Banoffee on the Rebound

Banoffee on the Rebound

Back in January, Melbourne musician Martha Brown was dealing with a different crisis. While preparing to release her debut album as Banoffee — planning tours, scheduling shoots and doing interviews — her home country of Australia was burning before her eyes. "It's really made me realize that whatever you love about where you live is probably the smallest thing," Banoffee says. "There's so many places in Australia that I wanted to see or I didn't realize were important to me until it burnt to the ground." The wildfires sweeping across the outback have thrown a wrench in Banoffee's rollout plans, but they've also put things in perspective. "It's become a very sobering time to live in a world where global warming is now laughing in my face. It's a pretty confronting time to be here."

Fast forward only a few short months and an even more widespread global crisis has brought things to a screeching halt for Banoffee. A tour supporting her album, Look At Us Now Dad, released just a few weeks prior, was now thrown out the window with Banoffee on a plane headed back home before it even started. On Twitter she described the experience as strange ("I worked for years on my album, just to watch it disappear into the pandemic swamp"), but recognized that it seems trivial to complain in the grand scheme of things ("I am privileged enough to have the luxury of a home to hide in"). And while it does feel like a crushing blow to have your first big album overshadowed by a global pandemic, Banoffee has had more than her own fair share of hardships.

The road to Banoffee's Look At Us Now Dad is shaped by trauma. In 2017, Banoffee left her home in Melbourne for LA to begin working on her first album. It was during this time that she would end up making connections with many of the artists that feature on her project such as Empress Of and SOPHIE, the latter who went on to introduce her to Charli XCX who would hire her as a bandmate during Taylor Swift's Reputation tour. Banoffee also hit rock bottom during this time, moving seven times in four weeks after each Craiglist ad turned out to be a "creepo." She was also forced sell her favorite synth and haggle with a tow man after her car broke down on the interstate (which would later go on to inspire the track, "Chevron").

The album's title track, "Look At Us Now Dad," is an exploration of intergenerational trauma that addresses the way her father's own experiences have trickled into hers. Whereas others might cast blame or level resentment, Banoffee makes peace with her trauma, acknowledging the role that it's had in shaping her as a person. In a gesture of great humanity, she offers that burden for the sake of her family and anyone who has ever connected with her music.

As an album, Look At Us Now Dad is beautiful in the most devastating sense of the word. It picks at the scabs of these painful memories and pries them back open to convey the nuance and complexity of its themes. "Permission," a song about consent and boundaries becoming blurred, builds into a halting crescendo with autotune that cracks under the lyric's emotional weight. It's nothing short of breathtaking. Then Banoffee turns right around with the soaring sing-along "This Is For Me," a song about reclaiming what's been taken from you where she basically gets up, dusts herself off and keeps on trucking.

With all of that said, Look At Us Now Dad isn't necessarily a sad album. From the bubbly tropical house opener to the mammoth-sized club anthem "Ripe," the tracklist is packed with earwormy bops that will make you dance. Banoffee's knack for crafting an unexpected, catchy hook alongside bizarre-yet-vibrant sound palettes have earned her the genre label of mutant pop. In a way, it's rewarding because the more you scrutinize Look At Us Now Dad the more you realize its understated brilliance, loaded with clever details and facets.

Perhaps, Look At Us Now Dad is a matter of a good album arriving at the wrong time. Under different circumstances, it would be nice to think that Banoffee could be reveling in the glow of a room packed with adoring fans. Things, however, don't always work out so neatly. If you take away anything from Look At Us Now Dad, let it be that life inevitably knocks you down, but those experiences at our lowest are also the ones that define us, shape us and ultimately keep us moving forward.

Where did this album start for you?

This album started in 2017 when I moved to Los Angeles. I took a chance and moved away from my home to make work that felt un-influenced by the pressures you can build by living in the same city your whole life — having a sort of projected identity. So I started writing this in 2017, or at least coming up with some of the ideas then — combing through the stories of my life from a greater distance. From there, I got to reinvent myself and experience what it's like to work in a fresh space.

You've previously talked about your music practice as a part of therapy. How did that come about?

I went through mental health issues in my twenties, or actually all my life. It got to a point where I was with my therapist and going over these same issues and this same set of roadblocks that I was experiencing again and again and I couldn't find a way forward. They made a pretty radical decision to say, "Let's not talk about the not-so-nice things in your life. That clearly doesn't help anymore, and let's measure your achievements by how much music [you make]." That was helpful for me because of the milestones I set for myself initially. To think about how many songs I wrote that week or coming out from backstage after a show and actually interacting with my audience instead of hiding backstage because of the anxiety or lack of confidence. We built on these things as a way to shift the focus and feel like I was achieving things somewhere.

Did it change the way you approach writing songs?

I think it did change the nature of how I wrote songs because there was a newfound purpose in why I was doing it. I used to write songs when I was bored or I felt like I should. I started to realize that maybe this could be my job. I shifted my focus in music away from it being a hobby and more like something that had a purpose in my life. It made me take the pressure off myself and put focus on doing it as much as I could, which I believe made me make better work anyway.

Did you find the process to be cathartic in that sense?

Yeah, it became a bit of a safety net to me. Some people have meditation or they go on a walk, and to me that was writing music. I find production to be very cathartic because it's the technical side of music, so you have to pay attention. It's almost like math, you're like, "Okay these notes fall on a grid," or you're working out how to EQ things so it makes sense. Those are the things that were really comforting for me because it took my mind off everything. It was a form of mindfulness by focusing on one thing and everything else just melted away.

Was there a moment in making the album where the whole thing started to conceptually take shape?

"Look At Us Now Dad" is an important track in that way because it serves so many different purposes for me. Like I was saying, writing music is this area of relief to me and that was very much a part of writing "Look At Us Now Dad," but it was also a track where I looked at everything I had written and at where I was at in my life and just summed up the work that I had done in a way where I could celebrate it. That song was really challenging to write because I was trying to meld two lives together — the life of my dad and the life that I've lived — and trying to explain that in a very simplistic manner. For me, that song captured all the different parts of my life up until now.

What is your relationship with your family like?

I'm really close with my family. I have a really big family with quite a complicated family tree that branches out in interesting ways that takes hours to explain. What I've gone through and the pretty profound struggles my family has gone through have made us really strong. That was the reason they were such a huge part of the album. When I think about why I'm happy in my life, that's all due to my family and different events throughout years where they helped me out in a way where I don't think anyone else could have. I wanted them to be a really big feature of this album — not only to show my gratitude to them, because the songs aren't exactly "Thank you" tracks. It's to admit that and be truthful about what I view as important in my life. To me, it's not romance and it's not any of the other things people tend to put into pop songs. It's my foundation, it's my family.

Along the same lines, what is the significance that you dad plays in all of that?

I have a really good relationship with my dad. The reason my dad features so heavy on the record is because I find a lot of similarities between us, and a lot of it has to do with the link of generational trauma that comes from his lineage and what his family has been through. We've had so many conversations, me and my dad, about confusing emotions or feelings of trauma that we can't make sense of. The more I looked into it, the more I read about intergenerational trauma and those sort of hereditary links — how sadness and fear can become part of your genes. It was very interesting to me and made me have this incredible empathy with my dad without having to speak to him much at all.

What's backstory behind the two interludes, "I Lied" and "I Let You Down," that appear on the album. They both use the same lyrics, but have two totally different vibes.

It was originally one track and I couldn't work out how to place it. To me, it summed up a lot of my process writing the album. So I decided to make it two interludes to bookend the record. It's really hard to come to your own conclusions when you're feeling things about someone who has died. You don't have them to back and forth with you and tell you it's okay or that you've upset them. That song is literally about sitting next to someone as they're ready to die and making up lies in order for them to get through that. It can be such a beautiful and honest experience, but it can also be confusing. A lot of the emotions I experienced after that were really torturing me about whether it was the right thing to do. Also, the fact that I made lies that I couldn't follow through with — that weren't possible for me at that time. That everything had changed and that I was going to take on a leadership role in my family, look after everyone and make sure no one felt any pain. I couldn't do that. That's the first interlude. The second one, [is understanding] I have to stick with that and that's okay. That's why I repeat the same line, "I let you down." When you first say it, you feel panicked or guilty and you just have to keep on saying it to a point where you come to peace with it and realize you did your best and that's okay.

Do you want to talk about your time in LA and what that meant to you? Maybe "Chevron" is a good place to start...

That song really sums up to me what moving overseas can feel like, especially when you're doing it for any creative pursuits. I just came home from selling my car for $70 to the wreckers and wrote that song about like, What the fuck am I doing here? How am I supposed to survive this? Obviously being able to move to LA and play music is such a privilege, but it's more about, Do I need to realize this isn't my path? Do I need to go home and get a real job? I needed to have those moments of hitting absolute rock bottom to realize how resilient I was. It's so important for anyone who's writing in any capacity to work their ass off in ways that aren't ideal and could feel humiliating in terms of where they're at in their career. It's so important to have to do those jobs and be able to get over yourself. "Chevron" was about all those walls tumbling down. Like, I'm just another idiot. I'm nothing special. This is going to take all the work in the world and I need to get a million day jobs and make it work because no one else is going to do it. I called my mom the same day I wrote "Chevron" and said, "I'm going to ask you a question and I need you to promise to answer it truthfully." I was like, "You have to promise me that you're going to call me and tell me when it's time to give up." I was like, "Is it time?" She's like, "No, not yet. But I promise I will tell you."

Why did you want to revisit "Ripe"?

I wanted to redo "Ripe" because I fucking like it. I realized maybe I hadn't given it the best chance I could have when I first released it. When I started doing all these after parties with Charli XCX on the Taylor [Swift] tour, that song was everyone's favorite track. They would always ask me afterwards, "Where can I listen to that song? When's it coming out?" I was like, "It's been out for a year!" I thought, There are no rules anymore since streaming came about. You can release a song as many times as you want. So, I was like, "Fuck it. I'm going to redo it." I actually already had that verse from CupcakKe. She was supposed to feature on the first release, but didn't end up being on the track due to timing issues. CupcakKe is one of my favorite rappers and I had a chance to highlight that and didn't make the most of it. I just thought, Screw it. Let's put it on the record.

What was something about the album process that was unexpected for you?

One of the big challenges for me was relinquishing control. I've always written music on my own and I'm very protective about production, the way I write songs and keeping them exactly the way they are. I had to come to terms that I'm not the best person for all of the roles on the album. I'm not the best producer. The record wouldn't be anything without Yves Rothman helping me make it. SOPHIE was so helpful with the songs she produced with me on the record. She did such an amazing job, but it also challenged me to not be lazy about what I wanted on the record. If I couldn't do something myself, ask for help or just stay home for a week and learn how to do it — make sure I wasn't being complacent.

You've described yourself as being very visual. What sort of images does this album conjure for you?

The cover of the record explained it quite well in terms of texture and color. The record is so diverse, there wasn't a way to describe it in one color or texture or image or video. It moved all over the place. It's manic in a way, which is how my brain works. I could never stay on one idea for too long before I'm onto the next. It took a while thinking through that cover to explain that imagery, which is about those neutral colors, skin and a smoothness to a lot of it. Which is really contrasted by metallics, spikes, and bright bursts of color and a lot of bloodiness. I felt like there's a lot of blood in this record for me. If you had to come up with an image for the record, it would be like someone biting into their lip really hard and it bleeds.

What are you looking forward to in the future?

I'm looking forward to making a new record. A lot of work on this record had to be made in order for me to move on, make work with different content and feel fresh again. It's very cathartic for me to release this record because I need this release to be able to make new work and be fresh. Although I've been making music for a while, it feels like my first release — my introduction into the music world. I'm excited to claim my ground now and move forward.

What do you get up to outside of music?

I box, three to four times a week, which I really love. I do boxing and kickboxing, which has been super empowering for me and it's definitely my addiction outside of music. I also love making videos for other people.

What about kickboxing specifically appeals to you?

If you don't know much about combat sports, it can seem super violent, brutish and simplistic. But for me, it's such an amazing sport because it's so graceful. It's like a dance and you're learning these techniques and ways to use your strength that is very respectful and technical. I think if more people did combat sports, we'd live in such a peaceful world because people get out their anger, aggravation or anxiety in a controlled environment and learn how to harness it in a way that is super powerful and empowering.

You also said making videos for other people?

I really love styling and creative direction. I do a lot of that for my friends. I'm often helping people rebrand what they're doing or helping them find a way to express whatever they're making through with video or styling. It's super refreshing to work on someone else's craft and help them express themselves. I have so much fun doing that on my own projects and I didn't realize how lucky I am to always have a very clear idea of how I want it to look. I didn't realize how hard that can be for some people, so I find it fun to do that.

If you had an unlimited budget, what would be your dream project?

If I had the budget, my record would be a visual album. It would also be a physical product. My original idea for this record was much bigger. I wanted it to be a physical release where people can come somewhere and completely step into my world. I would love to create a complete environment for a collection of songs. I do think, especially these days, music isn't listened to the way it used to be. It's not like you go home, put on a vinyl, lie there and listen to the entire thing from start to finish. Some people do that, but I don't think we have the attention span for it. We have the means to create something so much more holistic. That's what I really want to do in the long term. I want to make my music more of an art project that can take you into other worlds in different ways than just listening to it.

Photography: Rayana Chumthong