Perhaps the only thing that rivals my obsession with video games is my love of music. When these two passions collide, it’s something special.
Such was the moment in the first Life Is Strange, as Max inserts a disc in Chloe’s CD player and Angus & Julia Stones’ Santa Monica Dream begins to play. As the opening chords of the acoustic guitar ring out, I recognise the song. Through the music, I better connect with the characters and understand all that they are going through.
“I wrote that song at a time when I was really deeply in love with somebody who lives in Santa Monica,” said Julia Stone on the track that began their relationship with the Life Is Strange series.
“I think we can all relate to when you meet somebody and go down that fantasy road of, you know, the life with them, and what the life with them would be like,” she elaborates.
“I guess I knew I wasn’t going to choose it.”
Julia and her brother, who together form the folk-duo, Angus & Julia Stone, have come back together, lending not just a track to the upcoming Life Is Strange: True Colours, but an entire body of work. The release comes as a pleasant surprise to fans (myself included) as the pair have spent the last few years apart working on individual projects: Julia with her own successful solo career, and Angus with his psychedelic-folk project, Dope Lemon.
“It just had so much pull,” reflected Angus, “we go off to just be doing our own thing and we have these really wonderous things bringing us back together.”
“Life is strange like that.”
“We don’t push to work together,” Julia added, referring to a sort of mystical force that sees them offered opportunities to collaborate.
“Working together has always like it’s been a bit of the opportunities you can’t say no to,” Julia reflects, “that’s not just the fans of Angus & Julia, but in an industry send we get offered really great opportunities like this game, or like the stuff with Rick Rubin” who brought the pair back together to produce their 2014 self-titled release.
As a duo, the siblings have put out five studio albums, including Down the Way and the self-titled Angus & Julia Stone, which both went #1 here in Australia. Their last, Snow, was released five years ago in 2017.
“Julia and I coming back together, it was easy,” Angus added, talking on how the album came together. “We’d be sent the brief, where they basically ask for certainly emotives [sic], colours, styles, and genre,” Angus elaborates. “I would sit down [with Julia], and we’d have a cup of tea, and we’d discuss how we’d approach these different scenes within the game and songs.”
Despite growing up in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Julia’s now a self-confessed city girl lives in Melbourne whilst Angus resides at his ranch near Byron Bay.
“Julia would come up from Melbourne, we’d kick a few songs around, then she would go do her own thing and come back,” said Angus. “I think we were in New Zealand for a bit, doing a vineyard tour over there and we stopped off in Neil Finn’s studio for a while, and we got a few songs out of that.”
“We were sort of going along as the game was sending us these briefs, the story’s ‘Zen moments’, and just chipping away as we go, and it was fun.”
The game’s ‘Zen moments’ see the game’s protagonist, Alex, pause and reflect, taking in her surroundings as a song off the soundtrack plays. A video of such a moment was shared alongside the album to accompany its launch ahead of the game’s release.
“I think there’s so much variety on the record because of that,” Julia contributes, speaking to how they’ve become more comfortable working together as artists, as time’s gone on. She acknowledges, “it wasn’t one thing that we were experiencing at the time, you know, one moment in our life of this particular person, or that particular choice.”
Subsequently, their own lives got caught up in the themes they were addressing with their songs. “We were kind of following a journey of a character, but also having to go through our life together and our life as individuals and find experiences that related to Alex’s experience, which was, it was a real cross-section of life.”
“So, that was different.”
Thinking on how creating the soundtrack differed from other albums in their discography, Angus adds, “for us, that was a really interesting way going about writing a record because usually, we go in, we have things up our sleeves and we sorta hit it, work hard and get it done.”
“But this [album]… it feels like we wrote this record for the characters in the game, but also for the things we are going through and as we are going through as human beings walking this earth.”
“Alex, she has these powers, these empathetic powers, and she’s trying to figure out how to control them,” Angus goes on to note about the game’s lead character. “I think we all have that empathetic power within us, whether you let someone in the room that’s going through something heavy… it can stick to you and you can let it affect you.”
“For me, I want to be able to control that as well, as you know, as being an empathetic human being.”
Julia was equally as emotionally invested in the project. “When they asked us to to the whole season, I was excited,” Julia remarks, “to be teaching through gameplay how to manage your emotions — it’s something that we all struggle with and I just, I really liked the idea of a game like that being in the world, and being a part of it and bringing it to life.”
“I’m not a big gamer,” she admits, “Angus was more of the gamer out of the two of us.” She thinks back to the “huge old PC” they had growing up, on which she learnt to touch type with one of the only games on the computer.
“We love the gaming experience together, ” Julia goes on to say, “I love watching other people game.” She thinks back to a time on tour (“its me and fifteen boys, and they all love gaming”), recalling a moment when “everybody had Doom on their computer… and everyone had their laptops out playing against each other after the show.”
Of course, touring isn’t an option for so many artists at the moment, Angus and Julia Stone included. I ask them what thoughts they wanted to share at the moment with so many artists going through a tough time.
“Fundamentally now, for anyone who plays music, the way that you survive is through touring,” said Julia, “streaming isn’t exactly the same as selling records or CDs.”
“As soon as it opens up, go out and support live music… particularly artists that have just started. I think it’s hardest for them because we’ve been around for a while and we have opportunities like this… but when we started, it was all about touring, it was all about being in front of people and building your audience.”
She goes on to suggest, “if there are other ways of supporting friends of yours that play music, just asking them to play a song on Zoom for you — I think all musicians, myself included, love when a friend says ‘hey, have you written any new songs? Can I hear it?'”
Angus shares his sister’s sympathy with artists doing it tough, but urges them to stick with it. “Without getting too political, I think the government should kick in and have more kickbacks for the arts,” Angus replied on the same topic, “but if you are in that world, just keep creating.”
“Now is the time to be an introvert and focus on what you can love… this time can be used as a positive.”
If you want to help support Australian music until live shows return, Support Act provides financial and wellbeing support to music and performing arts workers. You can learn more about them and donate at supportact.org.au.
Angus & Julia Stone’s Life Is Strange is out now, and Life Is Strange: True Colours comes out September 10th.