Rebel howls over Sydney’s splendor, singles and nightlife
Rebel Yell is a balancing act. On the one hand, Grace Stevenson has attitude, creativity and rhythmic dynamism. On the other hand, there is a burning desire to bring his music to a wider audience. It’s a perilous place, but with each new release it feels like Grace is getting closer to where she needs to be.
Catching Grace fresh off a European tour and at the end of a first Splendor in the Grass DJ set, that’s what she had to say.
“A lot of people are confined, when I feel like I could do warehouse parties and raves or like a DIY punk show“: We are talking to Rebel Yell.
HAPPY: We’re here at Splendor in the Grass – your first Splendor in the Grass – and you’ve just played a DJ set. Tell me a bit about the experience …
GRACE: Well, for my part, I had no idea that they were filming me and projecting me on a screen behind me! I had no idea. But yes, it was fun! There were good parts, when I was playing [Fatboy Slim’s] Here Now everybody is gone. But I’m not usually a DJ so it was an interesting experience.
HAPPY: You just toured Europe for small indoor sets and now you’re back in Australia for a big outdoor festival. Your normal environment would be more like a boiler room …
GRACE: It’s really on the inside. [Laughs] Lots inside. [The European tour] was like a bit of a vacation for me. I was there to visit people and then did some shows. But it worked out perfectly in terms of timing as it was between Dark Mofo and Splendor. [The European Tour] was five shows; Vienna, Berlin, Iceland, London and Bristol.
HAPPY: Your music leans on the more techno and industrial side of things and these are places where people are very enthusiastic about this kind of music …
GRACE: It makes more sense. It makes so much more sense. I think that was the kind of answer I wanted.
HAPPY: As for Rebel Yell, you’ve released two EPs and two albums, haven’t you?
GRACE: It’s weird. The first [Mother of Millions] was like a four track, then I pulled out an eight track [Hired Muscle] last year and there will be a real album next year. But this year it’s just singles.
HAPPY: One of the most singles you’ve released, With you, you did it with Exhibitionist who is also Kirsty Tickle who stars in…
GRACE: Party Dozen!
HAPPY: I wonder how you came together. Party Dozen is an experimental band but with pop ambitions – they want to make their music known. I think it’s kind of like where you come from with Rebel Yell.
GRACE: Well, we met on tour with These New South Whales last year. Me and Party Dozen were the backers of all the shows. This is how we met. Which is interesting because Kirsty is from Brisbane.
HAPPY: Really? I did not know that.
GRACE: Yeah, but from afar. She knew my brother who was in the music business a long time ago. And then we made friends and started hanging out in Sydney’s heaps. And at Christmas, we said to ourselves: “Oh, let’s play a song together.“And then we were like,”Okay! Let’s get serious about this and make it a proper song.“
HAPPY: Did you initiate this?
GRACE: No. We both just thought, “We should do a song together!“
HAPPY: I didn’t even know she was singing. I thought she was mainly a trumpeter …
GRACE: Yeah exactly. If you only see Party Dozen, you have no idea that the Exhibitionist exists. But she has a beautiful voice.
HAPPY: You were originally based in Brisbane but very recently (at least in my mind) you moved to Sydney …
GRACE: Do you know it’s been a year this weekend? It’s my birthday.
HAPPY: The cultures of the two cities seem different.
GRACE: Well, yeah. I mean in terms of places right now, Sydney has been going through a really tough time. The only place that was awesome, this little DIY space that was really close to my house that was BYO and fun every weekend, was closed. Another very good one, the Gaelic Club has also stopped doing shows. Two really crucial DIY places have disappeared. It was really disappointing.
But in another way – I always thought it didn’t matter which city you were in, because you’ll bond with people and visit, and make things work. You will go to other places to play and blah, blah, blah. But in fact, I’ve met a lot of people in Sydney that I want to work with, and I’ve made some really good friends. I really feel at home there. Much more than me in Brisbane.
HAPPY: The DIY scene in Brisbane is a very unique animal species and the one in Sydney is very different as well. In Brisbane there are a lot more venues, but bands often struggle to attract audiences. In Sydney there are people who are committed to playing even though it is much more difficult to find a place.
GRACE: Yeah. And I feel like people are so much more passionate about it and have so much more motivation. They really want things to happen and they want to do whatever they can to make it happen. There is a lot of effort going into it. And then, a lot of people play in so many bands. Everyone has so many projects that I love.
I was trying to put on a show in Brisbane coming up and I thought to myself, send messages to some people like: “Who makes electronic music in Brisbane?“They were like,”Uh, bad question for the moment …“And I’m just like”Why!? What is happening?“It’s back to Guitar Land!
HAPPY: A big aspect of DIY is playing with small, cohesive, tight-knit crowds. But then as an artist, there’s this challenge of taking your work and bringing it to a wider audience without making it into a formula or derivative.
GRACE: Completely. That’s why it’s amazing that I’m here. I think because I’m sitting in different pockets of genres and scenes, I can do so many different things. A lot of people are confined, so I feel like I could do warehouse parties and raves or love a DIY punk show or like a trade party, you know? So I’m really lucky and I don’t know how my music can do that but apparently it’s possible!
HAPPY: What are you working on right now?
GRACE: So I have a new song [Night Drive] and a movie clip (because that’s apparently what I need to do.) and then probably another [single] before the end of the year. And then next year a full album, a 10 to 12 track.
HAPPY: The albums are a big commitment. A lot of bands just do singles. Do you think the release of albums is important?
GRACE: I feel like it’s a personal accomplishment. I think the last time we had an interview I said, “The albums are DEAD! They are all single!And then did an eight-title thing with eight movie clips. I was like, “They are all single.“They were released as singles. But I want to make it a good one, refine my songs more and have songs that don’t have lyrics and that don’t follow as much of a pop structure as mine.
HAPPY: You’re always very supportive of other musicians in the DIY community and the music community in general, are there any Sydney artists bubbling under the radar that you think people should check out?
GRACE: There are so many new bands from Sydney. There’s one called Eternal Dust, Optic Nerve – my new Australian Idol band!
HAPPY: Who is it going to be with?
GRACE: It’s just with three boys. And they’re very young and cute and sweet and that’s yeah …
HAPPY: Any closing comments. Is there something you want to throw at the fans, the true believers of Rebel Yell?
GRACE: [Laughs] Thanks for watching me perform live and wrestle with my Splendor DJ set! I’m glad I did.