I spoke to Angus and Julia just days after the shambles that were this year’s ARIA Awards. Fittingly for a band who’s toured so relentlessly, these frequent flyers were in a departure lounge when I called so in between security gates and boarding calls, they chatted about winning the night’s biggest awards, why the hell they thanked their pets and their plans for album number three.
For Angus and Julia, “Big Jet Plane” isn’t just their biggest song to date, it’s a lifestyle. When Rolling Stone finally gets a hold of the Sydney siblings, they’re rushing to their airport gate with thirty minutes left in the country. “Sorry, we just got through the security check…” apologises a breathless Julia.
This time “Australia’s favourite hippies” (as the media have dubbed them) are off to Europe and the UK again, starting with a sold out show in Switzerland. It’s a solid feat given they’ve never been there and indicative of the far-reaching appeal that’s seen them become unlikely cross-over stars along the way.
Their second record Down The Way, released last March, has sold Double Platinum (over 140,000 copies), making it the country’s highest selling Australian album of the year. At the time of writing, it’s still #10 on the ARIA charts.
But they’re not everyone’s cup of chai tea. Some critics have labelled them “beige”, “inoffensive” and “so mild they verge on the infuriating”, but that hasn’t stopped their tender, homespun folk inspiring a devout fanbase around the world and even cracking commercial radio back home.
Only three days ago, the pair won ARIAs for Album and Single of the Year at a shambolic affair at the Sydney Opera House. It was a dizzying climax to an already crazy year, but did they enjoy it? “Am I supposed to be honest or politically correct?” asks Julia.
Honest – what did you make of your first ARIA Awards?
Julia: I found the whole set-up really overwhelming actually, but I did enjoy playing the show.
The actual acceptance of the awards was quite full on. I didn’t know what was going on in that winners’ area. All of a sudden, there’s Powderfinger standing right next to us, accepting an award and it was like ‘woah, when did that happen?’ We’ve never been to an event like that. It was cool but felt quite chaotic.
You guys are pretty laid back people. I imagine an awards ceremony isn’t exactly your natural environment?
A: The red carpet was a bit of a trip. I thought we’d just pull up, walk to the end and go in, but it reminded me of running the gauntlet at school in the corridors with everyone giving you a good slap.
J: We got out of the car and people were yelling out our names. It was so overwhelming that I’d just start to laugh. Some photographers were quite aggressive and call your name like you’ve done something wrong. You don’t make music to be yelled at by a photographer to smile and pose in a certain way. You’ll like ‘well, I’ll just roll with it and enjoy it as much as I can’ but I don’t think I’ll be doing a lot of that in my lifetime.
Your acceptance speech for Album of the Year was quite unusual. Amongst other things, you thanked your dog and your cat.
A: (laughs) Beforehand, we were like what do we say, so we both went off and thought about what we could spill. I got up there and it all fell to bits and I just ended thanking my dog. But you know, with animals there’s so much unconditional love and I just used to hang out with my dog and play songs… he used to howl along.
J: We memorised it in case we had to get up but it was so awkward and weird. I can’t remember what happened and I don’t want to look back and watch because I was just so petrified.
I totally visualised that we’d be up on a stage next to a microphone, like it was for the ARIA Artisan Awards. I felt a bit disappointed because I did want to say things but it felt awkward and I couldn’t really hear myself. There were good vibes, but I think the awards presentation just wasn’t probably thought through.
Angus, at the awards you and girlfriend Isabel Lucas stepped out as a couple for the first time. Considering how private you are, was that nerve-wracking?
A: It was cool. I have a big love for her and she’s a good friend and it’s cool to share it all with her. She brings me back to Earth… I didn’t think about it much to be honest.
You won the night’s two biggest awards. How much do they mean to you?
J: I think what feels nice is the response it makes other people feel in a way. On the actual night I didn’t feel very much. I didn’t know what winning meant and I was a bit numb to it all but now with friends emailing us and sending their love, now I’m feeling like we accomplished something really nice and great. It’s starting to make sense.
Of course, the more popular you get, the more criticism and negative attention you also receive. How much does that affect you?
J: To be honest, I don’t look at Facebook or Google or read good or bad reviews. It doesn’t really come my way, although the last time I went home my grandmother had stuck up all the good and bad reviews of Down The Way on the wall. I was reading them and there was one negative one which definitely hurt.
It made me realise that not only do they not connect with our music, they’re repulsed by what we do. That was confusing but then I let it go. It’s totally natural for people to not enjoy certain types of music and it’s easy for people to judge… and I judge music too.
2010 has been such a huge year for you. How do you look back on it?
J: It’s been such a good year. We’ve had so many good experiences. Musically, it feels like exciting things are happening and we’re really gelling as a band. The new songs we’re writing have four, five part harmonies, which we’ve never really done before. Every night I get excited about playing a show, whereas in the past I did get a bit tired after a while. We’re eight months in now and I’m still thrilled to be going to Switzerland to play a show.
[A boarding call is announced in the background]
Is there one musical highlight that stands out?
A: We were playing in Boston and the playing times had been written down wrong. We finished the show and walked into the carpark with our gear and there was all these people waiting who were really upset that they’d turned up late. So we ended up playing a show for them outside, which was really special.
J: We also played in this Freemason temple in Hollywood. It was so bizarre. It’s in this cemetery where all the stars are buried and there’s this temple in the middle of it. It’s got all this stained glass windows and a throne … it was like Eyes Wide Shut.
Have you been writing much on the road? What’s the plan for album number three?
J: Yeah, shit, we’ve written so many songs.
A: I’ve been writing a lot. I have plans. I think it’s going to be pretty different… I want to write stuff that makes me wanna move, more groove-based stuff. In the past, my music’s been more of a journey in my mind, but I’m looking forward to it moving through my body, finding a rhythm.
J: I’ve been listening to excessive amounts of Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. I think because I haven’t been in a relationship for a long time, it hasn’t been a focus of my writing this time. My other songs were written in the midst of falling in love or breaking up but I’ve let go of the idea that someone else is going to make me happy. I’m looking at the world more than some guy who’s pissing me off.
[suddenly, to the others] Hey guys, our flight goes in ten minutes, we boarded twenty minutes ago. [to me] Album number three is going to be sick. We want to record to tape. There’s a great studio being set up near us on the Northern beaches… Sorry we’ve got to go… bye!