BIGSOUND Interview: Banjo Lucia on his songwriting process, his fearlessness and his love of musicals

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Banjo Lucia is a singer-songwriter from Fremantle, Western Australia who is starting to make waves. She had a stellar 2022, releasing her debut EP, peccadilloes to great success. In addition to its own flagship shows, Banjo has racked up some very good support slots, including Stella Donnelly during his national tour, San Cisco in Victoria and elsewhere.

I met Banjo the day after his first showcase at BIGSOUND 2022. It was a polished performance, where the audience was quiet and totally focused on his songs. Banjo writes from the heart, singing about relationships, challenging bad behavior and her broad observations as she finds her way in the world.

Hi banjo. I saw your set last night, congratulations – I enjoyed it very much. You said you were a little nervous…

Yeah – I’ve done loads of gigs, but I get nervous before every gig. I think that’s a good sign. If I’m not nervous, these are the worst shows. It takes a bit of tension to get it right.

It went well. The people were silent and everyone was listening.

It was fun. The audience was amazing – it was really nice.

That’s one of the things I noticed at BIGSOUND, so often there are people talking, and it drives you crazy

Musicians know what musicians want. They are more respectful.

Especially for your songs, which are so lyrically based

Yeah – vocal driven… They’re not very danceable songs (laughs). Nobody gets moshpit-y or anything.

Have you seen a lot here?

As much as I can – but it’s been quite a busy schedule. I saw Siobhan Cotchin and Jacotenewho played before me. Noah Dylan It’s incredible. I try to see as much as possible.

You grew up in a musical family. What music really resonated?

A huge variation of music was played. Old country like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. And heaps of soul. Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding. Old jazz like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. And hip hop. Dad loves Missy Elliot and NWA And lots of people of course. Mom is pretty folksy, so Laura Marling, Gillian Welch. A big mix. Also Jeff Buckley, Bjork.

He gave you a lot of work with

I like everything.

Your songs are personal and written from the heart. You sang your song “Plastic Seats” last night, a song about patriarchy. How did it go with the boys in your local town?

I remember the first time I played was at the local pub in my home town. Before I continued, I said “you know, I was really nervous about playing the song here tonight because I was afraid someone would take it personally. I sing about misogyny in a small town in a pub, and here we are in a small town in a pub. And then I realized that if you take this song personally, then you’re supposed to take this song personally. That’s the whole point of the song. So if you feel a little attacked by the song, it’s because I’m attacking you. Go home and do a little research, give your mother a hug, talk about it.

I just tackled it. I thought if it’s personal, then maybe it’s personal. Reflect on yourself and move on. I couldn’t just stand there and say I didn’t mean what I’m saying in the song. Sorry if it hurts your feelings. Because I mean it. It is harmful.

As a songwriter, you’re pretty fearless…

Good…. Socially, I feel like I’m quite averse to conflict, more of a people pleaser. But music is an amazing place where I can say what I want and stand up for myself. I fostered a much better sense of self-respect through songwriting. Defend myself through music. There’s something that really healed about getting on stage and singing with a little more sass and self-respect, and proving it to myself.

It’s not that I’m a fearless person, but I feel my writing, because it’s so honest, it forces me not to be afraid when I interpret it, if that makes sense.

Yes – it shows. You certainly sounded confident performing those songs.

Oh, that’s fantastic to hear. It’s good.

Banjo Lucia @ BIGSOUND

What part of the process do you enjoy the most? Songwriting, creating music, performing?

There’s an amazing part when you’re writing a song, or just finishing a song, when I don’t want to stop playing it. I will express it in memo and listen to it again and again. Then I’ll come home and think, “maybe I can put that word there.” I get pretty obsessive and that’s a good feeling. It sounds good and I’m excited about what I’m creating. For 48 hours, all I can think about is going home and playing the song, singing the song. Yeah – that’s one of my favorite parts of the process.

And I love when the song is fully formed, and I can play it in front of people, and it breathes new life into it. I play old songs rehearsing, and I can get so sick of them, and then I get on stage and they have all the energy I had when I was first writing them. I think that’s when performance is really part of the process.

Those are my two main parts of the song process.

Do you know when you finished the song? Are you a tweaker?

I am a tweaker. Especially vocally. When I first write the songs, I’m pretty confident vocally, in a small range. It’s only after playing them and singing them, many times, that I think maybe I can add a run there, or go high there. I consider songs as living organisms. When you record a song, you take a picture of it. This song is going to live a lifetime and change and fluctuate and relate to loads of people and grow.

I don’t look at a picture of me and think it’s me, it’s all about me and all I’ll ever be. It’s just me both frozen. So when I started thinking of songs as organisms and recordings as photos, it made it so much easier for me to let go. I don’t need to capture everything about what this song is and will be. I just need to capture what it is now, and that’s what I can give people.

Then they can come back to see him live and see him at a later stage in his life.

If you want to change it later, you can!

You can! And it doesn’t have to be so tense and perfect. It has to be honest and authentic to me – but it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Paul Kelly tweaked the lyrics to “How To Make Gravy”

Is he? – I love it!

He changed the line “Just a little too much cologne” at “he never had Nina Simone”

I like this. You have to let the song go where it needs to go.

I think he made a good change there. Not having Nina Simone is unforgivable!

It’s a red flag for sure. When I first met my partner, she just said “I love that Nina Simone song” right now, I just thought, yeah, you’re the only one, that’s all. Green flag!

You expressed a love for musicals. Is it a love that still persists?

Absolutely, 100%. I love everything. I loved the grease. It was really huge for me. Looking back on it now, it’s not the most ethical movie. But great outfits, great songs, great dances.

Like Mary Poppins. Like Anne sick! “It’s The Hard Knock Life” is probably one of the greatest hits of all time. This song rocks. I love it.

Chicago. I love it. I did theater all through high school. I love that you take a realistic plot and then lift it with the magic of music.

Imagine if there was a world where music, dance and art played a more integral role – what would that be like? It’s a bit like a musical. I think it’s amazing.

I LOVE THEM!

Current ones?

Well, listen, I’m the kind of person who really likes to review shit. And I really get attached to the movies that I love. It takes a lot for me to get out of this place and look for something else, so I don’t know if there are many current musicals for me. I don’t watch them. I just watch my comfort movies.

So if they ask you to star in a remake of one of these classics..

I would be there in a heartbeat – I would, I would pay to do it! $1 per hour. I’m in. Fuck yeah! I love it!

Banjo Lucia

What awaits you?

I have Wave Rock coming. A festival in rural WA.

And I open Sharon Van Etten early December. It is enormous! It’s at the Freo Arts Center. It’s so exciting. I don’t really believe it yet. I also play at the Queenscliff Music Festival.

Then I’ll release another single and an EP and keep that tap flowing!

Thanks Banjo. Enjoy the rest of BIGSOUND

Justin Stewart Cotta

You can follow Banjo Lucia on Facebook, Instagram, TwitterSpotify and YouTube

All photos – Bruce Baker

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