Following their record-breaking #1 anthology ‘Akilotoa, and #2-charting covers album Sunday (The Gospel According to Iso) – both released in 2020, if you don’t mind – the inimitable Bull sisters are about to lay an album of originals on you that’s so fine, you’ll be under its soul-spell in seconds flat.
Looking from the outside in, it would seem that everyone loves Vika and Linda Bull. Praise for the sisters, whose career now spans 35 years, flows like veritable fruits from the cornucopia, not least from some of the country’s most –
“Not everyone!” Vika Bull asserts.
Oh… really? Not everyone?
“Oh no,” she wags her head, as Linda giggles. “Definitely not!” She sucks her breath in with a little ‘What can ya do about it?’ shrug. Ah, it’s as we suspected: anyone who doesn’t adore Vika and Linda has likely got a simple problem with assertive women.
New album The Wait – their first record of all-new material in 19 years – sees the sisters perform songs written by several prominent members of the Assertive Women Fanclub, including Chris Cheney, Ben Salter, Bernard Fanning, Mick Thomas, Eva Seymour, and Kasey Chambers with Brandon Dodd. Those latter two penned album opener and instant classic – with its driving saloon piano, acoustic guitar and lyrics which conjure all the power its titular action suggests – Raise Your Hand.
“I first heard it in the car on my iPhone,” says Linda, “and I couldn’t wait to play it to Vika. I feel like [Kasey] wrote it just for us. It really struck a chord… raise your hand, speak up, say what you want, don’t be ignored.”
It’s already a live favourite, prompting mass audience participation. And that feels just perfect, because the live arena is where the Bull sisters “cut [their] teeth” as Linda puts it, during their time as back-ups singers with Joe Camilleri’s band The Black Sorrows in the ’80s. “It’s always in the back of our mind – performing something live,” says Vika. “Right from the start of the process. Right in the studio! Because that’s what people want to hear; they don’t wanna find out you can’t create the same sound ‘cos you only brought three singers on the road!”
Though there’s no filler from soup to nuts, the album’s strongest songs are spread out across its tracklist. (“It used to be that you’d put your five best tracks at the beginning, that’s how it was done – but I don’t agree with that,” laughs Linda.) You’ll find stand-out Teeth third in line, a song that came in “at the last minute”, according to Vika. There’s an irresistible, syncopated sway to its doubled-vocal melody, accompanied by gentle shaker and lapsteel guitar until it gives way into this shining, poignant chorus that flings a lump into your throat.
This one, Vika says, required some planning when it came to the harmonies. “Yeah, you nearly pulled your hair out with that one, didn’t you Vik!” laughs Linda. “Yeah, I did,” Vika admits with a sage nod. “I have far less patience than Linda; I’m like, ‘It’s good enough, let’s move on.’ Cameron [Bruce] and Steve [Schram] were like, ‘Really? Really?‘” Vika mimics, hands on hips. “That’s where a good producer comes in,” she continues. “That’s the blessing of a good producer, which Cameron and Steve are. They’ll look for other ways to do something, find the best possible way. And Cameron’s an incredible musician.”
Vika goes on to say that they have worked with producers in the past who weren’t as committed to pushing songs to the best places they needed to be. Linda adds: “It was because they [prioritised] the band, not the vocals. That’s why we chose these two guys, who we knew would be dedicated. To not put in as much effort as possible is doing the songs a disservice.”
The song the sisters were perhaps most concerned with getting perfect was the superb, soaring closer, The Long View. And that’s because it was penned by the man who’s “like a brother” to the duo (says Linda), Paul Kelly. “We didn’t want to stuff it up!” she cries, holding her cheeks in mock-horror. “[Paul]’s recorded it, but it isn’t on any of his albums,” says Vika. “Yet,” adds Linda. “Yet,” agrees Vika. “We tried it as a duet,” Linda says, “but we just had to pull it out of the little box it was in. And I said, ‘Vik, let it rip.’”
The Wait by Vika & Linda is out Sep 17 via Bloodlines.
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