For those who ache for purpose, identity is everything. In fact, it's quite often the sole survivor in the face of instability. Paris Wells understands this more than most. Wells' versatility as a soul/funk/pop singer-songwriter and the vitality of her bold individuality have garnered the Melbourne songstress wide-spread acclaim and adoration. "It's important to find some sort of an identity," Wells affirms. "Otherwise, it won't last. As soon as you make your aesthetic the main part of your music, you're in a bit of trouble.
"Hopefully, my identity can stand alone if I become 150 kilos with five kids at 50 years old," she expresses with a laugh. "It'll still be an identity upon its own - that's why I've got heroes like Annie Lennox, who still is Annie Lennox. She might be older now but she just created this identity for herself in the '70s and '80s that resonated so much that it stands alone and no one can even see what she looks like aesthetically - no one judges her ever, because she's created such a strong uniqueness about her that she'll always be Annie Lennox and that's all there is to it. I think those kinds of people are such great role models because their aesthetic isn't the biggest factor on their art. It has longevity to it.
"Once you get a more rounded view of yourself and what sound you like, everything is - not easier - but clearer, and you can be more definitive about your ideas. As soon as you know yourself and your tastes, you can start refining it and evolving it."
Meanwhile, it's evident that St Kilda holds particular reverence for Wells. She sang the St Kilda Football Club Anthem at last year's AFL Grand Final and is one of the stars performing at this year's St Kilda Festival. "Two years ago when I was performing for the first album (Keep It, from 2008), I was performing at the side stage of the park and it was crazy," Wells chuckles.
"I've been playing at The Espy since I was about 18 and with other kinds of bands, and to see everyone come out and celebrate that album was amazing," she recalls.
"We're really excited and we kind of have to beat that last performance in a way, but the band are pumped that we get to do all the new stuff now, so it'll be interesting to see how big the crowds get this time and to be on the main stage is awesome as well. It means a lot, actually; it's kind of five minutes from my home, so it's good to feel that there's some love at home."
The St Kilda Festival's sensational line-up this year also includes Tim Finn, Hungry Kids Of Hungary, Muscles, Jebediah and Gareth Liddiard. "I think Australian writers, especially some of the old-school ones, are worthy of international acclaim on a writing level," argues Wells. "I think that Paul Dempsey's new song, Bats, is one of the best-written ballads I've ever heard. I think, at times, local music gets flooded by international music ...
"St Kilda fest is a great day for celebrating Australian music and it's free and it's very real. I used to look up to Jebediah and now I'm playing on the same stage as them, so it feels really awesome," she smiles.
Supporting Justin Timberlake and Jamie Lidell early in her career taught Wells the importance of having a strong team behind her. "The new record ( Various Small Fires from last year) is done with almost the same team but just a couple more people on board to boost it up a bit," Wells explains.
"I really feel that I love the people around me even more definitively than I ever have before and that's making a big difference. And people are feeling that and coming up to me after the show, telling me that we all look like we're having a really good time. And often you don't see that - they might sound really good, but they kind of look a bit miserable," she laughs. "We've kind of got the ultimate vibe going on, so I'm really happy."
How have the songs from Wells' second album, Various Small Fires, translated live compared with those from that debut album, Keep It? "There were a whole set of new challenges putting these songs to stage, but it's almost like we used methods from the new album on the old songs and then methods from the old songs on the new songs live," she muses. "[Various Small Fires] is a studio-based album and now I think when you see it live, it all makes sense; everything's being played with live instruments and we're trying our hardest to keep it as organic as we can, but it's still a very clean and pure sound."
Wells' creative partner and long-time collaborator, Ryan Ritchie of True Live, has instilled lasting values within her. "He taught me not to overplay and that less is more," Wells asserts. "And when you're tied in with your work, you really do need someone to get the machete and cut everything down and he taught me not to over-sing. And he's the most motivated person that I know. He plays all his instruments for about four hours a day and then he's writing all day - and if I can do half of what he does a day, I end up a better musician by the end of the week. He has that level of ritualistic routine and he's learnt through people that he loves. NickCave gets up at nine in the morning, plays piano 'til five and then goes home to his wife.
"I think when an artist can get any sort of routine in them, even just slightly, they become a better artist because it's so hard to have a regimented lifestyle in this work, but if you can find some sort of a balance, you'll be a better worker from it. I was a bit scattered until he gave me some direction."
The pair also did a lot of travelling prior to the writing of Various Small Fires, and Wells intends on embarking upon more overseas exploration before her third album. "I'm fascinated this time and I've got a real inkling for somewhere really populated like India or certain parts of Thailand... and up for being taken out of my comfort zone," she says, invigorated.
"Travelling to any western or European country is always pretty simple; it's not really a big challenge... most people speak English, everyone orders food at restaurants, kind of lame in a way... but it's always wonderful to be elsewhere and extra wonderful to be somewhere a bit... difficult - and also to experience a heavier load of world music and trying to bring back as many of those ideas as we can."
ST KILDA FESTIVAL kicked off earlier this week with a huge run of Live N Local shows and runs all the way up 'til the massive festival extravaganza this Sunday February 13 - it features a ridiculous amount of music. On Festival Sunday alone on the main stage there's Tim Finn, Muscles, Hungry Kids Of Hungary, Jebediah, Paris Wells, The Break, Gareth Liddiard and July Days - while there's also heaps of bands on the O'Donnell Gardens stage, the Alfred Square stage, the NOVA New Music stage and the St Kilda Festival's Live N Local stage. Wait. There's more. There's also The Push stage, the Songwriters Collective next to the yacht club, the Hip Hop stage in the lower Esplnade carpark, and the Latin Quarter salsa experience. It's a freakin' epic day of music. And remember - public transport is the best way to get to and from the festival, as with all the road closures and everything, it's the easiest way to get in, around and out.
The best way to find out everything you need to know about the St Kilda festival though? Head to stkildafestival.com.au for all the updated timetable info for bands, stages, exhibitions and all the other goodies the festival offers up.
PARIS WELLS' new album, Various Small Fires is out now through Illusive. She plays the main beach stage at 3.30pm with a full band.