Legend has it that the outlandishly entertaining All Our Exes Live In Texas do not, in fact, hail from Sydney, but instead have their origin on a distant mountaintop, where they survived in a cave for eight eremitic years.
There they lived off harmonies and lichen until their musicianship reached an unholy peak and they set off across the land in search of success and bona fide Texan boyfriends. While this legend is surprisingly accurate, there is of course much more to the story. With their debut album, When We Fall, heralding a sprawling international tour, the flamboyant foursome talk life, loss, and the outline of album number two shimmering on the horizon.
“‘When We Fall’ is a Phosphorescent song,” explains Hannah Crofts. “I went to see him play at the Oxford Art Factory and he blew my mind. When I went home I learned [that] song, and the next day, I got a call saying my grandma was going to pass away. So I went to the airport and I was crying, and Phosphorescent was also at the airport with his wife, and I was like [weeping], ‘Your gig was so good, I just loved it,’ and they were really, really nice to me and asked if I was OK. And then I went to Melbourne and I went straight to my grandma’s house, and she passed away and I sang this song. So when we were coming up with album titles, that’s a phrase that always sat with me. It’s a huge inspiration, that tune. I also think it feels like a weird story to tell because it’s so me-centric.”
“We had some other options,” Katie Wighton reassures, “but that’s the one that felt the nicest. And there are a lot of songs about heartbreak on the album, and we’re also at a point in our lives – well, everybody always is – where you make mistakes, and you fall down, and you get back up, and you do the same thing over. A guy asked me at a bar the other night, ‘Do you reckon you’ve stopped making mistakes by the time you’re 70? What age do you think you stop making mistakes?’ And I was like, ‘Hopefully never.’ The more mistakes you make, the more you can learn from them and grow. So When We Fall, as much as it came from Hans, it definitely sat nicely with us.”
Georgia Mooney nods. “The thing I also liked about it was [that it’s] a collective thing. In my mind, when I fall, I have the girls. When Hannah falls, she has the girls. When we fall, we have each other.”
I’ve been rather fortunate to watch the rise of the Exes over the years, and as their writing and performing has progressed, it’s been entirely unsurprising to witness a strong and swelling fan base emerge around them. I can’t think of any other act whose banter is so entertaining, who can engross their audience with such ease. Attendant to that has been the gradual evolution of the songs themselves; tracks like ‘I’m Gonna Get My Heart Cut Out’ and ‘Sailboat’ have been part of their repertoire for years now, but on the album find an expansive new form.
“I think the idea is none of us are too protective of [each] song,” says Elana Stone. “So that when we take it even to the initial rehearsal with the Exes, we have to be willing to let go of structure. It absolutely improves if you don’t guard it fiercely.”
“When you tour a lot and sing songs over and over,” says Wighton, “one night it might be like, ‘Oh, actually, I think there’d be something cool you can do here.’ Recently we changed the intro to ‘Boundary Road’. It’s different from the album when we do it live now … So when you’re doing something a lot over and over and over, things morph a bit.”
“And it’s often by accident,” Mooney adds. “That was the most exciting thing, for me at least on the album, was to have the chance to rearrange things and add instruments, and work with Wayne [Connolly], who had just the right amount of creative input. He was willing to try every idea that we had, which was probably tedious for him sometimes.”
“‘Yes, we’ll try it with you standing on your head, Katie,’” Wighton recalls, sighing.
“We decided consciously to differentiate between the live shows and the EP we put out, which were very similar to what we were doing live,” says Stone. “We also are aware of the fact that having four female vocals and four quite trebly instruments means that EQ-wise we’re all up in the top end, and we felt like we needed a bit of grunt and bottom end. That was part of our modus operandi going into the album recording, and I think we were fairly influenced by some people who were doing more electric guitar stuff in the folk context. We [cite] Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen, but also that Neil Young sound. To me, that’s when folk opens up to a less traditional sound, and a more rock’n’roll sound.”
With the album release at hand – not to mention a tour that will find them performing not only across Australia but the world – it’s a nice time to have a Texan ex. They’ll be showcasing songs that have marked their evolution these past three years, but will also likely be offering an insight into the shape of their music to come.
“What’s going to happen with this band for the next album?” Stone muses. “There’s this really empowering situation going on with feminism; there’s a very big, volatile thing happening in the world. Lyrically, things will [probably] reflect that in our music. I think When We Fall is a vulnerable look at ourselves, but I imagine – and I haven’t mentioned this to anyone – but I think the next album will be very powerful and very self-assured. I feel like we’re getting our stride, and that will probably happen in the music sonically and lyrically. That’s what I imagine.”
“But definitely still buy this album,” Mooney laughs.
“There are a few [new] songs we’ve all got, and we’re champing at the bit to play them,” Wighton says. “We might play a couple on the album tour, maybe. It’s really exciting. We were saying this the other day – now that we’ve been playing our instruments for a bit longer, the songs have the potential to be a little more… not complex, really, but there’s more of a palette to play with. And it’s funny, because the album hasn’t even come out yet – we’ve been talking about the album for such a long time, and now we’re really keen to put it in the world.”
Given the quartet’s reception thus far, it’s a fairly confident bet that their unlikely star will continue to rise. Having already supported the Backstreet Boys, the Exes will soon rejoin their pals Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats, feature at SXSW, and explore their trademark unconventional merchandise options. It’s a remarkable ascent, and none are more surprised than the Exes themselves.
“[When we started] we were going out to our friends’ gigs a lot,” Mooney recalls. “There was this period where everyone was playing all the time, and then partying and then going back and jamming at someone’s house – bands like The Morrisons and Green Mohair Suits – and we were hanging out with them and taking in all their amazing abilities on their instruments.”
“I learned to perform without having an instrument,” Crofts says. “So then having an instrument I didn’t really know how to play was actually very daunting. ‘Don’t judge me, don’t judge me!’”
“We didn’t think past the first gig – we didn’t think we’d get a second gig,” Wighton laughs. “We just wanted to make music that we love, and we loved singing together, and that was kind of the extent of it… and I think that first gig we ever did was the most terrifying experience.”
“We wore beards,” says Crofts incredulously.
“Subconsciously I think it’s a bit of a security blanket,” replies Wighton. “A security beard.”
“Well, we were performing a song by The Muppets,” Mooney reminds them.
A career that began with a Muppets cover. For these hilarious and endearing performers, it’s hard to imagine anything more fitting.
When We Fall is out Friday March 3 through ABC. All Our Exes Live In Texas play The Brass Monkey on Friday June 16 and the Factory Theatre on Saturday July 1.