Martha Brown is the Clifton Hill native who grew up in an environment surrounded by empowered women, freedom of expression and a hub of creativity. So it comes as no surprise that she followed her musical path right into the arms of Melbourne’s buzzing music scene as Banoffee – the stylish, down-to-earth singer-songwriter that packs too much talent for the average 25 year old. Fresh off the back of her sophomore EP release and tour, Banoffee is ready to storm the Melbourne creative scene once again with a slew of fashion, film and music endeavours – re-establishing herself as our very own multi-faceted rising star.
You mentioned that you grew up surrounded by women, what kind of values did you form from being in an environment so heavily influenced by women?
All the women who nurtured me growing up were adamant about doing things their own way, and that was something that stuck with me as I developed. My mother came from quite a conservative family and early on, she followed her own instincts – quitting psychology to be an artist and then having children unmarried to a raging hippie – my dad. My Aunty Da started her own publishing company and went on to own Crikey and Text Media – two organisations known for asking questions and making waves in news media. Me and my sisters were always told that gender roles were unimportant, my dad encouraged us to find our own passions outside of what TV and media encouraged us to enjoy, and all three of us grew in our own directions due to these values demonstrated in practice by the people around us. I feel lucky that I was the youngest out of us three girls, as I also had two sisters to guide and protect me. I got beaten up as much as the next little sister, but as I grew older I also had wonderful support.
Is your whole family creative?
In different ways yes. My grandmother was a painter, my grandfather on the other side was an actor, and I work closely with my cousin Alice Glenn on a lot of my clips – she’s a fantastic film maker amongst a lot of other talents. My sisters both inspire me everyday with the work they do… Grace is a social worker who runs a program helping young indigenous women having trouble with the law or at school. She’s set up a boxing school for them and she’s helped numerous women get jobs, have babies and get back into school. My other sister Hazel ran the record label Two Bright Lakes and now co-runs School House Studios which is an artist community in Collingwood. My mother has recently finished her first novel, and my dad is a meditation teacher. I see all these professions and hobbies as creative and inspiring.
What other creative outlets do you have, other than music?
I’ve realised only through working as a musician that I love making clips – I want to continue making films and hopefully do some acting at some point. I also love directing clips for other people. Other than that, I write a lot. I studied creative writing and journalism at university before I began Banoffee as a full-time project, and I still really enjoy writing. Fashion is another creative outlet but mainly as just something I have fun with. I’m currently collaborating with Melbourne label Pageant on a line that will come out next year.
How did going to a Steiner school shape you as an artist?
Steiner was fantastic, something I highly recommend to people with children. It’s a very holist approach to education, and I was exposed to music and involved in music since grade one. I think the best thing I gained from Steiner was the idea of competition being quite unnecessary in the arts. I’m competitive in sport [and other areas], but Steiner really encourages an accepting view of others around you and I’ve never felt threatened or competitive with others in the music industry. Melbourne is a small city in terms of its variety of music and it can get very catty and competitive, I generally feel unaffected by that and uninterested in the drama. I see that in a lot of Steiner kids.
What kind of music did you listen to as a kid?
A whole bunch! As a very small child though I had a bizarre obsession with Suzi Quatro – something that came out of nowhere, I don’t know how I found her as my family were pretty uninterested in her music. I then became a big fan of a lot of girl bands – TLC, The Spice Girls, Janet Jackson, Destiny’s Child, Eva Cassidy and India Arie were all favourites at one time or another. As I grew older I become interested in folk as well and listened to a lot of Beth Orten, The Waifs and Jolie Holland. Year 6 was my peak for hip-hop I think, with Beastie Boys and Snoop Dogg taking up most of my listening time.
You had a passion for classical music and said you wanted to be in the Symphony Orchestra when you were young, does classical music ever influence the way you make music now?
Definitely, I think any musical background will always inform your creativity. I still listen to classical music, though not as much as I’d like. Mostly my approach to time signature and tempo stem from my experience playing classical music.
What’s the best thing about working closely with your family and friends?
I think I probably make things more interesting and take more risks because I’m working with people I feel comfortable with, as well as having a lot of fun! It also means that I can afford to do what I do, unless you’re at the top of the charts or something, music isn’t much of a money maker – working with friends for favour exchanges means that we can all help each other out.
Having travelled with your music, and worked with both local and international producers, what kind of uniqueness do you see in the Melbourne creative scene?
Australia is so far away from anything that we have to work within certain limitations. Working with limitations makes us push ourselves with what we’ve got and experiment more. I think the isolation of our music scene is a blessing in disguise, and it seems the rest of the world is coming to realisation too. I do think that Australia has a sound though, and it’s hard to try and push those boundaries and still be heard here. We have a bit of a monopoly going on in our industry because we’re so small. For instance, in other places around the world it’s much easier to make a living in a variety of different genres. Australia is more limited with its resources and it’s hard to be successful here unless you appeal to a certain audience. This can make things difficult.
Who is Banoffee and who is Martha? Are there any major differences between yourself and the image you show to the world?
I’m very much myself when I perform and I try my best to be super honest in interviews. I do find it difficult though to know where to draw the line and lately I’ve been learning the hard way that being 100% myself and giving everything to everyone can be really taxing. I’m a bit of a loner in real life, which a lot of people don’t know or believe. I don’t have many close friends, and I spend a lot of time in my studio or doing my own thing. My ambition is my best friend and worst enemy, I’m learning how to maintain a healthy personal life whilst still working as hard as I can. One thing I reel in as much as I can is my terribly crass sense of humour, I’m a potty mouth and a grot – I try really hard to keep that a little contained.
You have a very unique style in your fashion, how would you describe it?
Comfortable and unapologetic. I like to dress up depending on my mood, so I don’t stay true to one style for very long.
What kinds of things influence your style?
To be honest, I’m not sure I think about it as much as people seem to think. I just kind of fluke it and wear things that reflect my mood for the day. I guess some TV shows and books inspire me. I often find myself dressing a bit like a character out of an animation I’m watching, or a series I’ve been obsessed with. Sometimes I like to braid my hair like an elf from Lord Of The Rings, and sometimes I think I look a bit like a Pokemon character or one of the people from Avatar The Last Airbender. I think on a subconscious level that type of media influences my style, but it’s very unplanned.
If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing right now?
I’d be at university studying law or social work. I got obsessed with my social justice subjects at uni and I miss it a lot. I find legal studies really interesting and I’d like to be working in something hands on where I feel politically and socially involved. If I was smart enough I’d do medicine, but I find chemistry and biology very difficult. Not my forte, that’s for sure.
It’s really easy to give up on yourself – you mentioned that you thought you were not made for the public eye from a young age, where do you find the motivation and strength to push those kinds of personal boundaries?
I see these things as necessary challenges. I think for the most part, I’m my harshest critic. And if I backed down from a challenge I’d be so disappointed with myself. Generally I feel that the things I’m scared of harbour the biggest rewards, so I try and keep that in mind. A lot of the time though, I’m really struggling under it all. I feel scared that I’m communicating negative messages to my young listeners, I feel worried that I’m not being inclusive with my tracks, and sometimes I feel like I’m a big joke. But I think all performers have these anxieties. Pushing personal boundaries is a must for me and if I wasn’t doing that I’d be ashamed of myself. I’m hard on myself, but I know it’s because I expect a lot and that must mean that somewhere deep down I believe in my own potential. If I look at it that way, I feel much more capable and in control.
Was it a lot different making your second EP as opposed to the first one?
Yep! I was doing it for different reasons I guess. The first EP was a collection of songs that I’d been playing around with for fun whereas this second release is more of a snapshot of my learning experiences since then. I was pushing myself in different directions, trying new things and wanting to show different aspects of myself as an artist. For me, I’m much prouder of this EP because I had deadlines, I had expectations and I was trying to show people that I have more in me. It may not have as many singles in it, but it’s more complex and more diverse than the first, in my opinion.
What kind of lessons did you learn from making your first EP that you applied while producing Do I Make You Nervous?
I learnt to trust my instincts. I wasn’t very sure of myself, or my musical opinion whilst making the first EP – but watching people respond to it encouraged me to have a little self-belief. I also learnt to accept that not everyone will like you. I went into the recording process with a thick skin knowing that some people would like the tracks I laid down, but some people wouldn’t and that that’s okay. Working to try and please radio stations or your current audience just makes for a boring release in my opinion.
What is it about being away from the city and in Mount Martha that jogs your creativity?
Time stretches there. I feel like I have infinite hours to create things. Being anywhere that’s closer to nature is always inspiring, but for me the ocean is my element of choice! Mount Martha holds memories and emotions that have sunk in over a lifetime, it brings things up for me that I forget when I’m caught up in every day bullshit back home. As I said, family are really important to me and those who I’ve lost live on in that house and my boat shed on the shore.
Is Mount Martha your favourite place to write music and lyrics?
No… I’m going to say that I don’t really have one. I don’t have a ‘place’ like some people do. It’s definitely the place I go when I’ve hit crisis, and it’s a place I go to recover or resettle. But I feel like making music isn’t a predictable practice that I can control. I write everywhere. My favourite place to write is wherever it seems to work in that moment – this can be Mount Martha, it can be my studio or it can be on a plane or bus or wherever else I might be. If I made Mount Martha my place for writing, it would very quickly become a place where I felt stressed and pressured to create. I think I’ll keep it as just my happy place for now.