When the world is in a tumultuous place, what’s better than retail therapy, the ultimate playlist, and a heavy dose of nostalgia? Well, all three together.
As the design team from the British heritage brand Ben Sherman were thinking about their 2020 offering, they somehow fortuitously knew that we’d all want to look back on a better time to get us out of our current reality — and with a renewed focus on the classics. Inspired by the retro looks and music culture of the late ’70s and ’80s, and approached through the lens of British youth culture, the brand put a new spin on their menswear go-to’s, giving us updated Mod sweaters, sleek button-ups and a fresh take on their signature Harrington jacket.
So, for the brand’s ongoing ‘The Series’ project, which celebrates individuals of substance and style, we’ve put together an Australian interpretation of these classic looks and inspo for 2020, with help from a bunch of our most exciting young music artists.
Each with their own unique styles when it comes to fashion and music, Lime Cordiale, Genesis Owusu, and Tora are blending their Aussie upbringings with international influences and are en-route to global stardom. With half of the world still in lockdown and the other half trying precariously to get back to some kind of normal, we caught up with them recently to see how they managed to stay inspired — and sane! — during iso, how fashion and music have the power to bring us all together, and why the classics never go out of style.
Despite the circumstances of 2020, Lime Cordiale are having a great year. With their single ‘On Our Own’ becoming a default anthem of our current times, brothers Oli and Louis Leimbach spent iso together doing “old lady home activities” around the house and finishing their highly anticipated sophomore album, 14 Steps To A Better You. It’s a parody of self-help books, with songs as lessons in how to be your best self, and promptly hit #1 on the ARIA Charts on its release last month. The super cute/fun/LOL brothers from Sydney’s Northern Beaches make critically-loved pop-rock music that’s seen them tour around the world and back again. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their live shows remind us of a time when rock was straight-up F.U.N. It hasn’t been all easy for them, though. They’ve been slogging away for the past decade to get where they are now — and having recently signed a co-management deal with Post Malone, it’s an enviable position to be in indeed.
Things have been so crazy this year. How have you been holding up?
Oli: For us, there’s always a lot to do — that’s what I love about being in a band. Even when there’s absolutely nothing going on, you can still write music and get ready for your next release.
Did iso have you feeling creative? What did you do during all your time at home?
Louis: Yeah, really creative. We don’t normally get that much time at home. It’s pretty hard writing music on the road, so we were focused on getting some great studio time in.
Oli: It was nice being able to invest time in some of those old lady home activities, too — we were gardening and building a chicken coop. It was all very lovely. At the same time, though, I was still thinking about how I would have liked a beer at the pub….
Let’s take it back to the beginning… You guys grew up playing music together, right?
Oli: Yeah, but we were nerdy band kids. We grew up playing clarinet and trumpet, so we started out playing classical duets.
Louis: We were always singing around the house, and that’s not something you can do when playing a wind instrument, so guitars and piano just came to us by default.
What are some of your fondest music memories?
Oli: Probably crawling around as babies with our Mum practising the cello. We’ve always been around a lot of music, so it wasn’t ever a choice for us.
Louis: The first time I got stoned was the first time I listened to Radiohead. It was so powerful for me that I was fully crying under my covers. Pretty funny, but maybe that was the turning point for me.
How do you think you guys have grown since then?
Louis: We’re definitely more confident and feel like we know what we want.
Oli: Yeah, instead of asking people what we should be doing, we were bossy arrogant assholes.
Louis: It’s more fun making music now than it ever has been. With more confidence and knowledge, you have a lot more freedom to explore and experiment.
How did Lime Cordiale actually get together? Where does the name come from?
Oli: We didn’t really start writing songs together until we were pretty much out of high school and on a family holiday. We were at a music festival in France called Musique Cordiale that our Aunt was running. We were already calling ourselves The Limes for fun, so morphed it with that.
What’s it like working together with as brothers?
Oli: It’s probably more intense because we’re together all the time, but we’ve got a pretty great working relationship. We know each other’s tastes, and we know when to back off.
Louis: We can be truly honest and not worry too much about offending each other — because we’ve been offending each other our whole lives.
How would you describe your music style?
Louis: That’s always a hard question for a band.
Oli: Yeah, we’re constantly trying to push back from being tied to a genre. People call us “indie-pop” and “indie-rock,” but to be honest, I don’t really know what that is.
Louis: We pull things from different genres all the time. We love drums from a lot of hip-hop, bass, and horns from soul, ’60s vocals… I think if you combine all the elements of music that you love, you find your own style, in a way.
“I think if you combine all the elements of music that you love, you find your own style.” — Louis Leimbach
What about fashion-wise? What are some of your key pieces for the road?
Louis: You do have to have the right shoes with you. That’s important.
Oli: And sunnies to hide behind the next morning.
What draws you to a brand like Ben Sherman?
Oli: We’ve never liked wearing anything with big, bold branding. So, I like the way it’s all pretty hidden.
Louis: A good shirt is a good shirt — you don’t need to be a walking billboard.
Their current collection drew inspo from style and music of the ’70s and ’80s, which feels like a good fit for you guys. What do you love about those decades’ style?
Louis: Wide, large collars on ’70s shirts are my favourite. I don’t know why we’re not seeing as much of that now!
Oli: Also, collars on t-shirts — big, fat circles around your neck — and of course, flares.
As musicians, your own music is such a big part of your lives, but what about other music? What songs or albums were on your rotation through iso?
Louis: Luckily, we were treated with Tame Impala, and Strokes albums as this all went down. Tame Impala was the last concert we attended in LA before everything shut down, and some of the non-singles on the Strokes album are great.
Let’s talk all-time classics — if you could only have five records to listen to, which would you choose?
Oli: The Beatles, Abbey Road, because you keep learning from it, and The Strokes, Is This It, because it’s the ultimate hype up album.
Louis: Matt Corby, Telluric, also — so we could have a great voice to try and imitate — and The Growlers, City Club, for melting into the couch.
What is it about those artists and albums? Why do you think music can be such a powerful tool during times of stress?
Louis: It’s emotional, and it always takes you on a journey.
Oli: It’s one way of leaving the house!
Louis: Sometimes, it stops you from thinking, too. If you’ve never sat down and listened to an album in full without looking at your phone, now’s the time — it has a whole new impact.
Oli: Nothing has the same impact of a live show, though. The more time away we had away from live music, the more we realised how amazing that environment is.
Who are some of your other influences?
Louis: We’re obsessed with constantly finding new influences.
Oli: That’s the great thing about Spotify. We’re always trying to compete with each other and discover the next great thing.
What do you think live music, more generally, will be like after the events of this year? Do you think anything positive will come out of it?
Oli: There’s definitely a silver lining for Australian musicians in Australia. I’d say festivals over the next 12 to 18 months will be all Australian. This will lead to more opportunities and a greater appreciation for Aussie musicians and hopefully open the doors a bit more with commercial radio stations.
Louis: Not sure if I’m looking forward to the number of songs about isolation and toilet paper, though.
Until touring is fully back up and running, what are some other ways people can continue to support the music industry this year?
Oli: Buy merch. It seriously helps out a band.
Genesis Owusu (real name Kofi Owusu-Ansah) is a Ghanian-born Australian rapper and one of Australia’s most inspiring and talented young acts. He is known for his incredible sense of style and unpredictable live shows, not to mention a sound that evolves rapidly from track to track. He spent most of iso at home in Canberra working on new songs and “ignoring emails” as a form of self-care. Still, he also found the time to release his latest single, ‘Whip Cracker,’ featuring lyrics that speak to issues of racism and police brutality. Although released amidst increased attention on these systemic problems, he noted upon the release that although he created the song over the past 2 years, the issue “frustratingly doesn’t get less relevant.” Up next from Genesis will be his debut album, for which he’s enlisted the helo of some of Australia’s best and brightest — including Kirin J Callinan, Touch Sensitive, and Julian Sudek from World Champion.
So, are you still making music at the moment?
Yeah, I’m still chipping away. The current situation has definitely cleared a lot of time for work. However, it’s also a time where people have had their livelihoods and lives swept from under them. I don’t think artists should feel pressured to do anything. People gotta collect themselves.
If your life were a movie this year — since it definitely feels that way! — what would be on the soundtrack?
It would be called Self Control by Frank Ocean and have ‘Self Control’ by Frank Ocean on it 99 times. ‘Crunk Ain’t Dead MOB’ by Duke Deuce would be the hundredth song.
Did you have any favourite movie soundtracks growing up?
I was never a huge movie guy — I’m actually spending a bit of this time catching up on a bunch of classic movies that everyone’s been telling me I should watch all my life. The greatest soundtrack of my life actually came out in a 2002 Xbox game called Jet Set Radio Future. It was set in future Tokyo, where freedom of expression has been outlawed by a totalitarian government. You play as a gang of rollerblading, dancing, graffiti artists, who battle other gangs of rollerblading, dancing, graffiti artists for turf, as well as the police and government, all while listening to this pirate radio station hosted by a guy named DJ Professor K. The soundtrack was obviously wild as fuck. Experiencing that as a four or five-year-old really altered the course of my whole life.
What other artists or songs really inspired you as a kid?
My parents raised me on a lot of MJ [Michael Jackson], Ray Charles, Bob Marley, as well as African and gospel music. My first ever favourite song was ‘Gravel Pit’ by Wu-Tang Clan, though. It was saved to my Xbox for some reason, and even though I didn’t know what Wu-Tang Clan was, five-year-old me liked it. Wu-Tang really is for the children.
Back then, was there one specific moment — or a chain of events — that led you to want to pursue music as a career?
I was raised around music, and my brother was already making music. When I was in primary school, he had already jacked our family study and made it into his own studio that he called the Beat Lab. One day I was walking past while he was making a track, and he told me to write a verse for it. I ended up writing it later in a public toilet, and we recorded the track and put it on the internet somewhere, which ended up getting a little buzz. A guy named Nic Vevers, who used to work for ABC, hit my brother up to direct a music video for the song, and we ended playing a couple shows off it. I was 14 at the time, so I was playing shows in venues I shouldn’t have been allowed in. Playing shows and dropping tracks here and there just ended up becoming a regular occurrence for me throughout high school — one of the tracks even ended up getting me into the Top 5 of Triple J’s Unearthed High competition when I was in year 12. So, I always loved music, but thinking back, I guess I kinda fell into it as a career, which was easily the best mistake of my life.
Is fashion an essential element for you when you’re onstage?
The live show is where I play the music I make, but I hold it as a separate art form, almost like theatre. I try to tell different, but complementary stories, so fashion is an important element in that realm. The hype men I perform with — my goons — and I wear matching uniforms, that change depending on what story we’re telling. And right before we go on stage, we always play ‘Feel The Love’ by Kids See Ghost to set the mood just right.
Do you have any pieces that are especially important to you or make you feel super good when you wear them?
Yes, all the clothes I have from Ghana (my home country). Also, Tkay Maidza sent me her ‘Awake’ merch pants, and they’re so sick.
What about your personal style — are you more likely to go for classic, wear-forever pieces, or do you like to update frequently with new trends?
Growing up, I didn’t have enough money to shop for trends, and I guess I kinda grew into that mentality as I got older. I shopped for clothes that I thought I could wear a million different ways in a million different places in a million different years, and still look poppin’.
“Growing up, I didn’t have enough money to shop for trends.. I shopped for clothes that I thought I could wear a million different ways in a million different places in a million different years, and still look poppin’.” — Genesus Owusu
Speaking of timeless, Ben Sherman’s latest range was inspired by key influences from the ’70s and ’80s — what do you love about the style from that era?
The colours and shapes of everything, music included. It’s also more difficult than it should be to find good men’s flares now, so I envy the era for that.
And if you had to pick a favourite 2020 piece from Ben Sherman…?
The check tailored coat is tight.
You mentioned that things you have from Ghana are of particular significance to you — how has the combination of Ghanaian and Australian cultures influenced you musically and personally?
I immigrated to Australia as an outsider — a label I soon realised I could reclaim as a positive. Having these two vastly different homes and growing up with whatever circumstances I grew up with, moulded me. What I do now, is showcase all the sides of me, and that comes through in the music and whatever other creative outlets, like fashion. Many of my clothes are Ghanaian, so even getting dressed, mixing the African threads with the Western, is a display of culture.
“I immigrated to Australia as an outsider, a label I soon realised I could reclaim as a positive.”
Outside of music and fashion, what do you enjoy?
Writing was always my thing — English was always my top subject, and I got a Bachelor of Journalism and all that. And I’m pretty sure I’m undefeated in Scrabble.
I’ve been playing so much Scrabble the last few weeks! What have you been doing to find joy over the past few months?
I’ve been teaching my girlfriend how to play all my old video games, which is fun. She’s really sweet and gentle, so it’s been amazing to find out how fond she actually is of killing everything with a machine gun.
How can we support artists like yourself as well as the wider music industry through this crazy time?
Buy everyone’s merch and music. Shout out to Australian artists in particular — so many gave their services and talents out for free at the start of the year to raise money for bushfire relief, only to have their stage taken by COVID-19 so soon after. So, don’t forget about the artists (especially the smaller artists) by the time this is done.
Tora are an impeccably stylish electro-pop outfit from Byron Bay, made up of high school mates Thorne Davis, Shaun Johnston, Jo Loewenthal, and Jai Piccone (who, by the way, has modelled for the likes of Gucci, Prada, Burberry, and more). In recent years, they’ve performed at Glastonbury, Splendour, and more of the world’s biggest festivals — and discovered that their number one fan is Resident Evil and Fifth Element star, Milla Jovovich. Earlier this year, they released a deluxe version of their 2019 record, Can’t Buy The Mood, and subsequently toured through Aus before heading to Europe. COVID-19 hit as they had just arrived in Amsterdam to begin their Euro summer tour plans, but they decided to stay put, working on their new album while turning their attention to yoga and philosophy.
A lot has changed in the months since you released the new deluxe Can’t Buy The Mood. How are you guys doing?
Shaun: We had decided to move to Europe, with the plan to tour during the summer… When we had to change up our plans, we focused on getting back in the studio and creating some new music while touring was on hold.
Thorne: For the most part, it’s actually been okay, though. Time indoors was nice for writing new music, reading, and guilt-free late starts. I’m very much a night owl.
Jo: Yeah, it took a little while to adjust to the new tempo of the world, but we really got into a nice flow with everything. We found a studio to work in and adapted our plan to focus on writing new music and practising our craft in preparation for when the world would open back up again!
Besides music, what else were you doing to keep busy and inspired?
Shaun: Yoga, reading, cooking apple pie, and Skyrim.
Jai: I started painting, and developed an obsession with cleaning and interior design due to excess time inside… Also, some skating, some bike riding, reading, music and video games.
Jo: Reading physics books and philosophical manifestos passed the time on slower days. Also, watching documentaries. I took the opportunity to learn — there’s so much to know and the more you know, the more you have to talk about. It’s important when you’re writing new songs — if you want to have something to say beyond your own emotions, then you need to read a lot to give you new perspectives and new ideas.
“If you want to have something to say beyond your own emotions, then you need to read a lot to give you new perspectives and new ideas.” – Jo Loewenthal
How do you think music can help get us through everything going on in the world right now?
Shaun: Music has always had the power to bring us together and lift our spirits.
Thorne: Music is transporting and can give people respite in trying times. I think we can use it as a vessel to help explore concepts that shouldn’t only exist in dialogue. It’s an enormously powerful tool for change.
Jo: Music is emotive and healing, and it creates powerful memories. At a time like this, people rely on their favourite music to revisit their favourite memories.
Were there any particular songs or albums you found yourself turning to for comfort, or to just get out of your heads?
Shaun: Fever by Balthazar has been one of the albums getting me through each day.
Jai: Against All Logic – Faith.
Thorne: Probably gonna sound like a prick, but Debussy and Bach were on high rotation.
Jo: Asgeir’s ‘Turn Gold To Sand.’
Back to your music, what made you want to release a deluxe version of Can’t Buy The Mood?
Shaun: We wanted to release a couple of tracks that got cut from the original, such as ‘Alight’ and ‘News Report.’ We also really wanted to get some other flavours on the album, reaching out to producers for remixes.
Thorne: Yeah, there was still a bit of juice left in the record, and we had some B-sides we wanted to get out there.
Jai: It was also nice to evolve and expand on the visual aspect of the album which added a bunch of new energy.
What would you say are the best songs on the album to lift current moods?
Shaun: ‘Other Designs’ is a great track for lifting the mood, and it’s a track that might have been missed by some.
Thorne: Bit of ‘Morphine’ would sort things out for sure.
Jo: I tend to be drawn to more melancholic sounds, so for me, ‘Mother Forgot’ puts me in the right place.
Jai: I think ‘Tiger’ or ‘Ice Bucket.’
How are you feeling about the original version, nearly a year later?
Shaun: Super stoked with how it was received and inspired to create something new.
Thorne: We poured a lot of time and energy into making the record. The music is very nostalgic of that time together, but, honestly, there are a few things I’d do differently, knowing what I do now… Nothing major, but I guess I’ve learned a lot since then.
Jo: Time definitely provides perspective — it shines a light on your mistakes, your shortcomings, and reveals the room that was left for improvement. I’m still proud of this album — it’s never perfect, but I’m happy with the imperfections we left in. I’m also confident that we can do better next time.
You guys have such a specific style… on both covers, but especially the deluxe version, you’re in monochrome looks, looking super sharp. What was the idea behind the looks?
Thorne: We felt pretty inspired by Wes Anderson over this period and drew a few palettes from the styling of his movies. Often, we have an undercurrent of humour in our work too, and I think that Wes really champions the same approach.
Jo: We also wanted to show people that we are a four-piece band but present it cohesively and with quirk. We were aiming to create an indistinguishable time period in a parallel universe by combining elements from different eras and using the colours to bring everything together.
Jai: Yeah, we already had an aesthetic that just needed to be built upon. So, we wanted to change up the colours and imagery. But it was a fairly natural progression from the original record into Deluxe.
How important is fashion for you guys in general?
Thorne: The importance definitely varies based on the health of my bank account, but I love me some nice threads.
Jo: I think we all take pride in what we wear, it’s a part of how we express our individual identities.
Shaun: We all really do have such individual style.
Jai: And I work in fashion as well as music, so for me, the two industries intersect pretty heavily.
How do you describe your personal styles?
Shaun: I’d say my style is somewhere between a retired accountant with a leather shoe fetish and Ryan Gosling in Drive.
Thorne: Minimalist, for the most part.
Jo: Expressive and flamboyant.
Jai: Fairly loose-fitting, sometimes excessively bright colours, sometimes all black.
What about Ben Sherman fits so well into your closet?
Shaun: The suit pants and jackets fit so well into what I’d normally wear.
Thorne: The pants for me, too — they have great cuts.
Jo: Ben Sherman also has some cool patterned shirts, which I quite like.
Which pieces are your faves?
Shaun: The new Harrington Jacket — it’s a great addition to my closet.
Thorne: Well, Shaun stole my thunder, but I’m a fan of the Harrington too.
Jo: Long Sleeve Mod Buttoned Polo.
“Fashion and music [in the 70s and 80s] were braving new territory, and that explosion of creativity is still relevant today, which is what I dig… The creation of timepieces.” — Thorne Davis
Much of their current collection was inspired by the ’70s and ’80s. What do you love about those eras in terms of fashion and music?
Shaun: Sneakers, mullets, and washed out jeans. It was also the pinnacle of live music festivals.
Thorne: The intellectual and sexual revolutions were a pretty big deal, and I feel that really reflects in the way people were expressing themselves. Fashion and music were braving new territory, and that explosion of creativity is still relevant today, which is what I dig… The creation of timepieces.
Jai: They were certainly periods of bold change which inevitably brings inspiration, so I feel that filmmakers, musicians, artists, and designers continue to pay homage to that time, which seems unmatched in its cultural power.
Speaking of music from past eras… Who are your biggest influences?
Shaun: From a young age, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Arctic Monkeys got me into the music world, even though our musical style is quite different.
Thorne: People like Nicolas Jaar and James Blake really push the envelope, and I respect that in artists, but honestly, I take inspiration from so many places it’s hard to put anyone at the top.
Jo: My influences are broad, but the most significant artists that come to mind are John Mayer, James Blake, Bonobo, Coldplay, Michael Jackson, and The Beatles.
Jai: I’m quite inspired and excited by the house/techno scene that’s constantly evolving and breaking new ground.
What are some of the first songs or albums you remember hearing and loving?
Shaun: Whatever People Say I Am and That’s What I’m Not by the Arctic Monkeys, and Japanese Whispers by The Cure
Thorne: Some rock music by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Tool, but also artists like St. Germain and Norah Jones. My parents always had a pretty eclectic mix, and I actually still listen to a lot of those artists today.
Jo: The Beatles Number One Hits — I remember my parents used to play this a lot when I was young, and I always would sing along.
Jai: Probably The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, haha.
Did you have any other memorable music moments growing up?
Shaun: Going to one of my first open-air festivals on a mountain in Switzerland, watching Cypress Hill bring the vibe with the crowd singing and dancing in the rain.
Thorne: Bush Doofs were for better or worse kinda the only live music moments I experienced growing up, and they were dirty but pretty fun… I’m probably the last guy you’d find there now, but some great moments were had then.
Jo: When I was seven years old, my parents took my family to Brazil for six months, where we experienced a very different lifestyle to the London life we were living at the time. We went to the two-million-person street Carnival in Salvador, Bahia where I was exposed to a very rich music culture, with hundreds of floats passing by, each packed with drummers, percussionists, guitarists, and singers. Without realising it at the time, this had a big impact on me and my future interest in music.
Jai: Seeing live bands was always inspiring for me as well as finding some new music I was obsessed with.
What about as TORA? What have been your most exciting moments so far?
Shaun: Personally, the first time we decided to make the leap and tour Europe, we had no idea what we were doing, and it was an adventure. Touring all over Europe, crammed in the van with our instruments, playing shows from Switzerland to Latvia and everything between. Then, playing festivals such as Glastonbury, Best Kept Secret, Fusion Festival, and many more amazing shows.
Thorne: Touring Europe is so amazing — the people, the festivals, and the opportunity to share our passion is such a privilege.
Jo: I should also add the time we went to Mexico… After one of our shows, we ended up driving overnight on one of the most dangerous mountain passes in the country. We were advised not to do this by the locals, but we had to make it back to Mexico City for our flight. So, we risked it for the biscuit, and we didn’t get kidnapped by any cartels… plus, we made it in time for our second show on the other side of the country.
Jai: Completing a second album was super exciting, too — it definitely felt like a milestone for me personally.
Music is such a support for all of us, but how can we support musicians throughout all this craziness?
Shaun: By buying and streaming their music.
Jo: If you love an artist, take it upon yourself to support them in their craft. If you cannot live without their work, buy their albums, stream their songs, or better still, donate directly to them… Artists need help right now more than ever, and people need music now more than ever, as well.
Thorne: Services like Patreon are great in times like these. History has shown that difficult times can really set a stage for great art, though. So, I imagine a lot of creatives will be coming out with amazing work when the dust settles. Necessity is the mother of invention.
photography JAMES TOLICH, fashion SARAH STARKEY, hair and make-up JOEL BABICCI, photography assistants ALEX JOHNSTONE, NICHOLAS GARCIA, and ORSON HEIDRICH, fashion assistant MERCEDES RIGBY, hair and make-up assistant ELLIE TRIMACHI, art direction and production LUCY PERRETT @ Positive Feedback, retouching CLAIRE LEHMANN, talent LIME CORDIALE, TORA, and GENESIS OWUSU