HAIR BY SONG ISABEL HEE
MAKEUP BY BETHANY BRILL
Walking through tall grass, hands gently tickling the tops of the fragile stalks, you smell sunshine. Your eyes then open, revealing your cold apartment with only the harmonies from your stereo illustrating your mind. The music of Angus & Julia Stone evokes the crystalline sensation on your skin after swimming in the ocean and drying in the warm summer sun. Their music is deeply emotional and intense, yet as delicate as a butterfly. The siblings have a long history of music in their lineage, though only recently started crafting their soft and elegant melodies. Quickly gaining much deserved notoriety at home, the Australian duo soon took to the road, easily convincing European and North American audiences of their charm. Upon listening to their music, one is immediately transported into a world of innocence and magic. Julia Stone made time for The Lab while waiting in baggage claim at Boston Airport to chat about her friendship with her brother, getting eaten by sharks, and how their grandfather nurtured her sense of creative adventure.
MICHAEL SHINDLER—Where are you right now?
JULIA STONE—We just landed in Boston – I’m in the baggage claim area.
MS—How was the flight?
JS—It was OK, actually. We missed our check in time by 10 minutes, so we had to get on another flight, but it’s all good. The sound check is coming up so the boys – the sound engineer and tour manager – are already here so hopefully it’s all set up and ready to go for tonight. They checked in earlier – they were smart.
MS—So it’s just you and Angus together right now?
JS—Angus, myself, our drummer Matt Johnson and bass player Rob Calder.
MS—Did you play in New York last night?
JS—Oh yeah, we’re coming from New York. We played on Friday night in Brooklyn and then we played on Saturday night in Manhattan in this circus tent with a band called DeVotchKa. They’re so amazing. They had those girls who dance in the sky on pieces of fabric so it was really exceptional. And then Sunday night we played the Hoboken and then last night we had a night off so I went and saw our friend play a show on Bleaker Street at a place called Le Poisson Rouge.
MS—What will you do to get yourself ready for the show tonight?
JS—There’s nothing specific. We don’t have a pre-show ritual. Depending on where we are we try and find somewhere nice to go and have dinner and hang out, and sometimes we have a bit of an acoustic jam if we can get a guitar and sing songs and play cards.
MS—I hear you like to bring your backgammon and poker sets from home on the road…
JS—The cards thing has taken a back seat to be honest because we’re touring with a couple of guys who don’t play cards. Dinner is the big thing for us. Usually when you’re in a city and you find a place with really good food you find really good people as a general rule – people who know a bit about the town and where’s good to go and see, or they tell you a bit about the history of the place. I’m sure there’s probably amazing people in places that serve bad food but we try not to go there.
MS—What’s your favorite place been on tour so far?
JS—I don’t have a favorite but in the last couple of weeks I really enjoyed our show in Portland. I thought that was a really beautiful city. It was so sunny when we arrived. It had a really good feeling. In that part of North America the air’s really clean, you can feel it. There must be something scientific about why the air is so clean.
MS—Does it remind you of home at all, especially the West Coast of the States?
JS—I think the West Coast really reminds us of home – maybe because of the surfing community, or because the ocean is so close to the city. Whenever we’re in California I always feel like I’m coming home in a sense, which is really strange because we hadn’t ever been there until we started to play music, but that whole drive down the coast, especially from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, with the smell of the ocean – it’s so beautiful. And the Australian coast line is a lot like that – you’re looking at the coast and surf breaks for miles. For me, the ocean is home.
MS—Do you surf?
JS—Yeah, I do. I wouldn’t ever encourage anybody to watch me surfing, but it’s something I really enjoy when I’m at home. I only started three years ago. We did surf life-saving as kids so I knew how to body board and body surf but I’m always a little scared taking a heavy board out, and I have friends who’ve had injuries, so I had all these fears about it. My sister got given one of those really big long foam boards and I decided to borrow it and give it a go. I took it out and it was so easy to stand up on and paddle and since then I’ve gotten more into it, so whenever I get back home I take that out or take out a long board. Long boarding is like standing up on a table – you can’t go wrong. Sometimes I paddle out and just lie on the board in the sun. I just love being out in the water. I’ve sort of overcome my fear of sharks, and you know what, I don’t mind if I get taken by a shark.
JS—It’s a pretty grand way to go!
MS—It’d probably be good for publicity for you guys as well.
JS—Yeah, sell a few more albums. That’s the plan… and then reappear as a mermaid 10 years later.
MS—You sound like you’re pretty connected to the ocean and when I listen to your music I get a sense that your surroundings play a big part in your music. Would you say Australia plays a big part in it or is it natural beauty as a whole?
JS—I think everything plays a part in the music and it’s really hard to be analytical about it. We have a real love of nature – it’s the easiest thing to call beautiful because even in the state the world is in you can look at a tree in the middle of a city and appreciate its beauty. One of my favourite places we toured to in the States was Colorado; I really loved the mountains. Some places it can be other things that inspire us like beautiful old wooden houses. We have a real sense of adventure and grew up in a family that was always travelling and moving about.
The songs and the writing happens all over the place and from all different sources of inspiration. It can be a combination of a place, a person and then the emotions that you’re going through in relation to those things. And then there’s the people around you who you’re leaving with and the lover you’ve left at home and the fact it’s your mom’s birthday next week and you’re not going to be there.
A lot of our inspiration goes back to when we were kids. Our grandparents were farmers as well, so we spent a lot of time out in rural Australia. Our grandpa was a crazy storyteller – the best grandpa you could ever want. He used to take us on his adventures through the bush and he would say, “Let’s just go for a walk and see where we turn up.” And we’d all troop through the bush with gumboots on and we’d see snakes and he’d throw little coins in the river when we weren’t looking and then shout, “Look what the pirates have left here! Treasure!” and we’d all be in a total world of fantasy where there were wars waging between the koalas and the wallabies. Everything felt so mystical and magical and I still feel like everything is a little bit of an adventure. And I think we try and remind each other of that as well.
MS—When I listen to your songs I’m taken on a fantastical adventure. Knowing about your childhood gives a lot of context to your music.
JS—This is the first interview that I have ever spoken about my grandpa before in this way. I’ve never thought about that aspect of us growing up because I normally talk about my dad, because he was such a big influence, musically – he played in a band, he was our music teacher, he was our school band conductor – and then our mom was into cabaret. So I always talk about them and how they gave us the tools to play music, but I think our grandparents, especially grandpa, he was such a big part in the fantastical, the wanderlust of life, to be engaged in the possibility that anything could happen.
MS—Even though your music is technically really amazing it also has this innocence underneath it…
JS—I really like that because sometimes I feel like I’m trying to explain why we make music or how we make music and I really don’t know the answer. We just do it because it feels like we have to, and it’s very normal. But there is a practical side to how we come to make music and that requires practice and lessons and listening to the form and structure of music to be able to make a song but then there’s this whole other element that you just don’t know why it is the way it is, it just is.
MS—I also read that you write individually – how do you and your brother make the songs both of yours? Is that difficult?
JS—I think it’s something that takes a bit of time. Angus will sing a song he’s written to me and I don’t think he cares what I think but I don’t think he’s ever played a song that I haven’t had an emotional response to. And then I’ll ask him to play it again, and then again. And then I start to sing some parts, and we play it in a sound check, and I sing some more or put a bit of guitar on or play some piano with it, and over time it starts to become more like our song. If the song has come from him, I never feel like it’s mine, but I feel like it becomes more ours over time because of the united experience of playing it. Even when our songs are recorded in the studio they are still very much my songs and his songs. We write that all the stuff is ours and put them on the record together because that’s the way we perform them but I think we are still very separate in so many ways.
MS—Because you both have your own projects is it hard to decide which songs you are going to do together? Would you ever say, “I want to keep this one,” or “You can’t have that one”?
JS—Not yet! Hopefully it doesn’t unfold like that. When we make a record there are always too many songs, so we try and cut back to six songs each. There’s no real process of deciding what gets put on the album and what gets put on our solo records – we don’t actually talk about any of that shit. We just get in there, we record, and whatever ends up working together we put on a record. It all happens pretty much without much communication. Angus and I are not the most communicative people. A lot of the time we’re making jokes and being total fuckwits. We don’t sit down and have big chats about the next record or our solo projects. It’s funny, Angus didn’t hear my solo record until it was being printed and I hadn’t heard any of the songs from his solo record – we did them totally separately and then I hear it and I’m like, “Oh my God, it’s really great.” We don’t talk; we just hang out and do stuff.
MS—I read you went to South America together?
JS—It was so amazing. It’s dense forest and there are crocodiles everywhere. At that time the guitar was a new thing for me. I’d just bought it because I wanted to start learning. So we’re in the middle of the jungle with this guitar and Angus was playing us these songs he’d been writing. I hadn’t really been around him that much for the last couple of years – once I finished school I moved in with my boyfriend and Angus was off surfing and skating – and all of a sudden we’re in the middle of the jungle and he’s singing these songs that are so beautiful so I asked him to teach me some songs and that was the start of learning guitar and our friendship, I suppose, and the start of us having this amazing experience. We had this guide in his twenties who spoke six different languages, and he knew so much about the jungle, it was incredible. And we were on malaria tablets, which are pretty wild, so you’re having the weirdest dreams. It was really cool.
MS—Do you have any plans after the tour – is there another album coming?
JS—We’ve been playing new songs in the sets and we’re always writing. We’ve got a couple of weeks off in Australia before the summer festival season and the band is coming out from New York for New Year’s in Australia, so we figured we may as well get into a studio and record some of the stuff we’ve been playing live. I think it depends how we feel at the end of touring, because we’ve kind of got plans up until May next year. I think we’re doing another European tour in April. If we’re feeling like we want to keep touring then we’ll put out another record, and if we don’t we might just take some time and try and find a home somewhere to have space for a while and sleep in the same bed for a few nights.
MS—Do you see yourself doing this music thing for the rest of your life?
JS—I think I’ll always play music, but I don’t know about this whole rest-of-the-life thing. I’m not good at committing to things beyond little periods of time. I think, for now at least, we’ll be doing it for a while. I really enjoy doing this. I love being on the road; I love hanging out with Angus; I really like being around the people we tour with and the friendships that form being on the road. I feel like at the moment I could do it forever, but I could just as easily see myself curling up in a little log cabin somewhere and making lots of babies and growing my own vegetables and doing something totally opposite. I have no idea. I don’t know where this path is going and I’m OK with that. It makes me happy now.