Phantastic Ferntiure – Julia Jacklin & Elizabeth Hughes
by Alex Teitz
“Phantastic Ferniture’s Christmas Extravaganza First and Final Gig” promised to be what it sounded like. A one-time shot of 4 friends in Sydney. Now they are releasing the self-titled album. The band is Julia Jacklin, Elizabeth Hughes, Ryan K Brennan & Tom Stephens.
The band members have worked on each other’s projects since. Julia Jacklin released Don’t Let the Kids Win in 2016. There has also been Elizabeth Hughes Emily and a band called Salta. Throughout it all this core group of friends have held this project. Now it is getting its worldwide release on July 27 on Polyvinyl Records. The band has an indie pop sound mixed with a touch of dream. The latest single is “Bad Timing”
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about South America and how you met?
Liz: Julia and I knew of each other while we were growing up in the Blue Mountains but we never properly met. I was backpacking through Peru when I was 18 and did some volunteering in Lima. She heard I was there and emailed me to see if she could come along to join me. We worked with some kids playing music and it was there we realized our voices went well together, singing harmonies. When we got back to Aus we decided to start a band.
Julia: I think the first song we played there was Angus and Julia stones “Mango Tree”, a pretty classic Australian teenage folk duo beginning.
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge making the Phantastic Ferniture album?
Liz: Like any band we’ve had our fair share of challenges. I think the biggest thing was getting it this far. There were many moments along the way where it could have fallen by the wayside, but there was always one of us (not always the same person) who got it back on the road in some format. Time-wise there were moments where we’d struggle. If one of us was struggling to make it work, the others would pull the weight. It’s a miracle we have an album out – I think we are all grateful these songs have been able to see the light of day!
Julia: Yeah definitely just getting it done before we all became grandparents. It was looking that way but through our powers combined we managed to get it over the line.
FEMMUSIC: What was your vision for the album?
Liz: The initial vision was to be able to get on stage and have fun, and not overthink it. Again – the vision for the album was to have ideas and not get bogged down in rationality or self-doubt. If the pun makes you laugh, post it on insta and don’t worry about people thinking you’re stupid. If the outfit feels good, wear it on stage and remember tomorrow is another day. We’ve made many dubious outfit choices and played some pretty average shows and I don’t regret a single choice we made. It’s all part of the journey.
Julia: Just wanting to capture the last 4 years of work really, in a way that would make us proud to put out into the world. Not much thinking about an overall vision for the record, just wanting to pay tribute to this time in our lives.
FEMMUSIC: You both have separate projects as well as coming together for both Salta & Phantastic Ferniture. It sounds like Phantastic Ferniture has been a more relaxed and spontaneous project. Why did you want to give it a worldwide release?
Liz: To be honest, we are just super lucky. I think there’s a lot of talented artists out there just like us, but we happened to be able to release our album worldwide. In a way, Phantastic Ferniture really took on a life of its own and I think we are all just along for the ride. Sometimes things just work. I think it’s a real team effort, and in that way, no one feels a huge sense of ownership over it which is refreshing.
Julia: Yeah I think we were just presented with the opportunity to do it and thought why not. It never felt like a project that would have a long life, so it’s nice to be able to know we are giving it all we can in the time we have.
FEMMUSIC: You’ve described Phantastic Ferniture as a Sydney band. I’ve known the Sydney scene for the lockout laws. I was surprised to see Keep Sydney Open turning into a political party. How has the scene changed in your eyes?
Liz: It’s a tricky one. They say it takes 10 years and 10,000 hours to master something. Can we expect Sydney to be this burgeoning hub of culture if everyone just talks it down and bails? Not really. I’m really proud of our music community and I think so much talent comes out of Sydney and exists within Sydney. I’m so behind supporting each other and being role models for each other because I’ve seen it work. If you have someone lead by example, other people are inspired to do the same.
FEMMUSIC: Ryan K Brennan acted as producer on the album. I’ve noticed he’s taken many roles in both your projects (Emily, Don’t Let the Kids Win). How is he to work with? What does he bring to your projects?
Liz: Ryan is a critical backbone to the Sydney music scene. He has worked on SO many of our friends projects. It’s for countless reasons. He works hard, is really organized and reliable and provides an achievable way for musicians with a way to share their music with the rest of the world. He has made a really significant impact on the scene here and I think it would look really different if he hadn’t moved to Sydney.
Julia: The first time I ever recorded anything was with Ryan. He was my new mysterious housemate just over from Perth and I used to walk down the hall and stand at his door and self-consciously whisper, “Hey ah if you have a second would you mind ah recording this little thing I wrote?” We both learnt a lot together over the years. He used to ride around Sydney on his bike with a crate full of gear and guitars on both handlebars, risking his life and his gear to record people like me and Liz in their bedrooms for no money.
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
Liz: Basically we would just jam on something and then it would turn into a song. Usually it would start with a riff or a bassline, or a vocal part and the rest of the band would build on that. I think it shows how useful collaboration is. One of the best things was playing something that you might skim over and forget about and someone else in the room would just yell out “repeat that bit!” and you’d resurrect it and then it would become the hook.
Julia: Yeah a lot of everyone scrolling through their phone voice memos and being like, “what about this?” and then everyone giving it a go.
FEMMUSIC: What song (not your own) has had the biggest influence on you and why?
Liz: In terms of Phan Fern, It’s pretty hard to say. We all bring a lot of different musical influences to the table. In all honesty, my friend’s music has the biggest influence on me. It’s what I find most inspiring and really keeps me going in any times of doubt.
Julia: For this project ‘Spinning Around’ by Kylie Minogue. It’s fun and sexy and makes you feel 20 shades of great.
FEMMUSIC: As women in the music industry have you been discriminated against?
Liz: Ah yeah, I mean, as women in life we have been discriminated against. It can feel fairly pronounced in musical settings. I think one of the biggest challenges overcoming this is realizing that to be strong and honest and to stick to your guns can mean you’ll ruffle feathers, and that doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person.
FEMMUSIC: Whom would you most like to collaborate with, or tour with? Why?
Liz: I’d love to write some songs with Courtney Barnett. Or just be a fly on the wall while she is recording or writing. It would be pretty ace to tour with her too.
Julia: Melbourne band RVG. Seeing them live is life affirming.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you like to change about the music industry?
Liz: People’s reactions. A lot of people treat music like a hobby that should be abandoned once you become an adult. To be able to persevere in anything requires not only personal confidence and resilience, it also requires a community of people who support you. If you know a musician, maybe it’s time to tell them they are doing just as good a job as your friend who has a more defined and secure career path that’s been tried and tested. Songwriting generally doesn’t have one method or path and that’s what makes it both difficult and beautiful.
Julia: It being so youth focused, especially for women.