The pandemic period has tended to impact artists in one of two ways. For some, the isolation has been catastrophic, drying up the well of inspiration and preventing them from creating. For others, it has been the opposite: a welcome break from the distractions of the outside world, leading to a triumphant surge of productivity.
For Angus Stone, the musician who records as Dope Lemon, it was the latter. In August, Stone reunited with his sister Julia for “Life Is Strange”, a soundtrack album that is the duo’s first joint project in four years. Today, he follows it up with “Rose Pink Cadillac”, a 10-song outing of dreamy psychedelic surf rock that serves as his third album as Dope Lemon and another reason he remains regarded as one of the country’s most creative songwriters.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Stone has managed to stay inspired over the past year when you consider the 35-year-old spent the time on a beautiful 48-hectare farm inland from Byron Bay that he now calls home. He’s sitting on the deck when I call him to discuss “Rose Pink Cadillac”, he says he is “overlooking a field with horses and cows”, which certainly beats the shed I have rather hastily turned into a makeshift office.
“It’s an old barn,” Stone explains. “I converted it into a studio with this beautiful sunken fire pit where we chew over ideas and drink whisky.” It’s here that Stone wrote and recorded “Rose Pink Cadillac” and where he has remained during what he calls the “anarchy portion” of recent history. With him overlooking a scene of rural bliss — and me a blank wall — we discuss how songwriting has helped him to survive the past year, the process of translating his poetry into French for the album and why there are even bigger things in store for 2022.
What was it like making an album during a year of lockdowns?
“It meant less distractions and made things more quiet. We spent our 20s touring around the world and then in the last five years we’re sort of at that point where we can take bigger breaks and chill, and then when it came to this, it was just like, Well, this is a whole new thing. It’s a new style of life and flow that I hadn’t experienced since I was a kid. Which was being at home and just waking up and not having a thousand interviews, not having to roll to the next city and hit all the spots. It’s been very grounding in that stillness that I haven’t really got to enjoy for so long. It’s been wonderful, actually.”
Can you describe the album and what it means to you?
“I think with everything that’s going on and the world kicking up dust the way it did, when I was in the studio, seeing all this happening, my natural reaction was to put an emphasis on love and sharing that through music. And I like to call this my love album. I guess the songs they all change, you know — you roll out of bed, throw on some clothes and whatever mood you’re in will affect the way you write. But the catalyst for this record was love.”
Was it challenging capturing that sense of love with everything else that has been going on?
“Songwriting, for me, has been this way to wander off into the wilderness of this Disney world that you can create by the stretch of your imagination. I might be going through the worst day of my life but I can float off into a daydream and write one of the most magical songs I’ve ever written about love and the beauty of the world. I feel very lucky that I’m able to do that. While we were making this record it looked like people were tearing each other apart and society was just imploding. It was just disastrous to watch. But when I’m walking in the studio, I like to drift off into these magical places. I’m really stoked that with this craft, it’s something that I’ve been able to disappear with at times. I think that’s what music is for me. It’s special like that.”
You’ve spoken before about how this album was the perfect mix of “hard work and pure joy”. How did you manage to maintain that balance between the two?
“The bottom line is it must always be a labour of love. As soon as it starts to become a chore, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, be it financial or trying to meet someone else’s needs. And it’s easy to get caught up with that stuff in this world. I’ve always been hyper-aware of my intentions when it comes to what I do in my craft. Over time you start to realise it has to be from the heart, but it also has to be bloody hard work and long hours before it all makes sense. It’s like proof of concept: you have to prove these things that are rolling around in your head for their existence to become tangible. I think that’s what songwriting means. And when you arrive there and it’s in front of you, it’s like, I knew it was there!”
How did the collaborations come about?
“With the song “High Rollin’”, I always had a dream of wanting to translate my poetry into French. I had this poem about falling in love on this island with palm trees swaying and all this other nonsense. I called up a friend who speaks French and I showed it to her. The beauty of translation is that sometimes you get a double positive. You get these really curious things happening and then with certain lines she’d just look at me and be like, “We wouldn’t say this, it doesn’t exist.” And it’s like, “OK, so can we do it?” Working through that process was really interesting. We had to learn all the phonetics and how to actually say the words. Then we found this amazing singer-songwriter, Louise Verneuil, from Paris, who sang on the song.
Then there’s the collaboration with Winston Surfshirt. At the time, I was always hearing his songs coming on the radio and I was like, He’s so cool, he’s got such a great flow. And so I got his number, called him up and he was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” We connected and it was really, really cool. We flipped the song back and forth and it worked out really, really naturally.”
Why did you decide to give away an actual rose pink Cadillac with the album?
“The word ‘fan’ doesn’t really do our listener justice. For those people who have tuned in and listened to the evolution of the sound of Dope Lemon, buying the rose pink Cadillac and doing this competition was our way to give back to these people that have followed us for so long. The head of [the label] called me up and was like, “We should just buy this Cadillac and come out with a bang for this record because it’s epic.” It’s such a cool thing for the listeners and for one person to have that joy of winning this epic unicorn of a car.”
What’s in store for 2022?
“I’ve got a real surprise coming up. When I finished this record, I went straight back into another one. I’m on the final stretch of that. But this is going to be a whole new world and I’m very excited about where that goes. It might even be a whole new thing. I don’t know yet. I just had this flow and I felt like I just wanted to keep going. So that’s next year. Something cool will come out and we’re going to create something very epic around it.”
Dope Lemon’s “Rose Pink Cadillac” is out January 7.