Getting internal with SAFIA

It may not actually have been three years in the making but the debut album from Safia has definitely been highly anticipated for that long.

On 9 September Safia finally make the leap from releasing singles to launching the Canberra and London produced Internal. Erin Bourne speaks with Ben Woolner (vocals / producer) about their evolution as artists and the upcoming tour.

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Why did it take so long to bring out an album?

We were independent up until the fifth single so could financially only do one song at a time. Plus we really wanted to build a strong fan base before we did a whole album. We were still learning with each song, writing on the side and finally the time just felt right.

Why was some of it produced in London?

We had a few weeks in London during our recent UK and Europe tour. We had time in the studio and we were not necessarily working on stuff for the album but some of the sessions turned out really good so that ended up on the album.

The album starts off with an instrumental song, Zion and it sounds like you’ve brought nature and almost tribal sounds into the mix, was that intentional?

Zion is a good example of bringing in different sounds.  It was inspired by a documentary Samsara which is just shots of the natural world with music and no dialogue. Then it moves through civilisation and into modern cities with sounds to match, there is a fascinating juxtaposition and we wanted to do that in song form.

What else inspires the writing?

Songs come together from anything. We don’t listen to another artist and think lets’ do something like that, if anything it’s the other way of trying not to do something similar. Most inspiration for this record came from visual things like film, or film scores. Particularly the aesthetic in the Sherlock Holmes movie which has this cool wonky sound track and originally inspired the first incarnation of the song Bye Bye. We tweak it and play with it until it becomes this weird mish mash of ideas that somehow works.

What is the writing process like, do you all write the songs?

It’s a collaborative effort with the writing. We kind of all complement each other in the way we write. I am more song writer focussed, and Michael is a song writer but more so production. I can have a more slow kind of soul song and take it to Michael and end up with an addictive dance thing but still have the soul beneath it. Songs start in many different ways but it definitely comes together as a collaborative process. Whatever sparks an idea, we have no rules and everything is fair game.

There is a lost love kind of theme that seems to come through this album. The line ‘I don’t want to be lonely’ actually pops up in a couple of songs. Was that intentional?

(Laughing) Has it snuck through subconsciously? I write the lyrics and probably haven’t even meant it but it’s made it through into the music. I’ve been so invested in music and trying to build a career out of it for three or four years and so I’ve kind of ignored every other aspect of life. So I guess it’s one thing creeping through into the music as missing. As soon as we kind of settled down and finished this record we can do life things again.

Is that interesting for you when people do that interpretation thing?

I like writing lyrics that are very visual but still have some kind of ambiguity so people can take their own meaning from it. And some songs are disguised as love songs when really there is another underlying theme. I like to write very visually with words.

The last track on the album is External, the album is Internal, is there a meaning behind that?

Internal is pretty much how we kind of see the music industry. We want this album to be between us, it’s our diary entry. The album is our thing and no one else’s. The external is about the present state of the music industry being based around the external and selling this product without meaning a lot of the time. Its something we’ve experienced ourselves and we wrote about it. People ask us about special guests or features on the record and that’s cool but it seems like sometimes artists maybe compensate for lack of meaning by putting features on it. We kept it very internal.

So you keep it pure Safia?

Yeah, I think that’s the thing we grew up loving about bands. With each album you’re following the band’s journey. Like with the Beatles with their riffs, and you can hear it in Abbey Road to the second record where you can hear that they’re done. You can hear it in the music and I really like that about bands and going on a journey with them. It’s really easy these days to jump into the studio with a proficient pop writer and jump into the same thing. But sometimes making mistakes and releasing music that may not be as good as you might make in a few years from there when you learn a bit more is kind of what I love about following bands. We kind of wanted to do that.

And the Safia journey is an interesting one.

We met right at the end of primary school, we all played guitar and loved Guns’n’Roses so we got together and started playing covers. We went through a lot of different phases as a band, (laughing) hopefully they don’t get out. No, they were alright, there’s the heavier phase to punk and the 16 year old EMO pop punk band. I’m glad we did all that and it was great to learn how to write songs. We worked as a cover band for four years and that’s kind of how we made our money. Playing rock classics at Irish pubs every weekend and that’s kind of where we got our performance chops.

So how did the electronic phase come about?

When Skrillex popped onto the scene and the sounds and sound design was, for us at the time, crazy interesting. He comes from a metal background and you can kind of hear that in the music. That was kind of an entry point and from there we discovered a lot more. It got us interested in trying to design those sounds because they were so cool and we discovered there is nothing you can’t do creatively electronically, if it’s done well. There’s only so much you can do with guitars and piano so at that point it gave us another avenue of creativity. Everything is fair game to use and explore with electronic music. We are this hybrid of live band and electronica.

Has the evolution been quick or a slow process?

We’ve been steadily growing and we’ve achieved one thing after another. We have been finding ourselves as a band and kind of test running with singles. Whereas if we had have made it to this stage in a massive way and we had to do this album a year and a half ago we definitely would not have been ready.

What is the scene like in Canberra? Has it helped your sound?

There are a lot of great bands and artists in Canberra and they’re all really supportive rather than competitive. There is one band venue and one electronic/alternative venue. It’s often a bit out of the loop and kind of free from the industry and outside influences. I think this has helped us sound more true to us, being away from what’s going on in Sydney.

So now the album is launching and you are touring the album, what is the show like?

It’s kind of a very visceral experience, we’re used to just playing as us three and some lights. This is a dynamic thing. Each song has it’s own visual aesthetic and we worked with some incredibly talented animators in Sydney – Toby and Pete. There is wall of lights and LED screens 5m behind us. It’s crazy playing with this big production that we only ever saw when we went to see big bands. It’s subtle yet makes a big difference to the show, we’re really proud of it.

You have Set Mo and Running Touch on tour with you, why them?

We are big fans of Set Mo’s stuff, and we wanted it to be a party vibe. They have well thought out dance music but still a good time. We wanted to bring along bands that add to the show and the experience of the night. Running Touch just started and are getting bigger so it’s cool to be able to support that.

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Get your dancing shoes ready as Safia hit the NightQuarter in Helensvale on Saturday 8 of October. The good times begin at 4pm so get in early. Tickets via nightquarter.com.au.

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