In 2013 Angus and Julia Stone were on the brink of dissolving their creative relationship until a call from ultra-producer Rick Rubin convinced them to give it one last try. The result was 2014's self-titled album, which was both a creative and commercial triumph, becoming their biggest selling album to date.
More importantly, it was a personal watershed for the pair, who discovered, almost a decade into their musical partnership, a brand new way of working – most significantly in that they started writing songs together. For their new album, Snow, the duo decided to put their new methodology to the test by decamping to Angus' studio Belafonté in the wilds outside of Byron Bay with absolutely nothing prepared. The album would be built from scratch, predominantly by the pair alone.
The result distils the Stones' musical chemistry down to its essence: simple songs, often only a couple of recurring chords, with the movement coming from the layering of riffs and their intertwined vocals. "We've never been huge fans of bridges," Julia explains. "We like two or four chord songs: if it's not broke, don't fix it, you know?"
The album also taught them that limitations can be creatively liberating.
"A big part of this record was just working things out with what we had," says Angus. "Like, we didn't have a drummer for the first part of the recording, and I bought this old organ with four drum beats on it – one's samba, one's rock & roll and so on – but all of them became songs. And it was so shitty, but it was so sick. That organ became like a phantom member of the band."
"We have this attitude that if it sounds good, it is good," Julia adds. "And when you do something and it's not through the quote-unquote right microphone you just go, 'Oh, this is working, and maybe there is a buzz in it but it doesn't matter because it's a good vibe.'"
The album was made over the space of 18 months with several breaks along the way. "Most of it was just sitting down, having some beers and playing," Angus shrugs. "It's that real sort of zoned-out haze where you just put your head down and start playing a note and someone will sit down and start, and it ends up in this epic jam. And a lot of those songs became the songs on the record."
So given the cruisey process, how did they know that the album was done?
"Did we have a deadline?" Julia asks. "Oh, we booked in a date for mixing. We sort of made a deadline for ourselves."
And they had to, since this freedom was in danger of extending indefinitely.
"There was definitely like a vortex we were falling in," Angus explains. "We were getting super lazy."
"Yeah," Julia nods. "We would do an hour of work for six hours of hanging out."
That's not to suggest that there wasn't drama.
"We got flooded in one day," says Julia. "Angus and I couldn't leave the property, the streets were all closed because they were all underwater. And I was totally freaking out, and all I could think about was the hard drives, because the studio's on the bottom of the hill. So I wrapped the backup hard drives in plastic and I had this garbage bag over me..."
"She looked like a ghost," Angus smirks.
"... And Angus is so calm, he's like, 'It's all good. Everything's going to be fine.' But it scared the shit out of me. I thought the apocalypse was coming."
Given that the songs had been created via the process of recording, would it even have been possible to re-record the album if the waters had claimed it?
"No," Julia says. "If the record got lost, the record would be lost."
Angus is even more emphatic. "If we'd lost the record, I'd fucking go get a job," he declares. "I'd learn how to fucking operate an excavator and dig holes."
From issue #791 (October, 2017), available now.
Topics: Angus and Julia Stone