This Friday, Angus Stone will release his fourth solo album. It is, however, on a technicality. Smooth Big Cat will mark his second studio album under the moniker of Dope Lemon, which he adapted back in 2016.
Prior to that, however, he released an additional two solo LPs – one under the nom de plume of Lady of the Sunshine in 2009, and one under his real name in 2012. The music Stone has made outside of his best-known collaborations with sister Julia has taken several turns and ultimately carved into its own niche – and no matter what name you put on it, Stone himself is glad that the through-line of all of them is his own creative idiosyncrasies.
“Each time you step into the studio, and you listen back to this thing that you’ve created, the way you feel at the end is always so different,” he says. “With Dope Lemon, it had this really magical feel to it. I knew it had to be special. When I look back on the last solo album [2012’s Broken Brights], I see that album as being really personal. It was tapping into a lot of what was going on in my life. The difference with Dope Lemon is that it’s more about storytelling. The subjects change a lot with each song. Fundamentally, Dope Lemon is about exploration. There’s a really free-flowing feel of adventure there. When I hear these songs back, or when I’m playing them live, I feel like they’re ones I can get lost in.”
Smooth Big Cat comes just over three years after the last Dope Lemon LP, Honey Bones, and just under two years after the last Angus & Julia Stone album, Snow. Even with a demanding touring schedule across both projects which has taken Stone across the globe on extensive jaunts, the creative process has still been as organic and flowing as ever.
“We came to the end of that album cycle for Snow about midway through last year,” he says. “Once you’ve been touring for that long, you’ve got to come to that crossroads and make a decision.”
“You can come off the road, go find somewhere to lie down, sleep for ages and be invisible to the world for a while. The other option is that you get that energy back, and you want to keep those creative juices flowing a little bit longer. That’s what happened with me and Smooth Big Cat – I found there were still some things I wanted to say and sing about after Snow, so I got on the phone to my engineer and started putting it all together.”
The album was a unique experience for Stone in many ways. While he is normally surrounded by musicians in the studio when working with Julia, Smooth Big Cat features just two people: engineer Jordan Power recording and mixing it, and Stone on everything else – including production. It’s a career first for the normally collaborative musician, and upon looking back at his handiwork, it’s a decision he’s glad he made.
“When I listen to it I can really hear my brushstroke, if you will,” says Stone. “It’s 100 per cent from me, and I can feel all of that coming through the music. I think there’s something very special about that.”
Stone has already established himself as an avid multi-instrumentalist in the past – aside from the guitar and banjo he’s played across his albums, he is also a keen piano player (“a lot of this record actually began with me sitting down at the piano,” he adds) and got to show off his bass skills on Angus & Julia’s 2017 smash hit ‘Chateau’. The biggest stumbling block, then, came when Stone made his way over to the drum kit for the first time on record.
“I don’t really play too much of the drums normally,” he says. “It was definitely something new. I was talking about it with a friend the other day, actually. What I found out is that if you become skilled at one instrument and you have an open mind, you can apply that universally when you sit down at any instrument.
“As long as you have rhythm, you have feel, and you can melt into a mood, that’s all that really matters. It’s all about finding that pocket and just falling into it. I found that a lot with making this record – I feel like I had to, in a way. It’s all a part of the craft.”
The album continues on the jangly, lackadaisical nature that typified Honey Bones, but with a new undercurrent of electricity running through it. There’s a slinky groove that locks in from the opening moments of ‘Hey You’ and remains intact for the album’s remainder. Its flowing nature is reflective of its creative process: “There weren’t too many walls that came up,” Stone testifies.
“It was very much an open road. Sure, there were days where I was a little fatigued after creating for two months straight – but you’ve got to let that happen, rather than fight it. A change of work is the best rest. I’m constantly learning in the studio, and I love the evolution of it. This is my life, and I’m totally dedicated to what this is.” He pauses for a moment, reflecting on his words, before concluding: “It’s a really beautiful thing.”
Big Smooth Cat is out on Friday July 12 via BMG. Catch Dope Lemon at Splendour in the Grass on Saturday July 20 and Palais Theatre on Friday August 9. Head to the Secret Sounds website for tickets.