Even if it's not theoretically apt, the cover for Holly Throsby's fourth album, Team - a portrait of Throsby and her dog, Jones, sitting together on an empty lawn - captures the deeply personal and intimate nature of her new record, one that's steeped in notions of companionship and the lack thereof.
"In some ways, people might think it's a funny cover considering the title of the album, but I don't really mind because it is kind of funny that it's just me and my dog," the Sydney singer-songwriter laughs softly. "I'd already decided on the title of the album and I hadn't intended to have this kind of photo on there, but it really made sense to me because during the recording of the album, that was how it was. Just as your dog becomes your best friend, me and Jones would drive down to the church to record... She was running around all the time and often getting electrocuted by the electric fence in the back side of the property and things like that," she recalls with a chuckle.
"For me, every album has a distinct theme just because of the time that it takes to make one album," says Throsby. "Because my albums are quite personal, they're all about various times in my life and my last album (2008's A Loud Call) was romantic and quite joyful, and for this album, I had a slightly different frame of mind. There was certainly a lot more focus on images of companionship. I think a lot of the songs are more about separation than anything else, so it was something that I was interested in at the time - just exploring the nature in which people kind of come together and come apart again."
Last year, Throsby released an album of children's songs entitled See! with her long-time friend and producer, Tony Dupé. "It was a really great thing to do - the idea, at first, to make the children's album wasn't a particularly serious one," Throsby explains. "I'd written some songs for kids because I have a god-daughter and she has a little brother. And all my friends are having kids now, so I'd written some songs for them. As I got into writing them, I decided that it might actually be something that I'd want to release.
"When Tony came back to town because he had been living in Berlin for a while, I knew that he would just have so much fun arranging that kid's album with all the sound effects and all the talking, because he kind of sees every instrument as a little character in a way," Throsby enthuses. "He's such a hilarious person; his mind is just so funny and unique in terms of how he thinks about music. We didn't really care what most grown-ups would think about it because it was such a liberating project, and it turned out to be an incredibly fun thing for us as well as it is, hopefully, for the kids. I think it put us in a really good spot to do this album because it freed us up a lot, in terms of letting things be loose and not wanting to be too careful."
Both See! and Team were recorded at a 19th century sandstone church in Wildes Meadow, New South Wales. "It was such a beautiful place," Throsby emphasises. "It's all green rolling hills and it gets quite cold and misty down there. When we were doing the kids' album, it was summer and we were camping out, and then we made this album and it was all cold and the atmosphere changed quite a bit. It was a place that Tony literally found on domain.com," she laughs. "He was looking for a space to rent and he loves this outpost of New South Wales. We both fell in love with it. It's a very small sandstone church with just one main room, which we filled with instruments and we cordoned off a little section at the front, which was the studio with a desk and recording equipment, and then the kitchen where my dog pretty much got stuck in. You couldn't really see another property; it was just cows around and a little graveyard across the street. I really treasure the time we had there, because if Tony hadn't come back from Berlin, I wouldn't have had the money to buy it.
"The writing period was quite intense," Throsby reflects, "because I was writing the kids' songs at the same time, which is interesting because they were so much fun to write and about not thinking much, train-of-thought lyrics. For this album, musically it's a lot less structured than my other songs. I think it's not as traditional as some of my other songs and earlier albums, but I had a good time experimenting with layering all the vocals, so I wrote it in quite a short space of time. They sound like they all relate to each other. It's a very personal record, so it was kind of a quiet time for me - I became a little introverted during that time," she laughs.
For her fourth album, Throsby was adamant about focusing entirely on classical instruments: cello, violin, pump-organ, nylon-string guitar, a Middle Eastern violin and double bass. "Knowing that we were going to do this live-sounding recording and having also been exposed to a lot of classical music in my life, I was really interested in having an album that was really made from everything that was made of wood. That was kind of what I wanted," she asserts with glee. "They always say that cello is the instrument that sounds the closest to the human voice in terms of its timbre, so I think that's why people find it so emotive."
HOLLY THROSBY plays The Corner Hotel on Friday, March 25 and Team is out now through Spunk Records.