Play­ing it cool

On the eve of their fourth record, sib­lings An­gus and Ju­lia Stone talk about what it took to bring them back to­gether for an­other round of mu­sic-mak­ing

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy TIM HUNTER Styling GEMMA KEIL Art Di­rec­tion LIANA SHAW-TAY­LOR In­ter­view KATHY MCCABE

Ahead of the re­lease of An­gus & Ju­lia Stone’s fourth al­bum and a na­tional tour, the mu­sic duo from Syd­ney re­flect on how a cou­ple of mishaps on the ski slopes proved serendip­i­tous to their ca­reers.

If it weren’t for snow, there may not be An­gus & Ju­lia Stone. Of course, this sounds pe­cu­liar given the tal­ented brother-and-sis­ter mu­si­cal duo hail from Syd­ney’s North­ern Beaches, a post­code that’s syn­ony­mous with long, lazy days spent on golden sands and in azure swell.

Mu­sic was al­ready stamped on the fam­ily DNA, courtesy of the folk-mu­sic past of their par­ents, Kim and John. Yet it was an ac­ci­dent on the slopes that served as the real cat­a­lyst for An­gus to start writ­ing songs. As a teenager, he broke bones and buck­led mus­cles dur­ing his snow­board­ing ad­ven­tures; bedrid­den and bored, he be­gan to un­leash the tal­ent that would even­tu­ally turn him and his sis­ter into the in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised folk/ pop phe­nom­e­non they have be­come over the past decade.

“Yeah, I’ve had a few falls… well, ac­ci­dents,” An­gus tells Stel­lar. “And in the very be­gin­ning, it was se­ri­ous. That first time, I banged my­self up pretty bad and was on the couch for a long time. [But] it was kind of a bless­ing, ly­ing around, in­ter­nal­is­ing and get­ting to write po­etry and start­ing to write songs.” It was ul­ti­mately, he says, “a good time”.

An­gus, now 31, may have honed his skills off the back of this icy ac­ci­dent. But the first time Ju­lia – older by two years – truly heard her brother’s prodi­gious tal­ent was in the steamy hu­mid iso­la­tion of the Ama­zo­nian jun­gle. “My boyfriend at the time and I were do­ing a trek and An­gus was there be­cause Mum thought it would be a new ad­ven­ture for him. He was still in high school,” she re­calls.

“He was sit­ting by him­self play­ing gui­tar, think­ing no one was watch­ing him, and I will never for­get hear­ing him and think­ing, ‘What the hell? He is just so amaz­ing.’ I was gen­uinely sur­prised… I knew he sang, but I didn’t re­ally care! I was busy with my life. This was the first time I recog­nised this true gift – and he was stand­ing right next to me.”

That light­ning-bolt mo­ment was the start of some­thing spe­cial. The pair be­gan per­form­ing to­gether in 2006 and have since cre­ated three EPS, three stu­dio al­bums and a hand­ful of live re­leases. In 2010, they topped Triple J’s Hottest 100 count­down with their hit ‘Big Jet Plane’. In their 10 years as a per­form­ing duo, there have also been sep­a­ra­tions for solo ex­plo­rations and or­ches­trated re­unions. Now comes their fourth al­bum, the aptly ti­tled Snow.

As with his first mu­si­cal mus­ings, the ge­n­e­sis of the new record came when An­gus stacked it on the slopes. The sib­lings had agreed to en­ter­tain a few un­ex­pected ex­pe­ri­en­tial gigs last year, as An­gus had booked out the sec­ond half of 2016 in de­vo­tion to his hip­pie folk-rock project Dope Lemon. Then he and Ju­lia were in­vited to per­form at a bou­tique fes­ti­val in Zer­matt, Switzer­land, in the shadow of the mighty Mat­ter­horn. The of­fer came with the promise of a week’s worth of ski­ing af­ter their show. They said yes.

The pair mar­velled at the won­der of the snow-capped moun­tains as they were air­lifted by heli­copter to the peak of leg­endary sum­mits to ride the deep, vir­gin pow­der back down. Then An­gus ended up in­jur­ing him­self on one of the runs, bust­ing his leg to the ex­tent he wound up in hos­pi­tal – where he started writ­ing songs again.

While in­ca­pac­i­ta­tion proved to be the mother of mu­si­cal in­ven­tion, the con­tin­uum of An­gus & Ju­lia Stone as a mu­si­cal en­tity is due to leg­endary Amer­i­can pro­ducer and hit-maker Rick Ru­bin. It was Ru­bin, con­duc­tor of cre­ative re­nais­sances for ev­ery­one from Johnny Cash and Neil Di­a­mond to Me­tal­lica and Adele, who brought the brother and sis­ter back to­gether about four years ago. At the time, it ap­peared they were all but done as a per­form­ing duo.

Af­ter their sec­ond solo al­bums came out in 2012 – her By The Horns and his Bro­ken Brights – Ru­bin in­sisted that they at­tempt to write to­gether for their epony­mous third record, re­leased in 2014. The pair had spent their early years writ­ing separately be­fore gen­er­ally record­ing and per­form­ing their in­di­vid­ual com­po­si­tions in stu­dio and on­stage.

While those ini­tial ses­sions at Ru­bin’s green juice and yoga stu­dio re­treat in Mal­ibu, Cal­i­for­nia, bore enough fruit for the last record, the Stones’s col­lab­o­ra­tions on their new al­bum boast su­per­charged mo­ments of more force­ful mu­si­cal magic.

“We knew some­thing had changed be­cause of Rick, and that was ac­tu­ally writ­ing to­gether for the first time,” An­gus ex­plains. “On that [last] record with Rick, we did it with maybe three or four songs. This time around, we did it for the whole record.”

Snow was made in Be­la­fonte, the name of the cot­tage stu­dio on An­gus’s farm in the By­ron Bay hin­ter­land in north­ern New South Wales. With trusted mu­si­cian and tech­ni­cal al­lies hang­ing out on the prop­erty, songs be­gan as evening jams af­ter ev­ery­one en­joyed a de­li­cious or­ganic spread of lo­cal pro­duce and the req­ui­site tum­blers of wine.

Soon the sib­lings were alone in their cre­ative cave, Ju­lia tak­ing over some of the usu­ally male-dom­i­nated en­gi­neer­ing du­ties be­cause she had be­come pro­fi­cient at the tech­nol­ogy, but more im­por­tantly be­cause she un­der­stood her brother’s psy­chic short­hand and how to trans­late it.

“I guess it’s like any part­ner­ship, busi­ness or re­la­tion­ship,” shrugs An­gus. “You are con­stantly learn­ing the dance of know­ing when to step back or take the lead in the case of a song you are strong-headed about and can see where it’s sup­posed to go.

“I think mak­ing those choices in that mo­ment is re­ally crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of the song. Some­times you want to both be there and fully be fo­cused to­gether and some­times, yeah, you sit back. It’s a dance.”

If cre­ative claus­tro­pho­bia reared its head, or the sib­lings needed space from each other, they would take time out for a beach break or sim­ply re­lax on one of the old so­fas con­ve­niently placed around the prop­erty.

Liv­ing in each other’s pock­ets dur­ing their twen­ties was like be­ing in a pres­sure cooker. Back then, they needed to go their own ways to recharge.

“It’s like any part­ner­ship, you are con­stantly learn­ing when to step back or take the lead”

Now age, ex­pe­ri­ence and in­tu­ition have re­duced the need to walk on eggshells around each other.

“Cre­at­ing from a safe space of rel­a­tive peace is al­ways eas­ier, and a more en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence than from hos­til­ity and ten­sion,” Ju­lia says. “We are still peo­ple who have mo­ments, and I think we have got very good at know­ing when those mo­ments are start­ing to feel like ‘I need space’ or ‘time for a swim at the beach.’”

By virtue of their mu­si­cally en­hanced beach­side up­bring­ing, the Stones are in­evitable heirs to hip­piedom. And they make no apolo­gies for their post-mil­len­nial mel­low. Watch­ing Ju­lia lan­guidly float her limbs and twirl dur­ing the var­i­ous set-ups of Stel­lar’s photo shoot calls to mind a young Ste­vie Nicks. Her brother is usu­ally a more re­luc­tant sub­ject of the cam­era’s lens. Yet on this day he as­sumes his in­nate ami­a­bil­ity, and even shyly asks the stylist if he can buy one of the shirts from the rack.

Con­sid­er­ing their ad­mirable ac­com­plish­ments, mea­sured by the multi-plat­inum plaques scat­tered in re­spec­tive fam­ily homes and the five mil­lion fans who log on and stream their mu­sic each month, An­gus and Ju­lia are de­void of the diva de­mands of their pop-star peers.

But they do still love mis­chief, as ev­i­denced by the evo­lu­tion of their back­stage re­quests for gigs. “We have had some pretty in­cred­i­ble in­car­na­tions of the rider. I re­mem­ber one tour all we drank was sake. Af­ter six weeks of sake, you re­ally don’t like sake any­more,” Ju­lia says.

An­gus then lists a nau­se­at­ing col­lec­tion of pre-con­cert con­coc­tion themes in­clud­ing a Frangelico tour, a Jäger­meis­ter tour and a Guin­ness tour. “Our band now is pretty chilled and whiskey is pretty con­sis­tently on there. It’s medic­i­nal. We all have a lit­tle whiskey, cheers.”

On the mu­sic front, the sto­ries be­hind the tales on Snow are equal parts com­pelling and hyp­notic. The track ‘Sylvester Stal­lone’ bor­rows its ti­tle from a lyric about a lover slurring their speech af­ter too many drinks. ‘Chateau’ will be fa­mil­iar to those ed­u­cated in the folk­lore of Hol­ly­wood’s star-stud­ded ho­tel haunt Chateau Mar­mont. And ‘Sleep Alone’ be­gan as a “speed-date” song­writ­ing ses­sion with a DJ who they refuse to name.

“This DJ was hi­lar­i­ous; he skolled a huge can of en­ergy drink and then fell asleep on the couch. We kept work­ing,” An­gus says. “It was a stupid song, some dumb pro­grammed beat. It was just sloppy so we de­cided, ‘let’s f*ck that off.’” Still, he notes, “The lyrics of the song were re­ally good, so we moved that part of it over to our record.”

Ju­lia may have been the first to recog­nise the po­ten­tial power of their duo, but it is An­gus who now ap­pre­ci­ates the artis­tic free­dom of their unique col­lab­o­ra­tion. “It’s the same thing in the stu­dio as it is on­stage,” he says. “Stand­ing back and watch­ing Ju­lia write and cre­ate is a beau­ti­ful thing. It’s watch­ing some­one be free, let­ting that magic flow from them.”

Yet, as with any brother and sis­ter, the el­dest of the pair will have the fi­nal say: “There’s this sense of won­der­ment you have grown in life with some­one who con­tin­ues to sur­prise you.” Snow is re­leased on Septem­ber 15 ahead of a na­tional tour start­ing Septem­ber 21; an­gu­sand­ju­lia­s­

JU­LIA WEARS By Ma­lene Birger top and skirt, (02) 9328 9755; Prada shoes, ves­tiarec­ol­lec­ AN­GUS WEARS his own cloth­ing Sofa from Free­dom, free­ Rugs from Cadrys,

PLAY­ING IT COOL (from top) As pho­tographed for Stel­lar; An­gus & Ju­lia Stone per­form­ing at Bass In The Grass in Dar­win in 2016; hit­ting the slopes in the moun­tain re­sort town of Zer­matt in south­ern Switzer­land in April last year. JU­LIA WEARS Zim­mer­mann dress, zim­mer­man­; her own rings

AN­GUS WEARS Levi’s jacket, au; his own cloth­ing HAIR AND MAKE-UP Char­lie Kielty us­ing NARS @ Mecca Cos­met­ica

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