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Cherchez La Femme: Aussie Female Musicians on the Women Who Inspired Them

Nine of the country’s best female musicians talk us the through the stories — and idols — that started it all.

As part of our ongoing Women of the Future series, Rolling Stone sits down with nine of the country’s best female musicians to talk through the stories — and idols — that started it all.

Photographer/Concept & Creative Direction by Michelle Pitiris.

Stylists: Danielle Soglimbene, Jade Leung @ Viviens Creative Melbourne. Hair: Briana Piggott, Nadine Muller. MUA: Amy Chen, Nadine Muller.


On… Björk

femme montaigne

“Björk has always been ahead of her time, and also of my own personal interest in her. The first time I listened, I didn’t get why people liked the music: it was glitchy and syncopated and kinda scary. But it grew on me like hair grows on my body: real quickly and thickly. She’s an oddball, a maverick, a champion of her own personality and artistic preferences, lacking shame or even awareness that what she creates might be in any way challenging or difficult to approach by the general public. Most important to me is the way she uses her voice. She ululates, growls, groans and shouts. She’s loud and proud of her powerful pipes, using them diversely and unexpectedly. It’s her confidence in her talent and ideas which most influences me. If she can, I can.”

Montaigne wears Romance Was Born shirt and skirt, Wittner shoes, El Mina X Romance Was Born jewellery. Styling: Danielle Soglimbene. Hair: Briana Piggott Make-up: Amy Chen.


femme klp

On… Sia

“Since I was a teenager, I struggled trying to explain to people that I wanted to be an artist AND a songwriter – it was always ‘you can’t do both, pick one’. Then Sia came along and blew away everybody’s rules about being able to do both, about collaboration, about age, about pop music being uncool to make. Her lyrics and melodies are insane, and how she manages to mumble her way through lines (that I then spend forever trying to decipher every word of to sing) makes me melt. To me, she’s fierce and raw and I’m forever grateful for the courage she gives me to not give too many fucks and just create.”

KLP wears Cooper pants and hoody, Love Stories shoes, This Is Ella Saad choker. Styling: Danielle Soglimbene. Hair: Briana Piggott Make-up: Amy Chen.

Hayley Mary

femme hayley

On… Alanis Morissette

“In the 1990s there was such a wave of female musicians who were household names, but still considered alternative, such that it is difficult to pick a favourite. The female sadness and, particularly, female anger, which had seemed to be too abrasive or dramatic in the past were suddenly palatable by the mainstream. Why? Because they were being delivered in the form of great pop songs. In many ways the title of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill sums it up. These songs were pills, yes, because like every other great pop song, they came in a format brilliantly engineered to hook us, but I don’t believe they were intended to make us docile in what they contained. Alanis was not a vacant pop star with an ‘edgy’ image designed by those with external interests. She was a songwriter who put her own raw emotions into an album that happened to resonate; an album that sold more, and was probably as influential, though not popularly considered as such, as Nevermind.”

Hayley Mary wears Atlier Harlem top, Eightly jewellery. Styling: Danielle Soglimbene Hair: Briana Piggott. Make-up: Amy Chen.

Meg Mac

femme meg

On… Patti Smith

“I read Patti Smith’s books M Train and Just Kids while in New York where I worked on my album Low Blows. I immersed myself in her atmospheric portrait of NYC in the Sixties and Seventies; brimming with influential eccentrics who were at the vanguard of a powerful new art movement; a rich artistic ferment that embraced art, poetry and music. Patti Smith’s NYC resonated with cultural significance. I rode the subway daily from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village. I was working at Electric Lady where she recorded her debut, Horses. I’d stand in the stairwell where she wrote about meeting Jimi Hendrix. It was a stressful time, working on my album, trying to come to terms with the music business while getting strength, sustenance and inspiration from Patti Smith.”

Meg Mac wears C/MEO COLLECTIVE dress, Stephanie Spencer hat, vintage broche. Styling: Jade Leung. Hair & make-up: Nadine Muller.

Vera Blue

femme vera

On… Joni Mitchell

“I fell in love with Joni Mitchell at 16 when I began teaching myself guitar, having experienced what I thought was love for the first time. I couldn’t explain that feeling but her songs helped me express what I was going through. Joni wrote about love and loss and I couldn’t get enough. Musically she does everything so effortlessly. The way she freely moves her chord progressions shaping her melodies like vocal gymnastics that could make one dizzy. Her poetry flawlessly still pulls at heartstrings all around the world. I was in awe. I sometimes wish that I could’ve been around in her prime to experience her live, but her many records I’m collecting are doing just fine.”

Vera Blue wears Sass & Bide dress and jewellery. Styling: Danielle Soglimbene. Hair: Briana Piggott Make-up: Amy Chen.


femme olympia

On… the Slits

“There is no other album I have flogged so much as Cut by the Slits. The Slits still excite me as much as they did the first time I heard them as a teenager. The grain of their originality is almost intangible, possibly due to the elements that made up the band, which on paper shouldn’t have worked (reggae, punk, unheard of all-female line-up, etc). The hook from ‘Typical Girls’ instantly flares up in my brain with lyrics about the choking stereotypes of femininity; the incredible, unabashed cover of ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’; and who could not love the ode to saving money in ‘Shoplifting’ (“we pay fuck all”)? Given that singer Ari Up was stabbed, and the public witch hunts surrounding the band, they clearly did pay for their art, but they left behind an incredible legacy.”

Olympia wears I Am Gia dress. Styling: Jade Leung. Hair & make-up: Nadine Muller.


femme wafia

On… Lauryn Hill

“I remember the first time I met her. Our eyes locked but only because the VHS tape had jammed and paused on her face. The tape flickered and five-year-old me was certain this was her way of communicating with me. I had worn out my Sister Act 2 tape. This tape was the only thing my young mother could put on to distract me. Then it also became the tape my mother played me when I felt like singing, and with time it became the tape that taught me to speak English. As long as I can remember Ms. Lauryn Hill has been in my life. Her tenure with the Fugees and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album soundtracked every flight, fight and love, and as I get older, her lyricism has only resonated with me more.”

Wafia wears ALPHA60 shirtdress, Half Measure Footwear shoes, Dinosaur Designs earrings. Styling: Danielle Soglimbene. Hair: Briana Piggott Make-up: Amy Chen.

Thandi Phoenix

femme thandi

On… Amy Winehouse

“The first time I heard ‘Fuck Me Pumps’ in high school I was hooked on Amy Winehouse. I love Nineties hip-hop and the musicality and tone in her voice straight away hit that soft spot I have for jazz. She managed to blend two beautiful genres, and I was learning guitar at the time so I got myself the sheet music for Frank and fell deeper into her magic.

The day she passed I remember it as if she was a close friend. I took my guitar to Hyde Park, sat under the trees playing and singing my favourite of her songs and I cried. For the passing of such an incredibly gifted musician, one of my favourite artists and idols, someone I’ll always be grateful for.”

Thandi Phoenix wears Joshua Mullane fur jacket and dress, Eightly jewellery. Styling: Danielle Soglimbene Hair: Briana Piggott. Make-up: Amy Chen.

Ali Barter

femme barter

On… Cat Power

“I first heard Cat Power singing her cover of the song ‘Sea Of Love’. Her voice was husky, fragile and pure. I fell in love immediately. Chan Marshall has been putting out records since the early Nineties. She is prolific and notoriously troubled – both emotionally and due to substance issues. I crave honesty and imperfection in the music I listen to and Cat Power encapsulates these elements. I saw her play in 2008 at The Forum (Melbourne) during a time she apparently had quit drinking. She was electric. It was during that gig that I thought, ‘I wanna do that.’ She returned in 2011 and played the Theatre Royal in Castlemaine. This time, she was drinking on stage. She forgot the chords to songs and talked to a bewildered band, changing the set list and becoming flustered. However, when she sang all was forgiven. Her voice is sublime. I like to see a human in music, and there ain’t anyone much more human out there than Chan Marshall.”

Ali Barter wears Kaliver leather shorts and jacket, Christian Louboutin heels. Styling: Jade Leung. Hair & make-up: Nadine Muller.