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Prudence Rees-Lee

Classically trained with a futuristic flavour, Prudence Rees-Lee is known to those in the know for her work with Hammocks and Honey. With the release of her debut solo album, Court Music From The Planet Of Love, she is poised to come to the attention of many more. Ahead of the album’s June launch, she held forth on the album’s slow gestation, and the physical difficulties of getting her sprawling ensemble onto a stage.

Court Music From The Planet Of Love is an unusual debut. It is unusual not only for its unique sound – a gauzy mix of chamber pop, synth smears and baroque instrumentation – but for its confidence and its cohesiveness. It is not a stepping stone, but a fully-realised effort by an intriguing artist.

 

The name is rather wonderful as well, conjuring images of extra-terrestrial romance and glamour that bear a strong resemblance to the sound of the album itself. So, is it a concept album? “It’s definitely not a concept album,” Rees-Lee demurs. “It’s just cohesive, which every album should be, really. The name just came to me. I thought, ‘Oh God, I’m probably going to regret this’, but I liked that it was a bit soap-opera-ish, a bit cheesy, a bit Barbarella. It had a lot of things in it that were in the album as well.”

 

Despite the seamless final product, the material that would become Court Music From The Planet Of Love underwent some drastic changes during the album’s long gestation period.

 

“It started as a really cello-based album – the cello was my first instrument,” Rees-Lee explains. “I’d been doing electronic stuff, and then it seemed like everyone was doing electronic stuff, and I thought, ‘You know what? Let’s take it back a notch’. From there it kept morphing. It didn’t feel like cello was quite enough, so I kept adding stuff. Lehmann (B. Smith, KES Band) came onboard, and then some others. It wasn’t like I had a vision, and was realising that vision.

 

“Shags (Chamberlain, Lost Animal) was almost the last person to come aboard, which isn’t ideal for a bass player, but I had intended to use cello as the bass instrument, then I slowly realised it needed some real bass as well.” In the end, Rees-Lee enlisted a roll-call of local talent. “It was a bit weird, though,” she says, “No-one knew each other, and they didn’t record together either. I had them all over for dinner when it was all done, though.

 

“The live band is different again, which is also complicated. I’d like to play more, but it’s hard to get everyone together, and it’s hard finding a stage that’ll fit all of us!”

 

The album is perhaps most notable for its prominent use of harpsichord, an almost forgotten instrument. “Yeah, that came about because I was using the harpsichord setting on my synth so much, I decided that I may as well get the real thing.” Where do you even find a harpsichord, though? “The Early Music Society of Victoria actually loaned me one – I don’t want to give it back!”

 

The conversation eventually turns to Hammocks and Honey, Rees-Lee’s partnership with Alex Nosek. Rees-Lee is bemused by the attention that they’ve been getting since the Court Music press cycle commenced. Is the band still a live concern?

 

“Hammocks and Honey is still going, just…slowly,” she explains. “It’s funny, Hammocks and Honey has been mentioned more now than when we were actually playing shows – people keep introducing me as ‘one half of Hammocks and Honey’, as if that means anything to anyone. We’re working on an album at the moment, though. We’re taking our time, we want to make sure we get it right.”

 

One gets the sense that Rees-Lee is relieved to have pulled the whole thing off, if only to get started on a new chapter of her burgeoning career. “I’ve started on an orchestral work. I’m trying to get some community orchestras onboard to get that together. It’ll kinda be a prog thing,” she laughs, with a tinge of embarrassment. “With the album, I was building it as I went, but now that the album’s been made, I know what I have to work with, the instruments at my disposal.”

 

Given her background and training, though, Rees-Lee’s foray into classical composition is hardly a Metallica-esque vanity project. “I studied composition and performance at Melbourne Uni”, Rees-Lee explains, “So I know how to score parts and how to utilise the different families of the orchestra. It makes total sense to me, to be doing that.”

 

BY EDWARD SHARP-PAUL 

PRUDENCE REES-LEE will be launching her new album at the John Curtin on Saturday June 8. Court Music From The Planet Of Love is out now digitally on Special Award, and the LP will be available from Saturday June 8.