With the release of her second solo album, Adalita ponders masochism, mythology and reptilian women
With her second solo LP, Adalita Srsen has abandoned recent restraint and surrendered the mic to her psyche. As the woman herself says, “the more you withhold, the more I want in”.
All Day Venus is a gleefully unshackled affidavit of a relationship best left in the dust; an album so demanding of your attention it’ll take you back to the days of rushing out to buy new vinyl, lying on your bedroom floor and pouring over the lyric sheet.
Adalita’s self-titled solo debut of 2011 was somberly sexual – an introspective collaboration with otherwordly multi-instrumentalist JP Shilo and his crazy suitcase of sounds. It was both your trusted confidant and the voice in your ear. All Day Venus is a bolting brumby by comparison. Recorded with a full band – bassist Matt Bailey (the Paradise Motel), violinist Willow Stahlut (who Adalita spotted busking in Bourke Street Mall), and contributions from drummers Jim White (Dirty Three), Hugo Cran (the Devastations) and Lee Parker (Slug Guts) – the guitar comes from Adalita herself, and its tone is as familiar and low-slung as her own voice.
Adalita is still very much the poised rocker with the fiercely uncompromising attitude, but lately we’re seeing a less guarded artist. There’s a tremendous sense of freedom in tracks like ‘All Day Venus’ and ‘Blue Sky’, and a real pop sensibility to ‘My Ego’. The rage (for which, let’s face it, she’s known and loved) is still present, but it’s of the cleansing variety, rather than the grinding, self-sabotaging kind that fuelled Magic Dirt – the band she has fronted since 1992.
Adalita, having worked with producer Lindsay Gravina on Magic Dirt’s What Are Rock Stars Doing Today (2004) and Girl (2008), you must have a psychic bond with him by now.
Yeah, although no running after him with a knife this time. His studio, Birdland, used to be in Chapel Street in Prahran. The balcony had two giant eagle, gargoyle-y things. He lived there, and he had all the punk rockers there, and it was just the place to be. Magic Dirt was the last band that he had in there and that was when everything went crazy with the knife and orange and the fire on the amps…
No recording with a punching bag in the vocal booth?
No, and none of him scaring us with ghost stories. He’s a great storyteller, so he he used to scare us by taking us up this hallway when we were tripping on acid and smoking cones… It was really crazy and really debauched, but we made a record in-between all of that.
Initially I wasn’t going to go with Lindsay for All Day Venus – and he knows this. My thought was, “Let’s just do something completely different,” but then at the last hour I though, no, I need something familiar, which is Lindsay. I knew he would bring out my best and push me and yeah I just needed that. He’s a mentor of mine and he gets it.
You’ve told fans on Facebook that it’s been really hard waiting for this to come out, with plenty of sleepless nights. But two years isn’t a bad turnaround, is it?
Yeah, I know! But it feels like it’s been ten years when it’s only, in real time, been two. It’s been hard on many levels. On one because I had to get a band together and that was a huge step, because I didn’t know if it would work. I have self-esteem issues, which came in to play. I’ve never been in a leadership role. I’ve never done managerial things or coordinated things, so on a practical level, the confidence was pretty low due to inexperience. I was questioning myself the whole way: even when I thought I got the right people, maybe a song hadn’t quite worked out the way I wanted.
The sort of stuff you’d have been able to thrash out with Magic Dirt, but not so much with a hired band?
It was more things like auditioning people. That was really hard for me because all my little personality quirks and idiosyncrasies were put to the test. I hate making people feel bad in any way; I’m really sensitive to that. I don’t really live in the real world. I don’t usually have to deal with these sorts of things with a practical business sense, so to me, auditioning people is cold blooded – but it’s not, it’s normal. It’s just these workplace things that I’ve never had to deal with, but now I’ve popped out the other end and I’ve got this confidence that I’ve never had before. I’m like on fire! I’m super driven and I’ve got my eye on the target.
And that’s the sound of the whole album to me. Even when the lyrics aren’t particularly upbeat, it’s driven and pumped full of energy.
Good – that’s what I wanted! I wanted a really uplifting, empowering album, you know? Liberates the listener and puts them into action. It’s a very sunny, fiery sort of record. There’s no time for sadness or getting stuck in a bad moment.
I’d probably put your first album on to get into a reflective mood – or if I was in that mood already –whereas this one taps into the id… it’s impulse-driven.
(Laughs) Yeah, it sure is. I totally agree and that’s what I want to happen.
‘Blue Sky’ feels pretty euphoric, even with the anger propelling it: “I’m going to tell everybody what a motherfucker you’ve been…”
I nearly left that one off because I thought, “That is just too childish – I cannot do this anymore.”
Oh, it’s a great song!
Yeah, that’s what everyone kept saying to me, so I’m like okay, all right, I’ll put it on there. I guess I can’t help but write those bubblegummy poppy songs. But I’m really happy with the mix. Victor Van Vugt mixed that one. He did things like PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. I wanted it to sound a bit like that ‘Malibu’ song by Hole. You know, with the acoustic guitar? Sort of had that big bouncy vibe.
And they were trying to sound like Fleetwood Mac.
Yeah, so a bit of a folky vibe.
You tend to write first-person and I always presume you’re writing from your own point of view. Is the whole album about one break-up?
Yep, pretty much.
Have people written songs about you?
I don’t know. I was thinking about it the other day. I don’t know if I’m a muse for anybody. At all. (Laughs.)
Do people often assume that they’re the subject of your songs?
I think people are too intimidated to talk to me about it. Usually the people that I’m writing about, they’re either in the pantheon – the wonderful gods that can make no mistake – or they’re over here, you know, a complete rogue in purgatory, and they know they’ve done something bad. It’s one of the two. I never write about my everyday loved ones.
You’ve got a much more emotional quality in your voice for ‘Trust is Rust’ and I immediately wanted to know the story behind it.
Yeah, there’s definitely a story behind it but nothing that anyone will ever find out about. But in a loose sense, it’s that feeling where you’re with someone that you’re into in a big way, and another woman comes on the scene – and you know it’s trouble. You know that your partner has got a connection with that person and you have to witness it, so it’s that horrible… Everyone will deal with it differently, but for me I feel it on a physical level where I just get sick in the pit of my stomach. You feel there’s nothing you can do but try and rise above it.
But this song is not about rising, it’s more just talking about the moment that that’s happened or happening – and then I kind of expanded it into a scene where the character discovers clothes or some evidence that supports the suspicion.
So it’s a really heavy song. The line “I can’t come between you both” is the character putting herself in a masochistic place, where she’s semi-enjoying the fact that her partner is falling for someone else. It’s not a particularly helpful situation, so it’s a warning, or a call, to the woman who’s victimising herself: don’t do this. Step out. There’s the line, “If you want to start a fight, do it now, do it right”. There’s an element that she’s going to fight back, whether this partner decides to get rid of this other person and commit, or whether the woman steps out and says this isn’t for me. So it’s talking about a toxic situation in a relationship that is unhealthy.
That “do it now, do it right” line – what I love about your lyric writing, whether it’s on a sexual note or about something else, is that it has an “I’m done messing around” attitude.
I’ve always had a dual thing going on. As a woman, and being in relationships, I can vacillate between being quite masochistic and then being quite empowered. So sometimes I let myself down, but other times I’m quite: “This is bullshit.”
But masochism’s a persuasion – a choice – not a weakness.
Yeah, it is. It’s an interesting feeling. But yeah, I don’t like to mess around and I feel like that’s reflected in my art. I come from a southern European background and that’s got something to do with it too – a bit of a wild gypsy, a fiery nature where I just want to live life. I’ve got a strong will and I’m the rebel in the family.
I don’t want to fuck around. It’s such a wondrous world and I just want to be in love, I want to have great friends, I want to eat great food. And yeah, I think you can choose misery and it has it's purpose. But even that is wondrous; I’m quite curious about that process. I’ve always got the big eye on myself.
With some songs on this album you’ve talked about being inspired by a huntress and female mythology. Is that in an inspirational sense or a spiritual sense?
A bit of both. I’m really into Joseph Campbell’s mythology. He’s an academic who wrote about mythology. I’m really into symbols and archetypes and stuff like that. I’m such a child. I get influenced by whatever I see in front of me; so, bright colours, and pretty girls, and cute animals… I think people have signs and symbols that trigger something in their psyche. The huntress with the bow and arrow – I’ve always loved that image. I don’t know why, but there’s something about the woman surrounded by animals. I think it represents power.
Do you have lots of pictures up when you’re writing songs?
I don’t. I have a very bare aesthetic existence. I don’t put music on. I don’t have stuff on the walls. I’m very simple and I like a lot of space and calm. But I seem to just stumble upon things quite passively. Then, if I see something, I’ll Google it and just get obsessed with it for one night. Go into a wormhole, come back out and it feels like it’s nourished me and fed me for that moment.
The first single is ‘Warm Like You’, in which the protagonist admits to being cold.
I really love that song and I’m so proud of it. I wrote it in Dean’s shed. It felt right to be there. One day Linda, Dean's wife, was out on the back porch with another friend and I came out of the shed and played them the song and asked, “What do you think? Is it too dancey? Too weird?” They were like, “No, this is great – you’ve got to put it on the record..." which was a nice affirmation of what I thought was a pretty good song to begin with.
I was really proud of how the lyrics tumbled out and the melody fitted in with everything. In an abstract way, it’s about a reptilian creature. She’s cold-blooded, she doesn’t take any shit, and she’s inextricably unmoving. Like the queen [in tarot] – the queen represents a mastery of sorts and I’m really interested in that.
No, more at the core of the nature of her being. She’s discerning and a master of her domain – whoever comes in has to pass the test. She’s crocodilian in that way. When you see crocodiles they don’t move much but when they do move it’s with a great force and with precision.
With regards to music being something spiritual, sometimes when you see a band live and everything falls into place, it’s incredibly erotic. The air is charged, things slow down… it’s almost like sex. Good sex.
You’ve totally nailed something that I’ve had going round in my head. I think music and the experience of watching it is erotic. Erotic is such a great word to use. Completely sexual, in so many ways – it’s like consummating and conceiving, the summation of something that’s manifested out of all that… it’s completely magical and mystical, and like you say, it charges you.
All Day Venus is released on September 20 through Liberation.