It’s been a stellar few years for Melbourne’s Martha Brown, aka Banoffee, a real treasure of the electro-pop world. She’s released two gorgeous, critically acclaimed EPs, coveted festival slots, international tour dates and more. Brown’s music is a divine blend of spacious soundscapes, melded with crisp, warm synths and her delicate, sunlit vocals, that bloom and unfurl with unexpected strength throughout her songs.
Since her self-titled EP released last year (which delivered the bright pop burst of Let’s Go To The Beach and the down-tempo, moody electronica of Ninja) Banoffee recently released the single With Her, a melting little snowflake of dream-pop that explores unrequited romance and hurt (and with an unforgettable house-beat that blends it at just the right time). It’s the first delicious wedge of her upcoming EP Do I Make You Nervous (featuring production from Oscar Key Sung, Martin King and GXNXVS), set for release in October amongst a national headliner tour. It’s an exciting time for Banoffee, who was also recently announced as one of the acts for 2016’s Laneway festival, nestled right in amongst a dizzying, mind-bending lineup including Flume, DIIV and Grimes.
We caught up with the delightful, humble artist to talk about the song With Her and her imminent EP release, her upcoming post-feminist sports-luxe fashion line Pageant, and her thoughts on the importance of inclusion in both fashion and music, as well as generating dialogue about gender and diversity in music.
Well hi there Martha! I hear you just got back from Europe.
Yes! It feels like I got back yesterday but apparently I got back Saturday at 3am. I was there on holiday! I’ve never really taken one before. Since I’ve started my music as more of a career it always seems necessary to play when I’ve gone overseas, so I just wanted to try to take a little holiday from work. I went to Lisbon; András [Fox] and Oscar [Key Sung] were playing there and I met them to hang out, and then spent 4 days in Paris.
You recently released the single With Her ahead of your third EP, Do I Make You Nervous which is coming out in October. To start, With Her is quite a raw, melancholic track about a hidden romance with someone, and the realisation that they’re with someone else out in the outside world. It’s the kind of track that leaves you with a bit of a pit in your stomach. Were you writing about a personal experience?
Yeah, I took a really different approach to what I normally do with song writing. I often use a scenario to express something else that’s going on for me, but this one is pretty real, which is pretty clear in the lyrics, both verses are – well in as much detail as I can manage – very descript memories for me, and I guess it’s about that horrible feeling when you realize that everything you thought to be real is different than you thought it was. You feel stupid and feel like a fool, and that feeling is really sickening.
That’s very evident in With Her, it’s so transparent, which is quite refreshing – quite different to a lot of song writing where we always use metaphors and symbology, and talk around things as opposed to about things.
Yeah! With the video [of With Her], I wanted to show that vulnerability and realness even more by being in that pool and having that ruminating feeling of thoughts that go around in circles, reflected in the laps and dancers’ movements. They’re akin to thoughts that just keep popping up, which can come up when you’re doing anything, like watching TV or washing up. It’s that thing I can’t get out of my head.
I’m glad you brought that up. The video for With Her was released just last week and it’s really gorgeous, I love the texture and movement created by the water; the clip seems to move between almost a sense of overwhelming and drowning, and then moments of quite feminine power with the dancers and bursting from the water. Was that the intention of the clip?
I tried to make it not completely clear cut because I want people to draw what is important to them from it, but a lot of that is true about the clip. I wanted there to be juxtaposition between vulnerability and strength. You’ll notice the colour grade is quite soft and there’s no harsh colours – like wearing the pink with the faded blue water – I wanted there to be a sweetness and a vulnerability to it, but then there’s close ups of the swimming with the strong look of the dancers in those goggles, sporty swimsuits and caps. I wanted there to be a little hint that every weak moment is a strong moment, so it was a bit of showing that with that repetition of the laps. Doing laps – while tiring – is still a strong movement, pushing yourself through an element you don’t understand, which is water. We’re made of it; but we don’t understand the ocean or that element of ourselves. It doesn’t mix with us, it doesn’t go through our skin, it’s completely different to us.
So it was about the feeling of being vulnerable but being strong within it and showing strength within those circumstances. The dancers are doing really strong arm movements through it and I made sure there was a light and shade to everything. It’s sort of a theme in everything I make; I like there to be a juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability because I don’t think they’re separate, they’re one and the same.
Stepping back from With Her and looking at the EP more broadly, is the same theme of unrequited love carried through or are you exploring other themes?
You’d have to look very closely to see the other themes. This EP is very different to the last one. I made the last EP and then I went away and worked with a bunch of different producers in Australia and the States and with people from all over the place. I got to work and experience a lot of new music, and new ways of making new music, and I learned a lot. I wanted each song to reflect where I was at that time in my life and nothing more. People say it’s smart to think about how something fits together as a whole but I decided if I did each song right, then when they came together it would make sense, and it did in mixing and mastering. The EP fits together as a piece, but each song is completely different in what they mean to me, the instrumentation and the way I approached them. It’s an eclectic little group.
With Her is probably one of the most common to my last EP whereas I’m Not Sorry is a lot harder and quite angry … I was listening to a lot of dance music at the time, a lot of grind, a lot of hip-hop and percussive music and I wanted to get those things into it. Oceans is much more electronic, it’s very sparse, it’s got natural recordings that I did at the beach with my laptop and I used a lot of analog synths. Every song is really different but I made sure none of them are bullshit. I still wanted to use music to express something, but I had a lot of fun with it.
I love that, “I made sure none of them are bullshit.” Best line ever.
*laughs* Yeah. The main thing is that each track is for something, and about something, and that’s the one thing I always stick to. I always write about something. I want to be able to play it in 10 years and it still mean something.
I think that’s a good attitude to take. So, next up, you’re collaborating on a fashion line with Melbourne designers Pageant, which you’ve said you want to make inclusive of different genders, sexualities and sizes. How important is the concept of inclusion and gender identity to you?
Yes! Pageant and I are collaborating on a line that will be released later this year. I definitely wanted it to be inclusive, a line that doesn’t encourage narrow ideals about beauty, or femininity or gender. I’m a woman and people often ask about feminism or what it’s like to be a woman in the industry, and while it’s relevant and I love talking about it, the issue is bigger than that [gender]. Inclusion is being aware that just as the world isn’t black and white, gender isn’t just man and woman, sexuality isn’t just straight or gay; it’s coming out into the open but not enough.
I’m guessing that the question of ‘what’s it like to be a woman in music’ is one of the most common questions you get asked. What’s been your experience of that? Do you feel it’s a role you want to take on?
It’s a hard question. I do want to take it on. I think it’s important that every woman in any public arena owns that, and takes a responsibility on of showing other women that it’s possible, and talking about issues that someone who isn’t in their position might not have the ability to do. But it’s also difficult because it’s so much bigger than being a woman. It’s really hard to differentiate between being like, “it’s difficult being a woman in the industry” – and yes it is – but I also feel like I’m privileged to be able to say that because I’m not confused about my gender or sexuality, I’m not put down for those things. I’m privileged because I’m in this little bubble in Melbourne where women like myself are made to feel welcome.
There are definitely issues in the industry for women and I want to be able to address those, but in addressing those it’s hard to include everyone I want to include, because it’s not just about women; it’s about the trans community, and the queer community; the fact that Indigenous artists don’t get the same recognition as Anglo-Saxon Australians. There are so many issues to bring up in this industry that it becomes difficult to just focus on being a woman.