D’Urberville is the performance name of trombonist, songwriter and singer Mallory Steele. Who has a debut release called Made From Steel and in this chat speaks about just how relevant that is to their music and life.
Outside the Organic Cafe in Stirling in the Adelaide Hills, Steele spoke to John Murch of radionotes…
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IMAGE CREDIT: Morgan Sette
SHOW NOTES: D’Urberville
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In The Box:
- Bones (Single) – Caitlyn Shadbolt (Official Music Video)
- So Much Love (Single) – Nada Surf (Official Music Video)
- Save a Little For Yourself (Single) – Mandy Moore (Official Music Video)
- Saint Cloud (Album) – Waxahatchee (Bandcamp)
Feature Guest: Mallory Steele of D’Urberville
- Official Website – Facebook – Twitter – Instagram
- Generations in Jazz (Official Site)
- Lizzie Gregory (JazzBandsSA)
- Jazz Performance (The University of Adelaide)
- Shannon Barnett (Official Site)
- Hype (album) – Shannon Barnett (Challenge Records – CD)
- Boy In Bubble feat. WDR Big Band – Shannon Barnett (Rehearsal Video)
- Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented (Book) – Thomas Hardy (Wiki)
- Kate Miller-Heidke (Official Site)
- Little Eve (Album) – Kate Miller-Heidke (Apple Music)
- Popular Music Course (The University of Adelaide)
- Dinosaur Excavation Kit (Myer) how they work, explained HERE (TTPM Video)
- Space They Cannot Touch – Kate Miller-Heidke (LIVE @ The Chapel)
- Settle Down – Kimbra (Official Music Video)
- Harry James Angus (Official Site)
- Flicker (Single) – Harry James Angus (LinksTo)
- Body Close (Single) – SEABASS (Bandcamp)
- AM – Arctic Monkeys (NME – Review)
- I Believe You Liar (Album) – Washington (LinksTo)
- The Hardest Part – Washington (Official Music Video)
- Made From Steel (EP) – D’Urberville (Bandcamp)
New Track [Added May 2020]:
- Steel – Acoustic Version (Bandcamp)
Mallory mentioned SEABASS – a four piece from Adelaide – apart from the tune Body Close she mentioned, they have another New Single out that rocks along called…. Brains.
Next Episode: Charm of Finches
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[Radio Production – notes: ]
Theme/Music: Martin Kennedy and All India Radio
Web-design/tech: Steve Davis
Voice: Tammy Weller
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First version provided by REV team member Linda C – check to audio before quoting wider
John Murch: Mallory, welcome to radionotes. When were you first introduced to the trombone?
Mallory Steele: So, first started playing trombone in year nine. I went to an all-girls school and I’d played piano. I think I tried drums for a little bit. I played saxophone, but they were always short of brass players for the stage bands. It was really interesting because around that time it became really important for music programs to have a stage band, because of the big Generations in Jazz festival in Mount Gambier. So, there was a big push to have a full stage band, and they needed trombone players, and they said, “If you play trombone you can be in the stage band. You can go to Mount Gambier.” So, I picked it up just for that.
John Murch: So, let’s take it even further back. When were you first introduced to music?
Mallory Steele: I actually remember doing like a music group classes for like mums and toddlers. It was like a little percussion group held at a church and we used to play triangles, and xylophones, and run around with scarves. I think that’s probably when I was first introduced to music. I started piano lessons, group keyboard classes, when I was probably about five.
John Murch: Was it fun?
Mallory Steele: It was really fun. I had this amazing teacher called Miss Bronwyn. This was a group class, we’d sing all these songs. It was at the Yamaha Music School in Richmond. We’d sing songs about washing dogs and I remember it being really fun.
John Murch: How far did you take the piano lessons?
Mallory Steele: Not as far as I should have, to be honest. That teacher moved away and I had a new teacher and it was still good but it was different, and then I started taking one-to-one lessons. I didn’t practice and that really frustrated my teacher. I think he could see that I had some potential but I didn’t put any work in, so he kind of gave me an ultimatum that I’d have to start practicing or he wouldn’t be able to teach me anymore. I said, “That would probably be for the best.” I think I was about 12 then. So I stopped piano lessons.
John Murch: Did that mean you stopped your engagement with performing music at that stage, at 12?
Mallory Steele: Just about. I was learning … I did pick up alto saxophone around that time, but I was very uncomfortable performing, so I think my saxophone teacher encouraged me to join one of the school bands. I was so afraid that I went to one rehearsal and I didn’t have any music and I got yelled at for not having any music, and I didn’t go back for another couple of years.
John Murch: At that point is where the trombone, as you’re suggesting, was a chance to get into the big bands.
Mallory Steele: Yeah, so I did eventually play a bit more saxophone in a concert band, saxophone ensemble, but the big band was the ensemble to be in. It was the cool band, the one that went on the trip to Mount Gambier, and the trombone was the way in.
John Murch: During that time you would have had the chance to go back to the saxophone, go back to the piano, but you seem to have projected yourself as being a trombonist. What is the affection you have for the trombone?
Mallory Steele: All the teachers I’ve had, I’ve really enjoyed all the teachers I had. I mean, I’ve enjoyed teachers on all instruments, but my first trombone teacher was Lizzie Gregory and I just thought she was so cool. Yeah, I picked it up pretty quickly. I think I enjoyed that, it just worked for me. I also had like in the back of my head the fact that trombone got me into the stage, band. Where else could that get me? If there’s a demand for trombone at school, then where else could it take me?
John Murch: Did you find at any stage it limited the genre of music that you wanted to play?
Mallory Steele: Not particularly. I’ve always thought of it as being a pretty versatile instrument, but I guess I’d always wanted to, even during high school, I thought one day I want to write pop music, I want to be a songwriter. I should probably be able to sing and play piano at the same time or sing and play guitar at the same time, or something, to present myself as this sort of singer songwriter. Not quite there yet.
John Murch: We’ll get through to the singer songwriting stage in a moment. Before we do that, from high school through to any sort of university education with the trombone?
Mallory Steele: Yeah. I did the Jazz Performance degree at Adelaide Uni.
John Murch: What did it give, and what did you get from that degree?
Mallory Steele: I think just the kind of music background that I didn’t have in theory, because I didn’t study a lot of theory at school. I didn’t do music as a subject. I wasn’t planning to pursue music at any point, really. So, doing the jazz course gave me a really solid background in theory, and just an incredible network of musicians, really good kind of arranging skills for ensemble and just good experience in like rehearsing a band, and playing with a band.
John Murch: So, music was just the gateway to being one of the cool kids at first?
Mallory Steele: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah, just a way of being part of something, I think.
John Murch: What lessons were you learning from your music from high school?
Mallory Steele: I think like teamwork, contributing to something. When you’re playing in a band, even if you’re playing third trombone you’re responsible for that part of the arrangement and it’s yours to contribute, and it has to be there. The thing about trombones at school was we were all in the same boat of, we all felt like it was this random instrument that we’d all just ended up playing because the school needed more of them. So, we weren’t … I don’t think any of us kind of took trombone too seriously. We were just happy to give it a go and be in the band.
John Murch: When did you start taking it seriously?
Mallory Steele: Not till I tried to audition for Uni. Yeah, not til after school.
John Murch: What was the process like auditioning into University?
Mallory Steele: It was interesting because after I finished school I just did a year of an arts degree because I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I missed music a lot so I contacted my teacher from high school for a recommendation to get a new trombone teacher, because he moved away. So, he recommended a teacher to me that would help me prepare for the audition, and we talked about improvising over a blues, which is something I’d never done before. I’d never, had no idea what that was.
John Murch: Was that your first introduction to jazz at that point?
Mallory Steele: Yeah. I played in the big band and that was the genre, but I’d never … The music program at my school was still kind of, it’d sort of been built from the ground up again. It had been through a bit of a rough patch. Yeah, I didn’t really have any exposure to jazz or improvising.
John Murch: I want to still focus on the instrument just to give people a nice warm sense that the trombone is an instrument that can be part of their life. Before we started the conversation I proudly gave you a copy of Shannon Barnett’s release, one of her releases. Who are those idols that you have in the trombone world?
Mallory Steele: Shannon Barnett is the one.
John Murch: Really?
Mallory Steele: Oh, absolutely.
John Murch: I did not know this.
Mallory Steele: Yeah. So, I mentioned that Generations in Jazz is a big deal for school band programs. I think the first time I went was in year 10, or something, so I was pretty new to trombone. I only played trombone to be in the band, but I saw Shannon play at Generations in Jazz. She and James Morrison had a bit of a trombone battle, and she won. I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to trombone playing, but suddenly seeing a woman playing trombone and owning it was huge. I remember one of my teachers actually kind of like looking to me with like a bit of a nod like, That could be you. Before then it had never seemed like a possibility, until I saw her play.
John Murch: To see it is to know it, to actually be able to know that someone like Shannon existed and that you could not necessarily follow in the footsteps, but definitely being in the same playground.
Mallory Steele: There are kind of gendered associations that we have with instruments that are sort of cultural, like because of the sound of the instrument or the shape of the instrument, or the way it’s played. Those characteristics of the instruments do often align more with like masculinity but, as well, culturally women haven’t been musicians. I find it really interesting that these ideas are kind of in our heads without us knowing
John Murch: In those Generation in Jazz days, did you have a conversation with Shannon then?
Mallory Steele: No, not then. Seeing her play, but I didn’t catch her name, and it wasn’t until years later that I figured out who that was and looked her up and found more of her music. Once I did, I’d flown to Melbourne a couple of times to see her and had a quick chat after the gig, that kind of thing.
John Murch: Let’s move on to your music. As people already would have picked up, the title of the band comes from a book regarding character Tess. Do you associate yourself with Tess much?
Mallory Steele: I haven’t been through what she’s been through, but yeah, I think she just keeps going, all this stuff, a lot of bad things kind of happened to her, come her way, and she just believes kind of if you do good you’ll be okay. It’s just what you do, and she just, yeah.
John Murch: The child is called sorrow. That even if you do do good you’ll still be delivered some of the worst to still work through.
Mallory Steele: Yeah.
John Murch: Is that just a reflection on life and the challenges that life is truly about, just the reality of it?
Mallory Steele: Yeah, I think so. It’s, you think there’s this karmic thing and if you do good, good will happen to you, but you can’t control any of that. Even if you do good you can’t really control that. I think that she’s also living in a time where as a woman, and as a lower class woman, she has very little control over her destiny.
John Murch: How are you hoping to change that through band with that name?
Mallory Steele: I think what I kind of write and sing about is like, I try to be quite honest, and it’s something that I think I picked up from Kate Miller Heidke, she’s very vulnerable in her music, but that can be quite empowering, as well. So, being empowered by vulnerability and just being open to sharing that. I really loved her first album, Little Eve, and it just the name Little Eve, it’s this young, vulnerable, innocent, naïve kind of woman, just being really honest about being naive. It’s okay to be young and not know everything and want to be loved, and all of that
John Murch: Being vulnerable can be sometimes be deemed as quiet. You have very loud instruments, both her vocals, of course, they’ve done the heights of your vision and other things of such ilk, and yourself with the trombone which is a more brassier out there hear me roar kind of sound, as well. Does that give you a chance to write songs that you can trust will be looked after by your instrument? Does it give you a safe space to write within?
Mallory Steele: Yeah, that’s a really interesting idea because I think a big part of the D’Urberville stuff it’s not just the song writing, but it’s the arrangements, as well. I’m always arranging with the horn section in mind, how are they going to kind of fit in? I think it’s more about how are they going to support the ideas of the music. I have this thing, a lot of my songs they build quite, not super gradually, but I really like just adding layers as we go. Often that’s adding the horns in. So, a song that might start off more vulnerable by the end everything’s louder, and bigger, and more fun, and bolder, and the horns are in there. So, it’s like this vulnerability from the beginning is now supported.
John Murch: Talk to us a bit more about that building up of the armor of your musical output.
Mallory Steele: The kind of the theme of the EP is heartbreak. You know, it is vulnerable, but I think the songs are not about dwelling on being sad. They’re about finding a way to kind of move forward. Even though they’re about heartbreak, they’re sad songs, but they are empowering. It’s mostly about hope, and finding yourself. I think when we were playing at the launch, my mantra for myself as a performer was just to embody joy. That was my plan performing, even though I know they’re sad songs I just wanted to embody joy.
John Murch: Another thing that comes through deeply is that of being lied to, the number of lies that one gets told within such circumstances. Being lied to is a very harmful, and painful situation to go through. Is this the therapy of that?
Mallory Steele: Yeah, I think … It’s been interesting because as much as I’ve said the music’s not about dwelling on anything, when you do write music that’s from personal experience you do end up dwelling on it. This year I was doing honors in the pop music course at Uni and kind of using D’Urberville as a project for that. I had to write a paper about my creative process, and what I ended up doing is I wrote as though the songs were about a character called D’Urberville. So, I’ve written these songs about my experiences, but then I named this character D’Urberville, and re-analyzed the songs as being about her, not about me. That was a really interesting way to create a bit of distance, though I did end up learning things about myself through that, which was interesting.
John Murch: Things like cathartic come to mind. What kind of vibe did that writing process put you through? Did you submit it the last minute because it was just too hard?
Mallory Steele: Yeah, it got difficult, but cathartic is a word that came up a lot in my writing, yeah. It was interesting, when we recorded Plum Jam, which is the third track on the EP, and that’s probably the most kind of introspective song, I think. When we recorded the vocals … Some of the other songs are a bit more poppy, so we did a bit of the chorus, bit of the chorus, “Okay, let’s redo that. Let’s redo that,” a bit of editing.
Mallory Steele: When we did Plum Jam we did the first take and I just felt like I was not connected with the music at all. I felt like I was just thinking too much. So I said, “Okay, we’ll do another take,” another full take to basically work from. But when we finished that second take it just felt like the one. It was the first time I’ve ever been singing and I’ve really felt connected to the music. I felt that cathartic release at the end of the song, and that was the first time I’d really felt that thing, like I’m singing and I’m feeling it at the same time. So yeah, we used that second take pretty much as it was, because it was just so emotional.
John Murch: Having D’Urberville, the character involved, at that stage did that give you a sort of bird’s eye view to actually let the heart go a little harder?
Mallory Steele: Yeah, I think, and that’s part of the reason why I didn’t want this to be a self-titled project is that I wanted some of that freedom. I didn’t want it to be too close to me, because I think that would be harder.
John Murch: How many times have you listened to the final product?
Mallory Steele: The final product?
John Murch: Put the EP into the CD player in the car, or whatever, and listened from start to finish.
Mallory Steele: I did listen to the Master CD, so before it was printed. I listened to that once. That’s it? I think, yeah.
John Murch: Because it’s hard?
Mallory Steele: Yeah. When I listened to that master CD, it was hard, yeah. I think I picked up on something that I hadn’t realised was in there and that hit me. Actually we rehearsed it a couple of days later and I could barely sing one of the songs because it wasn’t about what I thought it had been about, and it really got to me.
John Murch: So, you’re still addressing some issues within this EP that people can listen to.
Mallory Steele: Yeah. Well, it wasn’t about me. It was about, … Yeah.
John Murch: A lot of family stuff?
Mallory Steele: Yeah, it was some family stuff that came out. I didn’t realise I’d written that in there.
John Murch: How do you normally resolve those kind of issues? Do you talk things through or do you just hold them even closer?
Mallory Steele: I think when it comes to kind of family, or friend, when it comes to relationships with family and friends you can’t always control those situations. A lot of the time it’s kind of ongoing things, like relationships take a lot of kind of work to maintain. Just trying to find people that understand, and trying to talk with them. Everyone’s been there, I guess.
John Murch: We’re going to let that be, because obviously, you’re still working through whatever that is and apologies for bringing it up.
Mallory Steele: No, no, no, no.
John Murch: But we got there.
John Murch: You say that relationships are a lot of work. How much do you believe that is the case that they are meant to be work and not just a part of life?
Mallory Steele: There’s something I’ve been thinking about a bit lately. I just think relationships have to be actively maintained. You can’t really take them for granted. I mean, maybe some people can, and it’s easy, and that’s great, but I think I’m naturally more kind of introverted, and I can get stuck in a bit of a cycle of withdrawing, so I need to make sure that I do actively maintain relationships with friends, with family.
John Murch: So how do you best communicate then?
Mallory Steele: Usually through writing, written words. That’s the safest way. That’s where I feel like I can write it down, and I can organise my thoughts, and see it. That’s when I feel like I can communicate best.
John Murch: How easy have you found it in writing songs?
Mallory Steele: Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve got a little reject pile that keeps growing, but-
John Murch: Now, let’s be honest. Is it a reject pile or future songs?
Mallory Steele: If there’s a memorable idea in there then I know it might be usable.
John Murch: Because you’re saying it’s a pile, so you’ve kept it.
Mallory Steele: Yeah, that’s true.
John Murch: So how does that process work? Do you sit down and you give yourself an hour, or do you just doodle along as those thoughts are coming to mind?
Mallory Steele: You know, often in my notes in my phone, or my voice memos I’ll have some ideas and they’ll come up, they’ll come to me when I’m trying to sleep, or when I’m in the shower, or whenever. So, I just try and keep track of those ideas. Usually when I get an idea it’s the lyrics, and the melody together, and that will be the kind of beginning.
Mallory Steele: The way I think of it is, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen these dinosaur excavation kits for children. It’s like block of clay with all these like plastic dinosaur bones hidden in there, get all these little tools. I don’t think I’ve ever had one in my life. I used to see ads for them on TV. The bones are all in there, but you’ve just got to kind of chip away to find them. So, when I have a song idea I think of the song already exists, I’ve just got to find it. I’ve just got to uncover the rest of it.
John Murch: We’re in conversation with Mallory Steele from D’Urberville.
Mallory Steele: I have a song called Chloe. It’s about a dream I had in which I had a baby and I called her Chloe. So the chorus is about like searching for … I wake up and I don’t have the baby and I’m sad, and then the chorus is about looking for a man so that I can like get my baby back. Sounds bizarre, but the song is more about those expectations to find a man, settle down, have a baby.
John Murch: The cart horse of that, as well, it sounds like in terms of already having the baby, you’re just saying as a thought, an idea, and then as you’ve just explained going through and getting the means of doing that?
Mallory Steele: Yeah.
John Murch: Have you tried to piece out why Chloe?
Mallory Steele: No, and this was years ago. So I did watch Madeline as a kid, cartoon of the books, and one of Madeline’s friends is called Chloe, and I always liked that name.
John Murch: Okay. Let’s quickly go back to academic side of the EP.
Mallory Steele: Yeah. So, the submission for Uni had to be 45 minutes long, so I actually submitted two EPs, but the other one’s demo quality. Putting together the next EP. And thinking ahead was interesting, and thinking about getting really into that idea of D’Urberville being a character, and kind of thinking about what’s next for this character, thinking about the trajectory. Did a bit of analysis into one of Kate Miller Heidke’s songs, Space I Cannot Touch, and one of Kimbra’s songs Settle Down, and I was looking at the way they kind of construct protagonists in their music, because they’re not always singing as themselves. I mean, they are and they aren’t.
John Murch: In Kimbra’s case, did you find that she was in that case in terms of Settle Down?
Mallory Steele: No. No. That was like, that’s very like hyperbolic character, which is what I’m going for in that Chloe song, as well. Overdoing it, making it seem crazy, but just to point out, again, the same thing, it’s the marital expectations.
John Murch: Chloe will probably be the next single?
Mallory Steele: Yeah, maybe. It does, … I think it is a bit unusual. When I performed it the other day I wanted to preface it with like, “Hey everyone, please. Don’t take this too seriously. I’m not crazy, but-”
John Murch: Which is the first sign that you’re-
Mallory Steele: Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s not good, it’s not a good look, but it does get a good response that one. It is quite memorable.
John Murch: When were you first introduced to Indie?
Mallory Steele: Indie, my dog?
John Murch: Alas the cue from the dog, which isn’t easy by the way, but yeah.
Mallory Steele: She’s three. She’s a particular breed of dog that don’t calm down or grow up too soon. I mean, she’s, mum’s dog that mom and my sister picked up a few years ago and, yeah.
John Murch: Do you classify her as family?
Mallory Steele: Yes. I live with mum, and the cat and the dog and, yeah, I do spend a lot of time at home working on songs and writing. So yeah, sometimes I’ve got the dog and the cat following me around the house, my little squad.
John Murch: Where does society’s expectation come from that we need something more than just a pet, just more than a plus one of that nature in our life?
Mallory Steele: Yeah. Like historically, like a woman couldn’t survive without a husband. That was the financial structure. You needed to marry somebody with a job.
John Murch: You are recording this in 2019, though.
Mallory Steele: Yeah, but those ideas just stick around. A lot of music is about love, and relationships. Even all the action movies, the characters all get together at the end of it. It’s just … I don’t know, we’ve got this obsession with just like pairing people up.
John Murch: Have you had to fight off that ideal in your life?
Mallory Steele: Well, it’s just … Yeah, I don’t know. I often feel pursued by people, and I think that was actually something that worried me about writing and releasing like a heartbreak EP is that, “Oh, great. Now everyone’s going to know I’m single.” Look out. Often just wary of being approached by people that want something that I’m not really offering or advertising.
John Murch: It’s a documentation of when you’ve put your cards on the table, showing your hand, so to speak. What happened? It’s not a case of here’s my tarot of the future, become part of it.
Mallory Steele: I want to be honest, and I want to … Some people have said that they really like the stories, and they really like knowing the background behind the songs. One of my favorite songwriters is Harry James Angus, and I love hearing him talk about what his songs are about. I love hearing the details in the background. So yeah, I want to be able to do that, but just trying to make sure there’s enough kind of distance.
John Murch: We’re contextualizing this part of the conversation in that of society’s expectation of marriage, kids, and this particular narrative that if you are to have a kid then it is going to be with the bloke, and all this heteronormative kind of idea.
Mallory Steele: I think too often I’ve seen the heteronormative narrative. I’ve seen them go wrong. I’ve seen people that have had it in their head that like getting married and having kids is just what you do, or what’s expected. They have ended up with the wrong person, and then they’re having kids, and these kids are being raised in a household where their parents don’t share the same values, and it gets messy, and it’s not good.
John Murch: How much work you can put into something and continue to put work into something that when really it should just be sent to the car yard not the secondhand dealer.
Mallory Steele: If it’s not the right fit then it’s not going to work. Often people haven’t worked that out until after they’ve already gotten married and had kids. Even if you start seeing someone, and you tell your family, or introduce them to your friends, then you feel locked into it. You feel like, you accept that this relationship is a fact about yourself, and you kind of forget that you can leave, that you don’t have to be in it.
John Murch: It’s a partnership, it’s not a communal thing.
Mallory Steele: Yeah. This idea about marriage comes from a very different social structure where women didn’t work so they had to get married, but also like our lifespans were shorter back then. We live longer now. It’s interesting that we kind of think that if a relationship ends then it’s failed. If we don’t get married and stay married until we die that we’ve failed, when could have a perfectly good, healthy relationship that lasted, I don’t know, five years and then could end and that could still be a success. Because of the social expectations, and our cultural ideas around that, I think it’s very hard to be okay with that.
John Murch: How do you say through your song, through your instrumentation, which you are a wonderful tromboneist, to have a chance to do through the orchestration of the piece? How do you get to communicate that there is something other than the status quo in relation to that?
Mallory Steele: Well, again, just being honest about experiences. When I’ve written songs, like even the heartbreak songs, I’m not writing about a person I’m just writing about my experiences. If we were all more open about our experiences, and talked more, and shared more, and broke down some of those kind of walls and expectations.
John Murch: The EP is now out and about. It’s called Made From Steel, for which you well and truly are. What journey do you have for this record? These days, we talk about taking a journey, being on a journey, it was a journey, life is a journey. What journey do you perceive, Mallory, for this EP that’s just been released in 2019.
Mallory Steele: I’m just so happy to have done something. I think part of the songwriting, as we were saying, it’s a bit of self therapy, writing, but the act of actually making something happen, of putting the band together, and creating something that now exists, physical CDs that exist in the world that’s been a huge journey for me. As I was saying, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but to actually take that initiative and make something happen. The launch, as well, reflecting on my songs, my ideas, my little thoughts in my head turned into this project, and made this event happen, and brought these people here. That’s been huge for me. I hope people listen to the music.
John Murch: What are you currently listening to?
Mallory Steele: I’ve been a bit obsessed with Harry James Angus, his new single, Flicker. I’ve been listening to that on repeat, can’t wait for the album that I think is coming. Local band called Seabass, and I’ve been listening to their single, Body Close.
John Murch: What’s the connection with you to them? Being Adelaide it’s one degree of some sort?
Mallory Steele: Yeah, I know some of the people in the band. It’s just been coming into my head.
John Murch: So you’ve been listening to those two? That’s been your prime go to of late?
Mallory Steele: Well, yeah, but I am more of a, I do like to listen to complete albums, not singles. So, I don’t know, it’s hard just having one track. But, in the car I’ve had AM by the Arctic Monkeys in the car for months. I’ll often just stick one CD in the car and just have it.
John Murch: How wide is that genre taste? Genre, of course, is just a construct.
Mallory Steele: Oh yeah, yeah. Oh gosh, I can’t work out what genre of music I make myself, so struggling, not keen on the idea of genre at the moment, but-
John Murch: Yeah, that’s where those reviews suck. It’s like, am I really that?
Mallory Steele: What am I? Who knows.
John Murch: Go on, define me, everyone else has been.
Mallory Steele: I listened to a lot of like that kind of emo pop punk stuff in high school, and I still listen to some of those same albums now. I’m not huge for exploring new music. I find that I find an album that I love and just listen to it again, and again, and again.
John Murch: Listening back to that older instead of the newer music, as you were saying just there, is that the case of reconnecting with some memories?
Mallory Steele: Because I will listen to an album again, and again, and again there are albums that I will associate particularly with a part of my life. I’ve been listening to Megan Washington’s first album, I Believe You Liar, recently, and it’s been a go to for the last couple of weeks, which is really nice because it reminds me of myself back then. I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a journey the last five years or so, so it’s been really nice listening to that, and also seeing back to something that I connected with before this journey, and just feeling like I’ve kind of found myself again. I’m back to who I was before this happened. The thing about these experiences is you can come out the other side feeling a bit damaged, a bit broken, a bit like you’ll never quite be the same again, so I’ve really enjoyed listening to stuff that I was into before any of it happened, not letting those experiences define you. I’m still who I was five years ago, I just know a lot more about myself.
John Murch: So those albums are a sense of reset?
Mallory Steele: Yeah.
John Murch: What keeps you strong?
Mallory Steele: Just deciding to be strong, just being determined to not let it take over.
John Murch: You’ve very much got thinking straight ahead, aren’t you?
Mallory Steele: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
John Murch: Blinkers on.
Mallory Steele: Yeah.
John Murch: Within that, you’ve got your band of merry people, of course the band.
Mallory Steele: The band. Rehearsals with the band have been like the best part of the year.
John Murch: You seem really happy on stage, as well.
Mallory Steele: Yeah. Being the lead singer of a band it still feels quite new to me. Like a lot of the time I think I’d rather be playing trombone to the side not singing out in the front, but the launch on Saturday just felt great. It was really fun.
John Murch: Do you have, because you can’t sing and play trombone at the same time, take a particular reserved moment for the trombonist of the band and say, “Yeah, you’re doing all right.” Do you feel like you have some sort of kindredship with them? Oh yeah. They’re playing your music that is.
Mallory Steele: Yeah, yeah. So we had, I had a friend of mine, Lou, play trombone at the launch, and that was the first time I’ve had another trombone. Normally I’ve just thought, Oh, it’s not that necessary. Normally I’ve played what trombone I can, which is not very much because I’m busy singing, but then we just had the trumpet and bari sax, but obviously on the EP I’ve written three-part horn lines for most of the songs. So yeah, Saturday was the first time I hired another trombone player. Yeah, it was fun.
John Murch: There was a kindredship with Lou during that performance?
Mallory Steele: There was no trombone part for Break Her Heart on the album. I was trying to think like, Oh, what can Lou do in that song, but I guess maybe just play tambourine. He was looking forward to that? But, I ended up writing something, and actually I just kind of gave him some freedom. I was like, “Actually, you could just fill this up. You could just improvise some stuff.” That was my favorite song that we did the other day.
John Murch: So, did you get a sense you could beef that tune up a little?
Mallory Steele: Yeah. I think something that I definitely got from the jazz world is that when I’m writing I do write for specific band members. When I know who the band is I’m not just writing, “Oh, this is how it goes, play that.” I’m kind of thinking of them individually, their sound, their voice, and like what they can kind of do, or bring, to it. I do like writing with like specific players in mind.
John Murch: Do you write the music first sometimes, or is it lyrics first?
Mallory Steele: The idea comes to me, usually it’s like one line, one kind of phrase or sentence.
John Murch: So it’s lyrics first.
Mallory Steele: But it’ll come with a melody.
John Murch: Oh, that’s nice.
Mallory Steele: Yeah, they just come together a little set and I can imagine the harmony usually as a sort of melodic phrase with the lyrics that comes to me, and I build everything from there. I usually write at the piano.
John Murch: Is that sort of the pen/paper sort of scenario then when you’re writing at the piano? Is it very much leaning over and notating?
Mallory Steele: Notebooks I’ll write the lyrics in, and then just write down kind of chord symbols and stuff. I’ll notate everything in Sibelius pretty early on, as well. Usually the band arrangement is, yeah the band arrangement’s a big part of the song.
John Murch: Who’s your dream guest to be in part of your band. Of course the band are great as they are, but if you could hire a musician to come on board?
Mallory Steele: Immediately I’m thinking of Harry James Angus. Solo projects are a huge influence on my writing, and his work with the Cat Empire. One thing that I really like to do when I’m singing along with music in the car is I will like try and turn it into a duet. I’ll listen along and add different harmonies and trying to like, make it feel like a duet even if it’s just, it’s not meant to be a duet. I mean, if I was to invite someone on stage to just like jump in on a song I’m sure we’d have a good time.
John Murch: Mallory, it has been absolutely a pleasure. Thanks very much for joining radionotes.
Mallory Steele: Thank you for having me.