Fleur Green is the vibrant front-lady of Adelaide Alt-pop trio Fleur Green and the Keepers. In this insightful interview, Fleur discusses her artistic upbringing, the band’s debut album, and recording in Adelaide.
Photo Credit: Emma Woolcock
Hi Fleur! Could you give a brief history of the conception of the band?
A few years ago I started writing the songs. I’ve had a history in classical traditions of violin, piano, and percussion. I’d pursued percussion for many years, and got some scholarships to study it in various places around the world. I’d then had some ill health, and had to take some time off. So, when I started playing again after five years sabbatical it was as a songwriter – I was, very tentatively, writing original music. After a couple of years of writing songs I decided to put a band together. This was initially Felicity Freeman, on bass, and Jared Payne, on the drums. We’ve had a few different drummers actually. Before Jared we had a delightful guy called Paul Backman. Our drummers seem to be fluid, as they tend to be.
We started as a band about three years ago. We’re working as a tight unit right now and performing all the songs from the new album (When the tide rushes in), but also some new ones that I’ve been writing recently, in the last year. I’ve been continuing to write over that time, developing my repertoire as a band. It’s a collaborative project: I provide the skeletons of the tunes to the band, and I like to extend the offer of development – Felicity develops her own bassline, Jared develops his own drumming style. He’s trying to stay fairly true to the recordings, the pre-existing ones from the record, but for the new tunes I might have an idea and he’ll refine it. ‘Cause of my background as a percussionist I do have a fairly solid idea of what I want to hear, but he’ll be, sort of, teasing that out with me – it is a collaborative process with the band.
So you actually have a background in formal, classical music? Some instruments from your training clearly feature in your music. The Vibraphone is a particular stand out.
I actually use vibraphone as a song-writing instrument, so accompanying myself. I learnt the four-mallet technique, and actually I have played around with a six-mallet technique. In my classic training as a percussionist I did a lot of focus on keyboard percussion instruments: Marimba, Xylophone, Vibraphone, Glockenspiel, all those sorts of things. As a percussionist there are just thousands of instruments, and at university level training you’re sort of crossing a number of different styles and instruments – timpani, snare drum, latin percussion, taiko drums, steel drum, all that sort of thing. I had a wonderful teacher when I studied at Adelaide Conservatory, Jim Bailey, and he exposed me to a lot of advanced repertoire. He had a lot of faith in ability, and got me to a level where after I graduated I did my honours, received 1st class honours and got a number of scholarships to study in various places overseas.
With your background in classical music, and use of slightly unconventional instrumentation are you seeking to, perhaps, expand the boundaries of pop music? Are you trying consciously to do that, or is it more incidental?
A bit of both? When I initially started writing, started exploring the possibilities of using your voice with keyboard percussion, it was in a practice room in Brisbane where I was studying at the time. One of my peers walked into the room and he started talking to me and I carried on playing, and started to try having a natural conversation with him, sort of isolating the use of the voice – having a melodic conversation with him, without being interfered by the piece underneath it. It sort of started from that idea – I really had fun trying to talk and play at the same time, and I thought well, it’d be really fun to sing and play. It even had the side benefit of introducing an instrument that is really not used in a pop context very often, and educating people about this instrument that I really love. It’s not often that people will be familiar with what a Vibraphone or a Marimba is – they often confuse it with a Xylophone! I’d like to provide a small education of that, if I can?
It sounds like you’re almost like an advocate for the instrument at this point?
Absolutely – I just love the instrument so much, I think it’s quite beautiful, and I think it does lend itself well to song writing. It’s so often used in a jazz context, but not as a lead instrument in a pop band! I hope the work that I’m doing will give it a platform for people to know a bit more about it, and make it palatable for people to appreciate a bit more.
Speaking of other slightly unconventional pop instruments, and perhaps the general style of your music, the new songs off the album, reminded me of the band The Dresden Dolls –
They have that very strongly theatrical, almost cabaret influence. They also occasionally use other unconventional instruments which, in their style is more in line with an almost 1930’s sensibility. Do you find any similarity there, in terms of styling?
Well certainly my background in the arts helped. I had a very fortunate upbringing, in that my parents had a strong fascination with the arts in general. We were very lucky to see a lot of different performances at the Festival Theatre in Adelaide when we were children. We weren’t a sporty family – we were an Arts family. Our Saturday outing was always an event called ‘Something on Saturday’ which was marketed as an alternative to football. It was different theatre events in different venues, whether it be ballet, puppetry, clown routines, cabaret. Different things like this, and exposing younger children to a really wide variety of musical and theatrical performance. So, I guess, in my early developmental years I was exposed to a lot of really high quality theatre, and art. My mother and father were big collectors of art also. That upbringing really gave me a different view of the world, one that was appreciative of the many facets of the creative life.
Photo Credit: Emma Woolcock
More specifically about your band, Fleur Green and the Keepers, do you find that you draw from any other modern groups or bands, or have you stumbled across this style all on your own?
I think a number of different ingredients have added to the creation of the cake, really. I listen to a very eclectic range of music – I always have. Although I’ve focused on classic training, the first album I bought was the White Album by the Beatles, and I was given a Tori Amos album when I started to songwrite at the age of the fifteen. A whole lot of local Adelaide artists as well – there are so many great groups here. I worked in CD shop when I was putting myself through uni, and I worked in the classic/jazz/world/blues section, so my ears just ate a lot of music back then. I’m very open in that way – I listen to metal, prog rock, all sorts of things.
Specific influences, especially female singer-songwriters, would be people like Tori Amos, Amanda Palmer, Bjork – but, at the same time, when I’m writing my own music I don’t necessarily think of them, I think of nothing, really. I try and do something authentic.
So it’s really this enormous, swirling set of influences, ranging from your childhood to something you heard yesterday.
Yes, I think so.
Speaking of influence: with your single that’s out at the moment, Nadia, is there anything that has influenced the song-writing? Is there a story behind it?
Yeah, the story was based on a character, with some ambiguity as to whether it was drawn from real life or not. I was working as a drummer for the Opera Australia production of La Bohème. I was a Hitler Youth Drummer, and I was sharing a dressing room with a young actor called Nadia, who was playing a prostitue. I just thought that it was such a strange and funny set of circumstances for a friendship to form, and Nadia and I did become very very good friends. I wanted to write her a song using her real name because there is a real melodic lyricism to the name. I based the character in the song on the role she was playing in the Opera. So, it was a combination of that and Nadia’s own intoxicating energy as a young, upcoming actor. She had such an enigmatic energy, and so I developed this character using her real name, but not really based on her.
Does the rest of the album then follow this narrative, directly or indirectly? Does it stem from other meetings, other narratives? Or is it more of a medley of songs?
Well, there are certainly songs about relationships with other people that I’ve had, but I think they have a broader, more contextual relatable theme to them. The mains themes of the album are Love and Loss. There are some potent songs about recovery, and of grief as well – there is a theme of my own recovery from mental health issues. These stories talk about that in a way shows that through my own perseverance, and with music as my sword, I’ve been able to recover through that, to become more resilient through my songwriting, and through the power of art.
There are some optimistic songs also! It goes through the broad spectrum of human experience. I think there’s a lot of personality in the album, from quite sweet to quite heavy. Basically, how I work is in those broad extremes, with some nods toward consistency across the whole album. I think that there are those two masks of tragedy and happiness, and there is sometimes a melancholy in human experience.
How about your hometown? What’s it like being based the smaller city of Adelaide? How was the recording process?
Adelaide really has some very fine recording studios, and we were proud to get some grants from Arts South Australia that allowed us to record in a studio close to my own home. We recorded the album in Chapel Lane Studios, which is an old deserted chapel. It’s a wonderful space, and they have a beautiful Yamaha piano there that we really wanted to use. We hired the studio for four days, and worked with the world class engineer Tom Barre. We had some great guests come in, all from Adelaide, including my own brother. Really, we had all the local music royalty come by to play on the album, and completed tracking in four days.
It took some time to get from the point of commencing songwriting to conceptually thinking that I had enough music to record a full album. I mean, I didn’t want to do it by halves, you know. We could do a live recording as a trio in the studio, and then do the overdubs. For the most part I wanted a live recording as a proper representation of our live sound. I’ve just had such a fun time with this album, and I’m just easily writing and writing at the moment – I’ve just finished writing three new songs! I hope that people can really enjoy this album, but also I hope that people realise I’m still writing more music for their ears to eat!