Julia Stone is making music that you can dance to while having an existential crisis

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Brooke Ashley Barone


Her new music is like a coming-of-age novel with synths.

“Do you ever listen back to a recording of yourself talking and cringe?” Australian singer-songwriter Julia Stone asks me. I can definitely relate to the feeling, but what surprises me is that Julia, who burst onto the music scene more than a decade ago as one half of the award-winning folk duo Angus and Julia Stone, is asking me as though she has experienced it herself.   

But after a long conversation with the 36-year-old, her from her home studio in St. Kilda and me from my bedroom, I realised that Julia was exactly the kind of person to pose such a humble, relatable question. 

Julia’s solo career began in 2010 with her debut album Memory Machine, a mellow record that provided occasionally dark insight into what life was like for her as a woman in her twenties. 

In July this year, she released her latest single ‘Break’ and she’s set to release a second single, ‘Unreal’, this Friday. Both singles are from her forthcoming album, the name of which has yet to be revealed. It’s her first new solo music in eight years. 

“I’m so happy to be putting this new music into the world, but it feels like so much has changed this year and talking about your art for the purpose of self-promotion fields doesn’t feel quite right,” she tells me. 

Such awareness and empathy for those around her are perceptible through Julia’s charity album, Songs For Australia, released at the beginning of this year. The album is made up of Australian classics covered by a mixture of local and international artists, and all of the profits went towards charities that assist the people and animals impacted by the 2019/2020 bushfires. 

“I was in London during the bushfires and I watched our beautiful country burning on the news. The footage of our very unique animals and landscape being engulfed in flames was heartbreaking. On top of that my mum was in the thick of it and she was sending videos of her being evacuated. It was so frightening,” she says.

Julia began the Songs For Australia project with a cover of Midnight Oil’s ‘Beds are Burning’, a treasured song from her childhood. From there, she began rounding up some of her favourite artists, such as Martha Wainwright, The National, Kurt Vile and Paul Kelly, among others, to create more covers. The result is a fourteen track album that is an absolute delight for lovers of Australian music. 

Julia, astounded by how willing those around her were to assist with her project, laughs as she tells me that it all began with her playing an impromptu cover of ‘Beds Are Burning’ in a London apartment. “All of these busy people who were recording their own albums, working hard and touring, put all of that aside to produce a 14 track record in two weeks. It was crazy.”

She was incredibly touched by how tragedy brought out the best in people. “On top of the beautiful album, meeting the people from the charities assisting the victims of the bushfires was so moving. It makes you feel really humbled and grateful that there are human beings doing so much great work,” she says.

It has been a very busy year for Julia. Not only did she orchestrate Songs For Australia and release her own original music, but “I also got a puppy,” she laughs. But a puppy is not the only notable change in her life. Her latest music is a dramatic departure from the folk tunes many of us associate her with. Take, for instance, ‘Break’,  a bright, pop, metallic number full of synths and horns, which intensifies the sound of Julia’s iconic voice.

Such a change may come as a shock to those who are used to the warmly romantic, acoustic sound that Julia became known for, and she was caught off guard too. 

“I was completely surprised by how this record turned out because I am so used to creating music in a particular style, either accompanied by a guitar or piano. The creation of ‘Break’ was different… [it] came out of hearing a really cool beat, and I began having fun speaking over the top of it. Unlike other times when I have written lyrics, the words spilled out of my brain all at once,” she explains.

Listening to ‘Break’, it feels as though you have been dropped into Julia’s consciousness mid-thought, as the song begins with the lyrics, “So I left and started dancing under the street light / And you saw me and I saw that you saw me.” 

The frenetic sound of drums and chimes mirrors the overwhelming emotion of new love and the feeling of wanting to take action but also feeling stuck. “‘Break’ has got this pulsing rhythm to it, and the song is about being stuck in a groove that you can’t break out of,” she says. 

She discloses that the lyric “And you saw me and I traced the lines of your face around / The lines of what I had drawn” is about when someone consumes your thoughts and you create an image of them in your mind that isn’t always true.

“It is a reference to how we have an idea of how somebody is, but it’s not entirely real. You’re so attached to this idea of who you think they are, and you’re trying to match up those two things,” she tells me. 

Julia is set to release her latest single ‘Unreal’ this Friday, and both it and ‘Break’ will eventually become part of a greater body of music. While I practically beg her for further details, she’s unsure when it will be released. However, she does let me know that her music will continue to be a combination of soulful, thought-provoking lyrics against an upbeat sound. All of this, she says, is a tribute to her high-spirited teen self. 

“A lot of the songs on this record are still quite melancholic in their nature, through their lyrical questioning of what we’re here for. But I wanted to feel like there was fun in there. It was a tip of the hat to how I felt as a teenager which was deeply, passionately in love with everything,” she says. 

I tell her that it feels strange to bop along to her new pop-tinged tracks while the lyrics spiral me into an existential crisis. “I’ve always liked songs that make you move, but they’re not necessarily upbeat in subject matter,” she laughs. 

Julia, in her endlessly relatable style, seems to encapsulate the atmosphere of 2020: an existential crisis, but make it fun. 

“I wanted to write a song about how unreal it feels to be seen and to be seen for who I really am,” she says, revealing that the inspiration for ‘Unreal’ came from the beautiful friendship between her and the song’s producer, Thomas Bartlett.  

Having Julia Stone reveal her muse to me makes it feel for a brief moment like we are friends at a sleepover, and I can’t help but feel warmed by her description of him. “He’s a spectacular human. Thomas has always given me the space to make me feel like I can be whatever I need to be.” 

Unfortunately, ‘Unreal’ will not be played live until November, due to the current restrictions. But when I ask her the cliched corona question “What does the future look like as an artist and performer under the current circumstances?”, she is remarkably optimistic. 

“Although seeing live music might mean that you will have to go out with minimal people, and sit in chairs while wearing masks, there will still be something exciting about being with other humans. As a performer, I just want there to be a crowd that you can feel connected to. I hope that it is possible sometime soon.”

The music video for Julia’s new single ‘Unreal’ premieres at 5.30pm today. Julia will be playing two intimate shows at The Factory Theatre in Sydney on Friday 6 November and Saturday 7 November, head here for more details.

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