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INTERVIEW: ANGUS & JULIA STONE TALK WILD TURKEY’S MUSIC 101 MENTORSHIP PROGRAM

Wild Turkey Bourbon’s Music 101 Mentorship Program is back for 2024, encouraging Aussie emerging artists to trust their spirit and learn from the best in the business. The Program is about giving a stage to up-and-coming Australian artists, providing a platform to share their boldest stories in a celebration of community, music, and conviction.

This year, Wild Turkey will offer ten ambitious artists access to top industry figures, with Australian music legends Angus & Julia Stone as lead mentors for the Program. Studios 301, the largest recording company in the Southern Hemisphere, will play an integral role in the Wild Turkey Music 101 Mentorship Program, with some of Australia’s finest audio engineers, vocal producers, and songwriters forming part of the mentor cohort. The mentors include acclaimed vocal producer Simon Cohen, who has received numerous international accolades for his work, producer and engineer Kiah Gossner, a go-to producer for those seeking a sophisticated edge on their recordings, and Stefan du Randt, a prolific producer, mixing and recording engineer.

The Program will consist of six tailored sessions held across the two days in Sydney this July. Day one will be held by Studios 301 and day two at Wild Turkey’s House of Music 101, where music lovers will be treated to live music and be inspired to trust their own spirit.

Angus and Julia Stone have just released a wonderful new album Cape Forestier and are currently touring it in the UK and Europe, before heading home to play live for Australian audiences in August. Australian Musician editor Greg Phillips caught up with Angus and Julia to chat about the Wild Turkey Bourbon’s Music 101 Mentorship Program via a call from Dublin, just before they headed to England for gig in Bristol followed soon after by one at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall.

AM: You’ve just released a fabulous new album Cape Forestier and you’re touring it overseas. Before we talk about the tour and the album, I wanted to discuss your involvement in Wild Turkey’s Music 101 Mentorship Program. You are both mentors for the program and presenting an advice session in Sydney in July to ten lucky participants. (Entry details HERE). I wonder if a program like this may have helped you when you were starting out?

Angus:  I think what Julia and I will try and relay and give back to the 10 people that come to be in the room with us that we’re sharing advice with is just to not be, I think in this day and age, not be so outcome driven and be present in what it is that you’re doing. And I think having the capacity to share and what you’re feeling … your thoughts through music is a really special thing and it’s important to stay in that and not be involved in it for anything else but that. The whole thing around success at the moment is theory that you’ll go viral and then all of a sudden you’ll be up on stage in front of thousands of people. It’s the hard work that makes you who you are as a hardworking musician and all the skills that you learn along the way. (A life in music) being difficult and also joyous are sort of what trains you up for those moments that I think can be really, really special in the end.

Julia: And we were really lucky. Angus and I, we didn’t have a mentorship program as such when we started, but we were exposed to people who gave us that kind of advice, who had been in the industry and who believed in us and our sound. And they really showed us through conversations, through the way that they moved in the world, that the journey is the important part. It’s kind of the only thing you have at the end of the day. There’s nowhere to get to. There’s just this thing that you’re doing in the moment and staying connected to that is what resonates as truth with audiences and ultimately brings about success in a different way. Success as a moment to moment thing that is doing something really lovely, whether it’s for yourself, whether it’s for the five people at the pub listening or whether it’s for the thousands of people that show up to see you.

I think we were lucky that we had an aunty that was in the music industry. She was full of wisdom and full of trusting what she just always said to us, just trust what you do. She never exposed us to A&R people. We were never told to be different to what we were. I think a lot of people now feel like labels and stuff can come along and say, yeah, your sound is great, but if you do it more like this, you’ll have more success. And I think that’s where from whenever you start in music, you’re really vulnerable to the pressure to be something that you’re not. And we never had that pressure. We always believed in who we were and we felt like what we were doing was good enough. And I think we want to share that information with these 10 artists that come in.

Looking back, what kind of things do you wish you knew when you started out?

Julia: I dunno if you kind of wish to know things when you didn’t know them! It’s nice to have found out the way that we found out. I think if I knew that touring around the world was as gruelling as it is, it’s an incredibly fun and privileged experience, but it’s also like you’re on a bus living with 12 other people. You are showering in the backs of venues. It’s not a glamorous life even when you’re playing in front of thousands and thousands of people. And I think, I’m glad I didn’t know that. I think I’m glad that there’s this nice kind of discovery that there’s these beautiful things that come when you’re touring like this and there’s also this truth about it, that life is just life. There’s no change that comes really. It’s like minute kind of external things change, but really, and again, I don’t think anyone could have told me and I would’ve understood it until now. So maybe if I had the capacity and consciousness to know, I would’ve loved to know that all that exists is you’re only going to be as happy as you are right now.

You are both presenting a session in Sydney in July and one of the topics that you are covering is ‘Performance Tips’. Can you give us a preview of the kind of advice you might pass on to participants?

Julia: Well, that’s one of the things we’re going to be talking about. Actually we have two hours to talk, so we’ve broken it up into about 10 different categories of things we want to talk about in terms of performance tips. One of the things that Angus and I learned very early on, we often played at very noisy pubs and we played very quiet music, particularly when we were starting, was that when an audience isn’t listening because they’re playing the pokies or chatting at the bar, a way to draw people in is to really listen to yourself and to bring it really quiet. So it was almost like the quieter we played and the more in tune we were with what the song was about, the more the audience would be drawn in. And so having that sort of sense that you don’t have to start a song and sort of sing loud over the top of people to compete with them, never compete with an audience, always bring them in by becoming more centred in the song and what you’re doing and just take your time and starting a set. Sometimes Angus and I would just play the acoustic guitars and we’d just wait for people to be quiet. We just wait and wait, maybe two minutes, just finger picking. And eventually people start to know, oh, something’s going on and I’m being rude. It’s time to shut up.

Bands often tell me that shows can differ so greatly from night to night, a festival to a small club. How would your performance change from playing a small club to say a big festival stage? What kind of things do you have to consider?

Angus: I think it’s really interesting the way, for instance, when we’re on the road, we’re on the road here in Europe and we’ll be playing five shows a week and you’ll be playing a show on a Monday and then you’ll be playing a show and you’ll feel the crowd on a Saturday. And you’ll be surprised at how sometimes the Monday crowds can be more rowdy than the Saturdays. And I think it’s the climate of the city that you’re in and also the temperature of what’s going on in that community politically. And also just, I think also when people come together, there’s a certain alchemy of energy that is complex in the way that we can’t really explain. It’s really cool in that way. You are watching atoms sort of collide in a room. I mean, not to get too scientific about it, but it is pretty cool to watch. Sometimes it’s unexplainable. You think you’ll be on top of it with what as just your general weatherman stuff, but sometimes it’s just a whole new world.

You guys have just released a new album. One of the other sessions in this programme is called Getting Your Music Ready to Record, hosted by Kiah Gossner from Studio 301. How important is preparation for you guys before hitting the studio?

Angus:  I heard an actor … I think it was Christian Bale and he was talking about it the other day. He was saying prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare … relax! I think what happens is all that prep work, if you really put the legwork in and when you get there, all those nerves and uncertainties that you’re feeling, your subconscious will kick in the autopilot. Obviously you don’t want to be on autopilot all the time but you want to be able to pull from the magic and also the things that you’ve prepared and also just being in the room. But again, it’s like what I was saying before, there’s so many different elements to the day and how things will turn out. I think what will help you get over the line is that preparation.

Julia: It’s like building a house without a good foundation. I mean the kind of practice that goes into, even for performing live, it’s really important to run a set list and make sure the songs flow together and to make it feel cohesive and unified. And standup comedians practice their set and the spaces between where they deliver the line. I think musicians are artists that also have to communicate with the crowd. And so you have to think about … many musicians are also introverts, so it’s not natural to talk to a crowd. So practising how you’re going to communicate to a group of people, that also is practise. There’s so much practise that goes into just like, how do you say g’day and how are you doing? And keeping people feeling like you can connect with them and tell them stories about the songs or not tell them stories about the songs. What songs do you want to keep mysterious? We do this thing sometimes where there’s a certain song and by telling a little story about it, it brings the song to life in a completely different way. And knowing where that’s effective and where it’s kind of not needed is again, practice. And I think another thing I just thought of when Angus was talking about preparation is when you go into the studio, that first take is always so magic. If you don’t know the lyrics to the song or you mess up, it’s so sad because sometimes you have this amazing first take and you can’t use it because you’ve actually said the wrong thing, or the wrong lyric. And that can be really upsetting because you can never go back to the moment that you did that first take.

The music industry is constantly changing and it’s hard enough for known artists like yourselves to keep up to date with the moving goalposts. How do you think you’d go today starting out?

Angus: I think the social platform epidemic is, I think there’s two sides to the coin. I think what the kids see as success is it’s coming back to that overnight thing that isn’t really reality. But today, I guess, I don’t know, I think we always were just  slogging it out at weddings, to down the surf club, to open mic nights and then slowly building from four people to 40 to 400 to 2000. Obviously over time, where we are today. I think it would be a scary world to be in now in the way that I think the information that is being given out sometimes isn’t necessarily reality. I think living in a virtual world, it would be quite confusing for people, then stepping out onto the stage and not having put the hard work in and being really clever with the way that they promote things. And basically it’s you’ve got a full marketing programme at your fingertips if you’re savvy enough, which the kids are, I think it’s, yeah, you’ve just got to find a balance. And I think us coming into the social platform era, it was the opposite. We’d done all the hard work and then we had to figure it out from the opposite end. I think on the flip side, it would be more difficult now coming into it.

Julia: Having all the skills about how to use social media, but not having the skills about how to drag your gear into someone’s bad party and set up and do your own sound and learn how to use the gear. I mean, it’s like those things, they take more time. And I think that’s where there’s a sort of need for taking the steps slowly and where you’re at, not rushing the process. And I think that it’s great for both of those things to coexist, to know how to use social media and to use it to your advantage, but also to know how to do a hard show, to know how to perform to nobody and still care and to make all those moments count. And I think this programme, the Wild Turkey Music 101 Mentorship Program is something that at the time that if we were starting now, this is the sort of thing, we’d be trolling on the internet looking for opportunities.

We were always looking for busking competitions, entries to folk festivals. Send your demo and you can get a spot in the chai tent. We were entering everything. Everything and anything we could possibly perform at we’d say yes to. And we had jobs, Angus was labouring and I was teaching trumpet and looking after the kids and we were doing everything. Every moment we had off from our day jobs, we were figuring out how to get in front of people and how to share our music. And we were making our own merch in the garage. We would learn how to screen print t-shirts and we’d go to the shops and buy $1 t-shirts and then print them and figuring out ways, how can we make enough money to buy that guitar we need or that plugin we need? And everything was about accessing opportunity. And so I think we’d be one of the people entering this competition and being like, okay, I’m going to send my best demo in and I’m going to try and get in the program and then I’m going to meet these people. There are opportunities out there. And there are an amazing, especially in a country like Australia, there are a lot of avenues for writers and artists to do these kind of retreats and stuff. There’s amazing programs. And so yeah, just doing the hard work, I guess.

While we have you here, we should talk about Cape Forestier, your new album named after the Beautiful Place in Tasmania. How’s the new material going down in the UK and which tracks are you enjoying playing the most?

Julia: We are loving it, Greg. We love playing the new record. Thank you. It’s very exciting. What would you say is your favourite to play live at the moment Angus, from the new record?

Angus: I’m always biased in the way that I think Julia’s songs are the best. Also I do that to get out of trouble (laughs). But no, I really like Julia’s song called The Wedding Song, and it’s just really lovely to watch people’s eyes light up. And I think it’s the way that it was created… it was a gift to friends of ours that were getting married. And the music video was really fun in the way that we sent out. We sent out a thing on our platform saying, hey, if you have any ceremonies of love captured on camera, we’d love to make that a part of our music video for this new song, the Wedding Song. And we got 800 videos from around the world of all walks of life, from Bollywood weddings to African weddings, to over in Amsterdam weddings to the backyard of Australia weddings and all sorts of different budgets. But the real fundamental thing was love sharing this really special thing that you found that one person to share it all with and seeing that each night in the audience is really cool.

Julia: Yeah, it’s been great. And I think Cape Forestier, the title track live, we’ve got this amazing band with us. They’re so beautiful, a girl drummer Lauren (Lozz)  Benson and a girl on bass Cass Basil, and our very longtime friend and musician, Ben Edgar. Between them all with the girls, they’re incredible singers. So all of those sort of beautiful ethereal harmonies and stuff on Cape Forestier, that sort of chorus of all the girls singing together is so dreamy. And we’ve always had an all male band historically touring, and so that’s also been incredibly beautiful to have the additional female vocalists and musicians, a really, really nice sound for that song. And the other songs, of course, we’re playing older songs as well. But yeah, it’s been really beautiful to sing with them. And we finished a show with all of us around the mic at the front of the stage singing a song from our youth and the girls start to sing and the crowd go crazy as soon as the girls sing in the front of the stage. It’s a really special moment.

Well we look forward to seeing the show when you are touring here in Australia in August. The Wild Turkey Music 101 mentorship program entries are open on the 30th of May and artists have got two weeks to enter, up until the 14th of June, when they cut off. Anything else you want to add about the program?

Julia: Just yeah, give it a crack. We can’t wait to hear your submissions and we’re so excited to listen to our new Australian music and we really hope that you get to be a part of it. It’s going to be an incredible couple of days in Sydney … so yeah, go for it.

Angus:  Give it crack!

Lead mentors Angus & Julia Stone are calling for up-and-coming Aussie artists to apply for the Wild Turkey Music 101 Mentorship Program, with the chance to build and showcase their skills at House of Music 101. Aspiring artists can apply via https://wildturkeymusic.com.au/mentorship/. Entries are open from 30 May to 14 June 2024.

Fans are encouraged to keep an eye on Wild Turkey’s social channels keep up to date on House of Music 101 at @wildturkeyau.

Find Angus and Julia Stone tour dates at https://angusandjuliastone.com/

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