It’s late afternoon on Day two of Falls, and the sun shows no signs of going anywhere as the vocalist uses her leopard print blouse to crank open our beers backstage.
While Hayley Mary admits that the Sydney-based indie quartet “kind of went off the road and just wandered” for some much needed time off last year, she’s glad to see the quality of Aussie music has only soared.
“There’s always been amazing music, but it feels next level at the moment, and Ali Barter is a perfect example,” the singer relates, looking back on the main support act on The Jezabels’ tour last October. “Amazing songwriting, topical, great performance… I think she came into her own through that tour as well, which is really good to see.”
“I don’t like mentioning the fact that it’s women and all that stuff, but it still is valid, and it’s really nice to see great songwriting about what it’s like to be a girl.”
That relatable storytelling with a female voice harks back to The Jezabels’ own music, particularly latest album Synthia (2016), a dark, reflective record delving into the reality of catcalling on ‘Smile’ and female empowerment on ‘My Love Is My Disease’.
On a lighter note, our chat naturally moves to the four-piece’s dynamic set on the Valley stage just an hour ago, as Mary considers the funniest thing that’ve gone wrong at festival gigs. With a sly grin she replies, “Probably today when I nearly told a joke about paedophilia.”
“We had a technical problem and everyone was like, ‘Tell a joke, tell a joke’, and I only remember really fucked up ones. It was that bad that I couldn’t, and the band knew and were looking at me while they were trying to fix the laptop. The heat was so bad onstage that in the second or third song, it burnt the laptop out, and I was like ‘Fuck, I’ve got to be a fun person and fill the gap’ and just had nothing.
“Luckily a member of the crowd came to my aid and whispered a joke in my ear, and I was able to tell that one which was: ‘Why does Cinderella always lose a football match? – Because she keeps running from the ball’. The brilliance of it is that it’s clean, and what I was going to tell was super not okay.
“He saved my life.”
Mary’s flood of memories continues as she takes a swig of beer, completely relaxed, and thinks back to a moment in Lorne.
“I went out into the crowd because it wasn’t as hot as today,” she begins, “and a guy who was on someone’s knees held me up and gave me a look of like, ‘I’m going to pash you now’. I was like, ‘Alright’, and we just had this kiss in front of everyone (laughs). That was pretty fun. Don’t know what he looked like, don’t know his name. Will never see him again.
“I probably appear like a bit of a harlot, but whatever. It’s in the moment,” she finishes, chuckling.
Even watching other festival acts is one of the vocalist’s favourite things to do, particularly if the musicians are Band of Horses. Looking as cool as ever, she drops another story involving maximum band appreciation, an unmistakable lyric and a buggy.
“We were playing a festival in America somewhere, got offstage and on a buggy and we’re kind of just sitting there, and then we heard “No-one is ever gonna love you more than I do”. We all stood up on this buggy and got dragged through the crowd going like, ‘Fuck yeah’. It was a really nice appreciation of another band. My funnest times are probably from watching other bands, because there’s just so much amazing music from the last 10 years.”
At this point, Mary confesses that all of her memories are starting to mesh into one. Yet, they remain vivid as ever when she considers the acts that inspired her as a younger artist while supporting them on tour.
“So I remember one of our first supports was Tegan and Sara, and they showed us pop music and professionalism, as well as friendliness. There are a few lessons you learn from people, and one’s ‘Don’t be a dick’. Every now and again you are because you haven’t slept, and those stories seem to go further than every other story about when you’re nice. But just be friendly, and have good intentions all the time.
“We also supported Depeche Mode and the Pixies within two weeks of each other. Depeche Mode’s like arena, next-level shows, and watching Dave Gahan (vocals) who’s like a recovered alcoholic and junkie actually keep it together for that long… We also learned a lot from the consistency. Then from the Pixies we learned the opposite, which is like punk rock and about just being yourself.”
After relating this, the vocalist then leans forward, her frame still relaxed yet slightly more rigid with the weight of her next words.
“But the main thing is how you treat your support acts really matters, because you feel a little alone in the world as a band, and if people are mean to you it really affects your day… So just general respect for people, and the bands I admire the most who we’ve played with have always been kind and given you space.
“There’s always an illusion of being an egotistical person. You can do that onstage, but behind the scenes you’ve actually got to be an alright human, otherwise the machinery doesn’t work. I think it’s easy sometimes as an outsider to think that bands or the music industry are doing things for money. Yeah there’s always a relationship between art and commerce, and everyone always has to deal with that reality. But I don’t think there’s anyone who really goes into the music industry to make money, and that’s why there are a lot of good people in it. There are egos, but they’re everywhere.”
The sincerity radiating from the singer only grows as she reflects on just where the festival stands, with Byron being home for her as well as Heather Shannon (keyboards) and guitarist Samuel Lockwood.
“I think that there’s a certain value of culture here,” she articulates. “You’ve got the hipster movement, which has definitely affected the world in good and bad ways, and sometimes this place can be confused because people get their priorities a bit wrong. It’s very privileged, but when I was growing up it was also a very poor place. There’s a massive underclass here, and that’s the Byron I know. So I trip out about the external world’s perspective, and I actually have a weird, dark one.
“When you grow up here, you hear about the rapes that never get reported because it’s a tourist town. You hear about all the side effects of all the drugs that people take, you know the people who are running away from their lives. The thing that sums it up for me is that there’s a theory and the Indigenous people are on point with it… This is paradise and a meeting place, and you’re not actually meant to live here, you’re meant to visit. The people that live here are sometimes a little trapped or marked by an imbalance. Byron is a beautiful poem: it’s so lovely, but it’s so dark.
“I love and hate coming back here, because all of my memories are of youth and what I’ve seen here is kind of brought back.”