Julia Stone: „Humans are such unique creatures!“

Julia Stone’s face via Zoom on my desktop is such a lovely sight on this average morning during the global pandemic. My two kids are engaged in homeschooling in the room next door and there is a bit of sunshine outside the window, which in its promise of spring is a bit of a relief, but honestly not too much. COVID cases are still on the rise and things are not looking great at this point of the year, while Julia Stone, in her home in Melbourne, Australia, is telling me stories about a life that feels much closer to normality. Her husband, she tells me, is a jazz musician and frequently plays shows in smaller clubs. Julia also has a show scheduled shortly after our conversation, which will eventually end up being cancelled, due to a COVID outbreak. Australia is closer to normality than we are, but also much stricter in dealing with the still occurring outbreaks. 

Even via Zoom from the other side of the world, Julia Stone is glowing with this positive, loving energy she very casually radiates. It is not only visible in her appearance, but also captured sonically in her just released new solo album „Sixty Summers“, a life embracing Pop record, which invites you to dance, love and make out (a subject we will touch on during our conversation). The album was written and recorded loosely between 2015 and 2019 together with her partners in crime Thomas Bartlett and Annie Clark (St. Vincent), and it couldn’t arrive at a better time, when we are all yearning for relief, for positive vibes to stimulate the body and the brain and, of course, for summer. Julia Stone is the loveliest person to chat to, and she is also revealing some amazing things she has done, since the pandemic stopped her from touring. 

Julia: Is that your baby on the picture in the background?

That is my daughter. She’s not a baby anymore. She’s going to be 16 in summer.

Oh, wow!

See? That’s how old I am.

Well, I saw the baby and I thought you just had a baby, so that seemed very normal to me. You’re looking absolutely amazing, having a 16 year old daughter.

Awww, thank you!

How is it being a mom in COVID?

To be honest, I can’t complain. I’ve been in a relationship for 18 years now, and I think people always thought the secret to our relationship is that we hardly see each other. Now we’ve been cramped up in the apartment for the last year, four people together most of the time, and we are still doing fine. My family is a bunch of people fun to be around.

That’s really nice to hear. I know it’s hard to take a compliment, but it sounds like you and your husband have done a really amazing job. I know to some point it’s the luck of the genetic world, how your kids turn out to be, but I think a lot of it has to do with parenting and how you love your children. So the fact that your kids are fun to be around and lovely people and that you all enjoy being together in the space, that’s really nice and says a lot about you guys. 

Thank you so much! The last time we met you were in Berlin with your brother, we talked about your last album. We talked about kissing and that people tend to make out a lot at your shows.

Oh yes, I remember that! People come to shows and during certain songs will always start making out, right at the front. It’s very distracting, you don’t want to stare but you also don’t want to look away. There have been some funny moments at shows. Humans are such unique creatures! And then the whole thing of doing a concert is so strange! I love being in the audience, but I always feel so emotional being in an audience. You’re all gathered and pushed up against each other to watch this thing. You put your hands together to make a noise, to show your appreciation! I think it’s so cute. Yeah. We are a very unique species. 

So how have you been ever since? Especially the last year.

 (stops and thinks for a second) It’s been pretty good. I got married last year. We went on our honeymoon to Iceland. We came back to Australia. Actually, he came back and I stayed over in Madrid to shoot the album cover. And then I flew home and we started rehearsals for touring. We were planning on putting out „Sixty Summers“ last year. And then, of course you know, the world changed in a couple of moments, so it felt. Similar to you, my husband and I had always spent a lot of time apart. Most of the time we would see each other for a couple of weeks, then I would go away and do press or be over in LA or New York. We were apart a lot but had this enjoyment of coming back together. And then all over sudden it was every day. I must admit we definitely found it strange at first. We got to know each other in ways that sped up the process of being married. It’s been really nice. We both play music. Melbourne went very serious into lockdown quite early so we both set up studios in different rooms. He had the kitchen (laughs). We had fun! We would stay up late at night, we of course had no schedule so it didn’t matter if we went to bed at six in the morning and slept until two in the afternoon. We operated by whatever made us feel good. We were lucky as well, we made a lot of music. We got a dog… that was a real blessing! She’s so sweet. And prior to that, after I saw you, I’ve been spending some time in New York and LA, working on this record. A lot of different bits and pieces. My brother and I did some one off shows around the world, but mostly I was working on the music. And falling in love! (laughs)

But wasn’t it a real shock when tours and everything got cancelled?

I was very lucky there as well. I have a friend who is really high up in the medical world in Australia, who is very connected all around the world. I talked to her and she said: „Listen, it’s going to be like this for quite a while. It’s not gonna go away. You’re looking at not touring for at least a year, probably a couple of years.“I really believed her, and she was of course right. So straight away I started thinking what I’d do if I wouldn’t play music. I did go to university before I started touring, so I thought maybe I could study again and retrain in a different field. Then I thought, what would that be? And the thing that really struck me is that I’m always interested in talking to people and in people’s traumas and experiences. I thought the thing that I probably would be comfortable doing and hopefully be good at would be psychology. So I started looking into going to university to study psychology. I was speaking to my sister, who studies psychology and I asked her: „Do you think I would do well at that?“ And she said: „Absolutely. But before you engage in doing a six, seven year degree, maybe you should volunteer for a helpline and see how it feels to talk to people who are suffering.“ So I volunteered for an anxiety relief helpline and I got accepted and did the training during COVID. And then I started taking calls a few months ago. To me that was a real savior. I learned a lot of new skills which were really helpful in my relationship was well. How to be an active listener. I realized a lot of flaws I had in how I spoke to people and how I listened. I was somebody who was unconsciously trying to fix things instead of just listening to what was being said. The training was incredible. I also learned about suicide prevention and awareness of suicide symptoms. I felt like everybody should do this training. It was really inspiring and of course taking the calls and being there with people in difficult situations has been probably the most satisfying part of last year. I do a shift every week for four hours. I love being there for people, but it was a real life savior for me as well to be able to offer that. Feeling helpful, when you’re not necessarily feeling like you have anything to add to the world. The thing I added was singing and performing, creating that space. And now I feel there is something else I can do which is of value. 

That is amazing! I am really touched right now. That is probably the most amazing thing I heard someone doing with their new found time during COVID.

Thank you! 

But I also have to say I am not even surprised. I remember the last time I saw you and your brother live. You are a person who really loves embracing people. You are so wide open and loving on stage. And how amazing is it that you found a way of nurturing that side of you beyond your artistic impression! I am really impressed.

Thank you. I… When people say nice things about me, I get very emotional. I find it really hard. It’s not that I don’t believe what you are saying. I don’t know why, and this is something I probably need to figure out… it’s not feeling sad, it’s just this deep emotion coming up. Maybe that’s all I really want. I don’t know. There are many different ways of being there for people these days. When there is this important part of you that you can’t express, that is about to die in these times… I think a lot of people struggle who are in this world of creativity and caring and human connection. And what adds to it is that the world is a pretty dysfunctional place and it’s not getting better. We are all looking at it, going: what can I do that is going to be a part of the change? There’s got to be something more that I can do than just singing songs or putting on shows. The emotion is this feeling of maybe there’s a chance that we can change things. I don’t know. I’m just trying to figure it out. 

At the same time I feel like being creative is so important, especially in this time. It’s so much more than „just singing songs“. If anything saves me right now, it’s the music. And I have so much respect for you for bringing out an album in a time where you can’t support it the way you normally do, by playing shows. Especially knowing you’ve been working on it for a couple of years. I love how positive and energetic it turned out!

Yeah! It really was this world of sound that has been sitting in the back of my head for so many years. It was definitely time for me. The world that my brother and I created together sonically, it was two people from two different sonic worlds, coming together and creating a world that worked for both of us. Angus on his own is Dope Lemon and me on my own is this. In the past my previous solo records were sort of an extension of the world Angus and I had built together. They were songs that were from the same genre. There is this side of my personality that came out when we went out dancing after shows. Or what I would be listening to and be excited by. Festivals when we played them, who I would go to see. And often I wouldn’t go to see the bands, I’d be going to the dance tent. It took a while to find the right people to express that voice with. Annie and Thomas were those people. They were both really excited for me and they really celebrated those sides of me. It was such a big relief of feelings to be in the studio and to try something that was not the normal thing for me to do. I felt it was time for this now. It was really fun. 

I love how you fully embrace that side of you! I feel like it’s getting better, but still women in Pop can be looked down upon. Like: Oh, alright, now she’s doing Pop…

It’s weird, isn’t it? My whole world was Nineties Pop! Even stuff like Spice Girls, it’s good songwriting! When they still come on, everybody is moving. I love Lady Gaga. I love people who are writing songs everybody’s moving to. Kylie Minogue’s new record! She’s what, 50? She’s killing it! It’s amazing. And I think there’s this feeling of a certain world you gotta keep within. I guess I’m lucky that part of growing up is that you also don’t care that people don’t like what you are doing. People definitely like to let you know if they don’t like what you are doing. I’m lucky that I’m at a point where it doesn’t affect me in the same way it would in my twenties. You don’t have to like what I’m doing! I have to like what I’m doing! I’m the one who’s doing it. 

Foto © Brooke Ashley Barone