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Helena Massey Shares New Album 'Brothers Puffins & Half Skulls' + Interview

Helena Massey Shares New Album 'Brothers Puffins & Half Skulls' + Interview

C.C. / Friday 4th September, 2020 3:03PM

The very first Australian release from Aotearoa's Home Alone Music, New South Wales folk singer Helena Massey has launched today her dreamy new album Brothers Puffins & Half Skulls. Massey recently chatted with label mate Tessa Dillon aka Mystery Waitress who also has a long player entitled Nest out soon — bringing to light their individual creative origins, approaches to recording and song craft, the themes of their new records and more. Enjoy the stream of Brothers Puffins & Half Skulls below and scroll downwards to delve into their conversation...

Helena Massey: Tessa, your musicality started with piano from a young age before you expanded into songwriting and playing guitar, did you grow up in a creative family and was music a big part of your upbringing?

Tessa Dillon (Mystery Waitress): I guess I did grow up in a creative family, my mother in particular is wildly creative. She does a bit of everything really, pottery, crocheting. She sings and plays piano but only in private! My sister started learning guitar before I could play and we used to cover and write songs together. I was exposed to a wide range of influential music from both of my parents, and I have pretty much always written my own songs without really realising what I was doing. It took a long time for me to see myself as a musician though, we are a rather shy family when it comes to performing and that was never something I practised when I was younger.

HM: Wow That feels quite similar to my upbringing, my mum and grandfather are also ceramicists, and my older sister was playing music before me too. I’m really excited to hear your new record in September. Listening to Cashew, your lyricism and vocal delivery feels really effortless and intimate. Were there any particular influences on your new album, and what has the process been like writing and recording your new album?

TD: Thank you! I’m very excited to release it. The album is a selection of songs written over the past three years. The songs that I chose to make the album from are all based around a feeling of finding your feet in the world, and feeling overwhelmed by the variety of ways you can define yourself and your life. The album is called Nest because it’s basically about leaving the nest and trying to build your own.

The process of recording the album was pretty fun. My friend, James Morgan, did the recording and mixing. We used the boardroom of our workplace after everyone had gone home, I recorded my vocals in the work bathroom. The album changed a lot throughout that process and I’m so happy with how it’s ended up.

HM: That’s so cool, I love the idea of recording in the spaces in which those torrents of ideas or songs might come to you, and making do with what you have. I also heard that you were recording with cardboard boxes at home. The bathroom is such an intimate and personal space in itself, And recording vocals in a space you are completely comfortable in is very important.

TD: So important! Literal comfort as well, I weirdly feel like I can sing better when I’m not wearing shoes. I am very interested in the instruments you’ve used throughout your musical journey. I’ve listened to a lot of your older music now and I believe you used a harmonium and tabla drums! They sound so enchanting with your voice. I wondered if you’ve found the live music scene a hard place to bring your sound into. Because, from my own experience, there is a pressure to perform songs that are strictly either rock or folk, and it’s hard to find a venue or setting to suit the in-between. I wondered if you have experienced this too?

HM: Yeah that’s been my experience too. I actually started playing shows under the name Haloumi Girl, and would sing over pre-recorded tracks from my iPhone. I had an easier time getting gigs doing that in pubs than finding venues for solo acoustic shows, but the handful of small intimate venues that I do play in Sydney and on the South Coast are run by people who are very passionate and caring about putting on those sorts of shows and supporting musicians, and even if it’s a handful of venues, it’s more meaningful because of that. I didn’t actually perform those songs from Myths from Mercury with the band. Partly because I couldn’t find the right space at the time, and because I wrote all of those songs when I was about 16, didn’t record them until I was 18, it was really my first attempt at writing songs and I had well and truly moved on.

TD: Haloumi Girl!! I love that. Your music video for ‘We Will Drive Ourselves Home’, was shot in a location very special to you, and you have expressed sadness over the environmental damage that has been done there over the years. Is this a theme that extends to the rest of your upcoming album?

HM: My new album Brothers Puffins & Half Skulls has a triad of themes running through it. ‘Puffins’ is one of them, and is representative of grief and anguish for sacred home places, animals, ecosystem collapse, ancestral disconnection and loss of knowledge, messy and complex grief (our generation has a lot to process).

However 'We Will Drive Ourselves Home’ is not about despair for where our world is heading, I am singing myself into a place of belonging in the present moment, while holding a space for all of that anguish, and it is a prayer of faith in humans. There is a thread of that grief and longing in all of the songs, 'Seabirds' is a song on the new album that expresses that grief for the natural world quite directly though.

TD: There is a lot for our generation to process indeed. How did you get involved with the Home Alone Music family?

HM: I think there may have been a mutual connection through instagram or facebook with other bands from my area and then Tim and Brooke kindly reached out to me. I would love to come over and meet everyone when it’s possible. It feels like a very special and unique collection of musicians that are supportive of each other, I feel very grateful to have been invited to share in that.

You mentioned that your new album is a collection of songs from the past three years. I feel like what I have put out has been similar in that it takes me a long time to finish songs and the process is a lot slower doing everything by yourself or with one other person helping to record. How do you see your new album Nest as being different from your other releases?

TD: Yes it has taken a while for this album to come to fruition! Nest is different mainly because I’ve collaborated with other people to make it, I knew I wanted drums and other instruments to be in the songs I’d written but it was quite a scary thing for me, because I’d always been solo, to trust other people to bring the right thing into the mix. It turned out great and I love my band mates, but that took a LONG time to happen because I felt like a protective mother over my songs. Also I felt like I didn’t trust myself to explain what I wanted from the songs. I’ve never studied music, I don’t have the language for it, and often feel on the backfoot with other musicians because of that.

HM: I really feel I understand that, it takes time and experience working with people to learn how to communicate what you want in terms of the direction of production, or translating the tone and feeling of what you want with a band when you’re largely untrained, or playing with trained or very seasoned musicians. I think over time, the more you keep doing your thing, you can trust those waters and sail them, you can develop your language when working with other people.

'Brothers Puffins & Half Skulls' is out now via all major streaming platforms.


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