“We’ve only been to Austin, Texas, once as a band for SXSW (South by Southwest Music and Media Conference), and it was mayhem,” recalls Elana Stone, who plays accordion and is one of the group’s four vocalists. “We ate delicious tacos and drank martinis every day.
“There was basically a stampede on Sixth Street when a tire blew out, and someone thought it was a gunshot. We had an incredible time two-stepping at the White Horse. The people are very courteous in Texas. There is always someone offering to carry my accordion which doesn’t happen in Australia.”
All Our Exes Live in Texas — which also includes Hannah Crofts on ukulele, Georgia Mooney on mandolin and Katie Wighton on guitar — took its name from the song “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” popularized by Texas native and “King of Country Music” George Strait.
“To be honest,” Stone explains, “our name was the result of a quick Google search of ‘worst country song titles of all time.’ We stole this hilarious song title and changed a word to make it our own.”
The Sydney-based group describes its music as modern folk.
“It’s a very vague term,” Stone admits, “but we feel we are following in the footsteps of the McGarrigle sisters and singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell. But we do it in a four-part vocal format reminiscent of Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.”
All Our Exes Live in Texas formed in 2013, but 2017 was a landmark year for the group. They released their debut album When We Fall, were named by National Public Radio at SXSW as one of the “Top 15 Artists to Watch” and won an ARIA (Australian Record Industry Association) Award for Best Blues & Roots Album.
“We aimed to produce a world-class record,” Stone says. “We enlisted the help of Wayne Connolly, a multiple Aria award-winning producer who had just the right temperament to work with our group. He was a total enabler, bringing our ideas to auditory life and doing so with focus and a scorching sense of humor. We had so much fun in the studio making When We Fall. it is easy to forget that it’s an album of breakup songs.”
With four singers in the band, how does the foursome decide who does the vocal leads?
“We are incredibly diplomatic,” Stone says. “We split the lead evenly between the four of us. We tend to take the lead on the songs that we have personally penned, so you generally hear from all of us individually a few times during the course of a show. We are like a four-wheel drive vehicle with an engine that purrs like a Ferrari. Yuck, that would be hideous, but you catch my drift. Our voices are incredibly different, but they work together well which is a stroke of luck and the result of years of practice harmony singing.”
All Our Exes Live in Texas have many musical heroes, including Sufjan Stevens, Dolly Parton, Rufus Wainwright, Joni Mitchell, Father John Misty, Margaret Glaspy and Shovels and Rope.
Australian favorites include Ainslie Wills, “soulful art-pop with vocals reminiscent of Jeff Buckley and Grizzly Bear instrumentation”; Ngaiire, “singing that makes you spontaneously cry with tasteful neo-soul production”; D.D Dumbo, “think Sting with a Talking Heads backing band”;
Oh Pep!, “Olivia and Pep write amazing songs and play them like wizards of music,” and Tame Impala, “Der, you know who they are.”
Stone says she has seen so many great concerts by other artists, so it is difficult to choose the best one she has seen. But she names a few outstanding shows she attended.
“I remember seeing Rufus Wainwright solo at the Basement in Sydney in 2008. David Byrne was in the audience, and I ended up chatting to him and Rufus at the end of the night with my brother Jake. We were fan-girling pretty hard. Rufus played a lot of guitar that night. He certainly wasn’t a master at it, but I think that was what was so inspiring.”
Was there one concert that most influenced Stone’s musicianship?
“Every concert I go to changes me as a musician for various reasons,” she replies. “I recall seeing St Vincent at the Factory Theatre (located north of Sydney Airport) in 2012, and that was incredible. She jumped in the audience and moshed. Do you guys say that word? She basically ran around with her guitar bashing into audience members while soloing. It was fantastic.
“The gigs that change me the most as a musician,” Stone adds, “are generally the ones I am playing. When you surround yourself with exceptionally talented people, you tend to learn a thing or two on stage every night.”
All Our Exes Live in Texas were scheduled to return to the USA last month to record their second album with Los Angeles producer Jake Sinclair, who is known for his work with Shovels & Rope, Panic! At the Disco and Weezer.
Besides her ventures to the States with her bandmates, Stone says she drove across Texas on “a road trip” in 2015 and came away with various memories and impressions.
“I find the open-carry laws quite frightening in Texas and was amazed by the sight of people riding around on monster bikes with no helmets on,” she says. “These things are crazy illegal in Australia — as is smoking marijuana or even having marijuana. I walked around with my mouth agape most of the time, but Texas is always fun.”
Americans are her “favorite things” about the USA, she says. “It sounds like a cliche, but I love the can-do attitude of Americans. You guys are not afraid to back yourselves and make things happen. It’s impressive.
“My least favorite thing about the States is your gun laws. It’s time to sort that out. Let’s protect people instead of the NRA.”
Stone says she loves living in Australia, but The Land Down Under presents problems for musicians, and the country has its problems, too.
“I love living in Australia, because my friends and family are there,” she says. “I live in a little coastal town called Thirroul which is 1 1/2 hours south of Sydney. The beaches are incredible, and the landscape is immensely beautiful.
“Australia is large, but the population is comparatively small,” Stone explains. “It means most artists have to travel overseas to work, because we don’t have the market to support our homegrown artists. That’s not really a big deal, but we are so far from the U.S., U.K. and Europe that touring becomes very expensive, and coming home is a 24-hour flight.
“The other, much deeper issues in Australia revolve around racism and a lack of leadership in our country. Our current government’s immigration policy is possibly the harshest in the world. Refugees are sent offshore to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia for ‘processing,’ and they are never seen again. People are dying there from hunger, depression and malnourishment. The laid-back attitude of Australians tends to extend to these political and social issues, and not enough is done. We are not outraged and ashamed. We are complicit.”
Other topical issues are also on the mind of All Our Exes Live in Texas.
“If you are not thinking and talking about social and political issues at the moment, then perhaps you live on the moon,” Stone says. “Climate change, immigration, human rights and gender equality are the biggest political issues in the word today.
“As a member of an all-female band, we focus on the social importance of feminism and gender equality. Our mission is to be awesome role models for young girls and women who might want to venture into the world of music — or indeed any industry — and be successful. We are bringing awareness to the issues of gender and racial equality in our industry and paving the way for other female musicians and people of color to take the stage. We are also Green Music Australia ambassadors, so we don’t use any plastics in the green room backstage and take our water bottles on stage for the gig.”
Besides “hoping to inspire and empower women everywhere” and making beautiful music, Stone says All Our Exes Live in Texas have a few other very different aims.
The band hopes to “get really good at telling jokes,” she says, “make heaps of money and, hopefully, lure some husbands in the process.