If you know anything at all about Australian music, of course, you already know who Adalita is. You know her from Magic Dirt, who for nearly two decades have been one of Australia’s most respected and influential bands. You may well have grown up with her music, watching it evolve from the freeform distortion-drenched darkness of the early ‘90s to the confident, poised rock’n’roll of ‘Girl’. Or you might be a new fan, just beginning to explore the work of one of Australia’s greatest contemporary bands.
But either way, you’ve never heard her sound quite like this. ‘Adalita’ is her first solo record, a collection of ten songs that captures her at her most raw and unaffected. It showcases the breadth of her songwriting talents, from the quiet introspection of songs like Perfection and The Repairer through the more rocking Jewel Thief and Goin Down to the cryptically-titled and evocative instrumental Lassa Hanta. The music isn’t so much a radical departure from Magic Dirt as it is a distillation of everything that band represents, with the layers of instrumentation stripped away, leaving only the bare bones of the songs themselves. And those songs are stark and heartfelt. They’re startlingly direct at times. They’re austere and beautiful and powerful.
“I’d been doing some solo shows… I liked how stark the set was and wanted the record to be the same,” says Adalita of the album’s sound. “When I write songs there are some that naturally don’t fit into the rock band format. So they have always been there, but just tucked away.”
It was in the middle of 2009 that she decided to bring them into the light. “It was on Dean’s advice and encouragement that I give the solo thing a go,” Adalita says of the recording. “He really wanted to bring out other aspects of my songwriting. And I agreed with him that I would love to explore these other songs, the ones that couldn’t fit into Magic Dirt. So I guess it ends up really being about getting a song across and what is the best way and the best context to do that in.”
She’s speaking, of course, of her late Magic Dirt bandmate Dean Turner, who passed away of cancer in August, 2009 at only 37. Turner recorded the early takes with Adalita that June, only weeks before his death, and his presence imbues every aspect of the album. “Because of his illness he was pretty much housebound, so I would go around to his place and sit with him and play him all the demos I had done. We would talk about what the feel of the record was going to be and how I would best achieve that. He spoke a lot about the production values of the songs and, incredibly, made it to the studio for those few days in June. He was absolutely my mentor. We were a creative perfect match and also eachothers closest, most trusted friend. I looked to him for pretty much everything.”
Apart from Turner, several other musicians feature on ‘Adalita’ – Magic Dirt’s Raúl Sanchez plays guitar on Lassa Hanta, while Melbourne singer/songwriter Amaya Laucirica provides backing vocals on Good Girl: “Amaya is someone I’ve been following for years…we do the song Good Girl live sometimes, so I thought it would be fitting to have her come and do it for the record”. And the input of hyper-talented multi-instrumental polymath JP Shilo (Hungry Ghosts, Rowland S Howard) features throughout: “I think we really click. We can talk about creativity and music in a very deep way, and he seems to intuitively understand where I am coming from. This is really important… to have musicians around you that align with the sub-conscious aspects of the music.”
Ultimately, though, this is a solo record in the most literal sense of the word: the rendering of one person’s artistic vision, even through to the artwork that adorns the package. “Taking photos is a real second love of mine,” Adalita says. “I enjoy it a lot. So all the artwork is photo-based. I wanted it to tie in with the songs, so I listened to the record while I picked the photos and put it all together. I wanted it to look minimal, beautiful and haunting, and to really draw the viewer into the landscape of this record.”
“Minimal”, “beautiful”, “haunting”… They’re certainly all adjectives that apply to an album that further demonstrates Adalita’s status as one of the great Australian songwriters and vocalists of the last couple of decades. ‘Adalita’ is one of the best solo debuts of recent times. It’s already one of the best albums of the year.