SONG OF THE DAY: “Hollywood” BY Angus & Julia

Angus & Julia Stone are an Australian brother-sister folk and indie pop group that formed in 2006. Angus & Julia have released three studio albums, A Book Like This (2007), Down the Way (2010) and their self-titled album (2014). At the ARIA Music Awards of 2010 they won five awards from nine nominations: winning Album of the Year, Best Adult Alternative Album, Best Cover Art and Producer of the Year for Down the Way and Single of the Year for “Big Jet Plane”. The siblings have each issued two solo albums, with Angus releasing Smoking Gun (under the pseudonym Lady of the Sunshine) in 2009 and Broken Brights in 2012; Julia’s albums are The Memory Machine (2010) and By the Horns (2012).

Julia (born 13 April 1984) and Angus (born 27 April 1986) grew up in the suburb of Newport on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. They attended Newport Primary School and then Barrenjoey High School – they were all taught music by their father. At family gatherings, when the children performed, Catherine was on saxophone, Julia on trumpet and Angus on trombone. During their teen years their parents separated and soon after Angus started writing pop songs. The children lived with their father, and after finishing schooling, Angus initially worked as a labourer while Julia taught trumpet. Angus learned guitar while recuperating from a snowboarding accident, he then traveled to South America to join his sister.

Angus returned to Australia while Julia spent the rest of a year travelling. Julia later recalled, “Angus was writing amazing songs …he had shown me how to play guitar in Bolivia, and those songs had gotten me through that year”. She elaborated “At that time the guitar was a new thing for me. I’d just bought it because I wanted to start learning. So we’re in the middle of the jungle with this guitar and Angus was playing us these songs he’d been writing. I hadn’t really been around him that much for the last couple of years – once I finished school I moved in with my boyfriend and Angus was off surfing and skating – and all of a sudden we’re in the middle of the jungle and he’s singing these songs that are so beautiful so I asked him to teach me some songs and that was the start of learning guitar and our friendship, I suppose, and the start of us having this amazing experience”.

When Julia returned to Australia she encouraged Angus to start performing. By 2005 Angus was playing at open mic nights, sometimes Julia performed backing vocals – for their first such gig, at the Coogee Bay Hotel, they performed Angus’ track, “Tears”. By that time Julia was writing her own material and they played split sets with each providing backing vocals for the other’s material. The siblings decided to collaborate on their musical endeavours as a duo in early 2006. In terms of composing material, they each write on their own, then work together on structure and harmonies. Australian music journalist, Ed Nimmervoll, described their songwriting as “Julia with her highly romantic confessional relationship songs, Angus with his more guarded lyrically, more directly pop oriented songs”. Julia related her process as “The songs and the writing happens all over the place and from all different sources of inspiration. It can be a combination of a place, a person and then the emotions that you’re going through in relation to those things. And then there’s the people around you who you’re leaving with and the lover you’ve left at home and the fact it’s your mom’s birthday next week and you’re not going to be there”.

They welcomed in 2008 by performing at the New Year’s Eve Falls Festival in Australia before heading back to the UK to support Newton Faulkner and David Gray, as well as playing their own sold-out London shows at Scala. Two of their tracks were listed on the Triple J Hottest 100, 2007, with “Wasted” at No. 31 and “The Beast” at No. 45. A Book Like This was released in the UK in March 2008. In May they performed at the Woodford Folk Festival. The UK press lauded the duo: Uncut magazine said they performed “Fragile, beautiful songs”; a reviewer for The Guardian said “they fill my heart to bursting point with joy”. The second half of that year was filled with more touring including a support spot with Martha Wainwright across the UK and into continental Europe playing gigs to over 25,000 people. In October they issued another four-track EP, Hollywood, which included re-recorded versions from A Book Like This with lead vocals swapped from Julia to Angus for “All the Colours” (aka “Wasted”) and “Johnny and June” (“Hollywood”), and from Angus to Julia for “Lonely Hands” (“Just a Boy”) – a three-track version was released for the US market.

According to Julia “When we make a record there are always too many songs, so we try and cut back to six songs each. There’s no real process of deciding what gets put on the album and what gets put on our solo records … It’s funny, Angus didn’t hear my solo record until it was being printed and I hadn’t heard any of the songs from his solo record – we did them totally separately”, March 2011. In an interview with Jason Treuen of Rolling Stone (Australia), Angus & Julia Stone confirmed they were writing material for a third album with Angus stating, “I want to write stuff that makes me wanna move, more groove-based stuff.”

Julia described writing the songs and temporarily parting with Angus, “We had already been working on a new record together but it didn’t feel right … I was thinking ‘I’ll make it now and we’ll figure out what happens when it happens'”. “Then Angus and I were talking on the phone and he’d been working on more stuff on his own as well and we both just agreed – we were both in the same place, ready to put together a collection of our own songs”. From late 2011 Angus had worked on his second solo album, Broken Brights, which was released in July 2012, and reached No. 2. He told Garin Fahlman of Vancouver Weekly that he had “discovered a lot about time … Just in general. To take a step back and let something unfold and breathe and become ripe when it says it’s time”.

The duo began working with Rick Rubin in Malibu during April 2014. On 17 April, Julia tweeted from her Twitter account, “Up at the studio in Malibu. Recording with me brethren and the man of wonder Rick for the new album.” Rubin helped reunite the duo and co-produced the album. The producer said of the experience: “This album is extraordinary; Angus and Julia are truly unique musicians. They are authentic and pure people who do things from the heart. I’ve never worked with anyone like them before.” The album has been said to contain “blended harmonies […] and more experimental guitar textures”. The album is the highest-charting by the duo to date, reaching the top 10 in several countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand. With an average of 67 based on 7 reviews on review aggregate Metacritic, Angus & Julia Stone received generally favorable critical reception.