It’s safe to say the Australian musical landscape has finally come to terms with the fact Stonefield are the real deal. It was hard at first, as the four sisters from the regional Victorian town of Darraweit Guim seemed unreal – unreal in the sense of ‘too good to be true’. Questions came thick and fast when they arrived on the scene as triple j Unearthed High winners, Iotah. Surely they can’t play as well as they do? Surely they can’t embody the spirit and heart of the ’70s so freaking well when that time and place is so far from what they should know? Surely someone has built them from snow and is operating them from label headquarters like droid rock maestros? But it’s all true.
Amy, Hannah, Sarah and Holly Findlay have proved themselves many times over, as awesome musicians in the studio and a captivating live act onstage, but despite all of that, the most impressive thing has got to be their warm, down-to-earth and stoic attitude. They could’ve given in and taken the easy road at any point; they could’ve allowed themselves to be shaped into some stylised and sexualized manufactured band, but they’ve stayed true to themselves and will forever reap the rewards.
Hannah Findlay is with her sisters signing albums at label HQ. Their self-titled debut album is almost released (it’s easy to forget they only have two EPs to their name), and Findlay starts off by confirming what her sister Amy said last year would be the plan: the album was done completely their way. “I think we’re just really, really lucky that our whole team is just really supportive of what we want to do and they nurture the way that we want to do it,” Findlay explains.
While the record is immediately recognisable as a Stonefield album, the band has definitely progressed. It’s more nuanced – their sound has evolved beyond being based simply on riff after riff, and their harmonic depth is almost transcendental. While they claim Creedence Clearwater Revival were a big influence during the writing of this album, influences nudge in from bands as diverse as Procol Harum and Pink Floyd. The key to this record is you can tell none of that was planned. As a listener you can’t help but go searching for the familiar, but the band is at all times just being Stonefield. “I think it all kind of happened quite naturally,” Findlay says. “I think we were growing as writers and so we learned a lot of new skills and that means you’re not just copying other people’s ways. I think we also went a lot deeper with this album and we just put a lot more thought into what we did.”
When former Band Of Skulls producer Ian Davenport was enlisted as producer for the album, Stonefield were more than ready. Their year-long preparation made for an efficient recording process. “Once we knew what songs we wanted to do – I think we had it down to about 20 – we tried to put as many finishing touches on them before we went into pre-production with our producer, so once we were there it was just a case of doing last-minute kinda tinkering. Once we got in there it was just about getting the best performance. [The recording] wasn’t as full-on as past experiences we’ve had; it was less hands-on and more about just helping us to get the vibe of each song in each take and just adding subtle things. In past experiences it was like they were adding heaps of extra parts to everything, but this time we wanted to make it really raw and to make it about the energy and vibe of the music.”
There are definitely a lot more layers to the tracks on the new album, but that came about through the writing process and not over-production. “I think it’s just our songwriting developing … we just started naturally doing a lot more with each song and experimenting. We also had a lot more time, so we were able to put ourselves in the shed and try so many more things.”
Stonefield’s mix of innocent charm and don’t-fuck-with-me strength makes for an admirable combination. The best part is that you get the idea they have no idea how impressive they are. “I just feel like we’ve always [had strength] as people,” Findlay says. “Also, our uncles were always into bands and they were always like, ‘Watch out, you can’t trust everybody’. There are a lot of good people but I think we’ve always kept ourselves aware of the reality and thankfully we haven’t had too many bad experiences at all. We’ve been really lucky.”
There was a time when the girls couldn’t help but feel they needed to prove themselves. After all, it’s pretty intimidating walking into a rural pub rock gig as four young women, knowing the sound guy (and probably half the pub) is thinking you’re a novelty act. Elder sister Amy once said they used to play the best sound checks possible just to show they were for real. “Oh, there was definitely a lot of that,” laughs Hannah. “Now I think we’re not only a lot more professional when we go in there, I also think we’re also just trying to play the absolute best set we can play. But no, I don’t think we feel we have to prove ourselves in sound check anymore.”
She adds, “I think that has all finally gone away because we’ve actually stuck around. We’re bringing out this album and we’ve toured a lot so I think people are realising that we’re in this for good … Once people had seen us live they realised we were actually playing the music and we weren’t just going into the studio and doing these tricks to pretend we can play.”
Aside from their album tour, Stonefield have the inconceivably massive honour of playing with Fleetwood Mac on upcoming dates – and while the sisters remain cool, calm and collected, Findlay admits that even she can turn into a fan girl on the odd occasion. “We grew up listening to Fleetwood Mac and they’re our idols; I actually cannot believe that we’re playing with them. I feel like in the end everybody is just human so I don’t really get nervous. Oh, but [supporting] Foo Fighters – I unfortunately didn’t get to meet Dave Grohl, but I was like, ‘Whoa, oh my God. What if I get to meet them?’ I was pretty excited.”
The attention around Stonefield has already been (almost) overwhelming after their two massively successful EPs, and the pressure of a debut album following that volume of hype would be enough to break a lot of artists. Not the sisters from Darraweit Guim, though. “We really are pretty relaxed and excited,” concludes Findlay. “We had a lot of time between the last EP and this album to do a lot of things and to think about everything we’ve done. All of that has sunken in, so we’re ready to go out there and enjoy all of this.”
BY KRISSI WEISS