An Interview with Felicity Groom on Music, Art, & Man-sized Sofas

Tahlia: So I heard you were lying around the house this afternoon, what have you been up to this week?

Felicity: This week has been relaxing thus far. It was all pretty hectic leading up to the release and now that the album is actually out in the world, there is a kind of still that will not last for long since we tour in less than a month. So today, now that I am up and about and am moving on to my third cup of tea, I am ready to rehearse Trophy Talk as I need to learn what the right hand does while the left hand is banging out the chords on the piano. As my skill level on a piano has not really risen beyond my pre teen capabilities when I used to get driven Glen Forrest to have lessons (At that particular stage of development, I was more interested in the raisin toast that was provided as an afternoon snack than any ‘Frere Jaques’ rendition I could plod out) I need to sit down and familiarise myself with the strange black and white beast. I wrote the parts and played them in the recordings, but that was a while back now… so after this is done, well you know what i’ll be doing.

T: You’ve just released your brand spanking new album, have you been partying a bit?

F: Not a whole lot. We went to Jodie Regan’s (my managers) house the other day to have a little celebratory drink with her. That ended with us having to sleep on her couch…which is something my lovely fellow insists we will not do again. Her couches are woman sized, not man sized. A tour manager stayed on one of those couches for 10 days while he was looking after one of Jodie’s bands. He’s super long in the legs. Poor lad. The CD arrived on my birthday and we got to celebrate it a bit then. Jodie juts showed up to dinner with some copies wrapped in a ribbon. We both had a little cry together. I am not sure if we became a spectacle for all the other eaters. I certainly didn’t care if we did… but it would have looked quite hilarious, two woman spontaneously spouting great floods of tears in the middle of an over- bright busy restaurant.

T: I’ve been listening to Gossamer all afternoon, and I got say Flic, your voice is just so fucking pretty. Who are your biggest vocal influences, male and/or female?

F: The people that I admire the most when singing, is the people that have a fault or flaw to their sound. There must be that level of human error to make me reach out and empathise. Like when James Mercer sings that line in kissing the lipless ‘you told us of your new life there’ and you can hear he as reached his vocal range and capacity and that’s so very cool to hear. I also am a great admirer of Kate Bush and her vocal explorations. One minute she’ll be singing so sweetly and then the next she’ll make the sound like an animal that has been prodded with a hot stick. One of my favourite examples of her songs like that is ‘Suspended in Gaffa’. she is so cool that if you put her in a drink, you could keep refreshed all summer long.

But I remember thinking that I couldn’t sing at all when I was a teen. I used to put on Portishead records in my room and then and cry to my mum that I wished I had the talent of Beth Gibbons. Maybe I got better, or maybe I just got comfortable with the sound that came out of my own mouth…. or maybe I didn’t, but I just kept doing it…. because I love it.

T: The other vocal compliment I’ve got for the album is where they sit in the mix. It feels like it must have been a great recording process, all the little nuances are present and it’s really really really lovely. Where did you get these tracks recorded, and who was doing the production?

F: The two separate recording processes were incredible fun. One was with Sam Ford and the other was with Dave Parkin. They were both recorded at Blackbird studios, which is owned by Parkin, but Ford was working there at the time. The time with Parkin had been locked in for a little while and I was going to record the stuff with my band that I had been playing with for years. The other session with Ford was a casual kind of scenario where I brought in new songs and we asked in people to play on the tracks as we were working on them. We were originally going to release the albums separately but then I went in with Parkin and stripped back the band songs a bit so that the ford and Parkin sessions could collided like protons and neutrons.

T: I’ve heard your music described as dark folk pop in the past, but some aspects of Gossamer feel to me like they cross the line into a much deeper, bluesier realm than what those three words represent. Tell me about the bits of the songs on Gossamer that you felt the most- heartbroken or giddy, driven or lazy, lonely or loved?

F: Pop is a great place to start as a description. More often than not the songs will fit into a radio friendly pocket and have a chorus and a melody that is hummable. I suppose it is other things too… but a painting is a painting if it fits on a canvass and uses paint and sometimes brushes, so I like that it is described as dark folk pop. That means it exists. Once they exist, they tend not to be attached to any one meaning. They might have come from one spot at one point in time, but that spot shifts as your life shifts. so it them becomes difficult to attach the songs to any one heartbroken or giddy, driven or lazy, loney or loved moment. I just realised right then that perhaps it is not a good idea to ever talk about the meaning of a song… because no matter where it came from, it will change… and then for the person who listens to it… they will attach another meaning to that song that is from them- and that should be something that they are free to do without the overbearing voice of the musician yelling out their own ideals. Pity I have already talked lots about the original meanings of some of the songs. But I kind of think that every song in the world is about love anyway.

T: I have to mention the album art, because I love that cover image of the woman walking next to the car. That’s your mother right? I remember when we were doing the shoot for the inside photograph of you in the car, you were trying to explain this original photo to me and what I imagined was no-where near as stunning as this image. What made you want to use this one photo to visually represent this collection of songs?

F: All the photos except for the one that you took was from my dad’s collection in a draw. I had seen them only a couple of years ago… this big black and white collection of past events and places. When I had seen that image of my mum I thought one day it would make a good album cover. We had a moment of reflection one night at my dad’s house and I thumbed through all those shots again… and that’s when I decided I would use that image for the cover of my debut. My parents are the greatest… step parents included. I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing without their support…. so that is one reason why I wanted to celebrate them in pictures. But also, if you are going to meet me for the first time through song… if this debut is somehow a story of me… then I begin the story not with me… but of a time before I came along…. because the story has been going on for generations and I am just running with the baton for now.

T: That black and white aged aesthetic has been taken further with the film clip for the track Siren Song, which I absolutely love. Tell me about that clip- who were you working with, what was the filming like?

F: I worked with Andrew Nowrojee to make the Siren Song clip. I have known him for years so it’s fun getting to work together to make these film clips (he made the Finders and Keepers clip with me also). We shot it in his office above New Edition Bookshop in Fremantle. We had planned to use a proper studio, but after doing the test shoot in the office we realised that we didn’t need to change anything. We were even thinking we might use the footage from the test shoot… but then the final shoot had a bit more extra production to it… like makeup from my friend Jade Balfour. There is one bit of the clip that is from the test shoot still. It’s pretty hard to pick the difference.

T: It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of your musical output. I’ve seen a lot of Felicity Groom and the Black Black Smoke shows, but this tour coming up next month has a little change up of your backing band… Can you give me an idea of what I (and everyone else) might expect from the live show this tour?

F: We are trying to represent the album as best as possible at the moment in rehearsals. I think there’ll be a couple of new songs in the mix… but mostly people will be hearing the album tracks like they would on the album. A limited budget means that we can’t take all the lovely people who play different little colourings and highlights along with us for the road trip… but my sweet team that I will have with me will be working hard for your love and affection.

T: After the Australian tour, are there any plans for international shows? You spent some time in England a few years ago, are you thinking of going back and showing off a little?

F: I have been invited to the Canadian music festival which will be incredible. So while we are over that way we will most definitely do some more gigs around Canada and hopefully the USA. I love travel and to do it as part of my job is…well… fantastic. I have been desperate to get back to Europe and the UK for ages because I have lots of lovely friends there and some fans I picked up along the way…. so if this album could take us over there on a little jaunt… well I would be super happy… like super man… if his power was simply being happy.