On the indie pop front, Australia had it pretty good in the ’90s, what with the success of bands like the Hummingbirds, the Falling Joys, the Earthmen, Ratcat and, of course, The Clouds. And while the criminally underrated Clouds have always had a solid cult following, these days they’re finally gathering the widespread support that they deserved way back when.
Just look at their last six months: the core bandmembers, Jodi Phillis (guitar and vocals) and Trish Young (bass and vocals), guest programmed Rage; Double J had them playing host as artists in residence; both featured at this year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival; Blondie pegged the band to support their recent national tour; and Melbourne-based guitar goddess Jen Cloher nominated them as essential listening via her ‘100 Songs By Australian Women That You Have To Hear’ playlist.
A lot of the recent buzz comes off the back of their EP Zaffre, released in February. In conversation over the phone from Sydney, where she is on the ground fulfilling press obligations ahead of her band’s upcoming tour, Phillis proves pragmatic about the attention coming The Cloud’s way. “I’m just glad that it’s happening,” she says. “Take what comes: that’s all you can do really.
“I guess people are excited about the bands from their youth. I get that. It’s such a different world now, with so much electronic music. I don’t know where all the new bands are. I don’t know what kind of scene there is for that. I don’t even know if it even exists in any kind of major way.”
What’s wrong with me? I just need to calm the fuck down.
She thinks for a moment. “I mean, I can see why people are latching on to the real bands that they know and love, and I can see why it’s very easy for us older bands to go out and tour: it makes people feel young again. I don’t see much filling in that space. It’s just fickle. There are no venues, and what venues there are are full of pokies. The whole landscape of live music has changed, so with bands like us, we’re lucky to be in this position, because people need us. People need live music.”
As much as Phillis is a music maker, she is also a music lover, and art of all forms has consumed her for decades now. “It’s just who I am,” she explains. “You grow up and you gravitate towards a certain way of life and expressing yourself. I grew up in a pretty creative family. My mother was a singer and my dad was a director and cameraman, so I didn’t grew up in an everyday household. I think I just recognised from a young age that that’s what I wanted to spend my time doing; making music and art.”
And indeed she has. While The Clouds are bona fide Aussie veterans, Phillis is the only member to have made a crust from it full-time across the intervening years. “I’ve remained true to the band, no matter how challenging that it is – and it is challenging. Are you married?” Phillis asks. “Try being married to three people. That’s basically it.”
There are no venues, and what venues there are are full of pokies.
The Clouds came to pass after Peter Oxley of Sydney’s seminal post-punk outfit The Sunnyboys introduced Phillis and Young at a barbie. It was a satisfying meeting of the minds from the very outset. “We didn’t know each other; we only had mutual friends,” Phillis recalls. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we’re friends, let’s start a band.’ Peter knew I was wanting to start a band and was looking for a bass player. The first thing we did was get together in Trish’s house in Newtown. We sat down and played each other songs and impressed each other. It was easy. Musically, it’s always been a very easy relationship. We understand each other’s ideas very quickly, and we don’t have to explain much.”
All of which goes a long way towards explaining how Phillis and Trish have managed to maintain such a healthy working relationship over the years. “We can’t help it,” Phillis says. “The brand of quirky pop music that The Clouds make is just really difficult to leave behind. Trish has continued to write those kinds of songs ever since The Clouds, so she has a huge back catalogue of songs just ready at any moment to become Clouds songs. I kind of have to dust off the cobwebs and go back into that world a bit. It’s just that creative spark that we can easily ignite in each other.”
At any point, Phillis has a shedload of projects on the hop. In addition to her own music and her work playing in several bands, she’s been recording and producing for other bands, composing a kid’s book and putting together endless scores for screen and stage. Isn’t it all a bit knackering?
“I’ve been wondering if I’m bipolar or something lately, to tell you the truth. What’s wrong with me? I just need to calm the fuck down. But, I can’t, so I just keep doing this. I think as a creative person it’s quite difficult to make a living out of your art, so you just have to go where the energy and the passion is and keep trying different stuff. I have thought I should calm down and just stick to one thing for a little while, but I can’t. I love a challenge.”