Inside The Magical World Of Two People
Rising from the ashes of Snakadaktal, Two People marry intimacy and intricacy on their debut album, out January 18th.
Header photo by Tim Hardy.
I hate using the term "thrown into the deep end," but for Phoebe Lou and Joey Clough, it works. In 2011, when they were 16, their high school band Snakadaktal won triple j's esteemed Unearthed High competition and from there, they were catapulted into the Australian music scene, signing to I OH YOU (where they released their debut, self-titled EP in November of that year before their debut album, Sleep in the Water, arrived two years later). From there they took out places in the triple j Hottest 100 with Air (#22) and cult favourite Dance Bear (#93) while becoming mainstays of the Australian festival circuit, playing everything from Splendour In The Grass to Laneway. However, despite the sudden - and somewhat unexpected - rise, the band disbanded in March 2014 to "move onto different pursuits," triggering an outpouring of support that encouraged the group to release Treasures - a collection of discarded Snakadaktal projects from the previous four years - which eventually turned into The Snakadaktal Collection, a three-disc assembly of their work thus far on a combination of vinyl and CD.
Five years later, and the ending of Snakadaktal has proved to be more sweet than bitter. Sean Heathcliff, who fronted the band with Phoebe, went on to explore a collection of side projects, while Phoebe and Joseph - the band's guitarist, synth-player and production arm - decided to re-explore their musical project pre-Snakadaktal, revisiting a partnership that with the band's sudden rise now behind them, felt like the perfect time to do 'properly' - for the lack of better of word. Together, they form Two People - a musical act built more-so on being personal and intimate than aiming for the success of their prior project, with a "let’s aim small and let it be big" manifesto-of-kinds dictating how the project builds, develops and evolves. Two People, in its most basic form, is a project built upon being self-made and sustainable, with a DIY edge in that every facet of the band are built upon Joey and Phoebe's own crafts and direction - from the music and how it was written, produced and recorded, right through to the single's artwork, creatively directed by Two People themselves.
First Body, Two People's debut album and one that has been years in the making, feels like a summation of this self-made, DIY approach. It was written, produced and recorded in a Fitzroy studio space entirely renovated by the pair to become "almost the thing that defined our album," according to Joey, adding to the intimacy and closeness of the album's subtle and emotional moments - Joey's intricate melodies, Phoebe's subtle vocal harmonies and tender lyricism, the soft footsteps and speaking that haunt the album's quiet moments. There's a distinct lack of that standard refined polish that typically comes with electronic albums; each footstep and vocal cue seeping through the album's minimalistic sound in order to create something that makes you feel like you're in the room with them, each emotion shared with you personally. "Joey was just improvising in the final stages of production and the room sounded like a big dark rave," recalls Phoebe on I'm Tied, To You, the album's arguable climactic moment; the triumph of First Body. "If you listen closely you might hear us yelling and moving around the room."
First Body is largely stripped back to the essentials, leaving each lyric and sound lingering and open in the air. It's an album that reflects on the growth of Phoebe and Joey - musically, emotionally, separate and together - from the soft cries of Something To Talk About through to Phone Call, a song started back when they were 15 that has transformed alongside them. "This is our ballad," says Phoebe on Phone Call, which details the beginning of their journey as band-mates and then-romantic partners. "It’s written about when Joey and I were young and dating, about nine to ten years ago now, fumbling around, finding our edges, hurting like crazy. We wanted the track to be big in size, all heart, wide and orchestral." Elsewhere, Fading unites a crescendoing sound gradually increasing with texture and power with lyrics on "grieving something before it’s over." The aforementioned I'm Tied, To You offers a more upbeat and club-centric take on their sound, glistening lyrics meeting pulsing percussion and thick kicks of bass. In The Garden, another highlighted single from the album, sees Phoebe's vocal take centre stage as she cries about past relationships. "It’s about gaining my power back for the first time and the clumsiness in that."
It's an album that not just shares the world they've created like any other; it's one that invites you in there with them - Phoebe and Joey walking you through the album's at-times complexity. It's emotional and personal but left open enough for you to craft your own meanings and your own takeaways, all you've got to do is step inside the all-encompassing kingdom they've created themselves. "It’s all part of one big world that we’ve set out to create."
I wanted to start by talking about what was the formation of what would become Two People. You two were both very close, especially musically, and then you had Snakadaktal, your high school band, take off. So when that ended, did going back to just the pair of you and properly exploring Two People feel like the natural progression?
Joey: Yeah. We always wrote music together, even in Snakadaktal where we had other people in the band too. We were writing here and there - some of it would become Snakadaktal, some of it didn't work with the band, but the whole time it was us writing together. So when Snakadaktal finished and we were presented with the chance to do our own thing, it definitely felt like the natural progression to go back to what I guess was Two People before it was called that.
Phoebe: Going to just the two of us was definitely something we wanted to do properly as well, and I don't think we really had the chance to before Snakadaktal took off unexpectedly.
I was reading an interview with you guys and you say something really beautiful in it - along the lines of no matter what happens, your friendship and partnership with each other was always centred around music. That's obviously a pretty important part of being together in a project - how do you think that having that connection impacted the pair of you as Two People?
Phoebe: It really means there's always something we can come back to. Working so closely together for so long all day, every day, would be tough on any relationship or partnership. It's so important that we share the same passion so, if something does go wrong, we can always go back to being connected by that - the music. We can always meet in the middle.
I was reading a really early piece about you and I came across what I guess is an ethos, being "let's aim small and let it be big." It sounds like you were both, at the start, very focused and clear on how you wanted Two People to evolve and now you're looking at your debut album, which is a huge project for any act, has that manifesto-of-kinds kept true?
Joey: Yeah, I definitely think so. Coming through Snakadaktal and having that experience... we really wanted to outline how we were going to let Two People evolve. The whole "aiming small, let it be big" thing was about keeping things close to us - keeping things DIY and not worrying too much about the reception or anything. It was more about focusing on doing it more so for ourselves than anyone else, and however it goes it goes, you know?
I think because of that, it was a longer process than expected to get to the first record, but it's definitely still present in the album and what we're doing now.
Was this idea of starting small and letting it go its natural path brought on by how with Snakadaktal, you were very much thrown into the deep end?
Phoebe: Yeah, definitely. We were definitely thrown straight into it which is something that would be hard at any point in your life, but especially when you're 15/16 and still in high school, still becoming a person. I think that definitely had a big impact on how we went about Two People, its management, and its approach. I think one of the key things that became important to us after Snakadaktal was having it feel very connected with what we were doing. When things are moving quickly, it's very easy to lose that connection between you and your music, and we really wanted to make this all about the music - that was number one.
You mentioned before about the DIY build of Two People - which I'll get back into in a minute - but it feels like a very personal project in the sense that it is just two of you, and the team around you is quite small and close to you. It gives a very self-made feeling - do you think that has influenced the project and how it sounds?
Joey: I think one of the things that we really thought about when it came to the project was picturing it in a vast way. We thought about a full record with a collection of songs from the beginning rather than just a run of singles, we thought about the visuals - the artwork, the videos - and trying to create more of a world than just an album. I think the DIY thing is more about us working on most of the aspects of the project as one, trying to keep it close to us. I think that's what we were trying to do rather than make it feel what a traditional 'DIY' album would suggest. It's more about being heavily involved with the processes behind the album - the writing, the production, the recording, the art and what-not.
I was reading about how you guys built up a room in Fitzroy for the album's creation - which really ties nicely into the DIY self-made feel. Was there any thinking behind that? Or was it just "we need a studio, let's do this."
Phoebe: I guess the main thought process behind it was that we needed a place, and what we wanted to create was so personal that we needed a hub for all of that to happen. It couldn't have been our bedrooms anymore - we needed a bit more room to explore - but we wanted something different, somewhere we could create artwork and do everything we needed to do. We needed to find somewhere cheap, somewhere we could create a little Two People world - an extension of what we were doing in our bedrooms but more vast.
To start with it was just a bare room. What was the process that went into building it up into this private world?
Phoebe: A lot of work. Joey was studying at the time, so in our own timeline, we only had a couple of months to get it ready to work in. We knocked down walls, filled in holes in the walls, recarpeted the whole place, painted everything. It was full of junk, so we had to completely get rid of everything and fill it in ourselves.
Coming back to the personal feel of the album, there are moments of you both shuffling and talking around in the background, right?
Did you leave that in to keep the closeness and intimacy of the album?
Joey: Yeah. We really liked the feel of that - it sounded like the room and the space, which ended up being an important part of the concept and the album. But also, as we were recording, we weren't too worried about doing things perfectly or keeping things pristine. If it ended up being a good take or a good energy in the performance but there was talking or noise in the background, we'd leave it in. We wanted that energy.
It also adds a slight, improvisation-like quality to it as well.
Phoebe: Yeah, it's a bit experimental too.
Joey: That's something we really like.
Building off that, I saw you at BIGSOUND and I felt that there was a big improvisational element to the live show as well.
Phoebe: Yeah, there is. We really wanted to expand on that especially in the live show. It's our way of taking that aspect of the recording and placing it into the live show. It keeps it a bit more engaging but also personal - it's an experience where we get to build off each other as well as everyone else in the room. It's something unique. So many performances - particularly in the electronic world - are very refined, but we wanted to give it that authentic live feeling. It also gives Joey the opportunity to change the arrangements of the live show on the night and keeps things exciting for us.
It's very much an in the moment thing.
Phoebe: Yeah, of course we have a basic backbone - we know what we're doing - but there's room to move. We can leave it open to do what we want to.
Back to the album, at times, it feels like the silences and the more pulled-back and stripped-away moments can have more power than parts with full lyrical melodies and full production, which is incredibly hard to do in electronic. Where do you start with creating an album that has that level of intricacy to it, even in its minimalist moments?
Joey: I don't think we focused too much on creating those moments, or purposefully pulling away to create those moments.
Phoebe: I think we do really appreciate intricacy and subtlety in songwriting though, and it would've come through that. Creating emotional moments was a big part of this album which we really wanted to focus on and I think it happened naturally from that.
I know that at least production-wise, there was a lot of inspiration from artists like Jamie XX and Caribou, who are somewhat masters of placing emotion hand in hand with electronic. Is that something you were looking for in these artists?
Joey: For me, definitely. That's just one aspect of the influence and inspiration of the album - there's definitely a few others - but people like that were massive for at least the production side of things. There was also artists and bands like Portishead and Massive Attack who do minimalism really well. Then, even some of the really beautiful songwriting from an act like Nick Cave - just piano and vocal.
Nick Cave has some incredibly personal and intimate moments in his music and you can hear that in your album for sure.
Phoebe: His songwriting is amazing and definitely something we were looking at.
Is there anything in particular you're attracted to in that intimacy?
Phoebe: From a young age growing up - or even now - there's no moment like getting shivers in your body listening to a song; pure physical response that becomes associated to an artist, or an album, or a song. It's incredible when one person, or a group of people in a band, are able to communicate such a response, or a deep emotional response, that makes you feel something, especially if it makes you feel something new.
There's a lot of different elements to Two People. What do you want people to take away from it?
Phoebe: That's tough, but I think something someone hasn't heard before. Or maybe, a response they've never felt before to music.
Joey: It's all about feeling and the mood. Something along those lines.
Phoebe: It's a completely abstract thing that we're doing, so it's hard to put into words. We're just putting our vision and ourselves out there and people can feel or respond how they like. I'm really interested to hear what people do take away from it though.
Two People's debut album, First Body, is out January 18th via Liberation Records. Pre-order it HERE.
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