Dope Lemon’s third album Smooth Big Cat oozes a whiskey-laden swagger, showing off the surf styled groovy side to Angus Stone’s pop/folk persona. With early singles ‘Hey You’ and ‘Salt & Pepper’ already making waves on local radio, the sly record’s funky and fuzzy style is slowly peaking out from under its wide brimmed hat.
The mischievously smooth tunes take you away to the surf coast, where the firelight keeps you warm and the soft sand seeps between your toes. The tone across the record's ten tracks is as consistent as the climate, with frontman Angus Stone saying that it’s this late night feel that makes the album work.
“I think what I loved about making this record is just letting it all just flow,” says Stone. “Sitting up late, all night sitting with the [sound] engineer, drinking whiskey, just jumping on the piano kicking it out [and] seeing what happens: a lot of magic came from there.”
Beneath the signature Dope Lemon palate of boxy guitars and smoky synths lay some wonderful instrumental flourishes; a jangling tambourine, the hypnotic groove of a bongo drum and wistful piano melodies embellish Smooth Big Cat, enforcing Stone's authority as a solo artist within the Australian musical climate.
“One key instrument was a big wooden Glockenspiel, and you'll hear it throughout the record," Stone reveals. "There was something about it that just was so real when I hear it.
“It reminds me of a skeleton… What are those old cartoons where the skeletons are playing the drums when is ribcage? It's one of those ones that you see in the orchestra. I like with this record that you can hear that common thread running through it. It's very much one conscious flow.”
The longer runtime on the album reflect this flow, giving tracks an invitational quality to dip in and out of as you please.
“The magic I feel that happens is around halfway to a song. It lets you melt in and listen to the rhythm,” Stone confides. “If I had it my way I would write 40 minute songs. I think it was about letting certain things slow down. Things do slow down after you sit with them for a while and you sort of sink into that moment.”
However, the last song on the record noticeably differs from what most would perceive as being 'the Dope Lemon style'. ‘Hey Man, Don’t Look At Me Like That’ strips back the lush, technicolor direction of the record. Featuring just an acoustic guitar and raw, reedy harmonica, it's also the only track where Stone is joined by another vocalist.
“[I recorded] it probably about six or seven years ago," Stone explains. "I lived in this really cool house down on the beach in a little cottage and I lived with there with my ex-girlfriend. We were kicking around the kitchen and we had this sort of thing we used to do where we put this Texan voice on and say to each other ‘hey man, don't look at me like that, they say it’ll kill you like cigarettes, you’ll turn into a scene and combust."
“I had one of those old Mac computers, [one of] the white ones, and just pushed record while we were there and we sat down we played that song. It was really special. It was one of those moments where it doesn't really matter what gear you have. It is about the intention and capturing something special.”
The song has a charming bootleg quality and is a delightful addition to an otherwise fully realized record - a decision which Stone claims was intentional to invoke a sense of melancholy and nostalgia to conclude the record.
“I listen to it and it reminds me, it puts me back into a really fond memories. I think one time I kissed a girl and she had peaches and cream lip balm on and it really stuck with me," he laughs. “There's something about that that is quite sensual and it works well with the lyrics and the content in the songs on this record. It's a nice memory.”
Angus won’t have to think too far back for memories of performing to the Byron Bay crowd. After performing at the festival last year with his sister as part of Angus and Julia Stone, the bearded maestro is set to return to the amphitheater for another round this year with his Dope Lemon companions.
“It’s become a tradition,” Stone says. “I've been having this cool get together with all my friends and we have a bit of a party at the property then we jump in the car and roll out… It's just nice to be in your hometown and have your friends around, and to be able to share what you do around the world with your friends.”
Dope Lemon will be taking their mesmeric Smooth Big Cat on tour, with Australian and European dates already announced. Angus is excited to get back on the road.
“It's been so long! I'm just excited to reconnect with all the fans [and] give back a little... The music is close to my heart, I can't wait to share it!"