Blending potent pop with artful, exploratory electronica, Banoffee’s new album Look At Us Now Dad sifts through matters of the heart, mind and soul with uncommon candour. “If I hadn’t got the Charli tour, I would have released a very different record – because I had what I thought was a record ready to go for 2018,” says the artist known to her Melbourne family as Martha Brown. “And then, everything got put on hold.”
“Charli” is Charli XCX, with whom Brown toured as bandmate in support of Taylor Swift, after having moved away from her beloved family and friends to L.A. “I think the biggest thing that tour did for me, was it really lit a fire in my belly,” she says. “It could send people two ways: ‘Wow, the music industry is a beast that will eat you up, it’s too much,” or, ‘I want to be a part of this; I see the power in pop music.’ For me it was the latter. It can be so devouring at times, but it’s also magical and influential and exciting, and obviously can take you incredible places.” Though she initially worried about relevancy (“Oh my God, it’s real,” she laughs), those feelings passed. “It felt weird: ‘How is this going to be important to me in a year? My life’s going to be different.’ And I guess I was right, because the songs weren’t important to me any more, but there were new things that I felt more proud of. It worked out – it was meant to be.”
One of the album’s stunners is the gut-wrenching Permission, about an incident of sexual abuse Banoffee suffered. In it, she mixes vocoded vocals with her organic voice to create an astute analogy to the way in which sometimes, when we experience trauma, we operate robotically to get through it. “Sometimes the vocoder is there to express a boundary or a degree of separation,” she explains. “In songs like Permission, it might be there to express certain confessionals – it might be like one of those confessionals on TV where the person is sitting in the dark because they can’t reveal their identity,” she suggests.”I feel like a lot of us go into this mode of disassociation where we can just become this cyborg, and sometimes that’s useful to be able to disconnect to a point to just feel safe. And then you do get these rushes of reality in that vocal rawness coming through… sometimes your real self watches that disassociated self functioning in the world, and is just yelling at it or grabbing at it, trying to pull it back in, and that’s sort of how I felt writing that song: these two parts of me, coming out at once.”
The thumping Count On You is full of ebullient optimism, as wonky synths always find an anchor in Brown’s melodic returns to the beat.”That song was very much about trying to create a sense of certainty and companionship in something that felt pretty messy and uncertain,” Brown says. “Like, ‘Hey, when you’re feeling like you don’t know where you are in the world, and you have no idea how to survive, look beside you and there’ll be something solid for you to hold onto.'”
L.A.’s infamous tendency to isolate is all stacked up through the brutally vulnerable Chevron, in which Brown gives the “exact description” of her car breaking down on the side of the road when she was all but bereft of money or help: “I’m selling my gear/ Best synth I ever had,” she laments in its lyrics. “There are moments when you realise you’re completely alone,” she says of moving overseas. “’What the fuck am I doing here?’ I feel like in those times when you feel completely alone, or when you hit rock bottom, they’re the moments when I’m so grateful that I write music, because it is one form of comfort that can come out and make everything okay. “
A constant source of support and inspiration to Brown is her father, whose voice can be heard on the interlude That Sorta Stuff. He’s taught meditation for 30 years and is also a counsellor; Brown says he’s “such an interesting, odd man” and she could “write a book with the things that come out of his mouth.” (He was hugely encouraging in her youth: “He used to bribe me with Freddo Frogs… if I was practising, he’d come in and put a Freddo Frog on my music stand. They’re actually magic. I’d do anything for one because they feel so exciting.”) Having sneakily recorded the audio we hear, Banoffee eventually received her father’s permission to use it on the record. “It’s a very personal snippet, but I thought that snippet sort of summed up the record for me: These feelings [come from] processing anxiety and pain, and then if you sit with them and just express them and let them play out, you get to this place of bliss where nothing can hurt you any more, because you have no secrets.”
Look At Us Now Dad by Banoffee is out February 21 via Dot Dash.
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