The captivating third, self titled album from Angus and Julia Stone is said to be the best record the siblings have ever made, a record born of spontaneity and totally unplanned.
“It took a while to get to a place where we thought it was a good idea,” they admit. “We were enjoying the time apart, enjoying our different directions. There was no conversation of, ‘When are we doing another Angus & Julia record?’ It never even came up.” In fact, the pair, over the last couple of years on solo adventures never even saw each other, aside from unexpectedly bumping into each other on the street in Paris.
It took the legendary US producer to spark the flame. From Jay Z to the Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash to Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Rick Rubin knows good music. After Rubin heard Angus and Julia’s music playing at a friend’s party he decided he had to get in contact with them. Julia received an email from one of the notorious producer and former Def Jam head associates who visited the singer at one of her NYC solo shows, urging her to take a meeting. Weeks later in LA, Julia met up with Rubin. “At that point I was saying, ‘But my brother and I aren’t playing music together,” Julia recalls of the initial meeting. “Rick said, ‘Well I’d really like to meet him too.”
Raised in Sydney’s northern beaches, after word-of-mouth heat and early EPs the brother and sister duo demanded attention with their 2007 debut, A Book Like This, which was produced in London by Travis’ Fran Healy. Three years later, and the result of endless tours through Europe, North America and Australia, Angus and Julia delivered the multi-platinum, ARIA-conquering Down the Way. Led by the gentle anthem Big Jet Plane, the band had it all; a number one record, pole position in Triple J’s Hottest 100, ARIA trophies for Single and Album of the Year, invitations to play festivals like Splendour in the Grass, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits and others. Years of touring internationally saw them selling out venues across Europe, playing to over 10,000 people at their Paris shows.
But their joint success had posed the question: could they do it alone? Angus and Julia had always been separate songwriters; initially, they’d never intended to be a duo. It was time to make a change.
And so, after wrapping tour commitments in New York City and Los Angeles Julia recorded her commanding second solo effort, By the Horns. Angus kept busy creating his own critically acclaimed release, July 2012’s Broken Bright’s. Both albums hit their mark, each songwriter revelling in the freedom of a singular vision. There was absolutely no plan to re-team.
Unconvinced they should break from their individual plans; it was when they started spending time with Rubin over a few months that thoughts about getting back together started to form. Julia said: “It wasn’t clear though – Rick felt good about it but we were both unsure and hadn’t really come around to the idea. Then we were both billed on the same festival and for the first time in a couple of years we played a song together. It felt so magical…We decided the moment we walked off stage that we would make this record with Rick.”
“We landed in LA and were looking at each other going, What the f@*k are we going to do?” Angus jokes. “We had no idea how it would come together. We decided that we would only move forward with the record if it felt real and if it felt like the right thing… I think this is what made the record what it is.”
For the first time ever the pair wrote side by side. For two weeks they holed up in Palisades, in the dry heat of summer, jamming with musicians on new songs, and working through existing tracks Angus had demoed at home in NYC and Julia had been writing while living down in Venice Beach. In September 2013, they walked into Rubin’s Shangri La Studios in Malibu.
“There’s Bob Dylan’s old 70’s tour bus in the front yard,” Julia described. She continued: “Then you’ve got the feeling of all the bands who’ve recorded there…The old scuff marks on the felt of the billiard table from the gang back when.
“Rick’s easy to work with, a very chilled-out dude. He attracts good people into his working environment, everyone there was joy. At the same time, we’ve never worked like that before – on such a big scale production. You turn around and your guitar’s been tuned, there’s someone there for amps, someone for coffee…We were overwhelmed at times.”
Velvet textures, dust-filled dreams, golden melodies. To say that this record is the band’s most grown up offering is no back-handed compliment. The record is pure Angus and Julia but there’s a brand new potency here; richness you can’t ignore – the record tracks are of spirit and statement. Angus and Julia’s creative union has resulted in their best work yet. It’s a record steeped in feeling and filled with a new found freedom and confidence that’s palatable throughout.
From the lazy garage strummed Other Things to the stomping drive of A Heartbreak, the hypnotic, languid pull of Main Street to the west coast guitar of Grizzly Bear, the record moves from mood to mood, drawing you near. Heart Beats Slow is a kiss goodbye to a long time lover while Little Whiskey burns with Angus and Julia’s most electric energy yet.
Tracks like Get Home, recorded by Angus as demos in New York, made it to the final disc. For Rubin, it was all about capturing the moment. “There’s definitely a swagger to the record,” Angus agrees on the band’s artistic throw forward. “We hadn’t ever really looked at each other’s songs the way we did on this record – there was a common ground we had found beneath us this time. Especially from both being summoned out of the blue to create something together, I think we both felt the dust lift. We both felt empowered in coming back together, the timing was unexpected but well placed.”
“We found a new way to make music together,” stated Julia of the outcome. “I think we had enough space from each other to be able to really listen to each other and appreciate each others ideas, thoughts and feelings.”
By November 2013 the tracking was done with mixing completed by Billy Bush in March 2014. Four years on from their last joint effort, Angus and Julia have delivered an album that defies expectations. Call it a coming of age or a re-invention but the new self titled record by Angus and Julia is the most exciting, visceral listen yet.
Rubin commented: ‘‘This album is extraordinary. Angus and Julia are truly unique musicians… they are authentic and pure people who do things from the heart. I’ve never worked with anyone like them before.”