Julia Stone’s heart is warm. With the summer sun soaking her Melbourne residence, she revels in the calm as her dog Red and her father, who’s visiting, lounge in the shade. Her new album of eight-years in the making, Sixty Summers, which comes out April 30th, is a multidimensional mosaic of blues, folk and dance signifying her growth as an internationally renowned artist and exemplary of her appreciation for music from the four corners of the earth.
Ahead of the album release and tour with Alanis Morisette later this year, we had an insightful e-chat about her musical journey, changing the world and why she thinks Blues Brothers is worth watching every holiday season.
It has been a crazy year around the world. Everybody’s had a lot more time alone. What have you learnt about yourself in the last year and what will you be leaving behind in 2020?
It’s okay to not be okay. You don’t have to find a silver lining in all experiences. If you can then that is really great but it’s also fine to sit in the discomfort of whatever you’re going through. I used to think I always had to ‘be okay’ and that I was somehow ungrateful for feeling bad. I have watched a lot of people/friends and family do that through the pandemic last year… ‘well, I don’t feel great but we are so lucky because…’
It is true, there are always things to be grateful for, but that doesn’t change that sometimes it just doesn’t feel good. It’s much healthier to acknowledge that feeling.
Although Christmas feels far in the past we’re not far from it. Loved your acoustic Christmas covers and the mischievous Benny. What’s your favourite Christmas song? And why do you watch Blues Brothers every year?
I think it’s a mix of nostalgia watching ‘The Blues Brothers’ and the fact that’s just such an incredible film. This year I watched it with a group of friends on a couch on New Year’s Day. It was a glorious moment. Everyone knows every scene from the movie. It’s breath-taking, the cast and the music is astonishing.
In terms of my favourite Christmas tune. I guess I love the really traditional ones. I’m not a religious person, nor am I from a religious family but there’s something really special about the stillness and faith in songs like ‘The first Noel’ and ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Come All Ye Faithful’, the melodies and lyrics are so peaceful.
When asked to describe the Twin EP on Instagram you replied with a filter with loads of faces. Hearing the diversity of tempo’s, beats and basslines on the EP, it feel’s you have found a way for your graceful lyricism to play on the dance-floor and to people at home alone; different faces but still you. In the last eight years where have you been on your musical journey and where do you think you’ve arrived?
I spent a lot of the last 8 years out on tour playing shows so on the one hand I was working really hard and refining a show with my brother and the music we were releasing and on the other hand, outside of doing that, I was working on songs with my friend Thomas in new York and then later with Annie between New York and L.A. I was also doing a lot of co-writing whenever I got the chance. I have really enjoyed the process of collaborating. I really liked the process because you have to be completely vulnerable and open around other people. You unveil or reveal parts of yourself that you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do. It’s much safer in a lot of ways to write on your own. I was getting really into the world of what different hearts and minds would cook up when together in a room for a day or more. I guess that really was a big part of where I am right now on the journey.
It seems Australia has summer all year round, but now that summer really is here what do you do for fun?
I love playing squash with my friend Ed. That isn’t really weather dependent. I’ve never really been that into going to the beach. Which I know is odd coming from an Australian. The sun is very strong down here so I try to avoid days out at the beach. I love walking in the aussie bush. It has specific sounds and smells. I like lying in the shade with my dog. I like sleeping in when it’s really warm.
What’s the story behind the album title Sixty Summers?
Sixty Summers is about realising maybe too late, that life is very brief. The idea that we only have 60 summers. My friend, back where I grew up when I was quite young, said to me one night at a party ‘can you believe we only have Sixty Summers left?’
Thinking of life in seasons made it feel really short… summer comes and goes. In what feels like the blink of an eye. To waste time or follow roads that are not in connection with who you really are or what you really want, I wanted to explore the ideas around that on that this record.
I noticed that you collaborated with Filip Custic, a surrealist artist who recently worked with Rosalia on her album cover. His work features many symbols and biblical archetypes. What is it about this style that you identify with?
Filip is incredible at portraying the deeper story behind any person or any project. When we first started talking, we connected on the theme around Sixty Summers, the passing of time and the many ways we show up in the world. How we see ourselves through those sixty summers. The complexity and the beauty of the human experience. He really captured that on the album cover and for every single that has been released, he has listened to the song and delivered something so remarkable from what he’s heard in the lyrics or the feeling of the song.
You just dropped We All Have, with Matt Beringer. As a close friend of his, what do you think is the key to his confidence? What else have you learnt from working with him?
Matt is an extremely humble man. For someone who is extremely talented it is a really incredible combination. To have that kind of generosity and outlook in the world and to also carry the weight of an instrument and expression that affects so many people makes him really special. What I learnt from Matt actually came following making ‘We All Have’, it was when we were talking on the phone and he started talking about how important it is to be honest about where you’re at as a person. If you’re feeling terrible it’s okay just to say you’re feeling terrible and very often it makes another person feel okay to be feeling terrible. I loved his transparency and honesty. He is someone who is all about ‘life is too short to pretend’.
The album rounds off with Dance (French version). What’s your relationship with the French language?
I started singing in French years ago when we found ourselves spending a lot of the year touring there. It started to feel strange to be playing so many dates there and not be talking or singing in French. I didn’t speak much of the language but loved the sound of it so slowly I started to learn bits and pieces. Dance always felt like a song that would work in French, it felt romantic like the language and the country and my memories of being there.
It must be said that your music videos and your acting in them is always thought-provoking and entertaining. Have you ever considered acting? How important are music videos to you?
I actually had the good fortune of acting in an Australian film a couple of years ago. It was based on a very famous Australian novel called ‘Dirt Music’. I was asked to audition because they needed someone who could play music to play this character. I had a great time being on set and working with the actors. I loved watching Kelly McDonald, she was so natural and beautiful. She wasn’t a trained actor so to speak, her first film was trainspotting and then she just went from there. I liked that, it made me think that I could do a bit of acting here and there for the fun of it. I love acting in music videos and the whole experience with the people on set. The crew, the cast, it’s just another reason to get together to create something and have a nice experience.
The video for Break was sixties psychedelia reborn. Do you have any influences, aesthetic or musical from the 60s/70s?
I grew up listening to all kinds of music from that era. Weather Report, Credence Clearwater Revival, Joni, Janis, Bob, Hank Williams, Rolling Stones. There was a freedom to artists at that time, they were doing whatever came to them and whatever they wanted.
Your music videos allude to the concept of technology and it’s effect on love/romance. Is technology bringing the death of romance or a renaissance in human connection? How’s your personal relationship with tech?
I’m not sure what the answer to that is for everyone. I don’t feel like for me personally it makes me feel closer to anyone but I also get enjoyment out of technology. Not human contact enjoyment, that for me, is an in-person thing but I know so many people who love interacting online. I like the fact that it acts as a device to make plans to connect in real life with people. That is wonderful.
Ten years ago in an interview with your brother, you mentioned planting a garden and your brother mentioned a boat. Did you ever plant that garden? If so, what did you plant?
I planted during lockdown last year, 2 tomato plants, parsley, sage, zucchini, pumpkin and lemongrass. Almost everything died except the tomato bush and parsley which worked well for me. Luckily that’s a brekky I really like, tomatoes on toast with salt, pepper and parsley. I’ll get better at gardening. Or not ☺
What advice would you give to your 21 year old self?
I’d probably tell her much the same as what I’m trying to tell myself all the time. Trust the feeling in your stomach, even if it’s not always right, it will be 90% of the time. Learn to say no to things, it doesn’t make you a bad person. Also never assume, you quite genuinely never know what someone is going through, so give them the freedom to experience their pain without your added judgement.
If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?
I’d snap my fingers and everyone, including me, would become self-aware. We’d all instantly recognise that all our suffering and pain comes from our own minds and there’s no one is to blame for anything. We can just love ourselves and then we’ll all love each other. It would be wonderful to have clean water and enough food for every human being on the planet. In Australia it would be great if the first nation owners of the land were managing this country. Ah you said one thing.
Later this year you tour with Alanis Morissette. Were you a fan of her work growing up? What does it feel like to be supporting her?
I knew every inflection of that record. I still know every inflection of that record. Jagged Little Pill was everywhere. It was a real moment in time, she completely showed up as herself and it was exciting. I’m so thrilled to support her. The shows are going to be wild.
What’s the record atop your 2021 music playlist (new or old)?!
I love the new Kylie record. It sits in a very fun ‘girls night out’ dance party world.
I’ve also been revisiting one of my all-time favourite records ‘Comes a Time’ by Neil Young, such a great record top to toe.