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INTERVIEW: Chasing Paradise with Lucy Roleff

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I’ve met Lucy Roleff a little way down the road from Triple R studios. She’s finished up doing an in-studio performance of her song ‘Every Time’ on The Grapevine with Kulja Coulston and Dylan Bird, and now we’re sitting over our hot beverages of choice, picking through the last couple years of writing and travel that led to the release of her new album, This Paradise.

As someone to sit down and chat to, Roleff certainly doesn’t channel the crystal fragility that comes through on a lot of her records. Lively and seemingly constantly amused, she’s honest and self-deprecating about her musical career to the point where you could be tricked into thinking she isn’t making some of the best folk music around. She carries a small notebook and pen neatly tucked into a plastic sleeve, possibly a home for the many illustrations that find their way into watercolours and drawings on her blog, but today we’re together to talk about her new record.

This Paradise is a considered and deeply rewarding album, and while Roleff is clearly a passionate musician, a life lived through records and microphones in the traditional album cycle sense isn’t something she’s interested in being defined by. This Paradise is composed of songs of varying ages; the longest and most verbose on the record, ‘Two Children’, is around five years old, having been written around the same time as songs that eventually showed up on her 2013 EP, Longbows.

‘They just kind of trickled together over time, and then when I knew I was going to record the album that’s when I had to sit down and go, “which songs am I going to use?”. I think I had eleven songs all together…one of them was really recent; I wrote it when I was learning the harp. It was kind of a mix of years of songs, going back through the back catalogue.’

Roleff says she isn’t prolific, but later tells me a story about how she came across binders lying in some disused part of her closet, holding songs from different periods of her life. Songs about boys, ditched partly in an effort to create a stronger voice for herself, but also to stop getting teased; songs about esoteric concepts, songs about Dalmatians, even. This Paradise sounds like a consolidation of these binders (without the boys and Dalmatians, though). It skips through varying phases of life and the concerns held within. Whether or not the album is going to go the way of those dusty old binders – shuffled away within a closet, to be discovered later in life as a time capsule of these past few years – Roleff isn’t sure.

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During the recording of This Paradise, Roleff and producer Tony Dupé (Holly Throsby, Jack Ladder, Sui Zhen) made use of an old hall built off a house Dupé once inhabited. Apparently it had been used as a kindergarten at one point or another, a bathroom to the side equipped with tiny basins and toilets for the little ’uns, which Roleff described as ‘really spooky’. Over the course of three days they recorded vocals and guitars, Dupé often pausing their focus so they could go for a walk to browse the local Salvos or watch YouTube videos.

Roleff says the space itself found its way onto the recording – ‘Especially on songs like ‘Haus’ and ‘This Paradise’, which are kind of meant to be lofty and enormous. We had a lot of mics set up around the room, getting the ambience.’ The use of the hall didn’t stop there; electronic guitar and bass were pumped into the room through an old amplifier and re-recorded by Dupé.

This Paradise is, in large part, carrying on the influences established on Longbows: European art and literature have a major influence here.  Roleff says, ‘[its] the idea of tradition, I suppose. Or maybe because of my classical training I’m drawn to strange intervals or whatever. I never try, I’m never like –’ putting on her best stuffy musician-academic voice for effect – ‘I’m gonna make it really interesting and weird so people think I’m cool – “it’s so Motzartian, Wagner was a big fan of this method” or whatever’.

That European influence is homegrown, too. Sandwiched between a German dad who still bursts into operatic song at the kitchen table, and who Roleff describes as being ‘pretty damn German’, and a Maltese mother, Roleff says her upbringing in Melbourne’s Ferntree Gully didn’t expose her to the Anglo culture that dominates the childhoods of many Melburnians.

‘Growing up, family was our friendship group. My parents never really had friends outside of our family. My cousins and I are basically siblings; raised in each other’s households, that whole thing. That seems to be a European thing, especially when they’re immigrants.’

I ask whether a song off the record, ‘Haus’, is inspired by her childhood home, but its genesis was more a conceptual place than a lived one – ‘kind of the sense of being trapped in [an old house]. In the verses I talk about the decaying house and the lushness of the garden, but in the chorus it talks about there being a gate, so there’s a way out.’ Roleff’s style isn’t totally owing to Europe, though. She tells me that ‘Haus’ is also inspired by the 1977 Nobuhiko Obayashi film Hausu, a psychedelic horror freak-out in which a house tries to devour a group of Japanese schoolgirls.

Unlike her father, who still performs in choirs at the age of 82, Roleff doesn’t find herself inevitably drawn to the stage as a performer. ‘I just…don’t. I don’t wake up in the morning and need to go play a show. The music is the end goal for me. I like [performing], I definitely get a kick out of it, but I need to be pushed to do it. Maybe because I’d been doing it since I was a kid I got fatigued…When I think about that road-dog, rock-show kind of lifestyle, I get deeply despondent.’

This Paradise has roots in those burnt out and anxious feelings. On the title of the record itself, Roleff explains, ‘I went through a lot of anxiety, and when I was going through that I got confused about what “real happiness” was. The word “paradise” would get thrown around, and I would just think, “what does that even mean, I never feel that”. I think it was about touching on that and getting an idea of what it was, or a reflection of it. It’s elusive.’

 

Lucy is launching her new album This Paradise at The Gasometer Hotel on July 28th.

This Paradise is out on Lost and Lonesome Records.

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LISTEN: Scraps – ‘TTNIK’ LP

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Isn’t it cool when someone who you really love from their mad funny Facebook presence and their anxiously magnetic live shows releases something that’s more than the sum of all those adjectives? I love Scraps (Laura Hill, from Brisbane) cause she’s been making synth pop music in Brisbane since way back when everyone else was still doing the Ty Segall thing. TTNIK (uh, said ‘Titanic’ obviously), Scraps’ third LP, is a fun record that’s brave enough to be kind of naïve and guileless in parts – you’d have to be real committed to your unimpressed vibe not to wanna move around to songs like the whispery and scattered ‘Touch Blue’ or sleek new-wavy ‘She Devil’.

It’s also got those slowed down interludes and random talking parts that mean they could put it under the ‘weird’ tag on Bandcamp. I get it – even though it seems kind of lazy to call songs like ‘Relate to You’ weird or unsettling: anything with out-of-sync piano will always sound like it’s straight of a ‘hysterical woman spirals into madness’ movie. But there’s still something about the rave-y drum machine over the spacey vocals singing ‘You feel so good in my mind / I wanna relate to you’, trying to reach out to the listener through the effects, that creates kind of a desperate and dangerous mood.

‘Harlequin’ is the necessary counterpoint to ‘Dreams’, the LP’s hopelessly romantic opening track where everything’s a little too good to be true. Here the vocals are buried; the drums plod forward. Nothing’s effortless anymore and the sad beauty of her voice sometimes strains and cracks with feeling. It’s probably my favourite track on the record.

There’s a great focus to TTNIK – there’s heaps of stuff going on here, but it flows smoothly and moving from one beat to the next is never jarring. That might be ‘cause Hill recorded and produced it herself – this is what happens when an artist gets to represent their own vision from start to finish. It just works.

TTNIK is out on Moontown (that Canberra label that seems to love snaking Brisbane’s most interesting releases) right now. If you’re lucky enough to also live in the New World City, Scraps is playing on Friday at The Haunt with our favourite Tasmanians Treehouse, and well as Brisbane big dogs Per Purpose, Brainbeau and Amaringo.

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VIRTUAL MIXTAPE: Lucy Roleff

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Illustrations by Lucy Roleff

There is a timeless quality to the music of Lucy Roleff. Relishing the time-honoured tropes of contemporary folk music, Lucy’s music wouldn’t sound out of place if it had been released at any time over the past 60 years.

Her delicate melodies sit atop elegantly restrained accompaniment, allowing the songs to carve their own path, like water gradually eroding jagged rock into polished smooth surfaces.

Following her acclaimed 2013 EP, Longbows, Lucy’s debut full-length, This Paradise, is set for release on July 15th via Lost and Lonesome. Recorded with Tony Dupé at his home studio in South Gippsland, the album is a gorgeous, intimate affair, a record of understated beauty with universal appeal.

 

Considering the aforementioned timelessness of Lucy’s music it seems fitting that the theme for her Virtual Mixtape is ‘Five favourite female voices from the past five decades’, giving us some insight into the varied influences both past and present.

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Sally Oldfield – ‘Answering You’ (1979)

I’m a sucker for a 1970s folk compilation and so I had heard a couple of Sally Oldfield’s songs here and there but hadn’t thought to look further into her work. At work, my boss had one of her albums on a playlist and I was immediately drawn to her beautiful and interesting melodies. Sometimes I feel like her songs are about to topple into the terrain of Schlager music (which I have a wary relationship with from childhood) but for the most part, I think her song writing is brilliant and her singing so pure.

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Saâda Bonaire – ‘Invitation’ (1984)

Stefanie Lange and Claudia Hossfeld are the voices of Saâda Bonaire but the story behind the duo is kind of complicated as apparently the act was the brainchild of some German DJ guy, despite them being sold more as a duo. Anyway, I think this song is so sexy and icy cool. Kind of like Nico with a bit more pizzazz.

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Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins) – ‘I Wear Your Ring’ (1990)

A few ladies have been compared to Elizabeth Fraser over the past few years (actually I think I even got the comparison for my stuff with Magic Hands) but I don’t think anyone can touch her. She manages to pull off unusual and striking melodies without sounding like she was trying to be clever. Effortless and elegant. When I first heard this song, I played it on repeat over and over and wanted to find a way to cover it but wasn’t sure how to best go about it – I think, with much of her work, the magic is in the interplay of the vocals.

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Oumou Sangare – ‘Wele Wele Wintou’ (2009)

I just love this music video. There’s so much going on. Oumou Sangare is a very inspiring Malian musician – An accomplished singer, she is also apparently something of an entrepreneur and advocate for women’s rights. The political issues in Mali have come to prominent attention in the west with documentaries such as “They Will Have to Kill Us First” which I highly recommend to everyone. The fighting power and spirit of these musicians who have been threatened and exiled from their homes is incredible to witness.

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Allysen Callery – ‘It’s Not the Ocean’ (2016)

I have followed Allysen’s career for some time now and was very excited to hear her new album “The Song the Songbird Sings.” It certainly did not disappoint. The first song on the album “It’s Not the Ocean” is probably my favourite of her songs. She has a great knack for describing small, domestic moments and I love the line in this song “we’re out of sugar, I’m not shopping anymore.” Beautiful music and to top it all off, she’s a lovely person!

This Paradise is due out on July 15th via Lost and Lonesome. Lucy launches the album on 28 July at the Gasometer in Melbourne.

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LISTEN: Carbon + – ‘Reaction’

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At Bigsound last year I used the term ‘coldwave’ in front of a Melbourne music writer and he told me we’re ‘not saying that any more’, so I immediately stripped it from my vocabulary. But, passé-ness aside, I think it was a silly term anyway, cause a lot of the stuff that gets called cold and dark and moody is actually fun post-punk hiding behind some standoffish press shots and vaguely goth cover designs.

Like, I’m having a great time listening to this track, the first single from Canberra two-piece Carbon +’s debut cassette. Listen to that sharp plinky synth, that jaunty shoulder-bobbing bass, those anthemic vocals very concerned about nothing in particular. I’m gonna be singing ‘man copies man / man buries man’ in my head all day.

Though, ok, the rest of the record is pretty dark and more blatantly post punk. It gets ah, colder, as it goes on – sounding maybe a little too familiar to fans of the slew of HTRK inspired Melbourne and Brisbane bands to retain the excitement of the first single. On ‘A New Grey Area’ the guitars start to swamp everything else and become the most important part, foggy and immersive, but after that the minimalism comes back and stays.

Also, after ‘Reaction’  the vocals change markedly to become all sultry and earnest. it’s not bad, just a little unexpected. While nothing else really grabbed and held me as hard as that first track, the three atmospheric instrumental tracks that close out the record are compelling for their oddness as well as their sombre kind of beauty – why just decide, at the end, to give up all pretence of a pop record? But then, why not?  Carbon + is definitely worth a listen, and marks another interesting partnership for Dream Damage – a label that’s proved its considered, bankable taste again and again.

You can buy the cassette right here, right now.

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LISTEN: Cool Sounds – ‘Dance Moves’

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“It was certainly a joke to begin with”.

In an interview on the excellent Weirdo Wasteland podcast, Cool Sounds bassist Nick Kearton gives a run down of the beginnings of the band that gives the impression that they could’ve easily faded into memory as a ‘one tape on a little known foreign label’ affair.

Talking about their first few efforts, Kearton comments that while there were definitely songs that he liked on efforts like Melbourne Fashion and Healing Crystals, ultimately the work Cool Sounds had been shopping around wasn’t as realised as it could’ve been. The band wasn’t really sure what it was even trying to be yet, which resulted in entire songs on Healing Crystals being based solely off of IMDb movie plot synopses.

The leap forward to Dance Moves, is huge. This record marks Cool Sounds’ debut on Melbourne label Deaf Ambitions, where they rub shoulders with groups like pop duo Zone Out and slacker pop quintet Crepes.

Cool Sounds aren’t new kids at school by any means, with plenty of the team hailing from the “incestuous, and ever prolific Ocean Party clique” (Deaf Ambitions’ hilarious description). The Ocean Party’s presence and influence is easily felt. From that band, front man Dainis Lacy has pinched a few; Zach Denton works the keys, Liam Halliwell is on sax, and Kearton is OP’s go-to replacement when Crowman can’t make a gig. But I digress; we’re talking about Dance Moves here, and its author is Lacy.

You could describe Cool Sounds as being guitar pop with synth rock chucked into a blender with a black and white photo of some urban street in the rain and you’d probably be correct – though, you’d also be really bad at describing things in understandable ways. The band likes to bandy around this genre term ‘jazz-gaze’ and I don’t know if they’re joking but if not I’d have to disagree. The saxophone embellishments on many of these songs are just that, embellishments. They don’t define the albums course or tone, more serving a greater purpose of smooth new wave/guitar pop jamming that many of the songs belong to.

Songs like ‘In Blue Skies’ are effortless masterstrokes of Cool Sounds’ version of this kind of guitar pop, it’s flamenco acoustic guitar bridge leading into a gorgeously harmonised outro. It’s also got a music video you can watch above where the Lacy makes out lovingly with a basketball, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Lacy’s song writing doesn’t sit in any one emotional ballpark; he’ll contrast vulnerable lines like “I begin to shake/stop looking my way” on ‘Shake’ with huge sweeping guitar and saxophone climaxes. Lyrically, Dance Moves touches on elements of vulnerability, distance, isolation, and the struggles of self control. On the opening track ‘Control’, Lacy admits “I keep dreaming that I’m cheating on you” in probably one of the most honest opening lines I’ve heard this year.

‘Heartbreak’ is a fantastic detour into all out synth pop, synthesizer arpeggios scattering about in the background whilst the drums and bass give the rhythm a work out and Lacy croons over the top, it’s also got one of the best lines on the album, “I’m a man, please justify me.”

It’s unfortunate that in certain instances Lacy’s vocals aren’t up to the task though – with the impressive production laid onto Dance Moves regardless of it’s bedroom recording roots (you can thank Halliwell for that too) Lacy struggles at times to match his voice to the hugeness of the instrumentation around him, not quite reaching certain notes and getting lost in the mix at times. This happens worst on ‘Runs Wild’, that song probably being the most undercooked on Dance Moves, ending in a really awkward way, something that betrays its speed.  While Lacy’s voice might be an acquired taste, his tender and earnest vocal delivery often make up for it.

Lacy’s lyricism is his real strength. He’s not overtly self pitying or glorifying his own weaknesses. He deals with them in a manner that lays them bare and picks at them mercilessly like an out of body experience. In that interview with Weirdo Wasteland, Kearton mentions much of Dance Moves is built out of experiences Lacy had while holding together a long distance relationship that stretched across continents.

Dance Moves is an impressive feat. Lacy decided to bring together everything great that Cool Sounds was with a shiny new coat of paint, and Halliwell’s production ensures that everything sounds way better than a bedroom recording should. While it’s in need of some variation at times, the blueprint for Cool Sounds going forward is so compelling and infectious that Dance Moves sets very few steps wrong.

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LISTEN: Make More – Spend Life LP

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While we’re trying so hard to have a legitimate winter right now, Brisbane trio Make More are dragging me back to Queensland summer. Their debut record Spend Life gives off the sticky feeling of living every moment under a relentlessly bright sun, the kind that makes you look happy even when you feel like shit. Spend Life is a succinctly packaged debut that blurs the lines of every genre it draws from, with each two-word titled track rarely breaking three minutes. The whole thing sounds urgent, the guitars sweating under the suppressed cynicism of each lyric. 

The best thing about Spend Life is that its strengths do more than compensate for its (few) weaknesses and prove there is still room to produce something original on an indie rock record. Six-stringed melodies bury sharp observations about relationships both intimate and universal. It took a few listens to unearth gems like the lone phrase in opener and lead single ‘Best End’: ‘You’re an idealist with no idea / I heard you went on a trip around the world / now you’ve think you changed it.

Lyrically each track is built off a passing thought sprouted from a feeling – disillusionment, disappointment and certain apathy seethe underneath distractingly big riffs with the end product forceful optimism: if I shout things that suck underneath insistently peppy guitars things will get better, or at least it’s worth a shot. ‘Dead Hands’ is a balance of harmonised guitars and counter-melodies, heady bass and stunted, one-syllable-at-a-time vocals, while title-track ‘Spend Life’ closes the album appropriately enforcing the finality of the past and how history is an immovable shit etc. It must be an important theme for the guys, because this is one of the only tracks where the vocals take precedence over guitars in the mix.

Errol, Josh and Simon (surnames unknown/mind your own GD business you nosey B) also play in punk band To The North, and have pasted that band’s propulsive rhythm section straight into Spend Life, injecting feverish punk moments and pushing the sound away from the guitar pop brush I want to paint Make More with. It’s hard to call an album free from any comfortable verse-chorus-verse structure any flavour of pop, but it’s a decision that has paid dividends as an important point of difference between Make More and other jangle punk bands like Boomgates and Thigh Master. Think less Dick Diver, more Unity Floors

Make More are feeling feelings, and feeling them fast. They’ve made an album out of influences that constructed differently have been proven to be offensively boring (part indie rock, part punk, part melodic guitars) but have done it with subtlety and skill. Spend Life is a great record to turn up loud and scream your grossest most undeniable secrets to.

Sneak a listen here ahead of the official release through Black Wire Records and Lacklustre Records, and catch the album tour (dates below).

 

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Listen: Steven Wright – ‘Exposure’

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Steven Wright

Let us consider Steven Wright’s new single ‘Exposure’, from the forthcoming album Repetition, through the above photograph. In the photo Steven Wright stands on a makeshift soapbox, looking forlorn, stripped and self-degraded with the limited movement of only being able to leap or remain stationary as his ankles stand drawn together by rope. His disastrousness and bare-all demeanour, depending how well it’s pulled off, looks like a great show. While every powerful performer is their own kind of vaudeville act, Wright’s stance is exactly how I’d imagine someone singing ‘Exposure’ would look. Wright appears as if he’s going to go for it all, or he’s going to walk away saying ‘fuck it all’. He looks like someone who both wants to perform and is tired of performing. Or more precisely he looks caught in the act of performing, which itself necessitates Wright’s own self-awareness in performance.

To be riddled with this kind of self-awareness is both a devastating self-consciousness and yet also strangely comforting in its truth. The frozen moment looks like a slip between an artist performing on stage and a man unwittingly caught out – it has both an ironic detachment and a complete sincerity. It’s akin to watching someone know the impossibility of being truly sincere, knowing that the stage is resolutely performance and yet instead of indulging in the irony of the moment, over-performing by sincerely acknowledging the theatre of everything.

Exposure is either a great bravery or a deep shame and for Wright exposure seems to linger on emotion, or lack thereof, as it begins with an “openness to any present feeling”, as Wright pushes through the spectrums of either over-feeling or under-feeling but never really, you know, feeling. Yet of course talking about the hardships of feeling and not-feeling is itself a feeling-inducing sentiment and, as Wright tells us, “in that volatility, vitality is found”. The dark dreamy piano and synth music works by affect and I see you’re like “yeah duh most music works by affect/emotion/tears” except ‘Exposure’ isn’t some simple one-way emotional appeal to make you feel melancholy or anxious but instead toys with structured melodies to retain a sense of hope alongside the gloom. Perhaps this sounds mighty cliche, we might even look upon the above image as cliche, but the strength of the vulnerability and honesty in Wright’s music and words demands that his work must be taken sincerely and seriously. ’Exposure’ reads like a person in control of their own song, but not their own life. It has depth, awareness and a sick humour – which is all I ever really ask of a song (or art).

Despite all my above pomposity there are various practicalities that images and sounds aren’t going to tell you. One of these things is that Steven Wright is from Hobart. That’s he’s been involved with Bi-Hour, Wasted Idol and Bad Cabin. That he’s release an LP of noise music under Polanyi.  That Repetition is Wright’s second solo album and will be released by Virtual Cool on August 15 (a tentative date) and you can get ya preorders now. That Wright will be playing select shows through Europe in August.

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