By Emma Volard, Jake Amy and Hugh Heller
Our world is shaped by numerous social, economic and political forces, and the turmoil of our recent past has made painfully apparent how these forces are all entwined. Though art can provide us with a sense of relief or escape, it is not created in a vacuum outside of these forces. Choosing to make art, even if it is ostensibly apolitical, is a political and economic statement. In this interview, Allysha Joy discusses how her art engages with the forces around us, learning and evolving in 30/70, and the constant challenges of being a female-identifying artist in this day and age.
Can you tell us a little about your childhood and where your passion for music came from?
Straight to childhood! I guess I’ve always been a singer - my mum sings, my dad sings, both of my grandmothers sung, my sister sings… Lot’s of singing in my family! A really large part of my musical upbringing was church. We were pretty regular attendees at church as my grandfather is a minister. I guess ‘church’ is still a part of my music, even though I no longer attend it. I respect the spirituality, ritual and community [associated with it], and there is so much that we can learn from leaders of worship: how to engage an audience, how to make people feel something and how to cultivate a culture.
I got pretty deep into jazz around the age of 12 or 13. I just started listening heaps. I never had any lessons on an instrument but I taught myself piano over the years.
What was the process of learning an instrument later in life?
I bought a piano two years before I wrote my debut album, ‘Acadie : Raw’. (Or maybe it was just a year, I can’t really remember now)... It was a moment in time where I decided to really commit to [learning the piano]. I was going to uni and had quit my job after studying in New York for a couple of months. In that period, a lot of music [that I was writing] felt like an act of feminism. So much of what was holding me back was the bullshit instilled in us females about not being good enough, and how [as artists, creating music] is not a valid use of our time. There’s also a mentality that you have to start learning a musical instrument when you’re five, otherwise you’ll never be good enough to make a career out of it… That’s all bullshit.
What’s it like being a female-identifying artist in this day and age?
As a female-identifying musician, it’s been such a journey. It is still so challenging. I have to constantly assert myself and pursue what it is that I want, unashamedly. [How you’re perceived as a female] goes so far beyond musicality and craft. It’s how you manage your life, your team, your finances, and how you assert yourself in the scene. I think people really struggle with women asserting themselves. It’s fucked. [Women and non-binary folk] need to do what it is that they want to do. I think that is activism: being loud, being yourself and aspiring for more… It’s fucking challenging and I don’t really feel like it has gotten much easier. As much as people think that it gets easier as your career develops, it doesn’t. It’s constant. It’s a constant grind. I have to work extra hard to even just suppress the barrage of societal pressure telling me that I should do the opposite of what I’m doing. “Is [being an artist] worth my time? I should just get a job - I’m not good enough”. This is drilled into my (and other women’s) head(s)... Body image [is yet another] ideal front-people are pressured by and susceptible to.
I’ve noticed that you refer to yourself as an ‘artivist’. Could elaborate on what that means?
I don’t like to quantify it, but most of my music is essentially about environmental, social or political change… Just ‘change’ really. I think that in 2020, it is an act of activism to be an artist. It’s anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist. It is a big part of creating a sense of community, maintaining culture, spreading a positive message, storytelling and getting back to why we exist as humans on this Earth. Beyond that, it’s important to support your community, not just within the art but also within the activism. You have to be a part of both worlds, otherwise your art is not representative of the time or of the people.
I think some people would go so far as to say that all art is ‘politics’, because even not having an opinion is making a statement. You participate, whether you like it or not, just by opening your mouth or keeping it shut. No matter how we engage with the world, it is political and it is social. I think we're all growing and changing as artists. The better informed we all are, the more we can speak up. I don’t want to express my opinion in a forceful way (and I feel like at times I have)... I want to just express my opinion. The more we can engage in creating and learning, and empathetic understanding, the better we will be at our craft and the better a society we can cultivate.
Sometimes there’s a bombardment of information and we get so confused about what we want to do within society and how we can participate. Often I think that capitalism wins over everything, so we forget to read for our own pleasure, engage within our community, and forget to just express our opinion in a loving way. We’re so often shut down.
I was listening to 30/70’s ‘Fluid Motion’. Was there an overriding message that you intended to weave through the album?
[‘Fluid Motion’ as a song] Is not only about us women asserting ourselves, but our inherent connection to Mother Earth: how we treat people who are ostracised by our community is the same as how we treat our planet. It’s about how [as a society], we’ve come to treat ideas of ownership of land and our First Nations people. I’m trying to encourage empathy and understanding. Living harmoniously is a very important thread throughout my music, particularly in that song and particularly in that album… There are so many different messages throughout ‘Fluid Motion’ as an album though... there’s even a tune about fucking!
As part of 30/70, how have you seen your ‘sound’ develop over time?
Our relationship as a collective has developed so much over time. It has affected how the music is made and produced. As 30/70 is so collaborative, individual, personal growth results in even bigger changes. There are six people who practice all the time. Everyone has grown together and it’s pretty inspiring to be around that energy.
A recent change: thinking about a song’s production as we’re writing has had a huge impact on our [compositional] process. We’re writing another album at the moment, which is exciting, but so different to anything we’ve done before. Ziggy is overseas and we’re all separated. It’s weird, but it’s cool because it’s a chance to explore a different way.
You’ve been on a few international tours with 30/70. What’s it like?
Touring is so amazing yet so difficult. I’ve learned the importance of having really solid connections with the people you’re playing with and the team that you’re surrounded by. Being around good people, having fun and bringing that energy to stage is so important. The audience wants to be a part of your world. If you're creating a beautiful culture around your band, then you’ll have an amazing time touring. I’m so grateful to have built some amazing connections and had some amazing experiences. It can be super challenging… having good communication skills is massive…
We were meant to be going overseas again (pretty much now), but I’m kind of glad that I’m not going. It’s nice to just be here in Australia, and centred, and calm: chilling out for a bit, and writing more, and practising. When I was going to return to Europe this year, I was planning to stay, so it is on the cards to move there and I think it will happen at some stage (but now that lockdown has happened, I’m glad I’m in Australia).
Who are some artists that are inspiring you at the moment?
A group that I find incredibly inspiring is Izy (who just moved to Melbourne)... Their skillset, but also their vibe, their energy. Further within that crew is Tiana Khasi, an incredible songwriter. I wish she knew it more… she’s such a badass. Also, Ziggy [Zeitgeist] is incredibly inspiring. He’s in Berlin at the moment, practising every day… I don’t know how he’s feeding himself or paying his rent, but I don’t think he cares. He’s the most dedicated dude I know.
Other than music, what have you been doing with your time in isolation?
At the moment, I’m living on Boon Wurrung country on the Peninsula. There was a lot of resistance at the beginning [of isolation] in remembering that it's okay to actually take time for yourself. Most of the time, it’s not a selfish act. You’re able to give more from a place of love to the people around you and the world. I’ve been doing a lot of self-care, getting really good sleep, eating well, and spending lots of time in the sun. I’m currently reading the book ‘Vagina’ [by Naomi Wolf], which is an incredible book I recommend to all.
Any experience with ‘writer’s block’?
Sometimes, I turn into stone. Being super honest, when I feel uninspired, I just feel shit. I do think that it’s good to not force it and actually be with. Sitting and obsessing over music can become painful. I prepare for the moments when I do feel inspired by journaling ideas.
How do you think the music industry will be affected by the current situation?
I feel that artists are doing okay at the moment. Everyone who is on the other side of the stage will need a lot of support coming out of this. It will take a long time to recover and I think that will be really hard. Of course, as artists, we all want to be paid for our craft, but it’ll be really interesting to see if that money is there. I think that we’ve all worked so hard to build a community that encourages artists to be paid fairly. It will be strange and challenging to have those conversations when everyone’s been struggling. As there won't be any international touring [for a little while], I think that it could be really beautiful to see the Australian music scene become a lot closer. Bigger festivals will have to support Australian musicians (and I think that will be really cool). At least within myself, I don’t really have much desire to perform at the moment. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve been spending heaps of time on my own and just lushing out in the sunshine and getting creative at home. It’ll be interesting to see who steps up, and who’s feeling a change… a course in myotherapy! I don’t know!
[Throughout this period,] I’ve played live streams for Boiler Room, Isol-Aid and MLIVE. I’m really lucky that a couple of those were paid and [broadcast] to a pretty large audience, but they were also really stressful. Trying to go from relaxation mode into performance mode is just really strange. Coming out of isolation, I think that I really want to build a practice of preparing for shows and also coming down from shows. (For Isolaid, I really noticed a change in my energy [during] the lead-up to the gig and afterwards. I don’t think I had noticed as much [pre-COVID] - I was constantly running around, engaging socially, and then performing… I want it to become more ritualistic for myself.
Do you have any advice for emerging musicians?
I’ve got so much advice… “Take your shit seriously”, “Read the contract”, “Do it because you love it and all the other shit will fall into place”. There’s one little piece of jaded advice in there… but it’s real. Also, nobody talks about the admin. We gotta talk about admin!
Do you have new stuff in the pipelines? Yeah. I’ve got a lot of music that I’ve been patiently waiting to put out. I’ve got an EP coming out with Clever Austin and an album coming out...I don’t know when. The EP will be out this year for sure, and the album of my solo shit will be out soon after that.
Keep up to date with Allysha on her website
We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians who have read this article.
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