Angus & Julia Stone: „We are kinder to ourselves than we used to be“

It is always lovely to have Angus and Julia Stone around. It’s a few weeks before the release of their new album „Cape Forestier“. They’ve come to Berlin to visit their label and, while they’re here, to play a little showcase that ends up morphing from a tiny office performance into a proper gig with almost 200 people in attendance. Considering the long journey the two had to make from their home in Australia, having them over here feels all the more special. The affection is obviously mutual – the two like to emphasise, how much they love Europe and how appreciated they feel over here. 

We talk about the new album, which seems to radiate more unity and love than any of the siblings‘ previous releases. But we also discuss the aftermath of the pandemic, which was experienced so differently in Europe and Australia, and, while we’re on the subject of Australia, crazy animals!

Much love for you coming all the way over here. It’s so far away!

Julia: Have you been to Australia? 

No, never! 

Julia: It’s a big journey. It’s amazing that people used to do it on boats.

Angus: What would it take, two months? 

Julia: Two months or something from Europe, yeah. Back in those days it would have been no motors, just sailing, so it would have been dependent on the wind, hoping you’d get some backwind. Our great-grandparents came out from Venice in Italy to Australia in the forties. And then our great-great-grandparents on our father’s side came out from Scotland. I mean, most white Australians are European descendant. So yeah, weird journeys back then. 

When we talked during the pandemic, it seemed so far away. And we were in such different situations. In Australia you were doing big events, when we still had nothing. You opened up much earlier, but you closed down again a couple of times. Thinking back, I’m still wondering which approach was harder?

Julia: Yeah. I guess it’s different for different people. I was in Melbourne which was one of the most highly regulated cities in the world. For me these little windows of freedom were amazing. I know what you’re saying, maybe it’s better not to have the hope of freedom and then take it away, but I loved those moments where everyone was allowed to go out and go to the beach. It was really special. I even did some gigs in those little gaps. Everybody was separated. You know those strange shows where you had all the chairs apart. You could only play to 50 people in a thousand seat venue or something. It was just so nice, to be with people. 

Angus: Was Berlin quite locked down? 

I remember going for walks with my husband: it was like a dystopian movie. You could walk along all those touristy spots and there was nobody out in the streets. 

Angus: Were the police patrolling?

Yeah, sometimes. I don’t know what we will think about all this in the far future. 

Julia: So strange. It’s interesting to think now, what if it happens again. Of course a pandemic is right around the corner, somebody just was diagnosed with bird flu. What it will be we don’t know, but how will humanity respond this time to the restrictions, knowing what we know now? It’s gonna be interesting. It’s almost like the governments had their one shot and had to do it. It is just a matter of time until the next virus comes around. I mean, I’m not a conspiracy theorist and I hope it doesn’t happen. But with this many humans in a warming climate, it’s like a virus petri dish. 

But how was life for the two of you? It’s so beautiful: you both do your solo stuff, but you always get back together again (Julia laughs). We just talked about it: none of us could do something like that with their siblings! 

Julia: Well, when we started, I guess we couldn’t really imagine it either. It wasn’t like a dream for us, we just started to work together and it happened. I think like all families, at the start it was really challenging. You have all those patterns and things you grew up with and you have to work through that. I think we’re so proud of the fact that we keep getting through to another level of a relationship. Now we are really good communicators. We talk openly about what we need and how we feel. But it’s taken time. Family is a very unique dynamic. It’s a great thing, but it’s also challenging because of the honesty and the history. I don’t know. I think we keep coming back together because we have space. We need that space. We know when it’s time to go off and be on our own adventures. All relationships need that air. And then you’re like: Oh, I miss you! (to Angus) You missed me, didn’t you? (laughs)

What tipped it off this time? How did this album start?

Angus: What tipped it off? Do you know?

Julia: Angus reckons I texted him (laughs).

Angus: I had Dope Lemon and Julia was doing her solo „Sixty Summers“. To be creative you have to have that urge to want to be in a room together and make something special again. I think it just happened naturally. We got together. We did one song, and if the one song is strong enough, it becomes the catalyst for the growth of an album. And it’s cool when it happens like that, because it means something’s potent enough for you to follow through. It’s hard to always know the origin of what it is. But if anything you could put it down to the essence of a feeling that the time has come… 

Julia: …to embark on a path, yeah. 

You have your own studio now, where you recorded the album…

Julia: Angus has an amazing studio, Sugar Cane Mountain Studios. Angus bought this amazing old seventies place, overlooking the sugar cane fields and the mountains, up in New South Wales. It’s like this amazing time capsule, completely pristine seventies home, and he’s turned it into an incredible recording studio. He did some Dope Lemon records there, and then I went up to see the studio and we started writing some stuff. So some of this record started at Sugar Cane Mountain. Which was really cool, because it’s so beautiful, like a tropical paradise. I think at the end of the day, every place, every space has the opportunity for music to come out of it. We are big believers of: you can write a song in a hotel room or backstage, it doesn’t matter where. There are songs everywhere. But it’s nice to be in an environment like that, because there are stories floating around the walls. The wallpaper and the carpet, they are all telling stories. If you listen, you can hear them. It’s sort of in the record, that house. 

Julia, I remember you telling me about that beautiful farm house Angus owns.

Julia: Yeah, it’s an old cottage, where we made our album „Snow“. That’s a bit more lo-fi. 

Angus: It’s all run off solar panels, sustainable from the sun and its own water tanks. That has its difficulties, but it was cool to know we were creating in the elements, with energy being provided in that way. 

Julia: It’s really in the wild. I remember we were listening to a song, figuring out what lyric goes where, and then Angus took off his headphones and was like: „There’s a snake in the kitchen…“

I have to admit, Australia sounds like an amazing country, but you have all these crazy animals! Are you just chill with that?

Angus: It depends where you are. If there’s one in the house, it’s not very relaxing. Especially when you find a snakeskin under your bed, it’s very unnerving. If you find a certain type of skin and it’s a bad one to have in the house… but if it’s a python, then it’s fine. People ask the question a lot in Europe, about the animals. It’s more just being aware of your environment. You don’t walk in long grass or walk off the trail too much. It’s cool because you have more of an awareness of your and their playground. It’s the same with the animals in the ocean. Jumping off the boat out at seas is risky, I don’t know how people do it. I don’t do that. I’ll do it in the bay, where it’s quiet. But you have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. No one has to worry, it’s all good. It’s very rare, it’s like getting hit by lightning. 

Julia: I think it’s the same amount of people that die from snake bites in Australia that die from lightning. And there’s anti-venoms. Angus got bitten one night… do you remember that spider? 

Angus: Yeah. I went to buy a pizza at the farm. I drove down and it was pouring rain. I got out of the car and the pizza man was at the gate. It’s one of those old cattle gates you got to run down and open up. He handed me the pizza and I was running back in the dark. I wasn’t wearing any shoes and suddenly something bit me on the foot and it hurt so much. I jumped back in the car and I was driving up to my house on the hill, it was just hurting and hurting. I was like, „It’s okay, I’ll eat the pizza and if it’s still there I’ll go to the hospital“. And it got really bad. I couldn’t breathe – whatever it was was starting to stop my heartbeat. It was pretty scary. So they put me in an ambulance and took me to the snake unit in the hospital and injected me with a bunch of stuff. They didn’t fully know what it was, but they thought it was something bad, so they had to try a bunch of things. But it was okay. 

I love how chilled you are saying all this! „Yeah, it was pretty bad…“

Angus: It wasn’t fun, to be fair. It wasn’t the best night (laughs)

So, tell me. After so many years of working together, what is special to you about this album?

Julia: I feel like for me the thing that makes this record special is the ease with which it was made. I know it sounds kinda cheesy, but it felt like it wanted to be made. Some records, it’s not like it’s hard work, it’s really fun work, but with some parts of this record, everything felt like it was so smooth, to make choices and try things. We were both showing up in this way that was really just open; it felt like all ideas were working. So for me this record is special because I think it represents, at least symbolically, this kind of place in our lives where things were getting… I don’t want to say comfortable, because things are always hard and changing in your life. But there’s something about self acceptance, that now feels now really clear in me. And I can feel it in Angus. I think we are kinder to ourselves than we used to be. And that’s a really big and important change for us, for me. 

How do you start writing a song? Do you come up with an idea and then just jam along to it?

Angus: You know those Magic 8 Balls that you shake, that spin? Sometimes you do that, you ask that Magic 8 Ball a question. I think it changes. Like each conversation changes, like your moods. The seasons can affect the way you are feeling through the day. It’s the same with songwriting. If you let go and don’t force anything, you’ll get something. In your subconscious that would be something you need to say to yourself or to express. Those moments are when you find really cool bits of treasures, which become songs. 

May I say what I find special? The way your voices come together, how one of you leads a song, then the other leads a song, then you both sing together. That’s absolutely mesmerizing on this album. Especially when you are both singing together. 

Julia: Thank you! Yeah, it’s quite a balanced record like that. I was looking at it, and there are three songs with Angus leading, four with me leading and five of us singing together. It felt really even. And it felt like really easy to know who needed to tell the story. „My Little Anchor“ was a good one, because it started off as me leading the song, and it was so clear when Angus started singing, that it was actually meant for him to sing. It’s one of my favourite songs, it’s so beautiful. And again, I think this is where we’re at. There’s no ego, I don’t care if I sing it or if he sings it. We would both just want the song to be the best song it can be. It doesn’t matter how we get there. So thank you for saying that.