Banoffee Talks Standing Up, Being Different, New Tours And Her New Record
“I’m an all or nothing person and when I commit to a narrative, I can’t tell a half truth.”
Melbourne artist Banoffee might be as sweet as her name, but don’t get confused — if you’re a bully, she’ll come after you. Fresh off tours with Charli XCX and King Princess, the singer, who uses her platform as a space to speak on social issues including trans rights and the struggles that come with being Other, is hard at work on her debut album. And if it’s anything like her previous jams, including her most recent single ‘Bubble,’ it’s bound to be full of sexy synth-pop that gets in your ear about politics, her experiences growing up and the importance of being an ally.
“I never set out to be an activist or a storyteller,” she says, “I just wanted to use music to feel good and enjoy myself. However, I’m an all or nothing person and when I commit to a narrative, I can’t tell a half truth. When I feel passionate about something, I have to talk about it.”
And that’s exactly why we can’t get enough of her.
You just finished touring with Charli XCX. How was it?
Tour with Charli was super fun. We really had a wild year — in ways only the people in it will ever really understand. I had a great 2018.
What’s your favourite part about being on the road?
I think when you’re on the road for so long, you become determined to do things outside of the square. It was fun being on tour because we did things we wouldn’t normally do, like trampolining, arcading, karaoke, bowling — we filled our days off with group activities. I liked going back to the basics in that way. The parties we threw around the country with Dorian Electra, called Femmebot Fantasy, were also a super rad time. Throwing after-parties that were always insanely packed, flamboyant, and wild was fun — zero party anxiety, it was always certain they’d pop off.
What’s the hardest part?
It was challenging being in a group, to be honest. I’m not much for big social gatherings unless I self-medicate to survive. I’m not proud of that, it’s just the truth — I’m an anxious little deer over here. So, it was really hard for me at times. We made it work though, and we had time to ourselves to explore different cities — I used to disappear every lunchtime to the dining area where I’d do crosswords and make music. These little acts of self-soothing were really helpful and I also think I made some cool music because of it, even if there are hotel and or catering noises in the background!
Are you stoked to be hitting the road with King Princess? We are obsessed, obviously.
I’m super stoked, yeah! I first met Mikaela when I was working for her creative director, Clare Gillen. I remember hearing a demo of ‘1950’ and thinking, ‘Oh shit, this girl is going to blow the fuck up.’ Wish I’d fucking put money on it, eh? It’s exciting to tour with KP because really I think she’s a super talented songwriter, and I’m proud to be included in this new wave of producers coming through and doing things differently. I feel like this tour is similar to what I was just on in terms of ethics, personality and the audience it brings. Everyone I’ve worked with so far is someone I’m super proud to know, and Mikaela is no different. She’s also a ball, so I know this tour is going to be full of the good stuff!
When you tour with these women, do you ever have the opp to write together? Is that something you’d like to do?
Yeah, it happens. I mean, I’ve never really set out to work with the people I have, it’s been organic and just a result of hanging about with people who like the same things as me. Who knows, maybe we’ll write together or maybe we’ll find some other form of collaboration that’s the perfect fit — I am very good at darts, if we don’t write together there’s also a chance that we’ll be darts sharks and earn a wad of cash in Texas!
Tell me about your most recent single, ‘Bubble’ — what urged you to write it, how do you feel when you perform it, and what do you hope other people feel or take away from it?
I wanted to write a song that I could sing to my niece — something that she could listen to and sing in her head when being young feels hard. Kids can be little assholes when they want to, they pick at anything they can find that makes you different. I wanted a song that was for everyone feeling weird, ‘cos essentially feeling unusual is probably one of the most universal emotions we have.
I began writing the lyrics when I was driving down Sunset one day [in L.A.] and there was a crowd of kids lining the strip with placards protesting Trump’s sexist and anti-trans policies. The cards read ‘It’s my body.’ These placards summed it all up for me — a simple phrase that so many of us think we understand or take for granted. When I said it to myself, I felt stronger and I thought if I put the line into a song, anyone singing along might also get the rush of empowerment I did when I first muttered it in my Uber to the studio… ‘Bubble’ doesn’t aim to speak for anyone — it’s not a protest aimed at any specific cause or solely for victims of bullying. It’s just a song that I wrote to remind myself and hopefully people that we are all an ‘Other,’ and that makes us powerful.
You said the song was meant to ‘combat bullies.’ Were you bullied growing up?
I wouldn’t say ‘bullied,’ as there are people who know the true meaning of that word and I don’t want to discredit their experience by using it lightly. I think feeling weird was more my schtick. I have a somewhat unconventional / hippie AF family who drove a beaten up Volkswagen combie van and my dad rarely wore shoes anywhere when we were kids. We often had to stop and push our car off the road, or other equally humiliating activities that as a kid felt like THE WORST. Back then, it made us stick out like a sore thumb in some places, and kids made me aware of our difference in appearance and wealth early on. It didn’t help that when I went to answer back to their retorts I would stutter for a good 20 seconds before getting a word out either (refer to upper paragraph: ‘kids can be little assholes’).
My main struggles, however, were in high school when my mental health went down hill in my early teens. I didn’t really understand it and ended up losing a lot of friends because of the way I handled things. When I moved schools, I managed to piss off a lot of my teachers and fellow students pretty fast and that’s when I felt at my worst socially. Girls would leave notes about me on the floor of the classroom for me to find, flicked cigarettes at me at parties, did things to make me know I wasn’t welcome. It was all just classic teenage stuff, but it felt really hard at the time. I pleaded my mum to let me stay home from school and then just ended up skipping it and retracting into my relationship, which wasn’t great for me either. It made me seek validation where I knew I could get it and I fell into some abusive situations because of it. This stuff is better left to lyrics, though.
I was a privileged kid with many, many blessings, but regardless of how petty these issues are, they made me feel alone and that’s a feeling that has no hierarchy — I think everyone can agree that feeling like a loser sucks.
Has performance helped you become more of yourself?
Definitely. When you’re on stage in front of a bunch of people, there’s no room or time for any sort of self denial. A lot of people find comfort in becoming someone else on stage, but I find comfort in relaxing into my true self. It’s the ultimate test of people’s acceptance. It’s a risk every time, but it’s great practice for being real in the world.
Do you assume a new role as Banoffee? How does she differ from Martha?
Banoffee is me. I’m barely Martha anymore — I don’t even know many people who call me that. Although I don’t have a preference of title, I don’t feel a separation between my birth name and my artist name at all. I’m lucky to live in a time where people are choosing their identity, choosing to reinvent [themselves] as many times as they want. And for now at least, Banoffee is Martha and vice versa.
How would you describe Banoffee — what’s she reaching towards with sound, visuals, costume and choreography?
Right now, for me, Banoffee means a world in which kindness is the usual, playfulness is the usual, honesty and empathy are the usual. Visually I want it to look like it sounds, or how I see it. I want to introduce more elements into my performance — it’s happening slowly. Video and dance are two things I’m working on perfecting. Buying a ticket to a concert should mean buying an experience, buying a ticket to a destination, even if you’re just visiting for an hour or two. I hope to achieve that somehow… eventually.
You’re working on your debut album right now, right? What can we expect from it?You can expect it to be lyrically in line with my earlier work — stories, dedications, the occasional or not so occasional emo moment. I’ve been playing with different instruments for this one, so [it’s] not solely synth and computer-based. There’s a bunch of real sounds and some fun features on it, too!
What types of messaging are within your lyrics — is there a social message, a sharing of your innermost feelings? Is it happy or sad?
I’d hope all of the above. I never set out to be an activist or a storyteller — I just wanted to use music to feel good and enjoy myself. However, I’m an all or nothing person and when I commit to a narrative, I can’t tell a half truth. When I feel passionate about something, I have to talk about it, so my lyrics definitely feature political themes as well as very true stories about my life. Sometimes I worry that I make it too personal and it becomes too exclusive or hard to relate to. But weirdly the more honest I am with my lyrics, the more responses I get from people saying the lyrics speak to them. I’ve learnt to trust that if it feels good for me, it will for someone else — I’m not that unique, apparently.
What social issues are most important to you — what are you learning about?
Socially we have a lot going on and a lot to care about. So, I don’t know exactly how to answer this. Being in the music industry, I witness the discrimination against women, POC and the LGTBQIA+ community in the workplace firsthand, so this is something I speak about a lot. But that’s not my sole concern with the world. White Australia has a lot of work to do in my opinion and I feel very passionate about illuminating these issues in Australia. I’m still learning about Aboriginal history, my own history and the generational trauma that exists due to the mistreatment of First Nations peoples and POC in Australia and around the world. I’m listening to a lot more than I talk these days, because I’m very much a student in this area.
My aim this year is to understand more fully how to be an ally to the indigenous community, an ally to the oppressed and to work to make positive change in areas that need our attention. This means the refugee crisis happening in Australia, the immigration crisis in America, the complete disrespect to the rightful owners of Australian land, the discrimination against women, POC and the lack of understanding regarding gender worldwide, as well as the worldwide discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community. Cis-male supremacy has created a lot of issues for us. In my opinion, it’s these issues that lead to substance abuse, depression and homelessness. Again though, I am a student. I’m learning. I have no theories to preach and no solution. I’m just a kid, but because I have a social platform, my answers to these questions become public and thus difficult and sensitive to answer.
Did you always intend to use your platform to raise awareness for certain causes?
No, I think because I write about real experience and I engage in political conversation it’s just happens naturally.
What’s the best part for you — recording, writing, performing, accidentally hearing your own song on the radio etc?
I’m addicted to it all. I would drink a gallon of all of the above and still be thirsty. Some people become addicted to exercise, or sweets, or yoga. My fix — the one thing that always makes me feel myself — is music. It doesn’t really matter in what capacity. As a side note, though — I’ve never heard myself on the radio or seen my videos on TV! I get sent stories and tweets that make me know it’s happening, but I have never ever had solid proof because I’m JINXED!
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
I’d like to study criminal law one day — [to] stop kids going to jail for bullshit offences. My sister Grace worked in the courts for a long time helping young women with offences that were clearly due to circumstance and systemic discrimination, and a lot of my nearest and dearest work in criminal law. I’d like to do something similar once my music days expire. My entire family is in social work / social justice and I’m afraid I’m just another sheep in the Brown family and want the same.
Also, I’ve always wondered — do you like Banoffee pie? What’s your favourite dessert?
To be completely honest, I cannot eat another Banoffee pie probably ever — I’ve had so many! My mum is very good at dessert and I would have to say her self-saucing chocolate pudding or her chocolate mousse take reign over all. If I’m going for something less specific, ice-cream and mochi are big in my world. But don’t give me other flavours of ice cream — it’s gotta be chocolate-themed or its just a waste of my time.
Do you have any headline shows coming up we should know about?
Yes! I’m coming through Australia very soon! I have headline shows being announced in Melbourne and Sydney for early March and I seriously hope y’all can come. I’ll be sampling my new record on you, so be ready to put on your critical ears.
Photography and fashion: Imogen Wilson
Film: Manon Elphick
Makeup: Lara Daly
Hair: Maggie Pang @ Colleen