Two-and-a-half years ago, Australian brother-sister folk duo Angus and Julia Stone were living free-spirited lives writing songs for themselves and performing solo at open mike nights. Then they decided to join forces, and things haven’t been the same since. After two years on the road building a solid Australian and European fan base, they’re poised to charm Stateside audiences with the release of their album, A Book Like This (Nettwerk), on March 3.
Angus, 22, and Julia, 24, grew up on the northern beaches of Sydney. “We were minutes from the beach when we were kids. That was our life,” says Julia. “It’s a really beautiful place, like paradise.” When the pair weren’t surfing or boogie boarding, they were focused on their instruments for the school band. Their father ran the music program and urged them from a young age to learn an instrument. Angus initially chose the trombone while Julia chose the trumpet, but today they also play the guitar, piano and harmonica.
“From then on, we played in the school band and Dad was the conductor,” says Angus.
“We always had the whole house filled with every instrument in the band,” says Julia. (Their father went on to be their music teacher in high school, too.) “Our parents really believed in music as part of our education,” she adds. “The whole extended family is into music, as well. It’s part of the way we celebrate life.” In fact, their parents’ relationship began based on music—they traveled Europe together as a folk duo in their early days. Even their grandmother studied opera.
The twosome grew up listening to a diverse mix of music. “Our dad played in a cover band, so they were a big influence on the music we had playing in the house,” explains Julia. “They played anything from The Eagles to The Beatles to Bob Dylan. After my mad pop craze of Mariah Carey and the Spice Girls, I started listening to Bob Marley and lots of reggae when I was about 18.” Angus, who was still in high school at the time, was into the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine. “Then I started getting into more stuff like Ben Harper and Dylan and Neil Young,” he says.
But Julia feels it’s hard to pin down any one influence. “It’s a bit of everything,” she says of their intimate acoustic folk sound. “It’s the people you’re with, the music that’s been on that day, the things you’ve seen out the car window, the kind of show you’ve played. That can all go into a song.”
With the kind of training these two have had, it’s no surprise it only took them two-and-a-half weeks to record A Book Like This, which also features drummer Mitchell Connelly and bass player Clay Macdonald. The Australian version was released in September 2007, followed by Europe in March 2008. The U.S. version will be slightly different, switching out a few tracks for songs from their 2006 EP Chocolate & Cigarettes. Coinciding with the U.S. release will be a cross-country tour.
Although they’ve only been to the States three times, they’ve already caught the attention of Hollywood. Lipstick Jungle has featured their song “What You Wanted” on an episode this season, and Natalie Portman picked their song “The Beast” to be featured on her iTunes 16-song compilation charity album Big Change: Songs for FINCA (Foundation for International Community Assistance).
And their bohemian fashion sense certainly fits the Los Angeles lifestyle. “I’m obsessed with colorful dresses,” admits Julia. “I feel like I’m an optimistic person and I think it reflects the way I dress.” Her wardrobe is a combination of her grandmothers’ old dresses, thrift store finds and cheap bargains from elderly homes. “I know it sounds a bit dodgy, but there’s these really cool places where they make money for the nursing homes by selling the clothes of the people who’ve passed away.”
Angus also prefers wearing vintage, and over the past year has gone from a clean-shaven shaggy-haired surfer look to looking more like Grizzly Adams, sporting a big burly beard with long unkempt hair. “It’s just easier. I just let it be and it feels nice,” he says. “It’s fun to play with and the girls dig it.”