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Two People on searching for the next trust, trusting their instincts and 'Second Body'

16 September 2020 | 5:04 pm | Emma Jones

On 'Second Body', Two People step into the light and use everything they've learned so far their advantage to create a formidable second offering.

Two People, the duo of Phoebe Lou and Joey Clough, create immersive, intense and emotive electronic music. Having been in the music scene for over ten years, they've carved out a space entirely their own that remains utterly unique thanks to their dark and expansive sounds.

Their first album, aptly titled First Body, was exactly that, and a bold sonic statement of who they are as a duo. It was dark, intense, deeply personal and meticulously produced. Every sound and space had a purpose, each electronic flourish added to the greater picture. Including songs like 'Phone Call', 'Fading', 'I'm Tied, To You', and 'In The Garden', the indie electronic body of work was a richly detailed and expansive record and one that cemented them as a serious force in the vast world of electronic music in Australia and the rest of the world.

Fast forward just over twelve months later and we have a new album, also with the accurate title of Second Body. The hallmarks of a Two People record are still evident — Lou's otherworldly vocals, the poignancy of the lyrics, the intense personal nature of the songs and the impressively-forward thinking electronic production. But, there's an air about Second Body that separates it from simply a follow up album. It's once again a bold sonic statement in its ambitious new sounds and its sheer confidence in every element. The production is louder, faster and more vibrant. The lyrics are even more confident, now with a certain assertiveness we hadn't previously heard.

Now encompassing more pop elements into the mix, the pair tapped Kllo's Simon Lam for added production. After first creating the record in a rustic, isolated (by choice) cabin on the windswept coastline of Skenes Creek along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, they returned to Melbourne and recorded in St Kilda with Lam. Together, the three of them pushed the Two People sound to euphoric heights (such as 'Dream Steppin'' and 'A Taste') and heart-wrenching lows ('Breaking The Silence' and 'Loud') to create the next iteration of their sound. The end result is a record they describe in their own words as "definitive, deliberate and assertive," and "more fierce and a little bit more fun." And it's true, Two People deliver an album that is exactly that: it is definitively them, deliberate in its representation of that, and assertive in its self-actualisation. It's so much fun in parts, fierce in others, and ultimately a joy to listen to even its more devastating moments. Having always been a duo to remain truthful to themselves, Two People sought their personal truths more than ever while creating this record, and now they have an album they can be proud of. Second Body is representative of Two People emerging from the shadows and stepping into the light, weaponising everything they've learned over the last decade and using it to their advantage to create a formidable second offering. Here, we catch up with Joey and Phoebe to dive further into the new world they've created, how they're going in Melbourne's current lockdowns, and how they learned to trust themselves all over again.

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Melbourne lockdown. How's it treating you?

Kind of hard, but there was nice bits. There's also hard bits. It was super weird putting a record out, not being able to see each other and have a beer and you sit in the same room. That was just really bizarre.

Also because I feel with your music, you can listen with headphones and stuff like that, but it really kind of comes alive with a live show. And that would just be quite a sore spot, I'm sure, of not be able to celebrate with a live performance.

Phoebe: For sure, yeah.

Joey: Yeah. Especially like this record, we kind of wrote a lot of it in the live setting and imagining the whole live set up, which is kind of different from the first record. So it's really strange now that it's being released in a time where that's just not possible.

Now that it's been out for about a week or so, how are you feeling about the record now that the dust has settled? Had a bit of time? How's the vibes?

Phoebe: We've had such a positive response to this album? I've actually been kind of taken back by that. Just how much our intentions with the songwriting has actually translated to the finished product and how people are able to hear that. And kind of say it back to us, like little things about the sound and the nature of how it is compared to the previous record. Yeah. It feels really positive. We feel proud of the album.

Like releasing an album is can be a period of soul searching. The record's been created for a while and even sitting with it now, you're kind of revisiting it months later after it was first made. Coupled with a period of extended lockdown, which is probably also a period of soul searching. I wondered, has that contributed to creating more or creating differently than you normally would have?

Joey: I mean, one of the big things for us is that we usually always write together in the same room and we haven't been able to be in the same room for months. So, it's been really strange and different. I think we were talking about the other today, the fact that we both really enjoy kind of bunkering down and being locked down when it's our choice to do that. When it's in this situation where we're kind of forced to be locked down, it has a totally different feel. Personally I've kind of felt a bit stifled and creatively, it hasn't been the same. And I think it's been a bit difficult to kind of write more stuff, and new stuff for me. I don't know about you, Phoebe?

Phoebe: I think it's been really all over the place. Really all over the shop, because there's so much newness going on. I guess in a sense, here in Victoria, it's been going on for quite a lot longer than other states. So it's been such a long period of getting used to it and now almost feel like it's at a point where it feels normal.

Also given the fact that you essentially voluntarily chose to isolate in a cabin for two weeks to create the record, and now I wondered what is the difference between voluntarily isolating compared to now? What does that do to an artist's creativity? It sounds like it kind of almost stops for you it in a way.

Phoebe: I think it's a really different approach, when you have the choice and when you don't. Packing the car with our gear and having all that excitement in us opened the door to the output being exciting as well. Having said that, I think that has a lot to do with how you look at it and how you experience it. And I've found some parts of this year to be really extremely productive in a really different way to what I'm used to like, a very concentrated... in a real bubble kind of way. But yeah, I think that that will keep changing. I think it's sort of evolving still and it's really up and down. It kind of just feels like a blur at this point. I think we just have to get used to the idea of it being different and also the same, because all the external stuff is really different, but internally it's still the two of us. The inspiration's probably different and all that, that's always going to evolve. I think it's just sort of observing how weird it feels and maybe also trying to just treat it simply, because I think creativity is simple and if you can let the other stuff go then songs will still be written.

You've spoken about when you were first creating the album, you were frustrated with feeling stuck and wanting to move further and quicker. And it's kind of weird given the world that we're in now, there's a lot of people that are feeling that way. Revisiting these songs, have any of them been able to take on new meanings for you?

Joey: Yeah. I think for me, they're definitely still are about what we wrote them about, like that's what I am connected to. But I'm definitely aware of the parallels between the things that we were talking about and writing about and what's happening now in the world from other people. People have said to us that they can kind of feel the energy in the songs of where it was a lot of urgency and frustration and stuff coming out that's reflected in the times that we're in. I think for us, or for me anyway, I still more hear and feel that the things that we were writing about back when we did it.

Phoebe: I agree, Joey, completely. Like that whole idea of what a song's about always exists. For me, what I've noticed, and I always noticed this with songs, is that the meaning kind of makes more and more sense to me as time goes on. Initially the feeling is definitely crystal clear when you write a song at the start, but seeing it with a larger perspective crystallises over time or because I can look back and go, "Oh yeah, that's like really about this, or really not about that."

I think one of the tracks I was thinking of just when you brought that up was 'Breaking The Silence'. And that was always a song, lyrically, where I really understood the feeling of where the song was coming from, but I didn't have any bloody idea how to articulate what that was about in any other words than what's stated in the lyrics. Which is funny, people often ask, "What's this song about?" It's like, how do I paraphrase that once again? I think that song, in particular, I've sort of realised over the last year or so, with time passing and perspective that it's really about some kind of need for some kind of aggression in what we do and how we live. And there's areas in the world where that's really coming to light. I've sort of found that interesting in hindsight, because it was a big part of my personal growth to realise that and accept that. And accept that it's not a negative thing and it doesn't make someone a bad person to be a little bit aggressive sometimes, if you're doing it in the right way.

That kind of can only come with time, right? Like you can't rush that kind of realisation or that perspective. That's something that just will constantly evolve. And for me, listening to your music from back very early through to now, time is such a big part of it because it's all about experience. It's about learning how to trust yourselves. This record is more deliberate, it's more assertive, and I feel like that can only come from experience and from time. I'm curious, how did you know to be able to trust yourselves? Was that an easy process to know that you've got this a little bit more, this second time around? Or was it kind of just going with it and figuring out as you went?

Phoebe: We came into this industry really young, like 16, 15, whatever. I think that's a hard time for someone to step into some kind of limelight, because it's putting you in a position almost that your confidence isn't quite geared up for. So I think that journey for us into coming to a point of real creative confidence and backing ourselves took quite a while to fully embody because of that reason. I think just through experiences and through things working out and not working out, based on either our opinions or someone around us or advice we've been given, good advice, bad advice, all that mixed bag stuff.

I think just over time, we've noticed that our intuition and instinct in this industry is really the core of what makes it go around, and it's the thing that really sparks interest. It's the only way that really interesting things happen, creatively or artistically. That's the point that we sort of arrived at after our last album, just through experiencing a journey and being in our previous band and really zeroing in on what we do and what our identity is as a group, as a duo. As you said, it's just about time and experience. We wanted the music to capture that because it was about the music in the first place.

Joey: It just required time and experience, but the thing that's done it in enabling us to be more assertive and direct with our ideas is just realising to trust ourselves, that our ideas are the only ones to really follow. Like if we get something wrong and it's our idea, then that's fine. But if we get something wrong and it was someone else's suggestion, it's like, that's not good.

This record's also marked by the addition of Simon Lam who has a hugely impressive resume on his own. When I saw you guys were working together, I was like, "Wow, yes. Perfect fit." Was it a case of Simon already being such a good friend and his resume kind of being very similar to the world of Two People, was that what led you to choose to work with him as opposed to a producer you'd never met before?

Joey: Yeah, I mean, we didn't know him that well, but yeah, we have the same management and stuff, so he was kind of around and we knew him a little bit and we thought that he would be someone who would kind of be respectful of our sound and what we were trying to do and where we'd come from on the first record and sort of help us with the new ideas that we wanted to pursue on this one. It was a really, really good fit in the end. He was great.

Phoebe: Yeah, it was funny, I think we had fully decided we wanted a producer on board before we decided it was him. That had a lot to do with the songwriting process. We always had in our minds that we weren't going to produce it this time, because it was a whole other thing to do. Joey produced the last album and did an amazing job, but that came with a lot of challenges because there's no outside ears and things just take a bit longer. It can be harder to see clearly, producing your own thing.

Too close to the project.

Phoebe: Yeah. It's tricky. Like, I mean, Joey nailed it, but would've been really hard and exhausting. So I think it was we were just sitting around in our manager's office one day and we were just like, "Do you wanna do it?" It just felt like the perfect fit. So him agreeing to the idea was like, beauty, let's do it!

It comes back to trusting your intuition and your instinct, as you said. You know instinctually knew that you wanted to get someone and not having to force those things. It always ends up sounding way better than having to force a relationship or force someone to work. You can hear how kind of well it kind of works together. The other thing that really struck me when I first listened to the record a few months ago was how maximal it is compared to your debut. I wondered, have you always wanted to work with these bigger sounds or was it a case of needing to trust yourselves to pull it off?

Joey: A few people have said that, but I don't really hear that so much. It wasn't a conscious decision that we wanted to try and have something that sounded bigger. It might have just been a byproduct of us trying to make the songs more concise and more about the songwriting, where we wanted to make sure that song was really well written and solid before we got into the production. Maybe because of that, it kind of allowed for things to be easier for things to be pieced together and be really solid and "loud". On the first record, things are a lot more fragile and insular, and that was probably also about the songwriting process as well.

Phoebe: In terms of how many parts are going on, I think this new record's actually more minimal, in terms of if you dissect it, what's going on. They're just working harder. Who says that? I think Jamie Oliver says that about cooking or something like that. "The tomato is working hard!" If you [use] get less but better, that's better.

Just like cooking!

Phoebe: You can taste every instrument, just better. It feels bigger because there's more space around it and it has room. And it just means that there's more room in the mix to push it.

What you're saying, Joey, about things being concise is really true. Because songs like 'A Taste' or 'Dream Steppin'', they're really punchy, they're straight in. 'A Taste' is a banger! Did you guys know you were going to be making a banger? When I first heard it, I was like, "Excuse me, is this Two People?! What?!" Dance floor fillers!

Phoebe: [Laughs] Yeah, we love a banger! On the record, that was a song we were pushing the furthest in terms of how instant it felt. Damo over at our record label says it's like "hands in the air" or something.

Yes. That's how I feel!

Phoebe: Even from the bunch of demos we had from the writing, Damo had picked 'A Taste', he thought that had potential as a single. So we did push it because of that as well. Not too far, but we wanted to see where we could take it.

A lot of the record is a case of these really beautiful arrangements paired with lyrics that might be quite heavy on a louder beat, or something aggressive that's paired with something really spacious in the production. It's a record that for me, makes you think as you're listening to it as well, to think what you're actually listening to. And your music has always maintained this kind of intensity. Is this juxtaposition a way of reeling people in or is it a way of making it easier on you guys to get as deep as you do?

Phoebe: I think we are kind of deep people. We just are sensitive and we've always had that connection and it's in our music, it's inherently in there. So I think a lot of it comes naturally. Lyrically, I really like that happy sad feeling, to put it as plainly as I can. I just naturally kind of sing about harder, sadder things. I just naturally do that, because it's why I do it. But there's something really interesting that happens when, as you pointed out, there is that juxtaposition and I'm just always drawn to that. I think artists like Nick Cave and a lot of influences of ours, in terms of songwriters, have a tendency to do that, and that probably rubs off or has rubbed off. In terms of metaphor, that's a really interesting way to build a picture, like a really kind of colorful picture. Even if it's a dark one, it's like there's depth to it or it's rich in its idea or concept. I think it just has a lot to do with who we are. Like we're also massive dags and really, really like laughing.

Your music is really vulnerable and it is intense and that can be kind of hard to be creating when you know that other people are going to be hearing it, right? You know that people are going to be hearing your deepest, darkest thoughts. So I wondered if is that beautiful production, really spacious sound. It's almost like a way to almost hide in plain sight, was how I kind of was imagining it.

Joey: I really like thinking about it in that way, but I feel like when we're in the midst of writing a song and then producing, it's maybe not so much we're thinking about how it might sound out there in the world and how people will receive it. It's more just how we're feeling in the moment, and we naturally end up kind of doing that thing. I think there's something in us. We are deep and sensitive and at the same time also very light and daggy and just joke around. We take some things really seriously and we take other things not seriously at all, and maybe that ends up manifesting in the lyrics as something to take seriously. And sometimes the production can be light and feel good or spacious or something.

Phoebe: Even just thinking about how in terms of when we're writing a song or that sort of thing, we're quite comfortable being vulnerable with each other, but also with maybe strangers. We're quite comfortable in that space and it almost feels like a every day theme,  that's why we do it. It's like, we're not just going to write a happy song. That just makes me laugh. I don't know [Laughs]

Joey: I just don't, like, what's the point of that? [Laughs]

Phoebe: That's so funny. We also just love pop music and listenability and feel good and we love that stuff. So I think when we're creating a sound, we want an aspect of that to be there.

Looking forward, do you think that you've learned to trust yourselves even more throughout the process this second time around? And how do you think what you picked up along the way this time might feed into whatever you're doing next? Whenever that is.

Joey: We definitely have, I think. I'm not too sure how it will manifest in the future. I don't think we've thought too much about that. We're kind of just letting this record sit for a bit and of course with COVID and everything, it's really challenging to know what's going to happen. Iaven't thought how our experience with this record is going to shape the future for us too much. But I imagine it will only do good things.

Phoebe: I think it will take time to sink in. It just always comes back to that thing of when we're writing a song, we're looking for some kind of truth, some kind of relatable truth, or something that translates all the crap. I think every time we finish up on a project, whether it's an album or a song or a mix, it's just like we're just trying to get closer to that next truth — while, hopefully, making it fun along the way and making it worthwhile for us. I think we'll both individually keep looking for that thing. I reckon this approach of how we wrote and making things neater or tidier and all that, I think that will stick because it worked. It was a better working process and a better product. And then, yeah, just that thing about trusting your gut and your instinct. I think that's always going to hopefully keep getting better and better and serving the music more and more.

Second Body is out now via Liberation. Stream/purchase here.

Words by Emma Jones