Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #127. Subscribe to our print edition here!
The prodigious Findlay sisters are back with their third album, Far From Earth, which serves as their most ambitious and psychedelic effort to date. David James Young got the lowdown on its creation from Stonefield guitarist Hannah Findlay.
They emerged at the start of the decade as Iotah, a set of Zeppelin-worshipping sisters from regional Victoria with amps up to 11 and hair down to the waist. Nearly a decade on, the band now known as Stonefield have continued to explore the outer reaches of psych‑tinged rock’n’roll, making new fans along the way as they move well into their 20s. This month sees the release of Far From Earth, album number three from the Findlays. Ironically, on account of production and creative issues that plagued 2016’s As Above, So Below, the creation of Far From Earth – from writing to recording – was a relatively painless process.
“This is probably the quickest turnaround that we’ve ever had on an album, which has been a nice change of pace,” says Hannah Findlay, the guitarist of the family. “Having said that, it still feels like it was recorded a lifetime ago – we did it over the course of about a month in around April of last year, while we were over in LA. This was all written quite quickly – we were throwing ideas around more or less as soon as we were done with the last album.”
Findlay goes on to note that the frustrations that arose with As Above, So Below meant that the creative juices were flowing as they worked on new material concurrently – what was clogging up one process made for a cathartic release in the other. “The thing with the last album was that it went through a few different phases – it was recorded and re-recorded a bunch of times,” she says. “It was a difficult process, but it actually made it easier on all of us when it came to making this album – we’d already written so many more songs in the time it took us to finish the old one.”
The bulk of Far From Earth was written across jam sessions out in the shed of the family homestead in Darraweit Guim, a small town located in central Victoria with a population of less than 1,000. Besides everything else, doing so allowed the Findlays to properly and earnestly get back to basics. “Being back in the shed and writing with no outside influences, we were able to make the exact kind of record that we wanted to,” says Findlay.
“There was no stressing over wondering what the single was going to be – or even writing a single, for that matter. We wanted there to be a real sense of space on this record. It wasn’t about going full-on all the time, having everyone firing off all at once. It was about taking a step back, seeing the bigger picture and maybe getting a new sense of perspective. When it was all said and done, we looked at the album and we were 100 percent satisfied with what we’d come up with.”
Recording in Los Angeles with producer Stephen McBean – best known for his time fronting psych-rockers Black Mountain – Findlay didn’t have access to a lot of her usual guitar gear. From a guitarist’s perspective, Findlay was more or less a kid in a candy shop when it came to recording Far From Earth. “I’m normally only working with my live setup when we’re recording,” she says. “It’s actually pretty fun to be able to experiment with lots of different amps and pedals to try and get the right sound for the song.”
Findlay points to a couple of brand new encounters in the recording process as personal highlights: “I got to use this pedal called the Bumble Buzz, which is Jack White’s signature pedal,” she says. “I’d never used it before, and we ended up using it for quite a few of the guitar parts on the record. That was really exciting. I was playing a Gibson SG for most of it – that’s my go-to. I also got to play an old Rickenbacker, which must have been from the ‘60s or ‘70s. For a couple of parts, we went into the vocal booth and just miced up the guitar itself – I’d never even thought of doing that! It was a really cool experiment.”
Alongside the rest of her siblings – drummer and vocalist Amy, bassist Holly and keyboardist Hannah – Findlay also found herself in the company of some key special guests during the recording of Far From Earth. Cat Power session player Greg Foreman added some sitar to the mix, while other tracks featured The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Rob Campanella on the Mellotron. “LA is such a creative hub of people,” says Findlay. “It was exciting to be able to step out of our comfort zone and have people that wanted to jam with us come in.”
With the release of Far From Earth, Stonefield are soon to return to what it is they do best: touring. Lots of it, too. Seeing the Findlays now will mean a mix of brand new material – they’ve been road-testing Far From Earth for months – as well as a few selections from their early releases like their Through The Clover EP, or even the self-titled debut LP. Findlay is in two minds about playing old songs.
“They’ve honestly become hard to play,” she confesses. “We look at what we were doing and how little we knew – for better and for worse, those songs are an accurate reflection of the environment they were created in. We wrote them to be played on the radio and because we wanted to become a touring band so quickly after high school... As exciting as it was, it was also incredibly overwhelming.”
She attests to the staying power of family and the four sisters literally growing up together for the band being able to remain a united front after all this time. “I think the four of us sticking together has led us to trust our instincts a lot more,” she says. “At the end of the day, we know what’s best for Stonefield. That’s what this album is all about.”