Credit: E Michael Wolf
Daybreak. Rival choirs of crickets pierce the sleepy mood. The harsh Australian summer sunlight peeps through the leafy ferns to form speckled shadows on GRAZIA’s shoot set on Sydney’s upper North Shore. The talent — dark dream-pop twin-sister duo Say Lou Lou — are catching some last-minute shut-eye while the crew scuffle around them (Where, indeed, do you find a good almond-milk flat white in Killara?). But sunrise on this day — for the angelic musicians anyway – is instead announced by chatter of the thing consuming all of our Instagram feeds in real time: the Women’s Marches.
PAST GEN > NEXT GEN
“I’d just like to say I’m so proud of our generation,” says Miranda in her Nordic-inflected English. “We’ve woken up. And look at it! Watching this, I have chills. The largest amount of protesters in American history have turned out and I just feel like something is happening, something is cooking. I’m so happy to be alive and to be a part of it.”
She is of course is referring to the millions of women of all generations who gathered in cities across the world, rallying for reproductive, immigration and civil rights. For without protest, where does this leave the next gen, asks Miranda’s sister Elektra. “When there’s extreme right-winged wins and hostility towards foreigners, it’s sad but it also gives the feminist movement and the anti-racist movement an upswing and makes us mobilise,” she says. “I think the feminist movement for the past 20 years has stagnated. And sometimes, you just need a rude awakening to realise we need to push more.”
Just like these marchers, when something is suppressed, taken away or simply not right, you rebel; a sentiment the Say Lou Lou sisters experienced in their own working life.
We are conditioned to believe the Australian musician’s path to global recognition starts with landing a record label. Every big-time artist remembers the day of their first signing; the elation, the drama, the excitement felt by merely thinking of the places your squiggle on a dotted line will take you. After releasing five tracks online (including Fool Of Me with Australian Chet Faker), Sony Music’s Columbia Records came knocking for Say Lou Lou in 2013, but a commercial versus creativity debate meant the relationship was short-lived.
“I don’t want to slag off the idea of having a label … Elektra and I just realised that we need to be in control, we want to be the people to call the shots,” says Miranda. “And I’d rather do that on a small scale in our way than on a big scale in someone else’s way.”
Say Lou Lou’s melancholic first album, 2015’s Lucid Dreaming, was released under their own recording label, à Deux and a sonic nod of sorts to the likes of Lykke Li, Owl Eyes and Bat For Lashes. Its follow-up is set for release this September.
“It will be more cinematic than the first one,” says Miranda enthusiastically. “We spent a lot of time looking at our favourite composers, film scores, producers and artists and observed how they make music, their processes and how they approach things. We’ve been listening to a lot of old Bond soundtracks and everything from Kate Bush and Radiohead to Adele to Bowie to Prince.”
SYDNEY > STOCKHOLM
Growing up, Miranda and Elektra didn’t need to look far for musical inspiration: it was just right down the hall in their Bondi home. Their father, Steve Kilbey, was frontman in Australian band The Church, while their mother, Karin Jansson, was part of Swedish new wavers, Pink Champagne. The couple co-wrote The Church’s 1988 mega hit, Under The Milky Way, during one night on the NSW Central Coast.
“It was written at the height of their love,” says Elektra with a smile. “I think there was something about that magical moment and being in love and being infatuated with the person you’re writing with.” She pauses and looks at Miranda. “I feel that way about you sometimes when we’re writing. I feel like there’s so much magic and love between us.”
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The twins were born soon after and, given their parents’ musical pedigree, many presumed a similar creative path would beckon. But Miranda and Elektra had other ideas, instead planning careers in psychology. “Our parents being musicians actually made us not want to be musicians,” says Miranda. “We wanted to have normal jobs, we wanted to study and be academics because I guess, we wanted some order. Growing up had been chaotic, everyone was all over the place. There was no nine–to-five, no regularity. I think we looked at our friends and just wanted to be normal.” But it wasn’t meant to be. Music came calling.
Kilbey and Jansson split when their daughters were young, meaning Miranda and Elektra would spend sun-drenched summers on Bondi’s grassy knoll with Dad (“we would jig school and take our school uniforms off and lay on the ocean rocks in our undies”) or icy cold winters in Stockholm with mum. “At the beginning of the split, it was hard,” remembers Elektra. “But if you’re used to always missing people, if you’re used to always being apart from your father, your sister, your mum or your boyfriend, you kind of grow a resistance. So now when we go away, it’s doesn’t faze me as much. I can turn off and turn on. Missing someone is just something we know how to do.”
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So what did their parent’s relationship teach the young musicians? “It taught me that you don’t have to have one great love in your life or one soulmate,” says Elektra. “You can have different soulmates for different times of your life. It’s all about growing together. Mum and Dad were together for 13 years and they were in the same place, wanting the same things and had a beautiful lifestyle together. But I think realising that its OK to grow apart and meet other soulmates has given us the freedom to see that there doesn’t necessarily only have to be one person in your life.” “And that an ending between two people isn’t a failure,” agrees Miranda. “No, it was a great thing.”
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Say Lou Lou actually finished a full album of “cool disco funk” tracks in August 2016. But their essence would not be silenced: Miranda and Elektra’s trademark dreaminess and lovelorn melancholy called them back. The disco album was dropped.
“We are extremely happy and upbeat people but we also have a very, very strong side of melancholy,” explains Miranda. “That’s something that’s in our whole family. Everyone is happy and depressed at the same time. It’s hopeless romanticism.”
True to their word (and to tide you over until their album releases), Say Lou Lou has recorded a darkly sensual cover of the Bee Gees classic Stayin Alive, a song produced in the protest decade when you could “feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’”. Now, it’s remodelled for a new generation, one protesting just as hard in 2017.
Photographer: Steven Chee
Videographer: E Michael Wolf
Creative Direction: Justine O’Donnell
Fashion Direction: Charlotte Stokes
Hair: Anthony Nader
Makeup: Sarah Tammer