Rag N’ Bone have a purpose. They want to energise and unite all those who feel isolated or like outsiders. They want their music to encourage people to question their environment and to fight for inclusion, equality and your right to identity, because you are a person and you matter. Just as importantly, the band wants to make good music and have fun. New album A Handful of Ash is a masterpiece in modern post punk. Lead singer Kiera Owen spoke to LARA FOX about the band’s creative approach and all things societal.
How does the music come together for Rag N’ Bone?
From a writing point of view it has changed a lot over the years, when we first started it was very much us jamming in a lounge room, we didn’t really have a full understanding of what we wanted to say or create. With this album in particular a lot of the content and the idea would start with Axel [Carrington, guitar], who writes a lot and has really been working on his writing. Though, it changes throughout the album, so there are some songs like Pissy Flow and Mon Coeur fait mal that lyrically came together in the jam room.
From a songwriting point of view, the idea comes to the rehearsals and as a group we dismantle it and put it back together and we really work on the dynamics of the song. It is a collaborative effort and over the years we have really developed our individual skills. It’s not a Rag N’ Bone song until we have all put our individual stamp on it.
Who are your musical or creative inspirations for your music in general?
For this album particularly it is very much a collection of work over five years together. A lot of the songs started to really form into something that was reflective of what was around us, especially in Australia where you can’t ignore the things that are going on, so that definitely inspires us. Also, just things that happen in life. Losing a loved one or a family member and trying to find your place within the context of where you are living. That was the thematic stuff that was going on throughout the album.
I am personally inspired by other local bands that I go out see, it’s a huge motivator to keep me doing what I am doing. I stay open to genres and love seeing other’s ideas, it’s a great way to learn.
I read somewhere that you are inspired by the works of David Lynch?
We don’t want to be specifically locked into any genre but as a collective we are all drawn to darker things, or things that are under the surface. Whether it is art or film or visual art, stuff that says something and has deeper layers through it we are naturally drawn to.
There are obviously people like Nick Cave, Roland S. Howard and The Birthday Party that have inspired us. And vocally I am really drawn to any vocalist who can convey really raw emotion, anyone who can capture my heart and who is really genuine. One of my favourite singers is Gareth Liddiard [The Drones]; he has such rawness in the way he sings. I also love Nina Simone, she is an absolute goddess in capturing emotion. She transports you to a different place.
The album is full of anger – do you think it’s important for people to be angry? Instead of becoming almost accepting in defeat?
I think so. Anger is not always a negative thing. It can be really hard, because when you have a clear understanding and idea of what is going on in the world, it’s really easy to become detached because it can be so overwhelming. Rag N’ Bone is lucky, because we have this medium to explore our feelings and our questions. We feel really lucky in that way.
What do you hope people get from the album, in terms of its messaging?
If anyone can get anything from the album, it is to questions things, and don’t switch off. As artists I feel we have a responsibility to invigorate people and to voice what is going on in society and our environment. If art proves anything it is that there are things worth questioning and there are things worth fighting for.
Whilst your earlier releases may have seemed a little more despairing, the new album sounds more angry – at external forces, but also celebratory. What do you think has been the catalyst for that change?
It has changed. It’s not really a conscious shift, I think it is just to do with how we have developed as a band, and how we have developed as people. It’s also from doing a lot of live shows and really learning how to tap into how you feel and how to channel that in a way that other people can openly relate to. In the past we probably seemed more self-reflecting, but that’s only because through time and many years of practice, we have learnt how to be more global, to make our message more outward facing.
The songs seem to touch on perceived outsiders in society as well as segregation, exclusion and oppression. What is the bands position on those things?
We want to say to people, that we need to support each other and we need to band together where we can. We need to be as loving and as accepting as we possibly can as humans. I think that line of thinking is just a part of maturing and evolving, you become less self-interested and more interested in your surroundings.
I think sonically we have matured as well, which has lent itself to a lot more colour and a much more dynamic sound, within each song. Which fits nicely with our personal growth.
The album discusses themes of displacement and identity…
Yeah. We are not trying to tell people how we think, but we can’t ignore that we live in Australia [which is] a right leaning political country. We want to encourage people to look around and be reflective. Especially for inherent outsiders, for example, Indigenous Australians, refugees, transgender or queer people – where does their identity lie in the current Australian landscape? Those are questions we want people to think about.
Are there positives to being in the outskirts?
Definitely, when you are on the outskirts a little bit you end up naturally diversifying and meeting more people, and meeting other people that feel the same, so it can actually be really unifying, and also give you a sense of belonging.
There are some pretty intellectual, well informed ideas in the lyrics, and the music is really intricate and almost intellectual in style – is it important for you guys to be well informed and inquiring?
I like to think so. As a group we are really open to learning and discussion and progression. I really love film and Axel is like a sponge – he takes in everything. He also really loves literature.
As a group we always discuss what we think about things that we experience, read or witness, we always want to enhance our critical thinking, so I suppose this way of being definitely comes through in the lyrics and the sound.
The lyrics on the album are really strong. They are simplistically beautiful and really well phrased, as well as having powerful content. How important are the lyrics for you?
Really important. The first song we realised how impactful our lyrics could be was I Don’t Feel at Home In This World Anymore, we really stripped things back in that song and let the lyrical content speak out more. We all feel really attached to the lyrics and what they are saying.
But sometimes the music is saying something in itself, so we need to find the right fit for the lyrics within the context of the song. We don’t feel the lyrics need to be right out there in the forefront to have the best impact all the time. We hope people will enjoy the music as much as the lyrics.
If you could offer some words of advice to young women or men who may feel displaced, or like outsiders, what would you say to them?
I would say that your support network is everything. Also, to find and do something you are really passionate about, because that is how you will find people you really connect with, and that is where you will find a home.
I would also tell them not to be dismayed by the things around them, because you are a person and you matter.