in-stores signings, launches and performances at the time. I used to go to local live venue, the Duke Of Windsor all the time. I remember watching Legends Of Motorsport (I loved that band), Ground Components and Rocket Science.”

Wilson moved from Melbourne to Sydney about eight years ago to take a role with Mushroom Records, but ended up quitting and joining Popfrenzy Records, founded by Chris Wu, as a label manager and publicist. “Working with Chris proved to me that one person could do huge things. Leaving Melbourne helped me establish something that was my own,” Wilson explains. “I was generally very intimidated by Australian bands. It was a very big, cool scene and it was very overwhelming for me… Moving to a city less obsessed with music than my home city of Melbourne gave me the confidence and space to start something new. I felt that I could make mistakes without as much judgement as I’d have received in Melbourne. I just had sheer support from artists and music lovers because the scene needed so much of it.”

Missing Melbourne, Wilson recently moved back to the city. “The volume of venues and support that Melbourne has for the arts is second to none,” she points out. “The city itself has supported me through grants, throwing parties for Melbourne Music week and also celebrating my label, Rice Is Nice’s 10th birthday at Melbourne Music Week’s HUB. The people who run these venues are champions. I mean, Rich from The Tote is a hero. He also runs Aarght Records (that represents Eddy Current Suppression Ring, NUN and many others). He’s a proactive, real deal music champion. They are rare to find, I guess.”

She continues, “I think my intimidation and fear of the ‘clique’ was just because I was a kid; you have to get your confidence somewhere. “I would reluctantly go to the Tote to see bands but it always made me feel like a loser. I mean, it still does! Someone gave me shit about wearing a ‘warm jacket at the Tote’ last time I went there. Like, fuckin’ hell mate, I just had a baby, fuck off.” Though she was once “shit-scared” of grunge band Batrider, two of its members – arty indie-rock singer-songwriter Sarah Mary Chadwick and Steph Crase (harmonic, grunge-style fuzzy guitars behind Summer Flake) – now release music via Rice Is Nice (Wilson also manages Chadwick). Check out some of the label’s music below.


Stephanie Crase describes the music she makes under the moniker Summer Flake as “sun-drunk guitar pop.” She’s a hippie-hearted harmony addict influenced by the dreaminess of Sonic Youth and the surfer pop of Best Coast. She’s releases three albums – You Can Have It All (2013), Hello Friends (2016) and Seasons Change (2019) – as well as a handful of EPs that “consider ideas of self-identity, movement, and the indiscriminate yet deeply personal sense of yearning for growth.”


With cheeky albums like Taste The Radness, SPOD has taken squelchy, Gary Numan-at-Bondi Beach vibes to craft deliciously riotous electro tunes that combine smart aleck lyrics with bouncy basslines. It’s essentially the one-man project of Brent Griffin, who’s been throwing party like-sets with confetti, streamers, glitter, backup dancers since 1995. Last year’s Adult Fantasy LP was released in conjunction with a live full-length performance, shot and edited direct to tape by SPOD and Alex Smith. The Adult Fantasy TV Special was made available on VHS, and ends with a 46-minute closing track, featuring solos from Rollins, Ariel Pink and Jason Lytle from Grandaddy, among some 35 others.


Five-piece Geelong band The Frowning Clouds combine ’60s psychedelia with fuzzy guitar pop, pummeling percussion, catchy melodies, and a healthy dose of punk rock attitude. “[Their] randomness extends beyond their raucous sounds to their bizarre stage costumes,” Wilson warns. Their 2014 LP Legalize Everything was their first for Rice Is Nice, and their 2013 debut Whereabouts, reissued earlier this year by Anti Fade, is available via Bandcamp.


Wilson describes Darts as “indie rockers who have clearly been influenced by ’90s grunge-rock pioneers like Dinosaur Jr.” Having released a few singles via the label, They’ve been been playing in local clubs for over six years now and have released their debut Below Empty & Westward Bound via Rice is Nice in 2015.


The rhythmic, swirling guitars and spaciousness in the sounds of quartet Lowtide found full expression not only on 2018 sophomore effort Southern Mind, but also on a remixed version of the album released later that year, with Ulrich Schnauss, Vive La Void (Sanae Yamada/Moon Duo), Josefin Ohrn and The Liberation, Lost Horizons (Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins + Richie Thomas formerly of Jesus and Mary Chain) and Black Cab taking the controls.