“Do I love her for her beauty… Do I love her ‘cause it’s my duty,” Angus Stone ponders on “River Love,” the opening track of his newest album, Broken Brights.
A musing mix of husky vocals, guitar, and the occasional tambourine, Broken Brights is Stone’s first solo record under his own name. “I feel like it’s me, it’s the voice that I’ve been trying to find,” he explains over the phone. “And I’m really proud of it.” Angus released one album, Smoking Gun (2009), under the nom de plume Lady of the Sunshine, but he is most famous by far for his work with his older sister Julia Stone. As half of Angus & Julia, the 20-something Australian is a multi-platinum-selling artist with songs on the soundtracks of Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, and even the Twilight films—an enviable apex of mainstream success.
Do not, however, dismiss Angus as some tween idol. Angus’ music is accessible in that it is melodic and comforting, but he is more indie-folk that CW-pop. Angus sings about his girl, his dog, Westerns, and loneliness. Currently on his US tour, we caught Angus in Boulder, Colorado to talk about his farm, his sibling, and his woodwork.
EMMA BROWN: Hi Angus. How are you?
ANGUS STONE: Pretty good, I just rolled into Boulder.
BROWN: I know that your parents were musicians as well. Did you have a family band when you were a child?
STONE: Yeah. Our dad used to play in a band called Barnaby Rudge that was named after Charles Dickens’s novel—they were the next band that was coming up in Australia. They were cool; we ended up falling asleep whilst hearing them jam in the garage. Eventually they started a covers band and they played at weddings and my mum would sing in the band. For a long time I thought my old man wrote all the songs that The Beatles wrote and Bob Marley, ‘cause that’s all I heard as a kid. I thought, Dad wrote some pretty cool songs. [laughs] It’s only now that people are like, “Yeah… The Beatles wrote that.” [laughs] He was my band conductor in primary school and my music teacher in high school, so my dad was really supportive of getting music into our veins.
BROWN: Did you ever have a moment where you thought, “I’m not going to go into music, that’s what my parents do, that’s so lame. I’m going to become an accountant”?
STONE: Yeah, I guess so. I wanted to be a carpenter. I used to build lots of different things and I used to build on the side. A change of work is a good rest for the mind if you’re constantly focused on writing. I like to work with timber and be creative on that side sometimes as well.
BROWN: What was the last thing you made?
STONE: The last thing I made was a little lantern. It’s got colored glass. I cut it out of a log—I got the chainsaw and sort of made the shape, then put the chisel on it and made it into a little hut, and it’s a little lamp.
BROWN: Where do you live most of the time?
STONE: I now own a farm in Australia, in the mountains. I have cattle and chooks [chickens] and vegetables and I’m starting to become much more self-sustainable. I sort of sneak away there when I’m in between tours. It’s cool like that.
BROWN: How long have you owned the farm?
STONE: For about six months.
BROWN: Was it a long-standing ambition?
STONE: It was. I think you have these moments in your life that you remember—when you were a kid and you used to dream about the things you wanted and the places you wanted be. I had a really specific dream when I was a kid about sitting underneath this big tree that looked over these mountains and I was watching the sun go down, sitting next to my dog. I remember waking up and thinking, That’s cool. Then the other day I was sitting on the farm and I realized that this had been a dream that I’d had before and it has come true. One of those moments in life when everything is aligning.
BROWN: Do you find it frightening that you’re so young and you have your childhood dream already?
STONE: Ah. [laughs] I have plenty of dreams, so if anything I’m just happy about the way things are going with everything.
BROWN: I heard that your song “The Blue Door” was inspired by a Western. What’s your favorite Western?
STONE: I think I would sit on the couch and watch a bunch of Westerns, just midday television getting stoned, drifting off. But I think The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was the one that I was watching that gave me some inspiration to want to write a Western.
BROWN: And why a blue door?
STONE: I guess the blue door is a metaphor. The story is the man comes in from the desert—he’s been out for months and he walks in and finds his lover with another man and he pulls a gun out, he kills him. I guess he no longer becomes a man anymore because he had nothing left, and the blue door is that place where he goes after that.
BROWN: What color’s the door to your farmhouse?
STONE: [laughs] That’s funny. I think it’s red.
BROWN: What made you decide to record this album under your own name?
STONE: I recorded a solo record before, and I put it under a pseudonym because I wanted it be something on the side. Now, with this record and everything that it is, I feel like it’s me, it’s the voice that I’ve been trying to find. So it came to the point where I thought, I’m going to put it under my own name and I’m really proud of it.
BROWN: Is it more intimate or intimidating to play on tour, or more freeing?
STONE: It’s just a different thing. With Julia [Stone], it was cool because Julia would play a song, and I’d wonder off and pour myself a drink and watch her perform, and I was still up on stage but I felt very much part of the audience at the same time. Now it’s just me up there and it’s just a different thing. I don’t know how to explain it.
BROWN: I was just listening to another one of your songs, “Monsters.” Were you afraid of the dark as a child?
STONE: [laughs] I guess I was, yeah. My imagination is really powerful and when I watch scary films, I still get it now, when I walk out into the dark I picture all these things happening. I’m very much susceptible to that sort of stuff at times and then at times I’m not. It all depends on what mood I’m in.
BROWN: Did your older sister tell you fantastical stories and take advantage of your youthful gullibility?
STONE: I think so. Our parents would go out to see a show or something and we’d be left alone and Julia did this one thing, [laughs] it’s actually pretty funny and also really spooky. She’d walk into my room or stand at the door and just stare at me and say “I’m not the real me. I’m not the real me. I’m not the real me.” [laughs] And she do it over and over again, just staring at me. I don’t know where she got this evilness from but she’d scare the hell out of me. I’d be like, “Go away! Go away!” I guess she was a pretty evil sister at times, but also very sweet.
BROWN: Have you confronted her about this as an adult?
STONE: Yeah. [laughs] I’ve asked her about it. I’ve said, “You’re a dick-head! Why did you do that?” She’s just crazy. She’s just got a really funny sense of humor. She likes doing wacky things.
BROWN: Do you like ginger biscuits? You mention them in “Clouds Above,” and they can be a polarizing food.
STONE: I do like ginger biscuits. Yeah.
BROWN: What about Vegemite?
STONE: Vegemite is pretty good if you’ve got the right spread of butter and you spread your Vegemite light. Sometimes people spread it too thick and it’s not the right consistency for it to be what it is.
BROWN: I’ve only had the English kind, but I don’t like it at all. It’s terrible.
STONE: You don’t like it? You’ll come to like it if you have some bread and really good butter and just a light little swipe of the Vegemite—I think you’ll definitely become a fan or an addict. [laughs]
BROWN: What’s something you miss most about Australia when you’re on tour? Food or otherwise.
STONE: I miss the ocean. I miss diving into the cold water and coming out a new man. On the road it’s hard to get that feeling. Showers are okay, but there’s nothing quite like being in the ocean.
BROWN: Let’s talk about your song “The Wolf And The Butler.” I like the image of the wolf who has his own butler. How did that come about?
STONE: “The Wolf And The Butler.” I was on the road and my mum gave me a call up and said, “Your dog, Malaki, he yelped and ran up into the backyard and he passed away.” I was bummed out that I didn’t get to be there for his last moments and so I wrote a song. I guess the theme of it is that he invites all of these creatures of the night to share this last supper with him, this banquet of sorts, with fancy wine and hors d’oeuvres. He stumbles down the stairs; he raises up his glass, and makes a toast—to everyone, but also to his son. He’s pretty much telling him to make the one that you love smile, and never forget that she’ll be the ocean on the darkest of days and never stop loving her.
ANGUS STONE IS CURRENTLY ON HIS US TOUR. HE IS PLAYING AT THE BOWERY BALLROOM IN NEW YORK THIS SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29. BROKEN BRIGHTS IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.