An early Angus & Julia Stone interview
Sydney’s Angus & Julia Stone (seen here at Sydney’s Great Escape festival) are sitting in the lounge of their London home shortly before they return to Australia, hearing for the first time the final mix of The Beast, the lead single to be lifted from their album. Angus, who is equally genial and shy, smiles satisfactorily at what emanates from the stereo. Something of a departure from their earlier work, the track is intricate and upbeat, showing confidence and growth while retaining the innocence and charm of their previous recordings. It is a theme which carries through their dazzlingly beautiful debut long-player, A Book Like This.
“It feels like we’ve been forever waiting to put this album out,” Julia tells me. “We’ve had all these songs that we enjoy playing live and it’s been annoying not to be able to just give them to people, so it’s very relieving to finally put the record out. Now we can start doing new stuff. Moving forward is a lovely feeling.”
In keeping with the warm, gentle and honest acoustic music that they purvey, the Sydneysiders are two of the friendliest people you could possibly hope to encounter and, while sharing her younger brother’s amiability, Julia is talkative and outgoing with an impish wit which perfectly compliments Angus’ quieter nature. It is a pleasing dynamic, and these nuances shine through in their songs, which they create completely independently of each other. On the album, which was lovingly crafted with the help of their good friend Fran Healy from Travis, there are seven of Angus’ songs and six of Julia’s. “We write totally separately,” Julia confirms. “The creation of the songs exists in Angus’ room downstairs or in my room upstairs. We’re never together when that happens. The collaboration comes during the production side of things. So, with The Beast, Angus said, ‘Here’s a song that I’ve written.’ Then we played it and the week after that we recorded it. All the songs for the album were recorded pretty much the first or second time the band played them.”
|Julia soundchecking in Hoxton, London|
This leads me to ask if there are ever family arguments when either of them doesn’t like the other’s new ditty. “We tell each other we’re rubbish in a lot of other things,” she laughs. “But fortunately there’s never been a time when Angus has played me a song and I’ve felt like I’ve needed to say, ‘This is terrible, what are you doing?’ I’m always very inspired by him. It’s nice to be playing music and creating music where the focus isn’t only on yourself.”
While we chat, Julia busily sifts through potential press photos, sorts out album artwork and plans video shoots. The duo clearly have a DIY ethic, and the length of Julia’s ‘to do’ list makes me wonder if being so hands-on ever feels laborious, and whether they’d rather focus solely on making music. “It’s such a frantic life but it’s not laborious at all actually,” she says. “I think women are very good at multi-tasking, so I enjoy having about ten different things to do. For us it’s just life now; none of it is horrible and it’s never an effort. Every single part of it has been fun and if it wasn’t fun then we wouldn’t do it.”
As their star ascends, life does indeed seem to be fun for the unassuming duo. Having long-since won plenty of hearts in their homeland (indicated by an astonishing performance at Sydney’s Great Escape festival, where a fervent crowd hollered along to every song), Angus and Julia have spent much of the past 12 months living in England. During that time they’ve extensively toured the UK, gained plenty of new fans through triumphant festival appearances and played support slots with the likes of The Magic Numbers. “You forget how much stuff has gone on, then all of a sudden you start talking about it and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, everything has been so cool and everyone is so lovely.’ I’m so excited by my life at the minute,” Julia beams.
|Julia and Angus onstage in Shepherds Bush, London|
Judging by the number of sold-out shows the band played across the Britain, relocating was clearly a good career move and, while it wasn’t something they’d particularly planned, Julia explains that it was an opportunity that they grabbed with both hands when it presented itself. “I suppose England has become a bit of a second home now. London is a place where we can live with a sense of freedom. We grew up in an amazing place, but you are always so bound by where you live. I particularly felt like I needed to grow a bit. England has been good because we didn’t know anybody when we arrived, so everything started anew.”
The night before they head back to Australia to embark on their nationwide tour, Angus and Julia step offstage at London’s Bush Hall, smiling from ear to ear as another full house demands an encore following a majestic delivery of their new material. “I think it’s strange that people anywhere want to come and watch us play,” Julia says modestly when I ask her about the UK’s enthusiastic reaction towards them. “I think it’s strange that people from where we’re from want to come and see us. As much as we enjoy playing music – and we love to do it whether we are onstage or at home – you wonder why people would want to pay money out of their hard-earned salaries to come and watch us. It’s unusual that it happens at home and it’s unusual that it happens here. It’s altogether unusual,” she chuckles.“I suppose if we really think about it, it’s to do with the fact that cultural boundaries are no longer identified through geographic borders,” she suggests. “Australia isn’t so different from England which isn’t so different from America. It’s all homogenised. You just play music and, whether you are German, Polynesian or American, you can enjoy it. The world is down to people’s human emotions and what they are going through rather than where they’re from.”
With their upcoming dates selling-out fast, it seems there are certainly plenty of people willing to dip into their hard-earned wages to watch Sydney’s favourite siblings perform. To be honest, it’s hardly surprising that they are so well-loved. After all, anyone who has ever experienced the breathless joy and the heartbreaking agony of love cannot fail to be touched by the wonderful stories that Angus and Julia Stone tell.
Words and pictures by Bobby Townsend