There’s a reason why Martha Brown’s Banoffee has been a popular inclusion in playlists and mixtapes over the last year. Through experimentation with R’n’B inspired electronica and an introspection to her lyrics that through their malleability are warm and inclusive, Brown’s latest musical project is one that crosses beyond her own self-expression into a space where the audience feels a bit of themselves within its sodden beats, glittering high pitches and understated complexity.
With her second EP Do I Make You Nervous? freshly released, a complimenting tour just under wraps and a growing number of festival appearances including upcoming sets at Fall Festival and next year’s Laneway Festival, the Melbourne musician and producer’s initially self-exploratory project has become something to share with many.
So you’ve just finished touring your new EP Do I Make You Nervous? I’m assuming that the lead up to releasing an EP and the subsequent promotional tour is probably a really hectic time period for you, so when it all finishes up what happens in the aftermath? What kind of emotions do you go through once you’re able to slow down a bit?
I reckon it’s totally like the end of semester at uni, you know. I just felt like I was constantly playing catch up until the EP was released, making sure I’d got the clips ready, mixing and mastering always takes forever and you’re thinking ‘could I have done better?’ Yeah, it’s a really hectic period trying to hit all your deadlines and also be happy with the work you’re presenting. But once it’s finished it’s just holiday zone, you know.
Actually, no. That is a complete lie.
You think the work’s over but it’s sort of just begun: the touring, the interviews and the press and the bookings and everything sort of begins. So I guess the aftermath of the release, there’s a bit of relief in terms of knowing that so far I haven’t got any complete trolls on the internet telling me I’m a sucky musician, which is great. Sort of expecting to get people bagging the shit out of the project, because you’ve always got to expect that so that you don’t freak out when it happens. But it’s been pretty fun, a lot of interviews and shooting and touring and sort of trying to show as many people as possible what I’ve done. It’s a busy time, but a really fun time to try and be proud of what you’ve done and celebrate the hard work you’ve put in.
I often feel really nervous to reveal myself to people, thinking that I must be different. But this project has really proved to me that I’m not and that lots of people have related to it and that’s really helped me to feel, you know, less lonely which is lovely. Who can want anything more from their project than to feel more connected to the world?
Now that you’ve done the tour and you’ve been able to play the songs off Do I Make You Nervous? live, have you found that any of the songs are resonating with you differently?
The tracks are quite different live to on the EP so they do feel different, but they feel like old friends to me. I’ve been working on them for such a long time that it’s now bizarre to me that they weren’t a part of my live set beforehand, it feels very natural to be playing these songs because they’re really a much truer reflection of where I’m at musically and as a person at the moment. So it’s really nice playing something that feels really relevant to me now, and something new that I want to communicate to the audience. I dunno, I feel like the tracks really sit well with me and I feel really proud of them so they’re fun to play live.
I read an interview with you quite a while ago and you talked about how the project was a very self-indulgent project for you and that’s why you gave it that name – because the banoffee pie is a very indulgent pie. Considering that you went into it for yourself, have you been surprised at how well it’s been received by other people?
Yeah, I have been. I’m constantly surprised by the support and encouragement that I get for Banoffee. It’s really comforting to share something personal and realise that you’re not a complete alien, you know? I think you think the problems that you experience or the emotions you experience are completely unique to you and you feel really scared to tell people about. I often feel really nervous to reveal myself to people, thinking that I must be different. But this project has really proved to me that I’m not and that lots of people have related to it and that’s really helped me to feel, you know, less lonely which is lovely. Who can want anything more from their project than to feel more connected to the world?
Why do you think music allows that for people? My next question was going to be do you ever get doubtful or fearful of sharing music that is very personal, but I think I should ask why does music draws you to sharing those personal experiences with other people?
I think that, apart from the fact that music makes me dance and makes me happy, I think that’s what music does for me. I think everyone has one major form of self-expression that makes them feel like them in the world, and music is it for me. I wouldn’t know how to approach it any other way. I’ve tried a couple of times to write songs that are not connected to me, almost as a challenge, like to write a song for publishing and offer it to a pop star or something, but it’s actually completely impossible [for me] to do, it’s always going to feel personal and it’s always going to be relevant to something in my life in some way so I’ve sort of given that up and gone, ‘well, music is – like the way some people write things down or talk to certain friends when they have something to say – it’s my form of that. That’s sort of the way it functions.
Do you ever find yourself, when you’re writing music, thinking about what the audience is going to take from it or is it still very much about what you want to do?
It’s important to me that the songs aren’t completely direct. I don’t want it to be ‘this song is about this and you’ve experienced that you’ll relate to it.’ I think the best writing – in journalism, in fiction, in music, in art – is all sort of open ended and I try and make sure I do that in my lyrics and my tracks so they can be malleable for different people. I’d hate to put on an art exhibition and everyone look at a painting and go “this is what it’s about.” Only welcome one demographic or one type of person. Music is the same and I really want it to be open and inclusive for people, so I do keep that in mind a lot.
Claire Boucher of Grimes in an interview recently talked about being constantly undermined as a producer and just being considered a female singer and musician. I was wondering if that’s something that you yourself have encountered?
I have but definitely not from the media. There’s been a lot that’s happened for feminism in the last 5 years in music and I’m always acknowledged in the media for the production that I’ve done, which is great. I think what frustrates me about it is the fact that even when there’s a picture of me and people know who I am, or they’ve heard the music and can hear that it’s a female voice, that they have to put my gender in front of my job. I’m a ‘female producer’ not just a ‘producer.’ That’s the bit I struggle with.
I also really struggle with knowing how to claim authorship of my art, while still acknowledging the people that are important to the sound that I’ve made and it wouldn’t be the same without them. So there’s the really difficult line of knowing that they are my songs and I definitely co-produced all of them but I want to acknowledge that people were a part of that process. So it’s a really difficult area to navigate, I think women often go the opposite way and just want to credit the people who were involved and don’t credit themselves and I’m trying really hard not to do that. I want to make it clear that this is my music and I know how to produce to a certain extent and I know how to record and I am doing it on my own. But at the same time I’m employing the skills of people who really matter, and people who are so important to the Banoffee sound like Oscar Key-Sung, for the first EP, that EP wouldn’t be the same without him and neither would the single ‘With Her.’ So it’s really hard to know what to do in those situations, but I do feel like I am recognised for my work within the media.
But performing live and dealing with the ‘boy’s club’ within the music industry is a different story. People want you to get other people to produce your music and they want it to be cleaner, they want it to be lusher and they’re often just throwing these men at you to work with you and I find that part harder to try and say no, I want to do this on my own and I am capable of doing this on my own. That’s where I find the difficulty.
You were in Otouto before and obviously doing Banoffee, so you’ve been in the music scene for a while. Have you noticed a change in the visibility of women, particularly in electronic music?
Yeah definitely. I really like the way you put that question because it’s not the emergence of women, it’s not like they’re suddenly playing music, it’s that people now are noticing. It’s a really important thing to acknowledge so I really like the way you put that question. It’s like “suddenly there’s women!” and I’m like “no.” Believe it or not, we gave birth to the men in music so we’ve existed just as long.
I’m pretty sure I was watching a documentary and I discovered that the first form of the synthesiser was made by a woman.
Oh fuck yeah.
It’s a Netflix doco, something about the wire or something like that, but the first person to create the synthesiser was a woman and it’s like, women have been doing this stuff for ages but only just now are their names coming through.
[Editor’s note: This is me and my terrible memory in action. The documentary is called I Dream of Wires and is about the development of two versions of modular synth by Robert Moog and Donald Buchla, but the most prominent early release using the Moog synth was the 1968 album Switched On Bach by Wendy Carlos, a transgender woman. Carlos co-produced the album with Rachel Elkind and custom built an 8-track recorder for the project. Probably the album’s biggest immediate influence is the work of Giorgio Moroder who credits the record as what brought the synthesiser to his attention. It was initially released under the name Walter Carlos. Also of note, but not mentioned in the doco, Canadian composer Buffy Sainte-Marie released an album made on the Buchla synth in 1969, Illumination.]
Yeah. I’ve definitely noticed it, and it’s a great time to be playing music especially in Australia as well. I think we’ve got a really long way to go, a really long way to go especially within the festival scene and the live music scene. In Australia it’s pretty unheard of to have more than 25% of the lineup female and that, to me, is an absolute disgrace seeing there are so many wonderful musicians abroad and in Australia who are female, transgender, queer or people of colour that aren’t included. I think that we really do have a prominent, privileged lineup within our festival scene and also within our live music scene. I really think we could be more inclusive, but I also think that we’ve come a long way and people are at least starting to have these conversations.
I wouldn’t have been asked that question 5 years ago, it wouldn’t have even been on someone’s list of things they’d want to know about me. So it’s definitely improving we just need to keep talking about it, and keep demanding for more and not becoming complacent and thinking that we’ve made it.
It’s like “suddenly there’s women!” and I’m like “no.” Believe it or not, we gave birth to the men in music so we’ve existed just as long.
That’s a brilliant way to say it. I was going to ask what you think we need to do for now, but yeah just ‘keep talking, keep demanding more’ is a great way of doing it.
For a while I think we became really stagnant with feminism. It’s like we thought our parents had done all the work in the 60s and 70s and suddenly we were equal and it was easy. And now you think back and we think ‘how was feminism dropped as a conversation subject for so long?’
It’s even weirder because feminism is so much bigger than it used to be, because we always talk about the pay gap but I got given a data sheet that told me not only is there a pay gap of 77c to the dollar for white women, but something like black women get 65c to the dollar and hispanic women get 55c to the dollar. There’s so much more to it than what we first thought.
Exactly. The discrimination just continues down the line, the further away you get from the privileged white man or the privileged white woman the worse it becomes and I think it’s really easy to be lazy and not look at those figures because it means we’d have to work harder and that’s where we need to keep helping people. To say ‘Well actually, things for women in Australia are getting better’ but what about women of colour, what about trans-women, what about Indigenous women – people who aren’t properly acknowledged within our country. There’s always further you can go and I think we just need to keep delving, keep going.
Just one more question that isn’t relevant to what we were talking about. I just wanted to ask, you’ve got Falls and Laneway coming up and you’ve played festivals before, but what’s the most rewarding part of playing festivals?
I think playing festivals are completely different to a live show. You have to remember that a lot of the people who are there probably haven’t seen you before so you’ve got fresh ears to play to but also people genuinely, when they come to a festival, want you to do well. They’re not there to suddenly cross their arms and be like ‘oh, I’m going to write a bad review about this when I get home.’ They want to party and have a good day so I get a feeling of ease and just feel like having fun and being a part of that festive vibe. I had so much fun at Golden Plains when I was the first or second act on in the morning and already everyone was so willing to just have a boogie and just really embrace whatever I gave to them and that’s something I enjoy about festivals. I think there’s a lot of that willingness to just take what’s given to you and not just reject it or judge it before you’ve given it a chance.
That’s beautiful actually. I like the idea that people are there to party because I think a lot of reviewers forget that. They go in there like ‘I’ve got to review this band, there’s got to be something bad that happens in the day.’ And it’s like, well maybe not? Maybe it’ll be a beautiful day and nothing bad will happen.
Exactly! And things are always going to go wrong at festivals. You’re playing outside so half of your sound is going to be swept away in the wind, that’s always going to happen. So you’ve got to try and take more from a musician than just what they’re giving you sonically and that can be their personality. It becomes more of a show and a performance than only about the music and that’s really fun.
That reminds me there was a performer at Sugar Mountain the same year you played, and he divided the crowd into two dance off groups. It was completely surreal.
Yeah, see that’s the stuff if you think ‘alright, there are going to be some things about my set that will have to be different, how do I make this set enjoyable and fun and something a bit different for people who are dehydrated and tired and standing on their feet all day’ and because of those things you come up with something quite creative and different than you would if it was just you in a quiet venue.