Your new record is solid. How was putting this record together different than your previous ones?
“There are a lot of differences. I think one of the biggest differences was that we had time apart. The albums all flowed into each other and flowed from tour to tour. We wrote songs when we were on the road, then we’d have a month off in-between shows and we’d record. We didn’t really take a breath from it. We were still touring and playing music, but it was the first time we’d been apart. It was really good for us: being onstage without the other person and finding that independence. When we came to make this record we never really thought about making, we approached it with this whole bundle of experiences we had separately. It brought us together in a different way. We both wanted to write together, which we had never desired to do in the past. We wanted to make a record that was less separated — less like ‘Angus’ songs’ and ‘my songs,’ and more our record. We approached it with a bit more openness and clarity.”
You guys obviously worked on your own careers. When you took that break, was there any “bad blood” between you guys, or did you just want to do something different?
“We just wanted to do something different. I don’t think we could ever have ‘bad blood’. Angus is the dude in my world: he’s my brother. He was a big part of my twenties. It was a big time for both of us — everything that happened in those years. We traveled the world together and became really close. It was heartbreaking — as much as it was really necessary — to leave each other at that point. He was probably one of my closest friends, but I really needed the space, and he needed it as well. It was that time for both of us as artists. We had come together to make records. We started out as solo artists, and we started out doing shows separately. We’d just back each other on harmonies. It’s not like we ever sat down and were like let’s be ‘Angus & Julia Stone.’ We always were ‘Angus Stone’ and ‘Julia Stone.’ He’d help me at my shows, and I’d help him at his shows. We were always there together, so we’d end up spending the set doing half my songs and half his songs. Then our manager came on board and said, ‘Why don’t you put three of your songs on the EP and three of your songs on the EP?’ We thought that was a good idea since that’s how we were playing the shows. Then the EP got us a deal in the U.K. We were living there being like ‘This is kind of weird.’ I think we always thought we wanted to have that time to be solo and write our own records. It’s not like we compromised on making the previous records, but there were disconnects: definitely Angus’ day in the studio and my day in the studio. I think, creatively, we were going to be really fulfilled by making a complete body of work individually with our own visions for them.”
Were you guys living in separate parts of the world while working on your solo stuff?
“Angus made his record a little bit up down in Melbourne and a little bit up in Byron Bay. To be honest, I never really ask him about it. I should really know about this stuff. Broken Brights is a great record. I don’t know where he recorded all of it. I was in New York making By The Horns. I lived here for a few months working on it with a producer, Thomas Bartlett. I stayed in New York for a while after that and figured out which band to pull together to take on tour. Angus and I are very focused people and when we are working on something, we’re just focusing on that. When we went solo, we didn’t really know a lot of each other’s lives or what was happening. We don’t get on the phone that often with anybody to chat or communicate. I had a period of about eight months where I had no idea what Angus was up to and he had no idea what I was up to. The only time we only crossed paths was a chance meeting in Paris when we were both there. We both went to our favorite restaurant one night and it was crazy. I was there with my band, and he was there with his band. We were both like, ‘What the fuck?’ It was an absolute coincidence.”
That’s so crazy. Great minds, right? How did you guys end up working with Rick Rubin?
“It was pretty out of the blue. We were in the middle of both of our solo tours. We got a call about Rick wanting to meet us and said that he liked our music. At the time, we both assumed that he must have known we were solo, so we both met up with him separately at our shows in L.A. We both separately went back to Rick’s place in Malibu and hung out. Then we kept meeting up over the next few months having really relaxed times — chatting about life, love and stuff that was going on. I instantly loved being around him, and Angus felt the same. Rick informed us that he wanted to work with us as artists and he said that he knew we were working on solo projects, but the first record he worked with us on he wanted us to be together. It was a shock for Angus and I since it had been so long. We were wondering how to approach it. It was actually great for us because we hadn’t been in contact so much. We started talking about what it would be like to work together again and work with Rick. We thought we could make something in a new way. We felt like there was this spark of possibility — this spark of something we maybe hadn’t done yet. We both agreed that if it didn’t feel right at any point, then we’d stop and not do it. If we both had an out, and there was no pressure, then we could try and see what happened. It all started to seem like the right decision.”
What’s the biggest thing you learned from Rick?
“I think what makes Rick great to me is his ability to be with whoever he’s with. My only experience is mine with him, but I feel like I’m the only person in the room when I’m with Rick. He has a way of listening and being there that I think is quite rare. He does something to the people he’s around that makes you focused and present. It’s easy when you’re writing to get distracted and whether it’s right. Ultimately, if the song feels good and it has the right groove, it’s fine. He brings that out in people. I kind of noticed that with us. When he’d come into the room, people would lift a bit. We’d focus in on each other and on the music. I guess that’s why he can work with so many different artists; it’s not genre-specific to be able to feel things. You have to be able to feel it and not get into your head too much about choices. I like that a lot: I think that’s a great way to live your life. That’s a lesson I’m trying to apply to everything.”
What did you and Angus discover about yourselves during this process?
“I guess that everything comes at its own time. This whole experience of making this record was so unexpected. It’s been gratifying and humbling to work with Rick in that space at Shangri La. The people and musicians we worked with were brilliant. [For us], when something like this happens and comes out of the blue, life takes a turn that you didn’t expect. You get this sense to trust what’s happening. We learned that we could trust the shape of our lives and each other.”
What’s your favorite song and lyric on the record?
“I really love ‘Wherever You Are.’ I like it because it reminds me of a very special time for me. When I first played this song for Angus, it was really new. I think I had written it the day before. I played it again, stopped singing and kept playing the chords. Angus started singing. It just felt so nice to hear him take the lead on the chorus. Then, I guess that was the first instance of us going, ‘It sounds nice when someone takes the lead.’ That shape started evolving into many other songs. That song was the beginning of making the record.”
Is there a theme throughout the record?
“I don’t think there is. If I got out my critical eye I could probably find something, but it would probably be made up. I guess our constant theme in our lives is that we lead our lives from our hearts. Family situations are wild. We grew up loving people — not just romantic love — but the love of being here and exploring the world. That’s the driving force of the way we live. I think that comes through in a lot of the songs, like ‘A Heartbreak.’ Heartbreak is love. How much can be born out of heartbreak? I think anyone who falls in love romantically or in any way and has to let go of it, there’s so much broken there. As a person, outside of writing music I think about that a lot: How much happiness is derived from learning from challenging situations? They’re kind of the most powerful points in my life. I like that about everything to do with love.”