Abby Dobson honed her craft as singer and songwriter busking the streets of Paris, Athens & New York making people weep with her emotive voice and captivating presence. As frontwoman for Leonardo’s Bride, she shot to stardom with their APRA Song Of The Year hit, ‘Even When I’m Sleeping’. She has been invited to sing with – Neil Finn, Daniel Johns, Alex Lloyd, Mark Seymour, Leo Sayer, Rai Thistlethwaite, and Katie Noonan and has supported – Crowded House, Joe Jackson, Everything But the Girl, Tom Jones and Barry White. She has released 2 solo albums, ‘Rise Up’ and her latest offering, ‘It’s Okay, Sweetheart’.
Lara Goodridge has a MA in French Studies and has been playing violin since age 3. She is also one quarter of ‘indie rock band that just happen to be a string quartet’ FourPlay who have performed around the world at venues including Carnegie Hall (NYC), The Barbican (UK) and Sydney Opera House. In her musical career she has played with Brian Wilson, Glen Hansard, Damien Leith, Bill Callahan, The Whitlams, Katie Noonan and has supported Art Garfunkel, Luka Bloom, The Corrs and more. She is currently studying a Masters at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
The Street talked with Lara (Lulu) and Abby (Baby) before their concert with a band of acclaimed musicians live and livestreamed at The Street Theatre in July.
ABBY: Because it is the most beautiful language to speak in and even MORE beautiful to sing in.
LARA: The real question is ‘Pourquoi pas?!’ I’ve always loved the sound of the language ever since I was a child. I fell in love with French cinema, movies with Alain Delon, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret etc and as soon as I had the opportunity to learn it in high school I jumped at the chance. I studied French until postgraduate university and just wanted to live inside the language and the beautiful culture.
WHO ARE BABY ET LULU?
ABBY: I am Baby J. Lara is Lulu. We are backed by an extraordinary band of soulful jazz musicians who help us make the most delicious Frenchy magic.
LARA: Zey are two crazy Frrrench dames who lurv to sing ze musique and lurv to sing togezzer!
HOW DO YOU APPROACH ARRANGING THE CLASSIC AND CONTEMPORARY CHANSONS FOR THE BAND AS WELL AS COMPOSING ORIGINAL MATERIAL?
ABBY: We have a broad selection of songs that we choose from for the Baby et Lulu repertoire. Lulu and I often send each other mp3s of possible songs for us to adapt and we whittle them down. We both have a pretty innate sense of what might be a great song for us. We also compose original songs that we write in French and our audiences loves those just as much as the classic chansons we arrange – from Gainsbourg to George Brassens to Aznavour to Piaf & Zaz.
LARA: With arranging the songs for the band, I will write out a chord chart to the song (sometimes transposing it to a better key for us), and I will either add in the lines from the recording onto the page so that someone in the band can play that melody, or I might add a bit of my own touches in there. Having a bit of a map helps us get to a full arrangement quicker. However, the full arrangement really comes from us playing off the page a few times and working out what it needs, what is working, and what isn’t, and it develops organically from the beautiful playing of the members of the band. I might then go and change the chord chart/score to match the new arrangement. With my own songs, I’ve usually written out most of the ideas but again, the band will all bring their expertise and their beautiful touches to my ideas and make it their own and make it better!
YOU BOTH ARE INVOLVED IN MANY PROJECTS. WHERE DOES BABY ET LULU SIT IN YOUR MUSIC LIFE?
ABBY: Baby et Lulu started as this delightful side project that was just purely for the amusement and outrageous joy of Lara and myself. It soon became a life force all its own and, much to our great surprise and delight, became an outrageous joy for a great many other people too! We have now been making music together for over a decade and we have no plans to stop! It has certainly become a significant project for me!
LARA: Well, most bands in Australia can only really exist as a part time endeavour. There simply aren’t the venues or audiences to keep it moving all year through all the time unless you are a charting band or a pub covers band. So, it works well that whilst Baby et Lulu must take a natural pause after a tour, that our other projects will fit in shows at that time. We’ve had some très très busy times in our 11 odd years together, scheduling in all our projects. There have been challenges at times, but mostly it works out just fine and they all just leap frog over each other.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON PERFORMING LIVE AND LIVESTREAMING AND THE IMPACT ON YOUR CONNECTION WITH AUDIENCES?
ABBY: We have always loved performing live with our incredible band. And this show will be our first show back together in very many months, so we are thrilled to be able to come together again at the Street Theatre. We are very new to the livestreaming new world and love that we will be able to reach people in their pyjamas at their house! There are a great many towns that we have not yet been able to perform in, so this livestream is a great opportunity for people who have never seen our live show, to tune in and be part of the Baby et Lulu world. Fortunately, every show is a bit different and Lulu and I just riff off each other and the band to amuse ourselves, so we anticipate that the show will still be full of our ridiculous humour and also the passion and beauty of the music. It would be great if people the audience could have their own little French soirée at their house and open some champagne or vin rouge and have some French cheese and a little cracker or two….
LARA: So far, during this COVID craziness, I’ve only done one streaming show. It was done from my living room with my musical companions Miriam Lieberman and Susie Bishop. I daresay, it was more engaging than I had imagined. People can write to the streaming site (Facebook in this case) and comment as you go, so it did feel live and real and not disjointed. I really enjoyed it in the end.
This will be different again with a small live audience and no online interaction during the show, but we are really looking forward to playing together again in front of a live audience and there’s no doubt this set-up will be continued into the future, maximising the possibilities – and in fact opening up new opportunities – to capture shows that would have otherwise been not captured for online viewing, particularly in high quality. It’s a really wonderful opportunity for us and we’re thrilled to be doing it.
YOU BOTH HAVE HAVE PERFORMED WITH MANY OTHER PROMINENT ARTISTS FROM NEIL FINN TO KATIE NOONAN. WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO COLLABORATION WITH OTHER ARTISTS?
ABBY: I love collaborating with other artists. Each artist is different so I just try and be as present as possible and tune into them as much as I can so that we might be able to weave something beautiful together. It is as much about knowing when to make sound as when to not. The intuition and senses are what are mostly called upon.
LARA: I guess Abby and I might have different experiences of collaborations. Mine have mostly been as a violinist/backing singer and I’ve always loved doing these performances. It’s so inspiring to work with new people. My string quartet FourPlay actually did a beautiful show at The Studio with Katie and Tyrone Noonan and we just put a whole show together of our own music and some covers as a special one-off show. These sorts of things are very special. Aside from that, I’ve been lucky enough to play violin with people like Glen Hansard, Brian Wilson, Bill Callahan and so many more. I love getting inside their songs and music in such an intimate way and being part of the magic that is made on the night. I love playing on Abby’s own shows as well. Being part of a band singing and playing harmonies is very special for me.
YOU HAVE HAD TO CANCEL SO MANY SHOWS AND POSTPONE THE LAUNCH OF YOUR NEW ALBUM AS A RESULT OF COVID-19. WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF LIVE PERFORMANCE IN AUSTRALIA?
ABBY: It’s true; we have had to cancel so many wonderful shows that we, and our fabulous booking agency, Top Shelf, have put together for us. It certainly has been a blow and it looks like it will be a long time before live shows can resume as they had been pre-Covid, but love will always find a way! As artists, we are quite accustomed to uncertainty and innovation; to times of feast and famine. I am optimistic about the future and the power of music to bring us all together again.
LARA: This is such an unknown. The future is just so very unknown. If social distancing is here to stay for a while, then this kind of performance we are doing for The Street Theatre will be the first of many. Venues being able to operate at 25-50% only will be very difficult, but people are finding ways to make it happen, like 2 sittings, allowing for venues to still hold music, and for artists to do shorter shows but to two audiences in one night. We have to be accommodating to the changing world and we have to adapt, or there is no future. There is no doubt, however, that the arts world has taken an unprecedented hit and it will take years and years to recover.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STATE OF THE MUSIC IN AUSTRALIA?
ABBY: I would say that the state of music, indeed the nation of music is….. on pause! The ground is fallow…and I imagine that is a healthy thing.
LARA: I was only just recently discussing with friends how lucky we were to have caught that tail end of really healthy live music in Australia. In Sydney when we had maybe 20 really healthy music venues that had music 5-7 nights of the week. People were out all the time seeing bands. It was such a thriving time, such a social time, and such a great time for budding bands. Melbourne was even more thriving, and Canberra also had a good variety of venues. Things have changed dramatically over the past 15 years or so years… is it Netflix?? Is it the rise in license costs and rental costs? Is it what happened when Spotify and streaming services took over? I don’t even know what happened, but I don’t like to be negative and things simply change over time and we have to keep finding ways to adapt.
WHAT IS YOUR OBSERVATION ON THE RECOGNITION OF FEMALE PERFORMERS, PRESENTERS AND PRODUCERS?
ABBY: Women’s voices are being heard across so many platforms of the arts in a way that I have never witnessed before and I am so thrilled that the younger generations are stepping up to the plate with talent and chutzpah and no apologies.
LARA: There is no doubt that sexism in the music industry is rife. The number of soundmen, managers, agents and more who have been condescending to me and other women artists around me has been embarrassingly high. We certainly don’t have enough female producers or presenters, and women artists, well, I do feel we have the audiences on our side. Women artists have their following, and those followers are pretty loyal and loving.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
ABBY: Through this lockdown period, I have been so nurtured by nature and it has inspired me to be acutely present in it and the observation of detail and awe and wonder that comes from that has been incredibly nourishing to my creative soil. What buds may bloom from that rich soil, I am yet to discover….
LARA: Last year I was studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and I had DJ and electronic producer Paul Mac as my teacher for one-on-one classes. He was just so amazing and so incredibly inspiring! He is tireless in his work. He’s so prolific and such a hardworking, driven musician. Other than his endless thirst for knowledge around his own craft, he has FUN with it and now passes on that knowledge as a lecturer. I left every class absolutely bursting with energy and excitement about musical possibilities and listened to his work and other people’s music with a greater depth of understanding and excitement.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
ABBY: I just finished Normal People on Stan and I loved it so very much. I also find myself looking at a lot of labradoodles and groodles on Instagram when I go to bed! I am reading a self-help book that I’m too embarrassed to share with you here and have a pile of wonderful unread books next to the bed! I just bought a bundle of old Paul Gallico books from Ebay which arrived with great excitement.
LARA: I’m reading multiple books at the moment. I’m reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport; Phosphorescence by Julia Baird; Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta and I’m listening to Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe. They are all profoundly important and very inspiring.