Angus & Julia Stone: “It’s Hard To Appreciate Someone That’s Always Right Next To You”

angus and julia stone on a couch

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My conversation with Australian singer-songwriter sibling duo Angus & Julia Stone begins like most others — with a reference to my wonderful dog Peaches (pro tip: dogs are unbeatable ice breakers), who I usually walk as a pre-interview ritual. 

Immediately, Julia asks to see her, and moments later I’m holding her up like Rafiki lifting Simba in The Lion King. As it turns out, they both have dogs: Julia has a red Kelpie Heeler, while Angus has a couple of dogs out on his farm in Byron Bay. I, on the other hand, have a golden retriever that thinks she’s a human. 

This quick exchange is symbolic of the pair’s disarming charm, one they’ve wielded on record for nearly 20 years. When the pair speak to me, they’re on the verge of releasing their sixth album, Cape Forestier, which follows a flurry of solo activity from them both. Angus has been releasing solo music as Dope Lemon, while Julia released two albums in 2021, Sixty Summers and the Christmas album Everything Is Christmas. Separately, they’re powerful, but together, they’ve topped the triple j Hottest 100 countdown, count super-producer Rick Rubin as a fan (he was involved in bringing the pair back together for their 2014 self-titled album) and most recently performed ‘Big Jet Plane’ in Sydney alongside former One Direction member Niall Horan, who described the track as “one of [his] favourite songs”.

Despite all their joint success, the duo lean into the cliché that distance makes the heart grow fonder. This is true for both Angus & Julia Stone’s relationship with their listeners (this is their first album since 2021’s video game soundtrack Life Is Strange, and before that, 2017’s Snow), and for the pair themselves. Despite spending large periods of time away from each other, their sibling chemistry is on full display throughout our conversation — Angus is more pensive, while Julia is more forthcoming. 

As an outsider, it’s easy to wonder why such successful artists would go so long without touring together — their upcoming Living Room Sessions tour will be Angus & Julia Stone’s first headline tour since 2018. Julia explains that the time apart keeps things fresh: “It’s hard to appreciate someone that’s always right next to you, and so having solo projects, having independent lives, it’s really valuable for us. I think when we come back together there is a real respect and appreciation for what we both do in the world and we feel really grateful. I got to see Angus play with Dope Lemon when he came and played in Barcelona when I was living there, and it was a feeling of admiration.”

“Sometimes you forget,” she adds, “because when you’re on stage every night, and you’re right next to each other, and you’re both in it, you’re getting the show done, and you’re both in the songs together, sometimes you don’t notice all the time and you take it for granted. But seeing what he does, and how he writes and the music of Dope and the incredible world that that’s created. It’s a real appreciation for sure. And I get to feel that I’m so lucky to work with this artist, and he also happens to be my brother, and that’s amazing. But regardless, I’d be stoked and proud to have that opportunity.”

The beauty of Cape Forestier lies in its restraint. Angus and Julia gently harmonise, rather than pushing their voices to their limits, while guitars wail . On ‘My Little Anchor’, Angus sings wistful lyrics like “I guess for now I’ll keep sailing on/I’ll hit the shore/Find me a bar for a beer or two/Maybe one day I’ll find ya there/We’ll catch eyes across the room”, sounding faint , like he’s being channelled through a vintage radio. In a world where artists are increasingly encouraged to be brasher and bolder, Angus & Julia Stone have gone the opposite way.

This push and pull has resulted in an album that is their most emotionally potent, as well as their most stripped-back and intimate. They’re no strangers to tugging on heartstrings — it’s been one of the staples of their discography — and Cape Forestier is no exception. Fan-favourite ‘The Wedding Song’ finally appears on an album some time after its live debut. It’s a song that’s been played as a live recording at many fans’ weddings, which is reflected in the music video for the track.

Cape Forestier features more songs that are drawn from deep in their vault. Angus wrote ‘No Boat No Aeroplane’ when he was 15/16, while Julia wrote ‘Down To The Sea’ after the pair toured their second album Down The Way. Their relationships with these songs have evolved, and six albums in, they’re sharing snippets of both their past and current selves. “It’s not too dissimilar from each conversation you have when you wake up in the morning,” Angus says. “The mood you’re in is almost the same as when you approach a song on stage. We’re all feeling so much through the day, and it’s cool in the way that music, you can adapt, even though it’s the same song you sang every night, it comes down to the intention and what you put behind it when you sing out to the crowd, and to yourself.” 

Julia now resides in Tasmania, and the album’s title pays tribute to the area, while also sitting a little bit closer to home. Cape Forestier is the name of an old fishing trawler down in Southport, while the song is a thank you to a friend that took them on an adventure. The ocean motif is present throughout the record — ‘No Boat No Aeroplane’, ‘My Little Anchor’, ‘Down By The Ocean’, and ‘Cape Forestier’ — which the pair attributes to growing up near the ocean. “I think it really taught us about resilience and bravery, because it is such an unpredictable and uncertain part of nature,” Julia says. “And that fear of being on a calm sea and then turning into a storm and having to kind of trust and accept it was a big learning growing up.” 

The band isn’t afraid to draw from their physical environment, which explains why they speak about Sugarcane Mountain Studios, where much of this album was recorded, with such reverence. Built by the pair, and nestled in the NSW town of Murwillumbah, it’s a space they say reflects their beginnings in music — writing songs in their living room, and working it all out. Described by Angus as a “1970s mansion”, it’s a building that is full of character — which has added a radiant warmth to Cape Forestier.

It’s also a space they want to share with others. They’re conscious of their status as one of Australia’s most respected and successful contemporary artists, and Angus says he wants to use Sugarcane Mountain Studios as a spot to bring artists to help elevate their art. “I really would like to set up a foundation, also for the studio, to bring people that can’t necessarily afford to go into a recording studio, at that level, and give them the chance to write a song and also give them advice about the industry and how things work, from management, to booking to, to all the things that make up for what can be a successful career for a young group or act,” he says. “It’s something that I’d like to set up, eventually, to help out a bit with the community of Australian music.”

There’s a quiet defiance sprinkled throughout Cape Forestier, which the pair acknowledge and embrace. On the twinkling ‘County Sign’, the pair announce they’re “Gonna lay down by the river/And raise up a glass to it all,” and they’re determined to capture vignettes that acknowledge the beauty in the small moments. Six albums in, they’ve got more to say than ever, and they’re confident in how they’re saying it. “Back in the ‘60s, in that era when the world was sort of flipping on its head, with the mistreatment from government, the world was spinning in a very chaotic way, which it is now,” Angus says. “Artists used to sing songs of protest in a very descriptive way towards something or someone doing harm to us as a community and the world.”

“I think now, to think about it in a cool way, our way of protesting is to share love, stories of love and to give back in that way,” he adds. “It’s always what we’ve written about, but I think, at this time, and where we’re all at with, with a bit of dismay, it feels fitting, to share that, and to bring everyone together and know that it’s gonna be okay.

“We don’t have to spin out of control.” 

Angus & Julia Stone’s new album Cape Forestier is out now. They’re touring the globe as part of the Living Room Sessions tour — you can find out more information here.

Ben Madden is a Melbourne-based music writer and Junkee’s Music Editorial Specialist. You can follow him on Twitter at @benmaddenwriter and Instagram at @benmaddenwriter, as well as keep up with his Sucks column here.