CLOSE TO US
Ahead of their gig at Night Quarter this weekend, Safia’s Ben Woolner talks tribal tones, being spooky and going mainstream
SAFIA ON WHY THEIR QUIRKS WON’T FADE FOR ANYONE
You waited a while to make your first album. Tell us a bit about it. There are songs on there that were ideas from before we were even Safia, like a silly idea that we never thought we’d put out but they stuck with us. There’s a lot of raw energy and raw ideas that we thought were really unique and cool, so we wanted to do them justice and make them into something real. The first song on the album, “Zion”, was from about four or five years ago, then “External” was the last song that was written and the last track, so in a way the album is a bit of a journey through our musical timelines. “Zion” has quite a strong indigenous influence. Why did you decide to incorporate those sounds? There’s something about tribal and indigenous music – it’s so raw and the energy is amazing. The first incarnation of “Zion” didn’t have the didgeridoo, but Michael (Bells, the group’s drummer) plays a bit and we just love that sound. It’s one of the coolest sounding instruments in that it’s monotone but still somehow has this energy.
“Zion” is also a representation of us as producers as it starts simple, slowly moves into a more modern sound and flips into a chaotic electric sound halfway through. It really showcases what we like doing with organic, recognisable sounds and mixing it with modern, twisted, digital sounds. What do you think people like about your sound? You have people who prefer the poppy stuff or clubby stuff but we can make it sound weird and different and make it stand out. We like making music that will get a reaction – like with “Counting Sheep”, it’s very different to other songs you’d hear on the radio and when people hear it we want them to notice it – whether the reaction is positive or negative we just want to evoke a response. Have you played on the coast before? No, my only experience of the GC was when we were all 18 and went for Harry’s birthday about six years ago. It was fun. We had a room at the Marriott and we fit eight people in a room for two because we were broke kids. We went to some very terrible clubs, which were great at the time. I went to a bird park that was fun, I’d definitely do that again. We’re all excited to play at NightQuarter though – food and wine and cheese are all of our favourite things. I’ve always thought you guys have a bit of a spooky vibe, lots of deep growls and distortions. Where does that come from? A lot of the lyrics when we write a song are very visual, as in a lot of the time we imagine a scenario that plays out as we hear the music. Sometimes that’s what triggers lyrical themes, like a visual tapestry that goes with the words. “Close To You” definitely fits within that creepy narrative – the album demonstrates it, we call it “creepy wonky”. It’s really strange, you wouldn’t hear it on commercial radio. Sometimes we think we’re too weird... You had a run-in with Ariana Grande last year when it was alleged she plagiarised your “You Are the One” film clip. What happened there? Nothing really, it was all a bit tongue-in-cheek. You can’t really do anything about that. It was funny though, we knew nothing would come of it but it made massive news – she stayed out of it but her fans didn’t. It’s an interesting thing – having a billion 12-year-olds abusing you for accusing her. They wanted blood. I’m lucky that happened early on because it really showed us the depth of social media. What songs from the new album are you most excited to play live? “Go to Waste” is going to be fun to play live because it’s a slower but epic ballad, it’ll translate really well. “Make Them Wheels Roll” is one that’s been around for a while and we still haven’t gotten sick of it, so I’m excited to play that for people. You’ve found much of your success via alternative streams, though you did collaborate with Peking Duk. What happens if you go mainstream? Is that something you want or would rather avoid? If the music crosses over we’ll embrace it, but we’ll never change the way we write for a commercial audience. We’ll keep writing weird and wonky. Safia, NightQuarter, Saturday
Electro indie three-piece Safia formed in Canberra and list Purity Ring and Major Lazer among their influences.