SAFIA Explain The Four Sonic Streams Of Their Debut Album 'Internal'

Written By Sam Murphy on 08/31/2016

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Canberra trio SAFIA have achieved unprecedented success over the past three years, without even a debut album to their name. Internal, their first album, will be out on 9th September but even without the album out, the band have made a huge dint in the Australian music scene.

Their first single Listen To Soul, Listen To Blues became a triple j staples, launching them onto the scene and from there, they've gotten bigger and better with every release. Last year, they drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend at Splendour In The Grass and played countless sold out shows across the country. This year, they've dropped Make Them Wheels Roll and Over You, further playing some insane secret shows.

It's hard to believe but they're about to take it to another level with the release of Internal. They're set to drop the album and then embark on one of their largest national tours to date, playing huge venues like Sydney's Enmore Theatre.

Keen to see just how they're going to top what they've already released, we caught up with frontman Ben Woolner to unpack the new album and talk a bit about their crazy success over the past three years.

How long has the album been under lock and key for?

Yeah a while. It was finished in June or July.

June or July this year?
Yeah end of May. June it was all done.

That's pretty good. Sometimes artists have to sit on their albums for a long while.
Well, yeah. We were meant to have finished it along time ago.

Have you delivered what you set out to do when you first started working on it or has a lot changed along the way?

We never actually sat down and thought we were going to do an album. We were just always writing for the fun of it and then amongst doing all these singles we were always writing songs and demoes. We had a bunch of these really early form demoes which were super different and we were like, "there would fit together". There was one point we listened back to a bunch of them and they all had these similar things that made them seem like they could be part of a bigger body of work. Then we thought we had an album and we explored that further.

Was it a conscious decision to leave your early singles off the album and start afresh with the new ones?
Yeah I think so. I didn't want to put out an album that was filled with songs that people already knew. Our fans have been good enough to come to all our shows multiple times from when we started touring in late 2013 and so I suppose I felt we owed it to the fans to give them a bunch of new music because they were always waiting on one single every couple of months. If people want to listen to the old singles they still can so may as well give them a bunch of new stuff.

A lot of new bands in Australia they have one big single at the start and then spend their whole career chasing it but with you guys you've managed to grow with each release. Do you ever get nervous before dropping a single that it might not do as well as the last?
Ahhh, when we have a song we're pretty confident that it's ok. I suppose this single Over You, not a bad thing, but we'd kinda got used to putting out a single and having it get a response and have places playing it. I was thinking, what will we do if triple j are like, "nup, it's not good". I'm sure that will happen. I'm sure we'll put out something that's not right but because we've been lucky to evolve as a band, each single was us learning as a band. We've come from rock background or live band backgrounds. It was a blessing not knowing what the hell we were doing until now when we're quite knowledgeable about production and about what we wanna do and how we wanna do it. We could always write songs but it's allowed us to sonically progress each single because we knew more. That's been a blessing for us that we've got to gradually build a fanbase as we're learning what the hell to do.

It was a while ago now but one of the higlights for you guys was Splendour last year when you drew this absolutely massive crowd at the Mix Up stage when you weren't even close to putting out your album. Was it gratifying to know you guys were definitely doing something right?

That was crazy. That did feel like a turning point. We didn't expect that at all. We were on at two o'clock and we thought we'd have a decent crowd but nothing of that magnitude. That was super special. That was one of the first times we really walked out on stage like, "holy shit, I don't know how to play to this many people". From there it feels like things have been growing nicely but that was definitely a turning point.

Have you had to work on your stage presence as a band as the venues get larger?
Yeah it does change the dynamic. We always go as hard as we can even if we're in a small venue. Obviously it changes the dynamic if you've got a big crowd who know every word but I think the small shows we still go...sometimes even harder to make up for the lack of production and atmosphere that comes with a bigger venue and a bigger crowd.

You guys have always inserted new songs into your set. Did that help with putting the album together?

Yeah, I think so. There are a bunch of songs we played live...obviously with the singles a lot of it was extending the setlist out so it was long enough because we didn't have a giant catalogue to pull from and we played stuff that didn't make the album or didn't even get looked at in the studio. The live parts were written and it was just a live song. But there are a bunch of songs we've been playing for years that finally we took away and made the album. But, yeah, it's definitely helped. The fanbase, the first fans, will hopefully have an extra connection to the album because there will be all these songs that maybe they've heard before once or twice.

It must be pretty exciting to think about playing live after you drop the album and filling the set with a bunch of songs people know?

Yeah, I'm super excited. We've still gotta learn a lot of them but I'm excited to have a whole repertoire of new music. It will be fun for our album tour because we'll have the time to play basically everything. It will be the first time we'll have to sit down for a festival set and work out exactly what songs we're going to play and what we're not. For the first time, we're going to have to decide what singles we're going to drop out of the set. Also, it's going to give us an opportunity to not play the same set every night and every festival. We can do multiple different ones which is going to be really fun.

Listening to the record, it's a cohesive effort but at the same time electronic music is the basis and then on top of that there's soul and pop and all those different things...

Ah, that's awesome thanks man. That's exactly the aim.

I'm interested to know as a band what are your biggest influencers because it seems very diverse.
Well when we were very young the thing that made us connect and start jamming...we were all guitarists, we all wanted to be Slash from Guns N' Roses. We grew up on loving all this old school rock, dating back from '60s to late '90s. We grew up on that and then slowly delved into more modern music and listened to a lot of hip-hop and old school hip-hop. I also grew up with my Dad playing jazz and soul records around the house. I think a lot of the older rock influences and that kind of pop tinge as well comes out on the record. There are songs like Bye Bye which are kind of reminiscent of a weirder era Beatles and stuff like that. A lot of the influences come from stuff that's not electronic music and not from a...I wouldn't say there are many modern artists that have influenced us on that record.

Were there any key songs that really certified the direciton of the record?

Well, we had all these songs but we thought they were too different to be one body of work. We sat back after not listening for a while and thought there's something in the way we write or produce it that has made these songs sit together. I see the album as four different streams exploring the four different places we've gone with our singles in the past. There's the more summery, accessible pop electronic stuff like Embracing Me and Together, Locked Safely and then there's the darker, R&B, reggae side because we listen to a lot of reggae music. Then there's the weirder side like down the Counting Sheep alley with Bye Bye and Close To You. And then there's the more cinematic side with Zion. They're four streams that come together nicely from start to finish.

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SAFIA National Tour 2016

Fri 23 Sept | UC Refectory, Canberra – All Ages

Sun 2 Oct | Enmore Theatre, Sydney – All Ages
(Long Weekend)

Fri 7 Oct | The Tivoli, Brisbane – 18+

Sat 8 Oct | The Nightquarter, Gold Coast – 18+
(Children under 18 years are allowed into the venue, if accompanied by a legal guardian)

Fri 14 Oct | Odeon Theatre, Hobart – All Ages

Sat 15 Oct | Festival Hall, Melbourne – All Ages

Fri 21 Oct | Metro City, Perth – 18+

Sat 22 Oct | Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide – All Ages

Fri 11 Nov | The Powerstation, Auckland – All Ages

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Canberra trio SAFIA have achieved unprecedented success over the past three years, without even a debut album to their name. Internal, their first album, will be out on 9th September but even without the album out, the band have made a huge dint in the Australian music scene.

Their first single Listen To Soul, Listen To Blues became a triple j staples, launching them onto the scene and from there, they've gotten bigger and better with every release. Last year, they drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend at Splendour In The Grass and played countless sold out shows across the country. This year, they've dropped Make Them Wheels Roll and Over You, further playing some insane secret shows.

It's hard to believe but they're about to take it to another level with the release of Internal. They're set to drop the album and then embark on one of their largest national tours to date, playing huge venues like Sydney's Enmore Theatre.

Keen to see just how they're going to top what they've already released, we caught up with frontman Ben Woolner to unpack the new album and talk a bit about their crazy success over the past three years.

How long has the album been under lock and key for?

Yeah a while. It was finished in June or July.

June or July this year?
Yeah end of May. June it was all done.

That's pretty good. Sometimes artists have to sit on their albums for a long while.
Well, yeah. We were meant to have finished it along time ago.

Have you delivered what you set out to do when you first started working on it or has a lot changed along the way?

We never actually sat down and thought we were going to do an album. We were just always writing for the fun of it and then amongst doing all these singles we were always writing songs and demoes. We had a bunch of these really early form demoes which were super different and we were like, "there would fit together". There was one point we listened back to a bunch of them and they all had these similar things that made them seem like they could be part of a bigger body of work. Then we thought we had an album and we explored that further.

Was it a conscious decision to leave your early singles off the album and start afresh with the new ones?
Yeah I think so. I didn't want to put out an album that was filled with songs that people already knew. Our fans have been good enough to come to all our shows multiple times from when we started touring in late 2013 and so I suppose I felt we owed it to the fans to give them a bunch of new music because they were always waiting on one single every couple of months. If people want to listen to the old singles they still can so may as well give them a bunch of new stuff.

A lot of new bands in Australia they have one big single at the start and then spend their whole career chasing it but with you guys you've managed to grow with each release. Do you ever get nervous before dropping a single that it might not do as well as the last?
Ahhh, when we have a song we're pretty confident that it's ok. I suppose this single Over You, not a bad thing, but we'd kinda got used to putting out a single and having it get a response and have places playing it. I was thinking, what will we do if triple j are like, "nup, it's not good". I'm sure that will happen. I'm sure we'll put out something that's not right but because we've been lucky to evolve as a band, each single was us learning as a band. We've come from rock background or live band backgrounds. It was a blessing not knowing what the hell we were doing until now when we're quite knowledgeable about production and about what we wanna do and how we wanna do it. We could always write songs but it's allowed us to sonically progress each single because we knew more. That's been a blessing for us that we've got to gradually build a fanbase as we're learning what the hell to do.

It was a while ago now but one of the higlights for you guys was Splendour last year when you drew this absolutely massive crowd at the Mix Up stage when you weren't even close to putting out your album. Was it gratifying to know you guys were definitely doing something right?

That was crazy. That did feel like a turning point. We didn't expect that at all. We were on at two o'clock and we thought we'd have a decent crowd but nothing of that magnitude. That was super special. That was one of the first times we really walked out on stage like, "holy shit, I don't know how to play to this many people". From there it feels like things have been growing nicely but that was definitely a turning point.

Have you had to work on your stage presence as a band as the venues get larger?
Yeah it does change the dynamic. We always go as hard as we can even if we're in a small venue. Obviously it changes the dynamic if you've got a big crowd who know every word but I think the small shows we still go...sometimes even harder to make up for the lack of production and atmosphere that comes with a bigger venue and a bigger crowd.

You guys have always inserted new songs into your set. Did that help with putting the album together?

Yeah, I think so. There are a bunch of songs we played live...obviously with the singles a lot of it was extending the setlist out so it was long enough because we didn't have a giant catalogue to pull from and we played stuff that didn't make the album or didn't even get looked at in the studio. The live parts were written and it was just a live song. But there are a bunch of songs we've been playing for years that finally we took away and made the album. But, yeah, it's definitely helped. The fanbase, the first fans, will hopefully have an extra connection to the album because there will be all these songs that maybe they've heard before once or twice.

It must be pretty exciting to think about playing live after you drop the album and filling the set with a bunch of songs people know?

Yeah, I'm super excited. We've still gotta learn a lot of them but I'm excited to have a whole repertoire of new music. It will be fun for our album tour because we'll have the time to play basically everything. It will be the first time we'll have to sit down for a festival set and work out exactly what songs we're going to play and what we're not. For the first time, we're going to have to decide what singles we're going to drop out of the set. Also, it's going to give us an opportunity to not play the same set every night and every festival. We can do multiple different ones which is going to be really fun.

Listening to the record, it's a cohesive effort but at the same time electronic music is the basis and then on top of that there's soul and pop and all those different things...

Ah, that's awesome thanks man. That's exactly the aim.

I'm interested to know as a band what are your biggest influencers because it seems very diverse.
Well when we were very young the thing that made us connect and start jamming...we were all guitarists, we all wanted to be Slash from Guns N' Roses. We grew up on loving all this old school rock, dating back from '60s to late '90s. We grew up on that and then slowly delved into more modern music and listened to a lot of hip-hop and old school hip-hop. I also grew up with my Dad playing jazz and soul records around the house. I think a lot of the older rock influences and that kind of pop tinge as well comes out on the record. There are songs like Bye Bye which are kind of reminiscent of a weirder era Beatles and stuff like that. A lot of the influences come from stuff that's not electronic music and not from a...I wouldn't say there are many modern artists that have influenced us on that record.

Were there any key songs that really certified the direciton of the record?

Well, we had all these songs but we thought they were too different to be one body of work. We sat back after not listening for a while and thought there's something in the way we write or produce it that has made these songs sit together. I see the album as four different streams exploring the four different places we've gone with our singles in the past. There's the more summery, accessible pop electronic stuff like Embracing Me and Together, Locked Safely and then there's the darker, R&B, reggae side because we listen to a lot of reggae music. Then there's the weirder side like down the Counting Sheep alley with Bye Bye and Close To You. And then there's the more cinematic side with Zion. They're four streams that come together nicely from start to finish.

SAFIA National Tour 2016

Fri 23 Sept | UC Refectory, Canberra – All Ages

Sun 2 Oct | Enmore Theatre, Sydney – All Ages
(Long Weekend)

Fri 7 Oct | The Tivoli, Brisbane – 18+

Sat 8 Oct | The Nightquarter, Gold Coast – 18+
(Children under 18 years are allowed into the venue, if accompanied by a legal guardian)

Fri 14 Oct | Odeon Theatre, Hobart – All Ages

Sat 15 Oct | Festival Hall, Melbourne – All Ages

Fri 21 Oct | Metro City, Perth – 18+

Sat 22 Oct | Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide – All Ages

Fri 11 Nov | The Powerstation, Auckland – All Ages

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