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For the past several years, Australian pop star Banoffee has been emerging. That’s done now.
In 2020, she’s fully emerged, and set to release one of the best — if not the best — pop album of the year. Maybe it’s still too early to call it that, but Look At Us Now Dad is easily the best pop release of 2020 so far. Early singles like “Tennis Fan,” a kiss off to inane cliqueness anchored by a stunning feature from Empress Of, and the sparkling, buoyant ride-or-die anthem “Count On You” just scratch the surface of what Dad has to offer. The rest is coming tomorrow, and it’s eleven songs and three interludes that encapsulate the aches and joys of trauma, healing, and growth that punctuate so much of early adulthood.
Breaking out with the single “Ninja” in 2013, an early self-titled EP in 2014 and a quick follow-up, Do I Make You Nervous? in 2015 drew lots of attention from the then-booming indie music blogosphere. But over the next five years, Banoffee (born Martha Brown) dealt with more than a few real life issues that kept her from focusing on music; a self-described mental breakdown led her to move across the world, leaving Melbourne behind and making her home in Los Angeles circa 2017. In California, she began to work seriously on the collection of songs that make up her debut album, which is set for release via immaculate indie tastemakers, Cascine Records.
When she was invited to tour as part of Charli XCX’s band opening for Taylor Swift’s Reputation stadium tour in 2018, the opportunity was too good to pass up, hence another delay in the album’s actual release date. But now, with the experience of playing to crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands, Banoffee is finally ready to share her debut album with the world. For those who are catching up on her story, I spoke with Brown a few weeks ago about her early life in Melbourne and initial EPs, the generational trauma and other experiences she’s addressing on multiple songs on the record, working with producer Yves Rothman and how she got connected with her current label, Cascine Records. Read a condensed, edited version of our conversation below, and look out for Look At Me Now Dad dropping tomorrow.
When did you first start getting into music and how did that evolve into deciding to pursue it as a career?
I went to a Steiner school — which I think Americans call Waldorf — and it’s mandatory to play a certain amount of instruments. I was really lucky that my guitar teacher was also a tutor of composition at one of the arts universities here, and he was really encouraging in getting me to write my own songs, which was really fun because my sister was super into music too, I come from a family who are always very musically involved. So I started writing songs at about 12.
Then, my sister had like a cute little club band together, but when I got into my teens it really became more serious to me. That’s when I started playing synthesizers as well. I very much started off making folk, which I think you can still hear my lyrics a lot, sot was an interesting journey for me to come to the genre that I’m in. When my sister decided she didn’t want to play music anymore, that’s when I discovered production because I needed to work out how to make music on my own. That’s when I started getting into Ableton and playing around more heavily with synthesizers, more electronic music.
What is the music scene like in Melbourne? Was there support in your local community?
The music scene in Melbourne is incredible. It’s so diverse and rich. I have two older sisters so I could use their IDs to sneak into venues and watch music. I was really lucky because I was part of this record label called Two Bright Lakes. A bunch of my friends decided there wasn’t a label that was artist-friendly in Australia, so they started their own, and my sister was one of the co-founders. So I was very involved in this really passionate music community, where I learned a lot about different genres of music, but also about the music business. So I came up in this very tight group of musicians. My sister was my manager and A&R on and off for quite a while, she was helping me with my music until I found the right people outside of that.
Let’s talk a little bit about the first two EPs and how those paved the way toward this full-length album.
“Ninja” was my first song that I ever released. I was really just mucking around! I released my first two songs, “Ninja” and “Got It” as a very messy GarageBand demos. I just released them on SoundCloud and they started doing really well and lots of people started reposting them and getting picked up by blogs and stuff. That’s when I realized that maybe I should do a proper release and get in a studio. And yeah, my first two EPs I think… I’m really proud of both of them.. but they’re also very adolescence for where they’re at. I was really just fooling around. Trying to work out what type of music I wanted to play.
I didn’t really take the music too seriously for those first two releases. It was more about just having some relief from the life that I was living in Melbourne. So I think that’s why it took me so long to get to an album, because I wasn’t really sure who I was musically, and I wanted to work that out. So that was an interesting trial and error experience, when I was younger. I was trying to work out if Banoffee was this thing that I wanted to do for a living.
I love that the album is coming out now, because I think a lot of the things that are resonating in culture right now include pop music as a source of healing, and like a place where trauma can be discussed and reclaimed. It’s really fascinating to see the genre used in that way, and I’m wondering how that concept sort of plays into it for you?
I always wanted it to touch on things that maybe we feel a little nervous to bring up in everyday conversation. Music is a really nice way to disguise subjects to make them more comfortable to speak about or contemplate on your own. I think because of some of the things that I went through when I was younger, I’ve always been a very open person. I come from a family, all social workers, everyone works in counseling apart for me and my family, so we’ve always been really open. I’ve noticed how the things that I want to discuss are sometimes a little bit too uncomfortable for other people. And I wanted to challenge that in my music. It’s something that has made me feel pretty isolated in other areas of my life. So I think this has been a way for me to bridge the gap a little bit.
“Count On You” was an early favorite and one of the first songs that a lot of people heard from the album. But you also wrote it as a statement of solidarity with survivors, too, can you expand on how it connects to that for you?
I started writing that song a couple of years ago, just as #MeToo was hitting the world in a really hard way. It was also already triggering for so many people and such a hard time. Suddenly the public were weighing in on subjects that a lot of people couldn’t approach with empathy. I was wondering what was going to come from those discussions once the media got bored of it. Because inevitably, that tends to be what happens, especially with any discussion that is empowering a group that has a history of discrimination. Somehow, the media finds a way to twist that and make it a negative thing… and it fades away.
So to me “Count On You” is a song that’s like, ‘okay, what could we gain from this and what can we contain?’ And I think the one thing that I could take from the whole experience is that there’s been this international network, where I felt really connected to people all over the world who had been through things that I had been through, or that my friends have been through. And it was sort of like, ‘okay well let’s turn this on its head and work out how to find a positive in something that’s super f*cking tragic, and something that’s most likely going to fade within the coming months. How do we keep it alive?’
I love that it’s such a an upbeat and positive song, too. Because I think a lot of the art or reaction to it has been about the pain. So it feels really nice to hear something that’s almost joyful as a resource.
A big part of getting through moments of abuse, for me, has been about trying to twist it into something that is positive to me, every time. Because I think that when I was younger it was really easy to store a lot of anger and pain. But if you think about who wins in that scenario, it’s never the survivor. So I just really wanted to work out a way to create a positive conversation about it.
Let’s talk about the album title and the title track. Along those same themes, a lot of trauma does tend to be generational, and again, it’s addressing something that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking about — but probably really need to talk about. Why did you decide to make this the central title of the record?
It feel so authentic for who I am as a musician. The narrative is really important to me because this song is a song for my dad. It’s a song that acknowledges a lot of the past, and the things that both of us have been through in different ways. It really is a song of celebration and appreciation, looking back on the things that we’ve been through and celebrating where we are now. And realizing that we didn’t really think that we might have all the things that we have. There were times in my life where I thought that I wouldn’t bee happy ever, and I wouldn’t be able to look back on things that I was going through. I really believed that, for my dad, he deserved a song about that for all he’s been through. I wanted to sort of wrap the album in a blanket that was more positive.
I wanted to ask you about your relationship with the producer because I don’t know a lot about them. And then also some of the other collabs here like with Sophie and cupcake and how those came about. So just a little bit about the other people you worked on the record with.
How did you get connected with Yves Rothman and what was it like working with him to produce the album?
It met Yves when I first moved to the States in 2017. And Yves was the first person I met who was such a generous producer. I’ve always been really stubborn about wanting to produce my own record for two reasons. I think that my production is a big part of what makes my music sound like me. But also because it’s really common to get in a room full of men who want to change your music and make it sound like them. And it’s often the first question I’m asked after a show like, ‘oh cool music, but who produced it?” And I’m like, ‘f*ck you, I produced it.’ But I got in with Yves and my production is — I’m a very messy producer. I don’t really understand the science of sound the way I should in order to finish the record. And I got in with Yves and he was just so generous and ready to collaborate and he was the first producer who really said to me like, ‘your production has got to be the champion of the record. I can help you and we can do it together but your ideas are what make the record.’
To close things out, I wanted to talk about the decision to release your debut through Cascine, because they’re one of my favorite labels. Why did they make sense to you as a label home?
They are just so wonderful. I met Jeff Bratton, who runs Cascine, when I first moved to LA. Even earlier, actually, he was emailing me and wanting to release something, but it was never really quite a fit. So Jeff had sort of been at my heels for a long time being like, ‘Let’s release something. Let me show you what I can do with your music. Let me prove to me that we’re the right fit.’ Because I’ve always been pretty skeptical of men. I’m like a real man skeptic. I don’t know. I didn’t know if I wanted to work with a man and I didn’t know this guy.
But finally, when this album was done we met and spoke about the music, and I was like, ‘oh sh*t, ike this guy is for real. He’s the real deal.’ And as soon as we started working together, it just felt so right. I feel like Jeff and Nick [Passarelli] are two of the biggest music fans I know, and that’s the only reason they’re in the business. They are out at shows every day of the week and they’re working with all my favorite artists. Every suggestion they’ve had has been so spot on. I just feel like they’re really a part of Banoffee now. That’s the only way I want to work.
Look At Us Now Dad is out 2/21 via Cascine Records. Get it here.