Melbourne singer-songwriter Lucille has released two fantastic and very distinct singles, ‘The Killing Season’ and ‘Best of Me’. The first was inspired by an ABC TV series about the internal ructions of the Australian Labor Party. The second is a ballad with more romantic tones. Lucille was born in Berlin and raised in Germany, the UK, New Zealand and Australia, and she has been steeped in music since childhood. It was wonderful to have the chance to talk to her recently so I could find out more about her musical past and her eclectic present.
Your musical background was folk, gospel and classical. Was there anything in particular that you loved growing up or did you love it all?
It was very much a mixture of everything. What I really loved about it and what I guess is really the underlying passion all the time, regardless of the particular genre, was the playing and singing with other people. And that’s where that sort of roots music hooks you in because it’s very much about the interaction with other people and creating music together. So that’s where my bedrock is, in a way.
And so that was with your siblings initially?
Did it strengthen your relationship as siblings to have that together?
It totally did. And even when you go through teenage years – which are sometimes eventful – we as a family, the four of us, would bond through song and we would often just spend time singing together, learning songs together, whether that was Simon and Garfunkel or a gospel song, and just have so much fun with the harmonies. So it definitely strengthened us in our relationships and I think it’s carried on till now. My younger brother, he’s a full-time musician. My older brother sings with the Melbourne Symphony Choir. So it’s carried on through.
Do you ever get together to sing together?
I work very closely with my younger brother, he’s very much part of what I do. The four of us, no [laughs], not any more. But, you know, never say never.
Do you miss having them there, like having easy access to your own band?
Yes and no. This probably sounds a bit mean, but there are other people now that I have that with. But that’s where I learned to be able to interact in that way with other people, whether it’s my siblings or others. So I find it now with my younger brother in particular, but also with other people, other musicians.
Did you find as a child, becoming a teenager and then an adult, that the musical relationship you had within your family sort of formed the context of your interactions with others? You’ve said you relate to other people through music, but have you found that that’s really significantly changed or influenced the way you interact with others?
If I have the pleasure and honour of interacting with somebody musically, it’s one of the most fulfilling things there is. There are other ways of interacting that are just as awesome. But for me, something about that communion that’s in the music is hard to beat.
And you weren’t just singing when you were younger – you also played instruments. What instruments did you learn?
My main instrument is piano. I did branch out into other instruments. I learned violin for a while. Then as a teenager I picked up the guitar, so guitar’s now also a primary instrument. But my siblings, we all had to learn piano. That was a mandatory requirement. Then once we had a basic understanding of that we were able to learn instruments of our choice. My sister plays the flute and my younger brother is a drummer. So it’s diverse. But it started with the piano.
So when you first started creating your own music, at whatever age that was, did you start with your voice or did you start with the instrument?
I started with the piano.
At what age did you start writing songs?
I think I wrote my first song when I was 11 or 12. It was a song that looking back now – not that I thought of at the time – you can see where I got it all from.
Were you writing them down as music or were you recording them in some way so that you still have them?
No, I would just play it over and over again on the piano until it was completely learned by heart. I didn’t used to write them down. I didn’t use to record them at all.
Because you obviously have a deeper, almost inside-out appreciation for how music works, was there a point at which you started to think of your voice as an instrument and begin to use it accordingly?
I took voice lessons as a teenager and in the very first lesson my teacher – she was an amazing talent herself, but very much in the classical genre – said to me, ‘Your voice is an instrument. You have to learn it to use it as an instrument.’ I understood that sort of intellectually at the time, but if I’m really honest with myself, I probably haven’t really understood what that means until these last few years, and to really be confident in that and treating my voice as something almost a bit external to myself, like you would an instrument, and that’s been quite liberating. Understanding that and really understanding how you can manipulate it and make it sound like you want to make it sound – within reason [laughs]. I’m definitely not an amazing technically proficient singer, it’s pretty raw, but just giving it the energy and that sort of respect that it should have rather than thinking it’s too much a part of you. You could sort of want to protect it – but, no, you don’t protect it, you let it shine.
I guess it’s that separation of it from being a way to express your thoughts and feelings, as a vehicle just to express lyrics, as opposed to this is something that can make sounds in and of itself and you can toss it around accordingly.
Yes, that’s right. I mean, it can communicate through lyrics, but it can also communicate through tone and through the interpretation of what you’re doing with the sound, and when that all comes together it’s really magical, and exploring that. So not just focusing on staying with the lyrics but how you’re actually delivering them.
So does that mean each time you play live you approach it as a different organism almost, in the space that you’re in? Much the same as like a guitar can be affected by the weather or the humidity or whatever it is, that your voice is sort of entering this space where the song that you’re singing is not necessarily going to be the same because your voice can be used differently in that space?
Well, yes. My voice is actually unfortunately very fickle [laughs]. It does depend on the weather and other things. But I’d say it’s probably more in the practising and the rehearsing that I look at it as something separate to myself. But when I’m performing live I sort of forget all of that and hope that what I’ve practised and what I’ve learnt comes out. But in the performance mode, the live performance mode, it feels more integrated than in abstract rehearsal mode.
And how do you feel about it when you’re recording?
Oh, recording … Sometimes I love it. Sometimes I hate it. [Laughs] Sometimes you think, Wow, I’ve nailed that tone, that expression.And other times it’s just, Ohhh …But other people don’t hear it, you know? So sometimes you just have to tune out a little bit and what came out, that’s what came out. Let’s run with it.
You obviously had these extraordinary early years with music, but then, of course, we grow up and there’s school and there are jobs and all sorts of things. Have you ever had a period of separation from your music?
Yes, I have. I guess I drifted away from it for a while. And when I say I drifted away, it was more not giving it the time, but also not thinking it wasn’t as much a part of me as it really was. Then it came to a point where I had to not confront it, but I had to listen to what was going on inside and realise, Hang on, you’ve got something here that you really have to invest in and stop ignoring it. Stop not giving it the time of day.Because I was preoccupied with my career and other interests. And a number of things happened where I just got to the point where I thought, Music is actually really important to you and it’s one of the core things inside that resonates with you. If you were to take everything away, what would remain? Well, music is there under everything. Why are you ignoring it? Why aren’t you cultivating it?So I had to come to that realisation and since then I’ve been taking a lot more seriously.
But it’s a big step, isn’t it, when you have a life constructed, because in a sense it’s pursuing a mission. This idea that other things will fall away, have to fall away, and I’m pursuing this mission and not everyone understands that.
No, that’s very true. You have to stick to it even though there maybe things around you that make you doubt it. That might think you’re thinking more of it than it’s worth. But I just always come back to this point: it’s there, the songs come out now whether I like it or not, you know [laughs], so just let it flow and see what happens.
So has your creative process these days changed? Do you have structured time to write, for example, or do you let that flow as it comes and you stop and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to note down this idea now and I’ll develop it later’?
It’s very much a flow. In fact, it’s a very weird thing. I’ll often write a song and a month or so after I’ve written it I will not remember writing it. And that’s not with every song, but I’d say it’s in the majority of the songs I write. Because it just sort of comes out. And it’s not that I don’t sit down and work on it, but it’s almost like I come to the end of the process and think, I don’t even remember doing that. I don’t remember how that came out. [Laughs] And it’s like, Whoa, I cannot believe I wrote that, musically or lyrically.I still revise things and if I haven’t played something for a while and I come back to it and something will stand out: ‘Yeah, that’s not working, let’s change that.’ So it’s not as if it’s in its full maturity immediately. But particularly on the music side, I actually don’t remember how I wrote that song.
So it’s almost as if you channelled it, in a way.
That’s what it feels like. That’s a very apt description.
There’s a yoga teacher I know who would say it all comes from the Source, and it is a state of flow, which is the word you used as well. And getting out of your own way. I think getting out of ego, getting out of consciously trying to contain what you’re doing creatively. It’s just saying, ‘Okay, I’m open to what happens.’
Exactly. And I find it really exciting – what’s going to come out next? So it’s not something that I’m in control of. It’s something I’m observing. As I said, I tweak things, I change things I don’t like, but the core process is something that I’m very much an observer on or experiencing rather than doing.
I understand. And I think it’s also the tweaking of things, that’s you acknowledging your role as the custodian of whatever has come through.
In terms of you observing what’s coming through and allowing it to come through, of course, the two songs that we have from you are really different to each other, lyrically and musically. And that’s not something some artists would do. There can be pressure to conform to a genre to try to find an audience. But I love the fact that this new song came out and I thought, Wow, that is totally different to ‘The Killing Season’.
And I did that deliberately, because if I release something that’s too similar to ‘The Killing Season’ I’ve already put myself in a box. With two songs you’ve already sort of stitch yourself up a little bit, you know, and I really don’t want to do that so let’s choose something very different. Because nobody really knows me yet, so why not?
Oh, absolutely. So the question I have is: what’s next? What do you waiting in the wings? I’m very curious to find out.
I’m working on my album and that’s a very exciting process. I’ve got so many songs and with my producer we’ve now shortlisted 10 for the album. Overall I’m sure the album will come out with a sort of roots-pop vibe to it, but in my head the songs are so different and I almost need somebody to rein me in a little bit so that it would make sense to the consumer. That’s why I need a producer [laughs]. So they could tame it a little bit, because otherwise you are all over the place and whilst that’s great artistically it might not make too much sense. Particularly in the album context. When you’re releasing singles you’ve got a bit more freedom, but an album, it needs to have some level of sort of coherency, I think.