"In the studio space at the farm where I live you have a sense that there is no time. What you’re creating you will finish when you’re ready; there’s something about it that's very freeing," says Angus Stone who is sat talking to Gigwise in Shoreditch, a long way away from his farm in Australia.
Angus has bought into a cattle farm in a sub-tropical paradise in northern New South Wales close to the border of Queensland. It's somewhere he settled for six months after finishing touring the self-titled album that Rick Rubin produced. It's there he found time to create music with his other band - the psychedelic storytelling project Dope Lemon - and craft the massive new Angus and Julia Stone album, Snow.
Banana plantations, the shark infested Pacific Ocean, and long roads that cut through verdant agricultural land are his surrrounds. Just off one of these stretches of tarmac - and not too far out of the metropolitan Byron Bay - is Angus' home. With dogs, horses and commercial livestock around, it's an unsassuming, modest location for a rock star to live. The sound of cycades and cows are a far cry from the bustling urban terrain that has dominated the background to his movements for the best part of the last ten years. As a touring musician he lived in London, New York and LA over the years.
But this modesty of the farm seems to suit Angus. The Sydney raised 31-year-old's past two albums with his sister may have been to number one - and this latest one went to number two in his country - yet his ego seems very unaffected. The singer comes across very down to earth: he's softly spoken, unshaven, and his jacket - nice as it is - is falling to bits. Moreover, one of the key instruments on his album is a knackered old organ with preset beats that he got for 150 dollars; and a few years ago he spent a lot of time living in a hut on the side of a swamp in Byron that a backpacker can rent for 20 dollars a night. He seems caring, too, he has brought his girlfriend along for and his sister's brief visit to Europe ahead of the tour next month - and they're planning a stop in the Medtierranean on the way back to Australia. She flicks through flight options as Angus turns his whole attention to talk about Snow; an album free from - as mentioned - the pressure of time.
"You must love it!?" I ask. "Surely, this is what you've spent your life reaching towards - a studio with no one on your back. What enables you to have that freedom? The label aren't breathing down your neck?
"The labels don’t ever know we’re making music," he answers. "We just deliver a finished product - artwork and everything - then we hand it over and do licensing deals. It’s cleaner that way." His answer affirms my romanticised view of an artist holed up with a monofocus, and determination to achieve greatness no matter how long it takes. Further emphaising his indie credentials, he recalls just how much control they have regained with their artform:
"It's come full circle. When Julia and I first started it was just us in our Dad’s garage with some friends who knew how to record who made our first EP. " Nostalgically, and showing a genuine sense of appreciation for their staggering recording history, he adds: "We worked with all the big producers and these amazing beauitfiul studios, and we’ve come back to doing it ourselves in a way it’s getting back-to-basics." (Those words are roll of his tongue without ego nor much preference, he's evidently open to what works best at the time and appreciates what's been before.)
So how basic is it? Who is the procucer? "Yeah... it’s funny...producing... the idea of producing it changes. You can have some guy at the back dropping subtle hints: he's a producer. I think everyone in the room is a producing. "Yeah even the guy making tea," I quip. "yeah," he laughs, "sure."
Collaboration is infact very central to everything Snow is about. He wasn't as isolated as you'd suspect from hearing he sought a rural life. There's a vibrant social scene in Byron Bay, it's a "transient hub" he tells me. You have nights out drinking where you can see Bonnie "Prince" Billie and Black Keys for 50 bucks and great places to drink beers such as the Arts Factory, where he lived six or seven years ago in between places. Friends visiting from all over would pop in at all hours whilst he was recording Snow, and add to the atmosphere of the record.
The collaboration that's most central to the new album, though, is, of course, the one with Julia - and things appear to be in better health than ever there. In 2011 - just when they had 'made it' in the music industry - the siblings parted ways with no intention of making music together again. The separation was only until Rick Rubin - who adores them - brought them back together for their self-titled record, released in 2014.
Of course, after finishing that album cycle - with cracks in the relationship from before - the question of whether they'd consider going their seperate ways once again remained. But Rubin certainly healed any rift with a method for them to work together. Angus proceeds to explain: "What’s unique about it is we actually wrote the whole record together." With Rick Rubin we wrote together for the first time but only on a few songs. Before I’d bring my song, Julia would work on it seperately, we were almost disjointed but still going together."
This new, more co-operative way is certainly an apprach that works well for them. Snow is a masterful long playing record that feels like a complete body of work. It's one you can truly cherish from start to finish like a classic record. Sonically, it's more timeless than anything they've ever done before as it seems they were firing from all cylinders in the studio. And - it almost goes without saying - vocally it's a feast for the ears: Julia has a falsetto that's otherworldy, beautiful and crystalline'; Angus' is slightly rugged and soaked in 60s psych pop like Simon and Garfunkle, and has a peppering of Springsteen or Kurt Vile.
Despite some retro nods, it also manages to sounds distinct and original. You can him bearing his soul without ever being overbearing. It's applying restraint whilst having the oaky tones of a classic singer songwriter that make him great.
And the guitars sound brilliant and he tells me what ones were used: "I used a 1973 Gibson LS-5. It was Keith Richards’ guitar that he’d used in the studio. A 68 Tele that was my dad's'. I’ve never seena tele that fucking amazing ever - in all the bands no ones got that guitar. I've also got this Airline, the thing’s a fucking dream. I've got a '59 Gibson acoustic. They're all dreamy, they look like Cadillac’s, proper!
Nice guitars that certainly help make Snow sound brilliant. So why Snow? There could be a number of reasons but one of them seems to relate to the days that led to the decision to go and make another album with his sister.
"We were on a break and Julia and I got a call to play this festival in Switzerland. We hadn’t been playing for two years but made an exception for this one as it sounded cool. We flew over there in this big beautiful tent in the valley of where the Matterhorn is. It’s pure magic. The locals offered to have us for another week and we went heli boarding just did mad climbs. During that time in the snow, Julia and I sat down and talked about what it would be to get together and make another record. I guess that was sort of the start of what this record was. Looking back at it now it was a really good call, we had some good times," he smiles.
What's with the extreme sports? Well, it's a lifelong hobby and one that's inextricable from his first embryonic shoot as a songwriter: "The reason why I got into the songwriting was for one thing I had a snowboarding accident," he says. "I fucked my back and was in bed for a long time and just write songs nothing else to do really, except smoke weed and write music."
As well as being into sport he was quite an industrious young person: "Me and a friend would write songs and write covers. Dad was a wedding singer and he had a band. They would take us to weddings. Growing up seeing that you get to see the business side of the band. And it’s a positive message to show it’s cool to share what’s going on through your music."
His family actually had a very important bearing on his future in music as a whole. He recalls his aunt's pivotal role. She worked - and still works - in the music indsutry and she would give her promo cd's to them at Christmas. "She was the cool auntie," he says. When the siblings got older she recognised a talent in Angus and Julia. Auntie began managing them and he bestows her with keeping his music taste in check: "She heard us play and she hooked us up with some good connections. And yeah from there we had cool people around us that listen to rad bands and you just get guided well if you’re doing the right thing."
With their manager helping propell them forward, Angus and Julia Stone started germinating the idea of breaking internationally, and quickly outgrew only playing domestic shows. But he was there regularly enough - and playing young enough - to recall what Sydney was like before the police clamped down on its nightlife by introducing laws that meant live music venues closed at 10pm instead of 11pm.
"It was just too may fights in Sydney, people were getting hit they started to blame it on people staying out too late and put curfews on everything. A lot of the music scene got affected by people fighting."
London was the first place they left to. Aged 20 we wanted to expand our horizons: "Australia is a small country – it’s a big fucking country – but the circuit and scene only throws so far. Once you’ve been around people get a bit like oh yeah I’ve seen that…"
It was good fortune that someone had belief: "Financially a guy called David Boyd took us under his wing. When we were little kids he gave us a bunch of pounds to be here. That was a key reason why we came here. He worked for Rough Trade and he discovered Richard Ashcroft. We got a call from him, when we were in Australia when we were 19. He was like we'd love you guys to be over here. Can we get you over here and possibly make a record?"
That must have been freaky? "Yeah it was freaky. Then he introduced us to Fran Healy we made a record in his joint. We would write separately and collaborate and Fran was adding piano and hanging out. We got to meet some cool people with Fran. He’s such a great songwriter I say and plays a beautiful Guild acoustic. "Yeah we used that Guild on pretty much the whole record."
Despite seemingly hitting the ground running, it wasn't all roses upon arrival in the UK about ten years ago."It was miserable ey. Fucking hell it’s pretty miserable. Coming over you’re like shit, 'you guys do it pretty rough'. It took a whilst to understand that dreariness. You guys turn it into something really positive the the pub scene is fucking so gold it just took a whilst to figure that out because no one told us."
Where did he live in London? "We had a cool apartment on London Fields.and it was cheap. "What was Hackney like back then? It's become a lot more gentrified since over the last ten years.
"It was super raw and everyone was stoked.. lots of young crew having a good time. We were starting to get signed and play festivals. In terms of the bands up around the same time, he remembers Alberta Cross since they toured together. The singer praises the eclecticism of London at the time: " It was weird lots of Simon and Garfunkle sort of bands and people were trying to think about what style to latch on to. Now everything has really bottlenecked style wise. I feel as a culture everyone knows what's next. Back then it was a bit more confused or eclectic.
So what city is next? Does he plan on leaving the farm? "Yeah I'd love to live in Berlin or Amsterdam, I like to make records in different places. He also opens up about his ambitions as a producer. He has the skils because "Julia and I we engineered on this record (Snow) we are starting to understand Pro Tools pretty well.
Over the years your watching the enginner, eventually you're like *smack* get out of the way. [...] I’d like to help out a young crew who haven’t got their shit together. If they’ve got something cool I’d like to help them out.
Afterall, he had someone help him out by flying him to London, so his alturistic inclinations for the future seem genuine. "That’s priceless, if someone comes along and helps you like that."
There's little doubt that with the life he's had an Dope Lemon and his Angus and Julia Record sounding so good that his influence on the future generation could be a very positive one, so we're excited what his next moves will produce. But for now we've plenty of time to enjoy the tour this winter in the UK and hear band at the peak of their career.
Angus and Julia Stone are on tour. Check here for tickets
07 November London O2 Academy Brixton
08 November Manchester O2 Ritz Manchester