Interview: Angus Stone Lets The Cat Out Of The Bag

Photo Credit: Jennifer Stenglein

As one half of Australian brother/sister duo Angus and Julia Stone, he may need no introduction, but you may be unaware of Angus Stone’s other project that is currently making waves. Dope Lemon has been a thing since 2016 but it took a pause in a mammoth touring schedule to really take stock and think about the direction of the next Dope Lemon album. The result was the gloriously laid-back Smooth Big Cat, which was released in the Summer. Although Autumn may now be upon us, you can recreate the blissed-out vibe of those warmer months by getting your hands on the new, trippy vinyl release of this record, which was released on Friday (September 27th). Dope Lemon will also be arriving in the UK today, performing a handful of select dates in London, Manchester and Leeds and TFFT were absolutely thrilled to be able to spend some time with Angus discussing the new record and so much more…

Congrats on the new Dope Lemon record. I love the blissed-out vibe and get a sense that your solo venture is partly a product of where you’re living and who you’re with, so where were you, who were you with and what were you doing when you wrote Smooth Big Cat?

I came back off tour with my sister and we’d been on the road for two or so years. You either get back off the road and go sleep for 100 years or you want to get back in the studio and start creating. This was that record. I got back off tour and called up my engineer to come around and we put aside a few weeks to see what would happen and it all just started snowballing. Everything just happened really naturally, and we stayed up drinking whiskey and creating this record and it was a really, really fun time. I played all the instruments on the record and it just unfolded in a way that I’d sit down at the piano and start rolling out a riff, then I’d sit down on the guitar and then the drums and then I’d have a song and I’d sit down and create a story around that. It was the first time I’ve walked into a studio with nothing in my pocket already. 

I always thought that Honey Bones had a mystical feel and your music with Julia has that Californian Laurel Canyon quality. Smooth Big Cat feels more nocturnal. Do you identify with this observation at all? What was YOUR artistic vision with SBC?

For sure – it’s cool that you hear that. Each record represents a different chapter in your days. Those other records definitely did have that – Honey Bones was more a sort of mystical and day-like, way of writing. A lot of this record was written in the early hours of the morning – we were night owls drinking whiskey and a lot of the storytelling on this record does have a lot of that dialogue that takes you to that place, so that was cool.

I went on a distillery tour in Scotland and they teach you about how they add all the tones and textures to their whiskey. I was wondering if there was an organic approach similar to this when creating the vibe of SBC, or did you have a very distinct plan? 

That’s really cool you say that because yes, absolutely – I imagine it would be a similar process to how a brewer would make their ale or whatever. Would you have cherry or oak casks… How long would you let it sit… all the different components that make it the magic that it is. I love that reference.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Stenglein

You arrive in the UK in October. Describe what it’s like playing the songs off the new record, live. What can us Brits expect?

The people I have around me, they’re all so amazing, they’re considered the best musicians in the world. I just feel so, so grateful to be doing this run. Dope Lemon hasn’t been to the UK or Europe yet and the whole reception we’ve been given, the whole tour is pretty much sold out so it’s sort of this underground thing that’s been happening as Dope Lemon took a hiatus and so it’s a really special feeling for us to be here.

If the album could only be listened to in one place in the entire world, where do you think that place should be and why?

I think somewhere with a view. It can be any view that happens to be in front of you, but definitely looking out into the distance with a bottle of whiskey and some good mates, just kind of kicking it by your camper van or a little shack. For me, when I play it to my friends, we’d play some pool and have some beers. I like for people to experience it in that way.

What were the first records you really remember obsessing over and can you see an imprint of these somewhere in your own material?

I obsessed over a lot of Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie. The way his tongue works and the words that he’s able to manoeuvre together, for me that’s magic. I always listen closely to people that are able to tell stories but also have a way around saying something without having to actually say it. That’s important for me.

So if you were stuck in a musical decade, which one would you choose?

Maybe the 50s, just to scare the shit out of everyone with what you’ve got now!

Photo Credit: Jennifer Stenglein

In your Royal Albert Hall show in 2018 you opened with the very dark Draw Your Swords, performed in almost complete darkness. Are you a dark person or has time mellowed you out do you think?

Time has definitely mellowed my world out. I think it’s just a balance. Sometimes it’s good to go to those places, mess around with the dark arts and then you have your sunny days where there’s lots of love and things are exciting. I think it’s a healthy thing as long as you’re able to control it. That night was amazing, absolutely magic. We had the quartet with us, it was magic.

The Guardian recently included an article titled “The 30 best films about music, chosen by musicians”. What’s your favourite film about music?

That’s a tough one but I’d probably say ‘The Proposition’. Nick Cave scored it. I was in Melbourne recently and stumbled upon tickets to see Nick Cave perform with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and it was incredible. They had big projections of all of the movies he’s scored. ‘Benjamin Button’… ‘The Proposition’… ‘Hell or High Water’. These absolutely banger movies, every single one. And he performed while they played this highlights reel. It was really emotional. 

Listening to Smooth Big Cat for the first time proved to be quite a visual, cinematic experience. Do certain films or filmmakers inspire your approach to creativity?

Absolutely. I named my recording studio after a Wes Anderson film, ‘The Life Aquatic’, as the ship on there they cruise around is was The Belafonte. I find movies of this nature close to the way I’m able to tell a story – diving into all of these tangents and taking them to the places they’re meant to go. I find music for me is very cinematic and if you’re able to do that, it’s a way of going on a little adventure in your mind. It’s a special thing.

With your collaboration with your sister along with your solo work and endless tours, you must be pretty busy. What are your passions and interests outside of music?

I recently found this old timber yacht down the coast and I drove down there, met the guy and we had a cup of tea and talked about the boat. It was a little clinker that was sailed from Italy and it took the guy seven years to get to Australia in it. We signed the deal and I bought it and took it back up to my property and basically I stripped it and fully restored the whole yacht, fibre glassed the hull and painted it and sanded the decks and relaqurered it and made it like it was brand new. That for me was a really cool process. I like diving into little projects like that and seeing them through. 

Finally, to steal a Guardian Q&A question, what is the most important lesson life has taught you?

I think just be patient and good things will come. Kids ask me how to get your foot in the door with all this stuff and I think for me the most important thing is just to do what you do and to love what you do and people around you will start to notice that and that’s the beauty of it, that’s art. The people that are doing it for real are the ones that shine.

Iain Fox

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