When Julia Stone pops up on the Zoom screen from Barcelona, where she is writing songs for a new record while her partner has an artist residency there, two things immediately stand out. One, this lady has seriously gorgeous skin – even and luminous – and two, she has the most beautiful, chilled out, grounded energy. She spoke in an honest, thoughtful and relaxed way about everything from mental health support to hilarious family folklore, from greenwashing hypocrisy to freckle pens (yes, they are indeed a thing) and from the dynamics of working closely with a sibling to why she has upgraded her shampoo from washing up liquid… yes, really.
“I relate so strongly to music because of the household I grew up in.
Dad is a musician. Well, I guess he’s been a lot of things – a truck driver, a teacher, a builder, and a foreman on big building sites in Sydney – but his heart is with music. Throughout all of his different careers, and still to this day, he plays in the same band, Backbeat. He’s pretty passionate about it, which is just beautiful. Backbeat was a fixture in our house; they rehearsed in our garage, and then more of the vocal harmony work would be done in our living room. A lot of how Angus and I approach live music now is a result of seeing them rehearsing then. The influence which was especially strong is of witnessing them going over and over something to get it just right. Mum also took a lot of different paths in her career, and she loves singing, so the two of them were always weaving music into our lives.
From a young age I was encouraged and supported musically.
If you enjoy music as a kid, the traditional path through school was joining the band. You just sort of pick an instrument and go. Dad was our school band conductor, which was fun. At that age, you don’t know what you’re doing, you just do what you’re told. I don’t have any memories of being any good, just that I was scared cause I didn’t know how to hold a trumpet! I had no idea I would make a career out of singing, but one of the beautiful things our parents shared with us was their belief that everyone can sing and everyone has a unique voice. That’s something I really enjoy about getting friends to sing when we are hanging out, that we can all see how true that is. It’s our birthright to use our voices, and to use them is healing. I don’t think of mine as being particularly special. Realising that singing would be in my life to the extent of it being a job or career was surprising, because I had always loved singing, but people made fun of me when I did. Luckily, part of my progress has been to find a little more grounding with my voice, which has made it more appealing, but when I was younger it was very soprano, and its sound was not something that made people go ‘oh, that’s amazing’, haha! That never stopped me singing in front of people, though. I had an unusual sense of self confidence. Not in all areas of life while I was at high school – that might have been sociopathic – but I did when it came to singing.
Angus and I moved in together when I was about 19, after I returned home from travelling.
We were doing open mic nights and I started in a role that was supporting him. He was beginning to do more shows and I was doing his backing vocals. He knew I was writing songs, and one day said, ‘why don’t you sing one of yours?’ We eventually became aware that people liked what we were doing together, so we put more time into it.
I don’t think for either of us that working together was intentional. Just like you don’t really know what you’re doing when you’re a kid, I think that’s the same in your twenties. I can’t speak for him, but I think we were both more pulled along by the road we found ourselves on, than we were making real conscious choices to be a ‘sibling musical duo’. Along the way, there have been moments where we have spent all this time together and found ourselves almost merged as a single entity, which was not intentional and didn’t feel natural. We had always been naturally close and had some amazing times together, but we wouldn’t sort of call each other on the phone before then. So being so symbiotic and connected was unusual, and we’ve had to work through a lot of stuff over the years that that experience brought up. We’ve navigated it by making sure that when one of us felt like we needed another form of creative expression, then we’d follow that road, even if it meant missing a good opportunity for us in our work together. We’ve taken a lot of breaks, but it’s been for the best. We’ve both made three or four solo records, and each record takes a couple of years with the writing/recording/touring cycle, so working together as ‘Angus and Julia’ really only happens maybe every four to five years. Having learned to take those breaks means it all comes together so well now. It’s complicated working with family. You don’t have those same social courtesies or boundaries that you do with other people. If we weren’t related, we’d just be business partners and work in a band, and have to respect each others’ needs and wants. Realising that is part of growing up. We are really grateful for the music, and that it brings us back together. We both love it. Nothing else matters when you’re singing a song.
Any fame or success we have is just part of the woodwork now with our parents. I think they have had real moments of surprise and joy in seeing us perform, but then they’re very proud parents of all of their children, not just Angus and I.
They got divorced when our eldest sister was 17, I was 15 and Angus was 13, and both married new partners who also have kids. Mum’s partner Albert already had four kids, and Dad’s now-ex-wife Jen had three kids. Jen’s kids were young when she and Dad got together, so growing up we spent a lot of time with them, whereas Albert’s kids were our age, so we were all kind of already living our own lives. So the ways we have all re-connected now have often been quite random, but are so special. For instance, one of Albert’s sons is a filmmaker, so he comes on tour with us to film stuff. I feel extremely lucky to say that every single one of our family members – parents, partners, ex-partners and siblings (including step-siblings, but we don’t really tend to say ‘step-‘, just brother or sister) – is an incredible person. Mum and Dad are very connected to all of us, and what we have become in the world, personally and professionally.
Another example of our interesting connections now is that one of my sisters, Olivia, became a psychologist right at the start of the pandemic, and her knowledge and experiences directly impacted my own during that time. When Covid happened, the music industry (like so many others) changed shape entirely. I wouldn’t say it became irrelevant, but it had to shift to being completely online, so as an in-person performer I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I became conscious of how much I liked being busy up until then, and that I had been busy for so long that I didn’t realise how weird it was going to be not to be. I talked to Olivia about going back to uni and studying Psychology. While she was really supportive of that, she suggested that before I commit to this huge undertaking of a six-year degree, which she had just come to the end of, why didn’t I try out what it’s like to work with people in crisis?
Olivia was amazing, and put me in contact with ARCVic’s OCD and Anxiety Helpline. [Ed note: this is a Victorian-based helpline which you can reach on 1300 269 438. If you are in a different state, ARCVic directs you to other state-specific resources here.]
I went through the process of training to volunteer with them, and worked there for two years. Particularly during Covid, these helplines became an important space. All sorts of people were ringing with all different things going on. My time there has had a big influence on me. I will never forget my first call. I was terrified of messing it up, but the lovely takeaway from that time was that when you listen to someone with empathy and openness, you actually can’t mess it up.
Another really good takeaway was discovering that anyone can learn basic tools for helping people in crisis. At school, we were all taught First Aid to help someone who is struggling for their life physically. Now that, as a culture, we are realising mental health struggles are rife, it’s incredibly important that First Aid tools around suicide awareness and prevention be taught at school, too. By knowing some basic, step-by-step processes, you can really help someone in that situation. A friend of mine is a doctor, and he told me that when he was doing his medical training, you learn so much information about the physical body, which of course is extremely important, but that medical school doesn’t cover something like how you approach a family that has lost a child. How do we not talk about how to engage in the deeper elements of what it is to be a human? Difficult things happen to everyone, we are all going to experience grief, loss and pain, and we need the basics to communicate with each other about that.
I’m not great on social media, in terms of… well, I guess maybe I am great at it for me, and what I want from it?
I think that it’s really healthy to be in your life and truly experiencing it, instead of using it as content. I think we all see now, on a daily basis, how much our phones have become part of how we consume our own lives. Not to go on a social media rant, but I feel like I am much happier using my ‘platform’ to talk about things I’m interested in and believe in, rather than to share my private life. I am relieved when I get the chance to talk about something that has value to me, like when weDo/ approached me. It’s one less post I have to do where it’s just like ‘hey..’, or saying some shit about where I am or what I’m doing. Working with weDo/ is obviously a paid partnership, but it’s nice when our values align and it doesn’t just feel like ‘a deal’. It’s rare to get approached by a company that has everything I look for. They’re really going for something in the world, and them asking me to partner with them worked out well for me, as I got to be creative and make art, but also talk about Plastic Bank and recycling beauty products. The fashion and beauty industries have been a certain way for a long time, so it’s nice to see things changing.
It feels good to help to spread this message, because I am definitely one of the people who need reminding as well! I’m not up on a soapbox preaching. I’m saying, ‘let’s all try to do better’.
I have been guilty of being a hypocrite in the past, and it is one of the most uncomfortable experiences. Going out and saying one thing and then not doing that is an awful feeling that I have felt very ashamed about. This more public involvement in environmental causes has helped to make me aware of my own behaviours at home. When I did Clean Up Australia Day with the weDo/ team, we all had to write down personal commitments we would make, and it really made me think about what I could do and was willing to do. I got all gung-ho at first, like, ‘oh yeah, I will not use any single use plastic for a year’, and then I thought, hold on, I can’t do that. (Just one example is that we always have to use single use plastic water bottles at shows.) So I felt sad that I couldn’t say I would do that, and had to properly look at my life and make a commitment that was real.
I think it’s a really nice thing that, when you put yourself out there, it forces you to properly look at your own life. It’s a good challenge. And for me, it’s nice if people are interested in my music, and then will interact with me on social media and think about how they are approaching the environment, too. It’s not all on us as individuals, though. While our own little actions can help, we need to make sure that governments and companies with the resources to make big changes are doing so. They’re also the ones with the resources to figure out the tricky maths of it all, and they need to do that and to make it clear to the rest of us. Like, at what point does buying a brand new electric car make more sense than buying a second hand car that already exists? Or when everyone was saying during Covid ‘oh, we’re not out on the roads in cars, this is so great’, but then flight traffic was so high because of all of our online orders… what’s the tipping point? Which choices really are better? There’s so much misinformation and greenwashing, and it can be hard to know what’s actually going on, so it’s important to be listening to the facts.
The most compact weDo/ product, and one which is so easy for me to travel with, is the Protect Balm.
It’s been so hot in Europe, and even though I am drinking so much water, at end of the day I just feel dry, so I like this on my lips. I also use it on my hands and the ends of fingers, which get dry and calloused from the guitar. I have got one at home and I brought one over here with me, too. I also like the No Plastic Shampoo Bars, which double as shampoo and soap for me. My hair tangles easily, so I use the Moisture & Shine Conditioner to help with de-tangling.
For me it wasn’t a huge leap mentally to try a great bar shampoo, as I used to use hotel soap for absolutely everything! I didn’t know how to look after my skin and hair at all. I was touring for five years before there was any real level of success, so I was doing it on a shoestring. When I saw my very first hair and makeup artist, I remember them saying to me ‘why is hour hair so squeaky?’ And I knew it must have been because I had used Morning Fresh to wash it earlier that day, because I couldn’t find any shampoo!
My grandparents were farmers and had a cattle farm north of Sydney, which was a big part of our lives, and we grew up in a pretty rough and ready way. My grandfather was also a sailor, so was very used to using whatever was around to try to make something work. One day, he had lost a tooth, and Mum remembers him popping a bit of superglue on it and just sticking it right back in. That’s become a famous story in our family. The mindset was very, ‘don’t make a big deal of things’ and ‘use what you’ve got’, and those sorts of life approaches stuck with me… but they’re not great approaches to take with your skin and hair!
I got more into the whole beauty thing in my late twenties, because I had started doing photo shoots, and to become more conscious of what I looked like to other people.
I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I wanted to feel good on stage and I recognised that it would help if I looked good. Jessie Hill and I started working together when I was about 28 and we developed a close friendship. It also became a great creative working relationship, where she’d be styling me and shooting videos for us. She’s always say, ‘Julia wear sunscreen! Julia? Julia? Julia!’. I had never thought before then about the Australian sun being so strong. We have a history of melanoma in our family, so knowing about that too, I headed straight to the derm to get my skin checked (and started being sun smart). Then, when I was in my early thirties, the derm also said ‘you know, you can actually look after your skin in all sorts of ways’, and introduced me to Rationale, which I think had only recently launched. That was it for me – I love their products so much. I have since done a photo shoot for them and they have sent me some products to try, but I am very much a real paying customer who thinks the range is fantastic. It’s pretty much all I use now, their steps 1, 2 and 3 and SPF, though I like to change around exactly which products of theirs I use every couple of weeks. I know it’s not real, but there’s some weird psychological thing where it seems like the effects wear off and your skin gets used to an individual product, so I like to shake it up.
I use sunscreen every day now, either #3 The Tinted Serum SPF50+ from Rationale or the Ultra Violette Queen Screen SPF 50+ Luminising Skinscreen Serum and I am a big reapplier. You have got to reapply! It is tricky If you have makeup on, but I know for sure by the end of the day some makeup has worn off, and the SPF will have come off with it. You know how you eventually are just missing makeup by the end of the day? You’ve touched your face, or hugged it off… on that note, I always feel so bad when a guy has a white shirt on and goes in for a hug and you are just sure that your makeup is going to end up on the collar. Even if the makeup doesn’t need replacing, I know the SPF does, so I am all about reapplying.
I had a period of time when I was extremely diligent with Ayurvedic rituals.
It came out of a really difficult time where one of our band members got seriously ill, and one of the ways he dealt with this was to use Ayurveda. Seeing his transformation was a pivotal experience for me, and I also became extremely interested in it. Between tours, I spent some time in India, where I would go and do this cleanse called panchakarma, which translates as ‘five rituals’. It’s not something you can do at home; it’s a four week cleansing process, which is very intensive. Some of the particular practices are encouraged more for certain constitutions, and I found some of those really helpful in reducing some issues I experience. One of the doshas is called ‘vata’, the air and space element, and apparently pretty much anyone who lives in the western world is going to have an imbalance of ‘vata’ because of the lifestyles we live. I know some people that must have a very small amount of it in their constitution, because they can have lots of things going on and they are fine. It looks so nice to live that way, but I’m not like that at all. I say to them, ‘you seem really calm right now and I’m freaking out!’ Travelling a lot flares up my issues, so one of the practices I like to do that I learned in India is to put oil on my body before my shower, a process that’s a bit of a self massage, and is called abhyanga. I really enjoy doing that. I will leave the oil on for about ten minutes, then shower, or if I have time I’ll just hang out there on the bathmat for a while longer. WeDo/’s Natural Oil is lovely to use for that.
For special occasions or events, I love to go in the week before and have the EpiNova Brilliance Facial at Rationale. Or, if I am in LA, I like going to a Korean spa.
That’s one of my favourite things to do before a tour. There’s just lots of people in there naked and chilled and getting scrubbed clean with salt. It’s so nice to see. I am such a fan of those spaces. It’s important to decompress from what is a confusing and complicated world. In the spa, there are no phones; it’s just people being with each other, often in silence, which is so rare in our culture. I am very into that stuff.
Self care is so much more than a buzzy phrase.
At the end of a shift at the ARCVic help line, they always checked in with us, ‘what are you going to do for your self care?’ When we debriefed, we’d say ‘this is my plan for looking after myself’. It matters to make sure our own cups are full, so that we have the capacity to help each other. We live in such a ‘doing’ culture, where we are constantly in survival mode. We feel stressed if we don’t subscribe to that, worrying that it means we are failing or falling off the merry go round. Our adrenal system and nerves are in a constant heightened state, and there’s so much anxiety around. There are things we can look to in order to help ourselves that are easy to forget, and really are so basic and human. Things like spending time by yourself, resting, just not being ‘on the go’ all the time. Quite apart from anything resembling a beauty product or treatment, I know I always look better when I am sleeping well and am grounded. That change in how we look feels like quite a natural way that our bodies respond to whether we are trying to do ‘all the things’, or are just going at our own pace. I’ll go off and spend some quality time with my beloved trashy reality TV, but whatever that thing is for you that helps you relax, take time to zone out, enjoy yourself and rest.”
Interview and story by Zoe Briggs. Imagery, including main image supplied by weDo/. Some additional imagery from Instagram @juliastone__.
Julia has a paid relationship with weDo/.