Features Interviews

Tall Poppies talk about their new album and their experiences in music in Perth and London

Last month I interviewed twin sisters Catherine and Susan who make up one half of Tall Poppies. We met up for a cuppa in Dalston ahead of a band rehearsal, the day before the launch of their latest album, Let’s Go Out. The next day I headed to their launch, a bright and upbeat performance at Juju’s bar in Brick Lane. The duo, originally from Perth, were born to an English mum from the East End and moved to London twelve years ago.

You’re from Perth originally – how does the music scene differ back in Perth to London?

S: It’s a very isolated city so there’s only so many places you can play. Everyone knows each other. I think because of the isolation you get quite quirky bands out there. It’s different in that you’re playing the same sort of venues on the same sort of nights and you don’t get the same sort of turnover in terms of difference in venues.
C: There was a community building with musicians putting on the night together so you wouldn’t have a middle man as such. You’d facilitate the evening yourselves and get to know the barman.
S: It’s quite nice there but there’s only so much you can do.

How did the band first get together?

S: I met Diarmuid through work and then Diarmuid roped in Doug through work again so we’ve got three doctors in the band. (Susan is a psychologist by day).

Who does what in the band?

S: Catherine and I write the songs but we both collaborate with the guys, we tend to create the main tune and the lyrics come from us.
C: We do all the management stuff.
S: Sometimes we have group sessions where we start coming up with a song together which is really nice.

You play guitar, bass…

S: …and we might play with keys a bit. Diarmuid has been working with keys live so that’s quite good. He was playing violin for a whole set. We did have a bit of a lead guitarist but the violinist sort of takes that role.

Let’s Go Out album launch. Photo: Hazel Brown

This is your third album and is the first one you will have released in the UK. It’s been a while coming – how has it developed?

C: It started out with us thinking we’ll do a little EP… and before you know it we’re adding enough songs to create the album. Diarmuid also started playing more with us, he played one song with us and then more with us, then Doug eventually came on board to finish the album off.
S: The band’s been forming as the album has been recorded.

What can listeners expect from the new album, Let’s Go Out?

C: It’s going to be fun. We want to show the light hearted element – tongue in cheek.
S: With sort of deeper meanings behind it.

I noticed a lot of the lyrical content is around looking for and finding love and first attraction. Does that relate to real life as well?

C: Yeah I think there’s different stages in our life, some of the songs were written a couple of years ago.

Were some of the songs about specific experiences that you were going through?

C: There’s a truth in every song but sometimes we add fictional elements as well.
S: Cat Got Your Tongue was about someone that is very shy. Not able to talk in a social situation. It doesn’t actually apply to love but we thought we’d go with that theme.
C: I think we always start writing a song out of a conversation we might be having.

I noticed that in some of the videos you cut it to play around with the fact that you are identical twins. Do you take advantage of that a bit?

S: Yeah it’s helpful for the styling and vocally and stuff like that.
C: I guess we don’t know otherwise because we’ve been together doing this for ages.

What’s the best thing about being in a band with your twin?

S: It’s one of those consistent things. It’s quite hard to get a band together and hold a group of people together creatively.

(We were interrupted by, no kidding, 100 skateboarders riding down the middle of the road in Dalston)

S: It’s nice to know there’s someone there all the time. It’s good fun.
C: Yeah, it’s kept us really close. If we didn’t have a similar passion that we were working on together, we wouldn’t see each other as much. It’s good for our friendship as sisters.

Let’s Go Out album launch. Photo: Hazel Brown

In London, there’s a push towards creating a fairer music industry for women. I don’t know what the case is in Perth, but are there inequalities in music in Australia?

S: It is a lot smaller. You don’t have the festivals, you don’t have massive line ups, we’ve got one or two. You still get male dominated line ups in a similar way.
C: It wasn’t so bad, I think here you feel a bit more objectified as a female. If someone was interested in the industry, ‘we want to see your passport to see your age, you can’t lie about your age.’ What does that matter? One producer was looking at a picture saying that’s it more leg, you know, commenting on our looks.

It’s really important to acknowledge you as composers as well… An interview we did with Elle Exxe, highlighted that 2% of mainstream songs played on the radio are written by women.

S: You don’t look at what women are doing, you don’t think about it, but I guess you internalise every time you go into a studio. There’s a man at the desk mixing, and a man knows how to twiddle the knobs. We’re trying to describe the sound we want but really you should just be the person behind the desk twiddling the knobs…
C: …it does feel like a man’s world still sometimes. We’ve had one women doing the sound at a gig. That’s the first woman I’ve ever seen. She was very good. I never really thought about it before.
S: If you don’t see the person in the role, even though you might not be consciously recognising it, internally you’ve digested that as women don’t do that.

One of the themes that keeps coming up is more role models are needed for young women. Are there any women you aspire to in the music industry?

S: PJ Harvey. She was headlining in Victoria Park. She came across as really strong – it’s very empowering.
C: We saw Bjork recently as well… I was inspired by her. She was just doing what she wants to do and turning it into a really artistic project as well.

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