It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon the day after Splendour In The Grass and Angus Stone and his band are playing songs from his new album ‘Broken Brights’ on his friend’s back porch in Byron Bay. There’s a picnic spread of snacks and beers, a friendly dog playing fetch beneath our feet and hippie chicks dancing to the music (oh, and this guy).
As album launches go, it's pretty unique but then again Angus, one half of ARIA Award-winning duo Angus & Julia Stone, has always done things differently. In the broad landscape of Australian music, he’s been the shaggy, tripped-out troubadour, blissfully out of time and place with music's current fads and fashions. And yet, his stirring desert-folk tales have struck a resounding chord with fans who recently propelled ‘Broken Brights’ to number two on the ARIA charts last month.
The morning after his backyard bash, I meet Angus at his newly-bought farm fifteen minutes out of Byron. In person, he's affable, surprisingly candid and extremely chilled-out, not so much shy as choosing his words carefully. A starry-eyed dreamer sure but one that's also driven and deeply committed to his craft.
With his bushy beard and uncombed hair, today he looks more like a bushranger than a rockstar as he gives me a tour. At 120 acres, the secluded property is huge, sporting a big farm shed (where he lives in a converted loft), thirty cows, an old caravan and only generator-powered electricity. “It can get a bit spooky out here at night, but you get used to it,” he says with a grin as we walk out into a random field to chat.
You christened your new solo album on the weekend. How did it feel?
There was a lot of emotion there. Just a feeling of change… I’m playing out with a new band that I’ve pieced together from all around. I’m also proud. I feel like I’m stretching my wings out, being alone again. Once you start playing, it all makes sense though.
I imagine being in a band with your sister got pretty comfortable.
When I was with Julia, I felt almost like I was looking from the outside in, as one of the crowd because Julia would start playing a song and I’d walk off and pour myself a drink and just kick back. I really like that element… it’s just really free.
How did you find your new band?
I grew up with Rohin Brown the guitarist. He’s an old friend who lived a couple of doors down. It’s great to have him on tour, we can get a bit stupid. Matt Johnson is from Queens, New York. He used to drum for Jeff Buckley. He plays in Martha Wainwright’s band and I poached him.
My bassist Rob Calder’s from Indiana, Julia met him at a party in New York. Poached (laughs). Jon Solo plays keyboards, he’s from Harlem, New York, and I found him when we were touring with [Californian folkie] Brett Dennen. We used to hang out after the show and get on it.
After touring your last album with Julia, 'Down The Way', there was talk of you moving to Los Angeles. Did you?
I did, I lived there for three months in Beachwood. Right below the Hollywood sign so you’d be driving home every day and you’d see all the tourist buses driving around. So weird.
But LA didn't work out?
I think I got what I needed from it and it was good to know what it’s about and check it out. I moved to London after that and then back here. I wouldn’t say I’m permanently based anywhere, just wherever the music takes me.
There’s quite a few songs about girls and love on the album. What was happening when you were writing?
I’d been in and out of relationships, deeply in love, falling out of love – it’s all in there. Some are old memories, some are right now. Some times playing these songs, it’s really good because it takes me to where I was when I wrote it. When I sing it, I’m definitely there. I’m not fucking around.
You were dating [actress] Isabel Lucas for a while. Did she have an influence on the album?
Yeah, she was a big inspiration for the record. I was definitely starting to drift with my writing but when I met her I wanted to write for her.
Where did you meet?
We met through a friend. I used to go stay out on his farm and he knew her and one day he said ‘you know, I have this friend and I think you’d get along’ and I was like ‘cool’. We decided to meet up in Sydney and had dinner and we decided to go on a trip to California and Big Sur, where we shot the video for ‘Broken Brights’. That’s where we fell in love.
Were you worried about making something so personal so public?
No, I wouldn’t take that back. It’s a painting, it’s beautiful. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But you’re no longer together?
No. (pause) I think our worlds were pulling us in different directions. That’s how it is. Some times that how the cookie crumbles with love.
Were there particular influences you took into making the record? I can hear Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Paul Kelly in there…
Yeah I hung out with Paul Kelly [when they recorded Crowded House’s ‘Four Seasons In One Day’ for the Finn tribute He Will Have His Way’], although I think just maybe his demeanour was more inspiring. When you talk to him on the phone, he’s just collecting his thoughts and taking his time. He’s in no rush to blurt.
For me for this album, I was listening to a lot of J.J.Cale. He’s such a legend. He’s the most incredible writer. You can be there with him.
You seem so laid-back, but at the same time also appear very ambitious with your music. Is that a contradiction? What drives you?
I’m just passionate. There’s a lot of magic to be had making music and I’m constantly opening up new doorways within myself. It’s addictive. It’s like… I don’t know… an infinite romance. It helps me process things. It’s so powerful…
Is there a certain headspace you have to be in to write songs?
Sometimes I like to have a smoke and let my imagination run wild, but I think my mind already works like that but I don’t rely on anything. Some times you can mix it up, experiment with different things, and you know… that’s how you cook.
When I interviewed Julia earlier this year, she said you two started recording a third Angus & Julia album early last year. But you shelved it because it was too hard to choose just six songs each so you both decided to go solo. Is that how you felt about it?
Yeah, that was always the difficult thing, picking our favourites. It does feel like you’re a mother holding onto two children on the edge of the cliff and you have to pick one.
I think [taking a break] was also about being on the road for the last five years together and I think where you get to a point where you’re ready for a change, which is healthy.
Where are those album tracks now? Were any incorporated into your solo album?
Yeah, some of them came across, but we came close to finishing the record, which is just sleeping for now. Those songs are really cool, particularly Julia’s.
Will Angus and Julia make another record?
Yeah definitely, when the time’s right we’ll get together and start creating again for sure.
Tickets on sale now from angusstone.com
Thurs Nov 1 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW
Fri Nov 2 – Level One Newcastle Leagues, Newcastle NSW
Sat Nov 3 – Waves, Wollongong NSW
Wed Nov 7 – Great Northern, Byron Bay NSW
Fri Nov 9 – Hi Fi, Brisbane QLD
Sat Nov 10 – Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast QLD
Sun Nov 11 – Lake Kawana Community Centre, Sunshine Coast QLD
Sat Nov 17 – Perth Zoo, Perth WA
Thurs Nov 22 – Palace Theatre, Melbourne CBD, VIC
Fri Nov 23 – Ferntree Gully Hotel, Ferntree Gully, VIC
Sat Nov 24 – Pier Live, Frankston, VIC
Wed Nov 28 – Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide SA
Sat 1 Dec – Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns QLD
Sat Dec 8 – Homebake Festival 2012 – The Domain, Sydney NSW
Fri Dec 28 – Tues Jan 1 – Falls Festival, Lorne (VIC) & Marion Bay (TAS)
Jan 4 – Sat Jan 5 – Southbound Festival, Brusselton WA
Written by: Jason Treuen