Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Feature - Angus & Julia Stone

Published in The Big Issue, September 12.

A Stone's Throw

Despite its more muscular, electric sound, the record is limp. It comes from somewhere dusty that’s been abandoned, furniture covered in white sheets, without a sense of purpose or attachment. The third album to come from brother and sister indie darlings Angus and Julia Stone, it almost seems to be strained, created as it was at the behest of another.

And not just any other, but Rick Rubin, the Zen master of music, a man who’s helmed some of the most important albums of our time, from thrash classics (and rebirths) from behemoths Slayer and Metallica, to breakthrough cuts from The Beastie Boys, Run DMC and the Chili Peppers. An odd coupling for the duo from Sydney’s northern private schools, beaches and cafes? Not so much – Rubin has also worked with Brandi Carlile, The Avett Brothers, Johnny Cash. For him, it’s about music, first and foremost.

“I like all kinds of music and it’s fun to move between different styles. It keeps things interesting,” he confirms to The Big Issue via email.

And yet even under the careful eye, and ear, of one of the most lauded producers still living today, this eponymous record is timid and odd. Perhaps because it comes after a prolonged break for the Stone siblings, their last album together being 2010’s Down The Way, an album which, once finished, saw them drift apart to find their own musical selves.

“The Angus and Julia thing that happened was really unexpected, it wasn’t like a dream for us to work together, we just started working together and things started happening,” Julia Stone says. “It was really fun, and great, and we had so many good times, but we always felt like we needed to establish ourselves independently from each other.”

And so off they went, Angus releasing Broken Brights in 2012, Julia By The Horns (following on from 2010’s The Memory Machine) the same year. By Julia’s telling, they didn’t even see each other for 12 months, save for an accidental meeting on a random Parisian street. The thought of another record together just wasn’t part of what was happening, which is what makes this one seem ungainly and uncomfortable, not quite right, despite Rubin’s belief and input.

“It was definitely not on the cards to get back together, definitely not,” Stone acknowledges.

However, she had met Rubin in Los Angeles last year, striking up an unlikely friendship.

“Rick came and saw me play at the Forever Hollywood Cemetery, and I spent time with him over a couple of weeks, we’d hang out and talk,” Stone explains. “We didn’t really talk too much about music… just chatting like you’d chat with a friend. It was really nice and relaxing, I found him to be somebody really enjoyable to be around.”

“And he said to me one day, ‘I’d really like to meet your brother’, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, I guess he likes both of us, not just me’,” she laughs. “At this point, there was no talk about a record, we were just meeting him and hanging out. So Angus met him, and I was out to dinner with one of the guys who works with Rick, and I said to him, ‘What’s going on? Does Rick want to work with us separately?’

“And the guy said to me, ‘He really wants to work with the two of you together, he wants the first record he makes with you guys to be a duo record’. And I was like, wow, OK. The guy said, ‘What do you think about it?’, and I said, ‘I’ll think about it’. And that was the beginning of thinking about it, and talking about it, with Angus.”

Recording began not long afterwards, in late 2013 in Rubin’s Shangri La studios, the pair coming together for the first time, musically, in almost half a decade. “They have a natural sincerity that spoke to me as soon as I heard them,” Rubin says of the siblings. “So much emotion in the music.”

“When Angus and I started writing together in the studio… we started from scratch, writing in this new way, with electric guitars,” Stone says of how it began to form, an album which is certainly different to anything they’ve done before, regardless of whether or not it comes across as fully formed.

It wasn’t half-hearted however. Angus had gotten up to duet with Julia at her Woodford show late last year, and as she says, “When we realised we did love making music together, at that moment, we both thought this is something we have to try, it would be so silly of us to not even attempt to try something.”

And so here they are. “We’re doing really good, I think we have a lot more respect for each other than we’ve ever had,” smiles Stone. “It’s a lot more cruisey. It’s a good vibe.” If nothing else, this connection with Rubin has rekindled a spark within the Stone siblings. Perhaps their next effort together will be more considered, more of an indication of how talented they really are.

Samuel J. Fell

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