We chat to SAFIA frontman Ben Woolner about the making of the band’s debut album, eating honey from the jar and the ins and outs of Harry Potter etymology.
It’s all too rare to hear an electronic record with such enamouring degrees of soul, of feeling, of diversity and of introspection.
This exceptional combination, however, takes shape in the form of ‘Internal’, the debut album by Canberra electronic trio SAFIA.
Release 9th September after a great deal of hype and monumental reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone and The Australian, ‘Internal’ peaked at number two on the ARIA charts, sneaking in behind Nick Cave, while managing to snatch the iTunes throne shortly after release.
Enigmatic vocalist Ben Woolner says he wouldn’t have believed it if someone had predicted this a year ago.
“I’d probably have just done the classic ‘nah, you’re bullshitting’; it’s pretty crazy, the response has been amazing.”
“A lot of the songs have been sitting around for so long, some even before we were SAFIA … I’m just glad that people seem to enjoy them as much as we do.”
The album has certainly been a long time coming, despite the trio formally commencing work on ‘Internal’ a year ago.”
“We were listening to all these old demos of our songs in their earliest forms and they were all so different but at the same time there was something tying them together – so we thought, ‘hey, we’ve got the blueprint for a record here’.”
The record is an eclectic collection of contemplative musings from the ACT natives, with a great many influences, from rock to folk to film scores and everything in between.
“We all have a shared love of old rock ‘n’ roll; my early John Butler and Ben Harper as well as we listened to a lot of Guns N Roses,” Ben says, “I did jazz at uni as well and listened to a lot of my dad’s jazz.”
With all three members being multi-instrumental, these heterogeneous inspirations are evident throughout ‘Internal’.
“We came from a very live music background, a band background … we try not to set any boundaries for ourselves when it comes to writing.”
‘Bye Bye’, which is featured on the FIFA 17 game soundtrack, was motivated by the vaudeville-esque score from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, whereas ‘Go To Waste’ is a metal-inspired ballad.
Woolner says the SAFIA writing process is typically a traditional one, and has remained very much the same since the band’s inception.
“If we sit down and write a soul song or a pop song in its most authentic setting, and it has the structure and the melody fleshed out with the chords, then when we go into production we don’t have to worry about where the song is going structurally or harmonically.”
“We can get really weird on production because underneath all of it is basically a song that people can relate to and understand, but we do write some songs that work the other way around, whether it be from a beat or even one note or one sound that has a certain tambour that we like.”
Along with the release of ‘Internal’, the band announced its biggest national headline tour yet, which kicked off last week as the boys played to a sold out home crowd in Canberra, and we asked the humble frontman if there are any pre-gig rituals we should know about (or that we shouldn’t know about).
“Personally I like to go through a pretty full on warm-up, but we all definitely get in the zone and we’re probably not that fun to be around before a gig.”
“The weirdest thing I do is eating honey from the jar; it helps loosen the vocal chords so I tried it a couple of times, but now it’s a habit that I sort of have to do.”
The conversation got perhaps a little off track when we asked what animal SAFIA’s music would be…
“I’d say it’d probably be a mythical creature … like a centaur or, what are those things called in Harry Potter, the winged animals that are half bird half lion?”
Cue Potter fans boycotting us forever because we couldn’t think of the term ‘hippogriff’, but hey, at least we knew its name was Buckbeak.
The Adelaide leg of SAFIA’s ‘Internal’ tour brings SAFIA to Thebarton Theatre on the 22nd October and limited tickets are still available, so snap one up before they all disapparate (sorry).