Melbourne’s Lucy Roleff returns with another taste from her forthcoming album, Left Open in a Room, following on from whimsical lead single, ‘A Woman’s Worth’.
Roleff’s enduring, folk-leaning music draws comparisons with understated artists such as Vashti Bunyan and Nick Drake. Its ageless beauty is imbued with a sense of history despite its current context, even Roleff herself at times appearing to have emerged from some mystical time capsule. This is not to say the music is in any way passé, more so that it is impervious to the fleeting (and ultimately forgettable) tendencies of some contemporary music
The songwriting on the new album is refined and confident, exposing a vulnerability in the lyrics, adding to her already rich musical universe. Latest single, ‘Sometimes Do’, exemplifies this vulnerability; a delicate harp arpeggio cradling Roleff’s exquisitely elegant vocals that appear suspended atop the sparse, pin-drop arrangements.
Left Open in a Room is due out May 15 on Lost & Lonesome, Little Lake Records (au) and Oscarson Records (eu). If you’re in Melbourne, you can catch Lucy launching the album on May 26th at Eastmint, Northcote with supports from Mindy Meng Wang & Genevieve Fry, and Pascal Babare & Band. Full event details here.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lucy Roleff’s upcoming album, This Paradise, is a little ways off of its 15 July release date, but to distill the wait, Roleff now presents the second single, ‘Every Time’ – a perfect compliment to the soft plucking of previous single, ‘Aspen’.
Composed a few years back in Berlin on some banged-up dollar-store guitar, ‘Every Time’ is rich, slow and sombre. Apparently written about a lover who is an expert in making their absence felt, ‘Every Time’ has Roleff’s admitting that this person has an emotional resonance in her life that isn’t always convenient.
It reminds me of the intimate nylon guitar performances of Jessica Pratt; similar to the ethereal yet emotionally honest cuts from Pratt’s 2015 album, On Your Own Love Again. Roleff’s voice is whispered but strong, woodwinds playing soft melodies behind her wavering vocals.
Considering both ‘Aspen’ and ‘Every Time’, the paradise alluded to by Roleff’s album title could either be a paradise that exists only on reflection or one in which she currently resides: the beauty of solitude in Berlin or the beauty of the countryside in South Gippsland. Either way, This Paradise is shaping up to be one of 2016’s most stark but beautiful records.
We’ve teamed up with Feral Media for Virtual Mixtape – a series where we ask musicians to create a mixtape based on a genre, artist or theme which they’re passionate about not necessarily associated with.
Our third instalment comes from musician Marcus Whale, known for his work in CollarbonesandBlack Vanilla.Whale has chosen a selection of tracks from experimental American composer/songwriter Scott Walker, who came to prominence in the late 60s and still receives acclaim for his unorthodox sound musings.
Words by Greg Stone:
Although only in his early twenties, Marcus has been involved in the Sydney music scene for many years. When I first met Marcus, he was sixteen and reviewing for post rock website The Silent Ballet, and writing music under his recently retired Scissor Lock moniker, which over the years evolved from shimmering ambient guitar pieces to processed vocal soundscapes to woozy, sample-heavy electronica.
Marcus is best known as one half of electronic duo Collarbones, or as a member of R’n’B-tinged, dance music upstarts Black Vanilla. But aside from these more pop centric projects, Marcus has also remained heavily involved in the experimental music scene curating and performing at events including the Now Now festival, Underbelly Arts and Electrofringe; releasing works on New Editions and Room 40 imprint A Guide to Saints, and also running his own short-lived label CURT Records.
Considering this dichotomy, it’s rather fitting that Marcus has chosen Scott Walker as his mixtape theme, with Walker himself evolving from 1960’s pop balladeer as front man of the Walker Brothers, to his current status of avant-garde royalty.
For the uninitiated, consider this mixtape your personal guide through Walker’s intriguing musical career; but more importantly take in Whale’s insightful musings on a true artistic pioneer.
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‘It’s Raining Today’ from Scott 3
The arrangement of the ambivalently atmospheric ‘It’s Raining Today’ from 1967’s Scott 3 is I think proof that you can be both completely dedicated to middle of the road Adult Contemporary radio format, as well as to sonic innovation. The techniques used in the string arrangement mirror that of some contemporary classical composers of the 60s, notably the Polish composer, Penderecki. His great string orchestra work ‘Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima’, written in 1960 has provided a blueprint for countless other composers (and pop musicians) in the ensuing years. How appropriate for a chromatic cluster to turn up on the exact cultural opposite end of the musical spectrum seven years later.
‘Boy Child’ from Scott 4
‘Boy Child’ is another example of Scott Walker’s tendency toward excessiveness in arrangement, strings drenched in reverb. I’m not sure exactly what ‘Boy Child’ speaks to lyrically, but it feels as if it could only be about the second coming of Jesus, a kind of romantic desolation.
‘The Cockfighter’ from Tilt
Fast forward almost thirty years to 1995 now, and the form of orchestral soft pop that brought Scott Walker to fame has long faded in popularity. What’s left for Walker, is just the theatre of it – the power of instruments to surround his voice with a world. Notable to me is not necessarily that arrangement in ‘The Cockfighter’ is harsh at times, but more that once Walker prioritised songwriting above aesthetics, his interests immediately took him through zones that required treatments as dark as this. Among fairly dated 90s rock band arrangements are industrially rendered pulses, white noise, squealing strings and horns, uncanny field recordings – all serving to echo Walker’s diabolical vision…
In our new series with Feral Media, we’ve asked a handful of Aus musicians to curate a mix featuring tracks from a genre they’re not associated with, but passionate about. Jonathan Boulet made us a doom-rock listicle in our first instalment (which you can read about here). Our second guest is producer, radio host, gaming mozart + longtime WTH favourite, Tim Shiel.
Tim Shiel began his music career releasing sample-based electronica under his Faux Pas alias. Taking cues from luminaries such as DJ Shadow, RJD2 and The Avalanches, his debut full length Entropy Begins at Home was a playful collage of bouncy electronica stitched together with a sense of humour that has remained at the heart of Tim’s music ever since.
After 3 albums and a slew of singles, EPs & remixes the Faux Pas moniker was retired with Shiel deciding to continue releasing music under his given names, most notably scoring the highly successful mobile-based video game Duet which has since spawned a remix album and most recently Duet: Encore Chapters. Tim’s music career took an extreme turn in 2011/2012 as a member of Gotye’s touring band which took in sold out tours of the U.S. and Europe, festival appearances, as well as the U.S. late night TV circuit. This relationship with Gotye’s Wally De Backer recently led the two to create fledgling record label Spirit Level, releasing the amazing sophomore album by Vermont-based band Zammuto.
His latest musical project is the self-proclaimed ’emotional pop duo’ Telling with singer/songwriter Ben Abraham, which finds Tim steering his electronic production in a more song-based direction.
In amongst all of this, Tim also finds time to host the radio show Something More on Double J & Triple J, where he explores the eclectic and intriguing world of contemporary electronic/experimental music.
For the second instalment of Virtual Mixtape, Tim has chosen (for want of a better term), modern folk. In his own words, “It’s not folktronica and it’s not freak folk. It’s just a brand of evocative, dreamy folk music that I’m really drawn to and have been for many years.” Furthermore, all of Tim’s selections come from Australian artists – a testament to the quality of music being created on our fair shores.
Lisa’s songs are unassuming and thoughtful, and so are the arrangements on all the tracks on her most recent album which she produced with Joe Talia. Her voice is equal parts virtuosity and restraint, her melodies always interesting but never showy. I think this song is truly gorgeous and at times its little more than a shaker and a bass drone, and Lisa’s pure, intimate voice melting through it all.
I’m really drawn to all the tracks that Fieldings has put out so far. They are simple folk songs that occasionally open a door to something more psychedelic, these tiny moments of sound design that hint at a kind of dream logic – and then snap you back to earth, back to acoustic guitars and old faithful harmonies. She says she is trying to capture “those moments where the mundane becomes sublime” and I can’t really put it any better than that.
Lucy’s voice is just stunning – I really love what she’s been doing with Alex as Magic Hands, but I’m utterly spellbound by some of what she’s put out just under her own name. I love that, like everyone else on this, she seems to be channeling a kind of folk music that has nothing to do with banjos or mandolins or beards or Mumfords – an idea of folk music that is more universal, that kind of story- telling that existed before popular music, before rock, blues, country etc. Timeless music.
I met Aphir after seeing her play at a little bar in Melbourne last year – she’d just pulled off a forty set of completely a capella music that I’d been completely entranced by. Hers is a kind of digital medieval choral music – hyper-real, borrowing the harmonic ideas of medieval choral composers and sending them echoing through a kind of virtual cathedral space, to create this kind of futuristic religious music. In amongst all that her stories are personal and compelling. Her sound is so unique and so clear.
Stuart & Marita are literally the sweetest people I have ever met, and they make beautiful music together. I love that they sing about my hometown and about its history, that they are inspired by local stories and local histories. They create haunting and detailed little worlds and again they litter their songs with these quietly epic moments of grandeur that hint at a kind of fantastical dream world – I love that they can create such beautiful, gorgeous pieces about topics that some might consider mundane; the rivers, suburbs and history of Melbourne.
The Wolves is one of my favourite Australian albums from recent years. The arrangements are so rich, its amazing to think about how much love was poured into each track on this album. Its not easy to make such hard work sound so effortless. This track in particular is full of delicious details and left turns – but its Jay’s voice that is the big hook for me, she sounds so gorgeous and strange. I could listen to her sing all day. Jaye is also an amazing radio producer who has done some very creative work with Radio National, which obviously counts for serious bonus points with me.
Bands and artists are expected to borrow their schtick from a variety of sources. Often, the back story is just as interesting as the output itself. We’re kicking off a new series where we ask artists to make a mixtape based on a genre they’re into, but not necessarily associated with. Sometimes harmony, sometimes hardcore Jonathan Boulet gives us some insight into his ‘doom rock’ brain-chasms below. HTML hi-fives to Lucy Roleff (for illustrating our new national emblem above) and Greg Stone from Feral Media for putting this together.
Greg Stone: I first became aware of Jonathan Boulet as the drummer/vocalist in the now defunct Sydney band Parades, an indie pop/rock group who seemed poised to take on the world, albeit for a brief moment. So it came as no surprise when Jono’s solo project stole the spotlight with its irrepressible pop hooks and sing along choruses. A talent that caught the ear of indie powerhouse Modular, who quickly released his self titled debut album.
Fast-forward to 2014 and Boulet’s most recent album Gubba (released via Popfrenzy), finds him indulging heavier rock moments revealing yet another side to his musical oeuvre, a side previously hinted at through his side-project Snakeface. Considering this, it is certainly fitting that his mixtape is on the heavy side of things. A cathartic journey through sludge rock, post punk, hardcore and other distorted sub genres best enjoyed at maximum volume.
1. Sleep – ‘Jerusalem’
Never actually listened to this front to back. We did it the other day while we were on tour driving between Sydney and Brisbane. The heavens opened up as they always do right as you go past Byron Bay. It was getting dark, we were speeding through a typhoon – zero visibility, moments from our imminent doom……with the perfect soundtrack.
‘Stoner’, ‘Doom’, ‘Sludge’ – whatever it’s called, it just doesn’t seem to ever lose its appeal to me. You can get sick of anything, but this is something I come back to most weeks.
2. Swans – ‘Oxygen’
Michael Gira’s vocals are just straight out funny. I like his sense of humour. I just want a copy of the acapella for this one. Once again, Swans punish their audience with their unrelenting barrage of hits, slides, bends topped off with that undeniable groove.
3. Destruction Unit – ‘Slow Death Sounds’
When that guitar comes in it just tears through the speakers like a chainsaw hitting a bloated stomach. That kind of reckless sonic annihilation would make many recording engineers queasy. That’s exactly why it’s perfect.
4. The Men – ‘LADOCH’
I love how this song feels like it’s over but somehow they get a second wind and it’s back on. This band moves on so quickly from album to album but I’m glad they took the time to blow some steam and indulge in some righteous sonic violence before continuing on to safer territory.