Angus Stone: ‘Dope Lemon Represents A Certain Kind Of Freedom’

The name Angus Stone holds a lot of sway. The New South Welsh songwriter has achieved global popularity as one half of the brother-sister duo, Angus & Julia Stone. The Stones have now released four successive ARIA top ten albums while also establishing a rabid fanbase in Western Europe.

However, despite the nominal leverage, Angus Stone prefers to escape into an alias for his solo work. Smooth Big Cat is the second full-length release from his Dope Lemon project. The hirsute singer-songwriter’s debut solo effort, Smoking Gun, was credited to another alias, Lady of the Sunshine; 2012’s Broken Brights is the only release to sport his birth name.

We spoke to Stone about the Dope Lemon moniker and his decision to play all of the instruments on Smooth Big Cat, which was recorded in his northern New South Wales ranch studio, Belafonte.

Music Feeds: Smooth Big Cat is the second full-length release from Dope Lemon, following 2016’s Honey Bones. It’s the only alias you’ve persisted with for more than one album. Do you think you found a strong identity on Honey Bones?

Angus Stone: For me [Dope Lemon] represents a certain kind of freedom. When I sit down with Dope Lemon, it’s a different side of my creative process and outlet. When it comes to the build-up over the past three years that Honey Bones has had, it’s really humbling to be written to by the people who have been listening to it and made a connection with it in their life. It’s really cool to hear all those stories and it drives me to want to get back out there and tour and record as Dope Lemon.

MF: Between Honey Bones and Smooth Big Cat you released Snow, the fourth Angus & Julia Stone album. You and Julia then toured extensively. Did you know you’d be returning to the studio to make another Dope Lemon record after that cycle?

AS: Julia and I, we tour so hard and we’ve been doing it for so long that when you’re in that cycle, that’s all you’re thinking about; that project at the time. It’s about tension and release – when you pop out the back end of a tour, you either want to just go somewhere and pass out and sleep for a hundred years or you want to get back into it and flex the creative part of your mind. This part was being productive and getting back into Dope Lemon and enjoying it.

MF: There are a lot of eager Dope Lemon fans, but the popularity isn’t on the same level as Angus & Julia Stone. As a duo, you’ve achieved a rare feat in being canonised just a few records into your career. That level of success brings pressure and expectations for you to be a certain thing, sound a certain way. Did going back to Dope Lemon free you from those pressures?

AS: When you step out and do solo stuff, there’s a side to that when you are one half of a duo, there’s certain elements that you don’t get to experience. But I feel really lucky to have that balance and enjoy the best of both worlds. For me it’s a remedy that works hand in hand.

MF: The record is accompanied by a fanciful bio that tells the tale of the titular smooth big cat who “doesn’t have stakes in the troubles of the world,” and whose life is “guided by the mood of the breeze and what’s there in front of him.” Is that the sort of influence you want this record to have on people – to remove the fuss that surrounds them and take them to a more peaceful place?

AS: When I want to get away from the troubles in my life and the things that I’m going through personally, when I listen to music I’m hoping to step out of that body and drift away for what could be just a moment. But for this project, at the end of the record when I listened to what it was, it made me feel like it was something just real.

MF: The sound is hazy, dreamy and a bit psychedelic. There are shades of blues and folk, but it feels more celestial than earthy. Was the sound of the record something you envisioned prior to production?

AS: I don’t really plan things conceptually. I’ll just step into the studio. This record was unique in the way that I actually didn’t write anything – zero, nothing – I just walked in there with the engineer. But I knew there was something to be told and we just cracked on.

MF: You played all of the instruments on the album and you also produced and mixed it all in your ranch studio, Belafonte. What benefits come from this self-sufficient approach?

AS: If you lay the bass first, the piano, organ, drums, it gives you time to hear the song over and over again that is created in the moment. Then you hit the vocals last and it’s cool like that because you’ve gone into the song so deep in a really short amount of time, but you’re so connected and focused on exactly what it is that you’re able to drift off.

MF: When you listen back to the album, because it all came together without preconceptions and outside influence, does it feel inspired and fresh?

AS: For me it’s a really pure record. It’s seamless in the way that the genres don’t change too much and there’s a thread that runs through that’s steady, and that’s quite difficult to do. It’s a whole new style. The energy is really strong and a lot of the stories I really dig. It’s exciting.

MF: You’re an experienced songwriter and have a history of making things that many thousands of people enjoy. Do you have confidence in your gut instincts and decision-making as a writer?

AS: You’re constantly evolving. The tools you use in tapping into and channelling storytelling and structuring and learning how to pick out bits of gold, it takes a long time to fine tune that stuff. I feel confident because I love what I do. I can’t think of doing anything else. It’s kind of a labour of love and my confidence comes from that.

The second full-length, Dope Lemon album ‘Smooth Big Cat’ is out today. To celebrate, Dope Lemon is doing a bunch of in-store appearances and signings, kicking off today in Melbourne. He’s also handing out free Dope Lemon tattoos at studios around the country, check out the details below.

Dope Lemon will also be touring nationally this August. Dates and details here

Dope Lemon In-Store Appearances

Friday, 12th July – 4:00pm

Rocksteady Records, Melbourne

Saturday, 13th July 13 – 3:30pm

Redeye Records, Sydney

Sunday, 14th July 14 – 3:30pm

Jet Black Cat, Brisbane

Wednesday, 17th July – 4:00pm

Beatniks Records, Gold Coast

Thursday, 18th July – 4:30pm

Howl & Moan Records, Byron Bay

Dope Lemon Tattoo Spots

Friday, 12th July – 4:00pm – 6:00pm

Shinko Tattoo, Brisbane

Friday, 12th July – 4:00pm – 6:00pm

Little Toyko, Sydney

Friday, 12th July – 4:00pm – 6:00pm

Progression Tattoo, Adelaide

Friday, 12th July – 4:00pm – 6:00pm

Primitive, Perth

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