Angus and Julia Stone are in an absolute sweet spot of their career right now. They're as beloved overseas, on multiple continents, as they are at home; every record they touch seems to turn to gold, most recently exemplified by their #3 placing in the Triple J Hottest 100 with big single 'Chateau'; they sell out huge venues across the globe, but when they come home, all they want to do is just hang out in a little cottage in Byron Bay and plonk away at a guitar with their friends.
New album 'Snow' marked a big change for the seasoned brother-sister duo, representing an album where they worked more closely than ever before. In the past, they had each worked separately, coming together at the end of the process to make a record. Now, everything they do is collaborative, and Julia says they're loving the new arrangement.
On a rare break during their recent European tour, where they played 20-plus dates in about as many days before jumping straight over to America for a similarly packed run of concerts, Julia spoke to HuffPost about how their latest album came together, what they did differently this time around, and why, sometimes, you just gotta retreat up the coast with some mates.
Hi Julia. What's happening today?
Well we're in Manchester, then through to Iceland then Boston. We're all a bit jet lagged but excited to get up on stage again. In a funny way, the shows keep you in a rhythm, when you have a day off it's like 'woah"' you realise you've got to sleep and all that stuff.
You've gone from the big European tour, then straight onto a big American tour. You mentioned that it keeps you in a rhythm, how does it feel to be on the road for so long across different continents, different time zones? Are there any tricks you use to keep your head in the zone, to keep sane on those long journeys?
There's heaps of tricks that we've learnt through the years, things that are worthwhile to utilise regardless of whether you're on tour or not. For us, it's doing yoga, meditating, eating well, exercising, and it's really important on top of that is not to be too rigid about things. If you miss yoga or you miss an exercise for the day, just be relaxed about it. I'm in this city and having this amazing night drinking champagne, so who cares? I've taken on a healthy attitude of being disciplined and doing my best to sleep right, but I'm also like 'if something happens and it's exciting, then I follow that down the rabbit hole and see where I end up', and I'm excited for those adventures as well. That gives me energy and makes me feel alive. We have a really awesome band and crew, we're like a big family and everybody appreciates how amazing and crazy our job is, to be in these incredible cities and have the privilege of making music each night. We're pretty lucky.
The album's been out for a couple of months now, people are really enjoying it. How do you guys feel about it now that it's been out there for a while and you've got a bit of space from it?
This record has been the one that I've been the most proud of, because of what it represents. I love singing the songs live, which is pretty unique. Usually we finish a record and there's five or six songs that we are pumped to play live but we won't play the whole record, whereas with 'Snow' we're pretty much playing the whole record every night. We're squeezing in old songs, we know people want to hear old songs too, but we both really love the new record. That's got a lot to do with the fact that we've been playing for 11 years and we've finally made a record where we could write the whole thing together, and work together in a way that we always really wanted to do. We just didn't have it in our relationship up until now. It's really exciting for us, it feels like this is what we had hoped for, without knowing we'd hoped for it.
On the 2014 self-titled record, that was the first time you wrote together as a pair. Do you feel like you've got better at that? Have you ironed out any kinks along the way?
That record was a conversation that happened, because for us at the time, we'd made the decision not to work together and were really happy with that decision. We were happy in our creative worlds and inspired in our solo worlds, so to come back together, we had to make a change to make it exciting for us, and one of those changes was writing together. It was the first time we'd done that. We started out with this exciting experience of writing 'Heart Beats Slow' and a few others, and really enjoyed it, and it sounded cool and different and new. This time it wasn't even a conversation, we just turned up together at the studio at angus' farm that we built, and we started making music. We had little chorus or lyric ideas but we basically started with nothing. It felt really natural and easy to do. That record set in motion what we were capable of, in terms of writing together. That was something that had to happen with time. To co-write with somebody in the way we do, you have to have a lot of trust and feel free, because you're trying stuff and your words come out wrong, but now we're in this place where we just go for it, and that makes for a good creative relationship.
Was it easier, this time around? I can imagine shaking up your respective writing processes in that way might have taken some getting used to.
It was a lot smoother this time. It was more fun, because of the space we were working out of. We were at Angus' home in this amazing place, then there's the hill and the lighthouse, paddocks with cows, the rainforest behind, and this humble little cottage that we've ripped the walls out of and turned into a pretty basic studio. We've got a kitchen there, and I love cooking, and Angus loves being at home. We took walks to the beach, watched movies when we feel like, and we're back to being kids having fun. We didn't feel any time pressure, because it wasn't like the studio was costing us thousands a day.
We've got freedom, so if I have an idea at 1am, I can get on the bike and over the hill and go to the studio for a few hours. We had some good friends who came to hang out, they'd help engineer or play guitar for a few days. Everybody was just hanging out. We had tents set up, the cars with beds in the back, everyone was just chipping in and making it work. That whole atmosphere around it gave us the sense that it was exciting, we were just having fun and writing songs. We'd just sit there for hours, singing back and forth. 'Snow' for instance was just a half-hour singing back and forth, and at the end, we'd go "that bit is cool, and that bit is cool". It was just fun.
You've both done a few solo albums each. Is it important for you guys to do that, to do your own thing for a while and explore your own individual musical pursuits? Have that freedom and space to do that?
It's hugely important for us. Angus says a change of work is great, and for both of us, having that time apart and that creative freedom to do whatever. We both have different writing styles, and that's awesome when they come together, but to have a few years where we do our own thing just really invigorates us. When we put out an Angus and Julia record, that's like two years [of touring], three years if you include the making of the record. So you release it and you're pretty much on tour for two years. That's a long time to be spending together.
We love each other but at some point you just need to do your own thing. It's always a really natural thing to finish a cycle and say "see you when I see you". You don't know when you're going to be back together, you don't know if there will be another record. I always think 'this could be the last record', and how amazing that would be. I'm just so proud of what we've done, and if it ends here, I'm good. I'm so happy to have created this stuff with him. If our lives take us in different directions, then that's the way it goes. It's really helpful to have creative change.
Angus and Julia Stone return to Australia for a big run of concerts in April and May. Tickets are selling fast -- see their website for more information.