Melbourne singer-songwriter and jazz trumpeter Audrey Powne turns heartbreak and treachery into cinematic music magic with debut solo track Flowers. With her ‘slightly morbid but nothing if not realistic Disney Princess Ballad’, Audrey’s channeled one man’s arseholery into a huge orchestral beauty that shows the true depths of her talent as a songwriter and artist.
Audrey tells WildnFree all about it, including her inspiration, the songwriting and production process plus her mum’s sage advice about untrustworthy men. To top it off, she even drops in a ‘Don’t Be Afraid Of The Jazz’ playlist for those of us who’d like a little more education in all things jazz. Check it out.
Flowers is drop dead gorgeous – so Hollywood, so luscious. What was the inspo behind the cinematic musical style?
It’s really heavily inspired by the sweet soul music which I grew up on, and particularly inspired by the Bill Withers album Making Music which my mum had on record and I used to listen to a lot as a girl. It has really lush beautiful string arrangements and a lot of wafting dreamy keys/guitar parts, which are almost like an oxymoron contradicting the poignant darkness in the lyrics. I was really inspired by that idea which is captured, I think, perfectly on one of my all time favourite songs off Making Music – Hello Like Before.
Curtis Mayfield ballads were also a profound influence on this track – Curtis is another one of my all time favourite artists. I was also inspired by overtly romantic and naive Disney music. Flowers is my slightly morbid but ‘nothing if not realistic’ Disney Princess Ballad.
What instruments did you use to create this beauty and who were all the musicians/producers involved?
This was the real fun part… My friend, producer Jonathan Dreyfus and I worked on this for ages to try and craft the perfect arrangement/orchestration. Firs, I wrangled together a rhythm section of my favourite local guys including my old friends Nicholas Lam (DXHeaven) on guitar, Louis Anthony Gill (who I played with in my first ever band The OMG’s) on bass and Justin Olsson (LANKS) on drums. Then, I begged Dreyfus to write me a Disney/Curtis (we both love Curtis Mayfield) string arrangement to go over the top. He demoed it for me in midi, I adored it, then we got four strings players from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to overdub the parts and bring it to life. We really wanted it to sound old school and real.
The most enjoyable session was definitely overdubbing the wurlitzer/piano, vibraphone and harp parts which weave in and out behind the vocals. I am lucky to be friends with so many incredible musicians, none more incredible than vibraphonist Rob McDonald. I also had to employ one of my best friends pianist/keyboardist extraordinaire James Bowers (the other half of my electro duo Au Dré) who supplied the wurly flourishes and the arpeggiated piano in the bridge.
We were also lucky enough to get the incredible harpist Yinuo Mu from the MSO involved, we got them together in a room at Oaklands studio and Dreyfus conducted them, improvising flourishes and ascending/descending phrases following the harmonic progression of the song. It was a super luxury session, but hearing amazing musicians play my favourite under- utilised instruments (including wurly) was a privilege I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Oh and then I played trumpet haha… I had to have some trumpet.
About Flowers, you say “My mum told me once when I was younger to “never trust a man who gives you flowers” as they’re probably trying to get away with something. It seemed incredibly cynical at the time until as a young woman, I found myself bombarded with red roses from a boyfriend who repeatedly cheated on me. It was one of those moments when I though MAYBE mum was right.” Can you tell me a bit about that journey from naivety to finally understanding you’r mum’s warnings, despite thinking it was so cynical? What other good advice has your mum given you?
I think I’m now way more cynical then my mum! This particular cheating man (there are others!!) was one of my earliest forays into romantic love and I was in love with love. He was always buying me flowers and gifts and telling me I was beautiful and I thought, “This is it, this is love.”
Then I found out he was giving flowers and gifts and compliments to two other girls. My mum told me when I was little, “Never trust a man who gives you flowers because he’s probably done something wrong.” I hated that my mum was right. But she was right… and she keeps being right to this day, it’s very annoying. Now she’s the one pushing me to live my dreams and never give up so I guess that’s advice in a way.
You’ve got an upcoming EP you recorded in New York. How was the process and who did you work with?
I was so lucky!! I went over last year in September/October to go to Monterey Jazz Festival and visit some friends in NYC. I just sort of met the right people, or person really. I recorded at an incredible studio called The Breeding Ground in Bushwick. They do really cool live videos under the name Highbreed Music. There are heaps of online videos worth checking out, they film them in front of a live audience.
I was in the audience for one and got chatting with Tariq Khan who runs the studio and was very casually like, “Hey, I wanna record while I’m here, do you have any time” and he was like, “Sure, sure,” but actually replied to my email the next day and booked in the dates. Then, I managed to get the band of my dreams… Some of New York’s hardest working musicians and it was a dream to have them play my music… after I got over my INCREDIBLE NERVES… Then it was a dream.
Also I think being outside of Melbourne, where nobody knew who the fuck I was, I felt really free from expectations, I didn’t have the weight of my session career and jazz career on my shoulders, I could just do whatever I wanted which was really freeing and I think helped get some new stuff out of me artistically.
It’s hard to describe the music because it’s a little bit of everything I love, soul, RnB, hip hop, jazz and of course trumpet solos haha. I don’t really know how to describe it, but it was fun and I think it’s the most “me” thing I’ve ever done, so I’m excited and terrified to put my little musical baby out into the world at the end of this year.
I’m curious about all your shifts back and forth across the music scene – from jazz trumpeter to lead singer of Leisure Centre, to Au Dre, to this project under your own name – what does each project help you express and achieve?
I don’t really think of it as shifting to be honest, I just do a) whatever I want to do musically, and b) whatever I’m asked to do. Sometimes I wanna be a rapper with Au Dré, sometimes I wanna be a sweet soul singer with Leisure Centre, and sometimes I just wanna take a trumpet solo. It’s all me… Trumpet is my first love and still where I feel most comfortable, but I have become more and more of a vocalist and that’s the majority of my work now.
I think deep down I’m just a huge music nerd, I love so much music and I can’t help but try and copy what I love, which I guess is sort of a ‘jazz’ mentality. Honestly, I hate putting out music it’s the worst part for me. I love practicing, I love making music and most of all, I love playing live. Releasing stuff and posting on social media is a means to end for me to get more gigs and support myself.
I haven’t really changed that much since I went to VCA to study jazz trumpet, I still just wanna get better at everything so I can make music with my friends, my new friends and my heroes.
FULL DISCLOSURE I love jazz…jazz and improvisation is at the heart of everything I do, and everything I want to do. Sometimes I think it’s seen as cool to be ignorant of jazz and it’s influence on all music, as if it’s pretentious to educate yourself about jazz, but once you open yourself up to jazz, it’s the gift that keeps on giving because you’ll never totally ‘work it out’ or ‘get it’. You suss out one player like Coltrane, then you listen to an Ornate Coleman record and you’re like … WTF!! It’s all about pushing boundaries and challenging yourself and I love that.
Full disclosure, we love Audrey and Flowers, plus the awesome ‘Don’t Be Afraid Of The Jazz’ playlist she’s put together to help everyone be more unpretentiously educated about jazz – it’s full of a mix of old/local/contemporary/straight ahead and more avant garde tracks. Scroll down to explore and enjoy, fearlessly.
But first, grab your tickets to her launch show at Jazz Lab on 21 July, then listen to the luscious Disney Princess Ballad Flowers: