When Melbourne indie-pop outfit Snakadaktal announced their break-up in 2014, fans from all over the world were worried that they would never again witness the majesty made by the group’s talented members.
Just two years later though, the Australian music scene welcomed “Fading”, the debut single from Snakadaktal’s Phoebe Lou and Joey Clough under the name of Two People. The music was different to what fans had possibly expected, with much more of a dreamy, electronic sound being approached this time around.
The new music was well-received, and before long, new songs began to appear, eventually culminating in the release of their debut record, First Body, in early 2019. This collection of songs was something truly mesmerising, with the group focusing as much on the empty space between the notes as the notes themselves. Its release resulted in live performances all over the world, ranging from Brisbane’s BIGSOUND to Austin’s South By Southwest.
However, few knew that by the time First Body was out in the world, plans were already underway for its follow-up. Not content to once again sit through a drawn-out, three-year process for their next album, Phoebe and Joey decided to take a different approach. Taking to a rustic cabin in Skenes Creek, overlooking the jagged coastline of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, the pair hunkered down and began to let ideas for their next record flow.
While First Body had been entirely self-recorded and self-produced, the pair decided to do bring in outside help for their next effort. Returning to Melbourne with ideas in hand, Two People brought a third into the mix, with producer Simon Lam helping them realise the vision that they had for their second record.
The result is the aptly titled Second Body, and arrives today following months in which the music industry has suffered as a result of a global pandemic. An undeniable glimmer of hope in the darkness of 2020, Second Body showcases the evolution of Two People as they progress from ambient soundscapes and dreamy compositions to including more pop-based sounds, and above all, a greater sense of confidence.
With both Phoebe and Joey of Two People currently in lockdown in Victoria, the pair spoke to Rolling Stone over the phone to discuss the process that went into making the majesty of their new record, Second Body.
I guess we should begin with the standard question these days – how have you both been faring with the events of 2020
Joey: [laughs] That’s a big question. I don’t know, it’s been pretty crazy. I guess in some cases, what we do has been the same, where we can work from home and work in studios. But the whole other side of it, with the touring and whole live side of the industry, has been really crazy. Personally, for us, I’m a bit of a homebody, and I think Phoebe is as well, so initially it wasn’t too massive of a change, for me anyway. But I think as it has drawn out, and we’re in Victoria with the second lockdown, it’s getting harder and harder. It’s a little bit tricky and a little bit weighty, but we’re alright.
Phoebe: I was just thinking before, this is probably the first time in like, five or ten years of doing music that we’re actually able to create some kind of routine, just with day-to-day stuff. There’s something in that that I’ve found really good, other than going mad most of the time. I think a lot of musicians don’t get to experience this kind of stability, even though we don’t have a choice. It’s comforting, in a sense.
Of course, I’m assuming that in a perfect world, you’d likely have been supporting this record with some live shows as well?
Joey: I think so, I mean, we hadn’t had any plans put in place, so we were kind of lucky in that regard – while other bands did have big plans when it all sort of hit. We didn’t have plans in place, but I’m sure we would’ve been doing stuff around the album. We were kind of lucky in that it all sort of happened and we just adjusted, and said, “Well this is what our album release is going to look like now.” We were a little bit lucky in that regard.
On that note, was August 28th always set to be the album’s release date, or were there discussions about pushing it back a bit?
Phoebe: Usually the way things go, the plan is always to put it out earlier than it does come out, from my experience. But even in the context of how we wrote this album, it had a lot to do with the idea of moving quickly, and kind of maintaining momentum when we had it, and following our ideas to the end.
Y’know, not messing around too much with the process, more of a ‘getting to the point’ kind of thing, if that makes sense? This whole year, we’ve been pushing to get stuff out in that manner, but of course, the world can get in the way sometimes. This year has definitely been a bit difficult.
So First Body was released in early 2019, and you mentioned how you wanted to keep that momentum going. How soon after its release did you begin work on the second record? Did you give it any time to settle, or did you jump right into it?
Phoebe: I think we started writing this straight after the first one came out.
Joey: Yeah, we actually put the album out and then set aside a chunk of time to write this album before we toured the first album. [Laughs]. We were really keen to get going. So it was really straight away… With the first album, it took us a really long time to write and put together and get to a stage where we were happy and we felt like the record was ready.
It was good and interesting, and on that album, we sort of did everything ourself with producing it and everything, but it kind of…. when it was ready to be released, we kind of had a big reaction against that and wanted to do things much more quickly, so we just jumped into writing the second record straight away.
Phoebe: Even in terms of feedback, and how many rounds of feedback we were accepting, there was more of a trust in what we were doing with this album. I think the nature of it being our second ‘baby’, there was more comfort, and from our perspective, we had more confidence in what we were doing, and we didn’t want to compromise too much from what we had in mind.
That was something else I noticed, that the album definitely exudes a lot more confidence. Obviously you guys have been in the game for a while, so it’s not your first rodeo, but was that something you actively pushed to portray?
Phoebe: For sure, we were really aware of that feeling. I think a lot of it was probably stemming from a frustration of how long things took [on the first album], so we had so much energy behind us, and it manifested in this real assertion. We knew what we wanted to say on this album, so it was just a matter of saying it.
We booked a little cabin outside of Melbourne to write. That was in February of last year, just after our first album came out, and we had a really clear idea of how we wanted to write these songs, which was different to the first album. So, with the first album there was heaps and heaps of experimentation and a lot of exciting things came from that, but in terms of the songwriting process for this album, we felt really clear that we wanted the song to be fully written before we recorded it.
We worked on the songs in the live setting in this cabin. And in more of a traditional songwriting sense in terms of chords and melodies and lyrics, all that had to be totally clear to us before we sat in a studio and actually recorded.
Do you think we would be listening to a totally different album today had you not taken to the cabin?
Phoebe: I think it would’ve been really different, for sure. We actually worked on one song a day, that was another one of our strategies, We’d wake up, make toast, and every day we had to work on a different song. We got a week in and had seven songs, and then we spent the next week finishing up another few songs, and kind of looking back and refining.
I remember it being really sort of scary and exciting when we got to the second-to-last day of our two-week trip, and it was the first time we’d listened back to any of the songs. We just sat there and… yeah, it was pretty overwhelming.
So once you guys had done that, you came back to Melbourne and worked with Simon Lam. What made you decide that teaming up with a producer this time around was a good idea?
Joey: It kind of just stemmed from our whole approach to this second record. As a part of it, we really – well I – got really into efficiency and conciseness. On the first record, as Phoebe said, there was really a lot of experimentation and ambience and drawn-out passages, which we love and is what we wanted to do, but on this record, we wanted to make it more about the songs, and the production serving the songs as much as possible.
So I think it just made sense for us to get somebody in to help us have an outside ear and help us ‘edit’ and push the songs in the direction they needed to go without us being there, second-guessing everything we do along the way. I feel like, for me, that was the reason that we got someone in, and yeah, Simmo was the perfect fit. He understood what we wanted to do with the second record, and where we wanted to go, and really understood our sonic world that we’d built with the first record as well. It was a really great working relationship, to be honest.
Did the process feel a bit easier with a producer onboard this time around? I assume it would have been a little more refreshing to have someone from outside the group able to lend their opinions so you aren’t overthinking it?
Phoebe: It’s hard being just the two of us, because there’s no one else to bounce things off. If we disagree, then we’re kind of stuck. It’s funny, we’re so fortunate in how unified we are in terms of what we hear and the vision of what we want to do – we’re on the same page. I think having Simmo on board, it just completed that recipe and helped us move quicker than we would’ve done otherwise. It had to be the right person as well – someone who understood us – and he completely did.
One thing I noticed is that the album instantly feels a lot more upbeat and poppy than the first. Was there a specific decision to turn this onto into something a bit more exuberant, or was it just a natural occurrence?
Phoebe: I think that there was a seed that we’d planted before we started writing the album, which is going back to what Joey said about making something concise and getting to the point a little bit more. I think we both love pop music, and we’re big fans of anyone catchy and good, so I guess it was a goal from the get-go to just write better songs, and for them to be more sturdy, if that makes sense. To make the songs rely less on production tricks and less on that ever-evolving ambience, which is a big part of our sound as well.
We kind of wanted to explore a little bit further with the songwriting, and making songs more catchy was part of that. Making them feel a bit better to listen to, but we wanted to keep integrity through all of that, which meant not detaching completely from being being moody, dark humans and songwriters. That had to kind of stay in there.
I know that when First Body was released, you drew a lot of comparisons to groups like The xx. Were there any specific artists you guys looked to, or were listening to around the production of this album?
Joey: I can’t really remember specifically listening to any artists. I feel like I kind of tuned out from other things. We kind of just bunkered down in this cabin and the studio with Simmo. We weren’t referencing a lot of other things, I think. And I think that helped the songs become a bit more concise and poppy as well, in that it was more singular.
Obviously not listening to any artists during that process would help you not be influenced by outside music and make the end result sound a lot more pure, and a lot more like yourselves.
Phoebe: I remember that while we were writing and recording, we weren’t referencing anything, but before we went into writing – and on our minds throughout, we had plenty of an idea about the world we wanted to create – more ’70s and ’80s pop music in our mind. We wanted this thing to feel like the past and the future at the same time, which had a lot to do with feeling stuck and wanting to move further and quick, and conceptually, that was a facto, but I’m totally going off topic.
So the first sketches of the album really began back in early 2019, when was everything wrapped up? How long have you been sitting on this one?
Phoebe: I think a year..
Joey: Yeah, we finished up the record around a similar time this year. But it wasn’t constant, there were periods where we were playing shows, or we had time off throughout that time.
Phoebe: I think we had the songwriting in February, then we had a few shows in between, and maybe it was only six months with Simmo, and that was a couple of days, or a few days a week.
With the album now out in the world, what’s the next step for Two People now? Are you going to try and do a similar turnaround with album number three, or has lockdown managed to provide a bit of creativity already?
Phoebe: Lockdown’s a great time for songwriting, for sure. It’s probably the most condensed bubble you can conjure up. But I think with the way things are at the moment, we’re quite happy not to make plans just yet, and just to see how this year kind of unfolds is enough for us. The next step is to get the album out and just go from there.
Two People’s Second Body is officially out today via Liberation Records.