“I lived in Amsterdam for a little bit... and I was walking round the red light district and some other places and it was late at night and just the look in people’s eyes… There are so many stories."
The now solo Angus Stone is talking about how time seems to have flown since he and his sister Julia kicked off their careers with a little EP, Chocolates And Cigarettes, in 2005. “I just got back from a tour of the States and Europe, and I was just talking to a friend down the road and it felt like I'd just stepped out for a second and nothing changed – came back, felt like a bit of time travel – it was cool.”
That “second” saw Stone on tour for two months, playing dates all over Canada and the US (including the Troubadour in LA), the UK and Europe. This time, of course, he's been traveling as an artist in his own right, performing songs from his solo album, Broken Bright. There was a 'debut' solo album, Smoking Gun, back in 2009, but he released that under the moniker Lady Of The Sunshine, feeling it wasn't quite time to step out of the duo at the time.
“The European tour was sold out,” he continues, on the line from the farm he bought himself six months ago. “The crowds there, the people are just really passionate about their arts and they're really listening – it's their medicine in many ways. It's good. It's really funny, 'cause I'll be playing in Paris or something, and people after the show [will say], 'Oh, Julia was just here, she talked about you and your dogs on stage',” he smiles. “We're sort of just missing each other around the world. It's cool – we're both just doing our own thing now.”
Broken Brights is as diverse an album as you'd expect from an increasingly confident songwriter. One minute it's all banjos and mandolins and steeped in a rootsy folk style, the next it's searing electric guitars; Stone veers from soft intimate vocals to heartfelt rock-leaning growls. “For me, this album and the songs, I like to see them somewhat as motion pictures,” he says. “A lot of the songs were written in motion, on the road, and recorded in that way also. I dunno – it's hard to say where, within some time capsule, of when the songs came, because they're always there in a way, you know? You have a seed in the back of your mind and then they call out to you when they're ready, and they've probably always been there,” he chuckles, “since however long.
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“I don't believe in demos. I believe you walk into the studio, wherever it [may] be, and the time is right when you know it and the song, that's its moment. There's no other time but that, and if it doesn't shine in that moment, then it doesn't deserve to exist. I think for a lot of these songs, just those times where a song was ready, the time [to record] had to be then and we'd be on the road and we'd book a studio in Switzerland, or in India we did some stuff, or Amsterdam and here in my lounge room in Australia. So it was a compilation of many continents.”
While Stone has suggested that this album includes perhaps some of his most personal songs to date, the release is no simple confessional or even diary in the usual singer-songwriter sense. “There are some songs there that grew from melodies of old songs. I find that it's almost like using a different side of your brain when you pick up an old theme and you make something new of them. It's almost like you're being a bit naughty in a way – you get to sort of… I dunno, put a new sort of psyche through it, and feeling, and you don't have to think as much or be as poetic in a way with the wording – you just have to think about the feeling and just let it flow.
“Some of the songs worked like that and some of them are, yeah, like short films. I'd be sitting and watching a little bit of television – I'd watch an old western or see the bird on the buffalo and just little seeds would turn into me jumping into someone else's shoes for a moment. It's like a self-portrait in a way as well and I get to let my imagination run wild. I think it's a balance of dreams and daydreaming and everything – loss and adventure – I think it's a collection of the lot of them. I think what I'm coming to learn more and more is to let the song speak, and it'll answer the questions in time.”
Then, of course, the imaginations of the filmmakers who translate his songs into clips for your visual pleasure run wild. The visuals for Monsters, the third single to be lifted from the album, are very different to those that either Stone imagined as he wrote it or the listener might perceive the storyline. “This film clip I got together with Taylor Steele – he's a bit of a legend of a filmmaker in the surfing industry – and we got together and we were drinking some beers and bouncing off each other with ideas and I've been writing this short story about this guy who gets transformed into another world and realises that he's in danger; you know, there are lots of monsters… That's not a very good description of the detail but he falls into this other world and realises he has to get out or realise himself in that world as a monster as well.
“It starts off and I'm being dragged through the forest by this… he's almost like the keeper of the woods, so he's the guardian sort of old man – and he drags me off, and he's sort of protecting me. I don't realise that at the time and I escape and I realise that I shouldn't have escaped and I've got myself into even more trouble when there are all these little, like, the Lost Boys after me. It's really fun; it was a really fun day. They dressed me up and put blood all over my face and we're out in this beautiful pine forest, just really lush and picturesque and in a way it was cinematic.”
The song itself came out of a very different setting. “The song I wrote in Amsterdam,” he recalls. “I lived in Amsterdam for a little bit – I wanted to do some writing – and I was walking round the red light district and some other places and it was late at night and just the look in people's eyes… There are so many stories, just catching a glimpse of someone's eye, and I felt that we're all in this world together but we definitely have to embrace that monster – really we all need love – and it's about that.”
Angus Stone will be playing the following shows: