Julia Stone’s Sixty Summers

Photos by Brooke Ashley Barone 

It’s been eight years since Julia Stone’s last solo album, but it’s been well worth the wait.

Recorded sporadically over five years with collaborators Annie Clark (St Vincent) and Thomas Bartlett (Doveman), Julia’s third solo album Sixty Summers is a shimmering body of work that takes the listener from rolling, grassy fields to disco ball lit dance floors, with a heavy sprinkling of romance and spoken-word throughout. It’s an exciting return from the Aussie songstress, who spent the earlier part of the year working on a bushfire relief album jampacked with covers from some of music’s best and brightest. Julia’s one busy lady, but I was able to get her on the phone to dive into her brilliant new album and one of the most exciting components of the album release—a music video made with longtime visual collaborator, Jessie Hill, featuring none other than Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon.

I’ve listened to the album a few times, and I firstly wanted to say congratulations! I’m really intrigued about the visual representation of your music.  When you’re writing the music do you have visualisations of what the video can look like as you write, or does it come later in your collaborations with Jessie Hill?

It definitely comes after the fact. Particularly for this record, it’s written over such a long period of time and at different moments in my life. Until Annie [Clark, aka St. Vincent] came on board, it was a huge collection of songs and I hadn’t really formed a cohesive idea of what the record was going to be with Thomas [Bartlett], who I was writing a lot with. Annie came on board and the record really crystallised into the final 13 songs it was going to be. Then as we were getting towards the mixing stage I started to go into, ‘How am I going to present this record?’

This record felt really obvious because it’s such a different sound for me. I think I wanted to create almost a character. The artwork I’ve been doing for all the singles with the beautiful Filip Custic, an artist in Madrid… I wanted to create this surreal world, of a nymph-like woman who is definitely a part of me but is very surreal, very strong. I guess it’s a lot bolder than anything I’ve done visually before. I think that also fed into the idea of the videos, I really wanted to explore pushing myself. With the first video, I’ve never danced in a video. I love dancing, so I’m going to dance with a bunch of really professional and amazing dancers and lots of colour. Each video, with the director and the team, I really tried to go in a direction that pushes me.

And can you tell us a little more about your new song ‘Dance’ and the accompanying video? It’s super exciting as a fan to look at these two grand actors coming together. 

The song was sung both in French and English—I don’t speak French. We’ve played a lot of shows in France over the years and I learnt quite early on doing shows that when you do a song or a poem or even something to say to the crowd in their language, it’s really nice and it’s really connective for you as a performer and the audience. So I started quite a few years ago on tour just learning something that was really challenging to learn. I did a Baudelaire poem on our tour a couple of years ago; I have to sit with it phonetically, so I learn it like I’m learning a piece of music. I kind of hear it as sounds and then after the fact I have to look at the meaning and sort of infuse that into the sounds that I’m making. It’s a funny way to learn a language, but it was really nice. I got to collaborate with a dear friend of mine, she goes under the name Pomme and she’s a brilliant musician from Paris who’s absolutely killing it, and she actually supported us maybe ten years ago. She’s really lovely, she helped me with the lyrics, we wrote the lyrics in French and helped me get the pronunciation and everything accurate. We found that the French version was really strong—this is me and the director Jessie Hill—and we wanted to tell a love story, of course.

And how did the concept for the video first come about?

One of the things we talked about early on was that often in music videos—my music videos included—you’re always telling the story of youthful love and falling in first love. There’s this real romance around love and youth, and we liked the idea of telling the importance of love when you’re in your wiser years, and the fact that that’s really sexy and fun and special. You still have that youthful experience of nervousness and excitement when you’re first meeting somebody, whether you’re in your twenties or your seventies.

We started exploring that idea, and the song, of course, is about ‘Why don’t we dance?’ When things are difficult or scary, why don’t we just dance together? We thought a nice idea would be to have them be getting ready for a date, the nerves and the excitement and all those things that come before meeting someone that you fancy. We really wanted it to be incredible iconic actors. We always go as big as we can go, we reach for the stars and then see what happens. I’ve learnt throughout being in music there’s no harm in asking. You might not get a response or you might get a, ‘oh I love the song but I’m too busy’. It’s just nice to let people know you’re a fan of their work.

And how did you link up with Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon?

Jessie is just an amazing human, she’s so connected and she’s such a kind and thoughtful person, so she’s got a lot of amazing relationships in LA. She reached out to a bunch of people she knew and found Danny’s management’s contact and sent him the treatment and the song. I don’t know how long it was, maybe a couple of days later that Danny wanted to get on the phone and meet Jessie and have a chat. We were like AHH! (screams)

We couldn’t believe that he was interested, it was unbelievable—Danny Glover likes the music and he likes the idea? She got on the phone with Danny and they had a great conversation and Jessie asked him, in a dream world, who would you want to go on a date with? And he said hands down, Susan Sarandon. He told Jessie about their connection through politics, how they had both met supporting and attending Bernie Sanders rallies over the years. The next call I get from Jessie is after she’s spoken to Susan Sarandon on the phone. Jessie was like, they’re great people and they’re really excited, it feels like it’s going to be magical, let’s make it happen. She said the chemistry on the day was amazing, they were really fond of each other and worked really well together. The video turned out absolutely magic.

I’m super excited for the upcoming album release of Sixty Summers. What’s something that you’re most looking forward to about having it all out in the world?

I really like the song ‘Dance’, I think that was one of the first songs that I worked on with Thomas and we never ever could find a place where it sat comfortably—there must be about seven incarnations of Dance. The original versions were much more pop, you know? We just weren’t comfortable with it, it just didn’t feel right. It felt like a great melody and chorus but not sitting in a world that I want to live in. It was really close to our hearts, Thomas and I—we’re really close collaborators and good friends—and it was Annie that came on board and really overhauled the song. Some of the songs on the record, like ‘Break’ and ‘Unreal’, they are really similar to their original form. But ‘Dance’ was a huge change and ended up in this very Frenchy kind of romantic, spoken-word space. I think it’s the first time ever I’m done almost spoken word poetry for verses.

How did that feel exploring more spoken word on this album?

I have a lot of discomfort around watching back interviews or hearing my voice on the radio talking. I’m always very surprised, I’m like, ‘Oh, I didn’t think I sound like that?’ I don’t think my singing voice is for everyone, but I don’t mind hearing myself sing.

But yeah, I found this place where I could speak and I really liked it, and it was really nice because I felt like it gave the chorus a real space to be a chorus. I feel like it took it into that world of like… I’m not a huge fan of Serge Gainsbourg as a person, but I love his music, and I think it was that thing of hearing music that I’ve really enjoyed, and then hearing it in a more pop context, it really worked and was exciting.

I’m really excited about the music and the people hearing me present music in this way. I really hope people enjoy the music but the video, of course, I never dreamt in my wildest dreams that I’d have two actors that I grew up loving… you know, Susan Sarandon dancing and singing to this song. I just can’t wait for people to see the story and fall in love with the story. I just think it’s spectacular—they both look incredible, they have such a beautiful energy. I watched the video for the first time the other day and I was just smiling. It’s so heartwarming and it’s been a really difficult year for everybody and I think this video is very uplifting and has a positive message. I’m excited for people to hopefully feel that joy that I felt when I watched it.

Thanks for sharing your creative magic with the world, and hopefully everyone is feeling a little more dancey after being able to enjoy it.

That’s a great idea, I can’t wait to dance again.

Julia Stone’s Sixty Summers will be out via BMG on February 19, 2021. Stay tuned.

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