Angus and Julia Stone weren't supposed to get back together. Despite topping the charts with their 2010 record Down the Way and Triple J's Hottest 100 poll with their airy anthem "Big Jet Plane", the Sydney siblings disbanded a year later, leaving a third album's worth of new material on the shelf.
"On the last few tours, I just remember thinking this is done," reveals Julia. "It just felt like it had run its course and it was time to learn something new."
They rolled solo for a year, Angus releasing his second LP Breaking Brights and Julia unveiling By the Horns (they reached two and 11 on the ARIA charts respectively). Then they got an e-mail in mid-2012 from renowned producer Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash), which changed everything. Rubin had heard them at a party and wanted to produce their next record. Julia told him they weren't together anymore, but his counter-argument eventually proved convincing.
"He said he felt we hadn't made that record together yet," recalls Angus. "Previously we'd brought songs to the table and shared the studio, but we'd never written them together like a band. That was pretty powerful."
"Before we wrote as solo artists who just happened to be in a duo and sing occasional harmonies," recounts Julia. "This time, I think we both intuitively wanted to make something special together, otherwise it wouldn't have happened."
The pair still had doubts, but performing on stage at the Woodford Folk Festival at the end of 2012 sealed the deal. Watching his sister play from side of stage, Angus was moved to tears, later joining her live for the first time in more than a year.
Before they knew it, they were in Los Angeles jamming new songs in the garage studio of That '70s Show star Danny Masterson and recording them a few months later in Rubin's multi-million dollar Shangri-la studio complex in Malibu.
"It's a pretty magical place," smiles Angus. "There's Bob Dylan's tour bus from the Seventies out front and the Band's old pool table inside, with the drunken scuff marks. There's little cabanas around the house if you want to stay over and a treehouse."
"One of the biggest things I liked about Rick (who has since signed the duo to his American Recordings label in the U.S.) is how present he is with you," says Julia. "He makes you feel like you're the only person that matters. He has this bell on his phone that goes off at random times that reminds him to be in the moment."
Those moments eventually coalesced into their fittingly self-titled new album, which trades their gentle, earnest folk for a lusher band sound, deeper grooves and a new-found vocal synergy. "Rick's vision was to definitely make a record with more groove," recalls Julia. "He really loves having vocals sitting on top of the mix too. He had a big impact in that sense."
Los Angeles being Los Angeles, the duo road-tested the new songs at a dinner party for a friend of a friend, who turned out to be Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul (bitch!).
"When we were driving up, we were wondering if it was going to be the Winnebago from the show," laughs Angus. "We were like, "Dude, we fuckin' love your shit!'" says Julia. "His wife was a fan of our music and he was so nice. Afterwards, he told us if we had a favourite Breaking Bad episode, he'd give us his script in return for playing... we haven't picked one yet."
No doubt Paul and the Stones' legion of fans hope the new album is one of many, although Angus, now 28, and Julia, 30, are wise enough not to make any promises. "I guess we'll just play it by ear," says Julia. "It's all you can do. We have no idea what's going to happen so we'll see. But this feels great."
Topics: Angus and Julia Stone