Angus and Julia – two artists so renowned that they now lack all need for a last name. That is, until they went solo.
The brother and sister Stone entered the Australian music scene with fanfares, applause and an instant following in 2007 and since then have inspired a generation or two with their emotion-saturated, beautifully poetic acoustic sounds. Despite their superb renown as a duo, four years ago they decided to take a breather, a musical sabbatical into the world of solo careers.
“It was an adventure that we always knew we would take at some point,” says Julia from the road, the pair in the midst of a global tour. “It was a necessary step to part so we could discover new things. It felt like there wasn’t the room we needed to grow when we finished touring Down The Way – we both wanted to see what our sound was like without the other person.”
It was, in retrospect, inevitable. Listening to earlier albums and EPs, such as A Book Like This or Chocolates & Cigarettes, there was always a distinction between the tracks, either an ‘Angus’ song or a ‘Julia’ song, despite the creation and performance being a combined effort.
Now each with a couple of solo albums under their belts, they have reunited, bringing a swathe of experience, fresh inspiration and evolved sounds into the recording studio for their self-titled fourth collaborative album, Angus & Julia Stone.
“We started talking about it as a far away idea,” reflects Julia of their reunion for the album. “Slowly, as we started having more consistent communication, we found ourselves really enjoying the idea. We’re also really enjoying being back in each other’s lives. It felt really relaxed and easy to be around each other.”
As individuals, they evolved as artists, independent of each others’ influence. Julia explored a deeper, more cinematic feel than the stripped back acoustics of her former self, while Angus diversifyed, maintaining a singer-songwriter vibe but dabbling with new sounds, even going as far as some heavier, retro-rock tracks for his Lady of the Sunshine collaboration.
The experiences gained from individual pursuits have engorged their sound. Die-hard A&J fans definitely could not be disappointed with the latest offering from the siblings, but there are marked differences. A maturity perhaps, a more expansive sound absolutely, but one thing that is very noticeable, certainly with early track releases such as Get Home and A Heartbreak is a far more united approach to the performances. There is still an aspect of certain tunes being predominantly lead by one or the other, but the influence comes in even doses.
“Time is an effective tool for reflection in a relationship,” Julia philosophises. “Time gave us the space away to get more of a clear picture of what it was we saw in each other.
“The first time I saw Angus sing after having that time apart, I watched him differently. My perspective on him had changed and I could really appreciate how brilliant he is. The space away brought with it a newfound respect and love for what he brings to my music and to me in general.”
It is still a sound that they very much own, as individuals and as a duo, but what is noticeable now is that, even if the vocals come from just one of them, the other is ever-present instrumentally and lyrically.
But it wasn’t they alone who were responsible for this evolution. Legendary producer, Rick Rubin, whose previous clients have included such disparate A-List musos as The Beastie Boys, Kanye West and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was instrumental in bringing the Stones back into the studio together and more than a little responsible for expanding on all that had gone before.
“I find all good collaborations work if you can be yourself with each other,” says Julia of the experience. “The less you are ‘trying’ to be something, the more you can just relax and do what you do. Rick allows for that to happen by being really accepting and open as a person. We both felt happy at [Ruben’s recording studio] Shangri La and in a place where music was the main focus.”
The new album has already received massive acclaim worldwide, many reviewers noting similarly that, while different, though not better or worse than previous offerings, Angus & Julia Stone is more ‘complete’ as an album, the sound more polished, the production more advanced. There is no denying that it is still very much the work of the same two kids that meekly mounted the stage eight years ago, but there is also no denying that they have come a long, long way.
Officially launching the new album to an Australian audience, Angus and Julia chose Splendour in the Grass as their showcase. The festival has seen many of their musical chapters, from the early days together and through solo careers, so it is only fitting that Splendour should also host their return as a duo.
“It feels familiar to be back in the area,” Julia reflects. “We’ve had so many experiences over the years at Splendour so it felt like a landmark festival for us. Playing the songs from this new record in Australia for the first time, it had a similar kind of feeling to when we first played it years ago.”
The question on many a fan’s lips is, ‘is Angus and Julia Stone the duo back for good?’ But the answer is far more convoluted than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They work well as a team, there can be no disputing that, but likewise, their collection of solo albums makes it abundantly clear that they have much to offer independently.
“It’s hard to say,” says Julia, when quizzed about future prospects. “We change directions pretty rapidly but then, when something feels good we will stick by it with all our hearts. I know that we will always make music together. How often and when are an absolute mystery to me.”
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Sep 24, 2014
All photos: Jennifer Stenglein – instagram.com/jenniferstenglein