Luluc – Angel of Upotipotpon

August 11, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, EG, August 8, 2008

In a business where talent usually brings a degree of brashness, the unprepossessing woman behind the soaring voice of Luluc is a refreshing change, writes Dan Rule.

Zoe Randell isn’t the kind of person to command attention. In person, as in full voice, her charm seems to rest in her unassuming qualities.

Much like the songs on Dear Hamlyn, she and partner Steve Hassett’s stunning debut as Luluc, Randell’s conversation resonates with quietly spoken ease, with a warmth of familiarity. Meeting her for the first time, at the back of a busy Northcote cafe, is more like catching up with an old friend.

She speaks of “hibernating” for winter; she pores through the pages of her album’s lyric booklet, proudly pointing out her sister’s art work; her laugh lights up at least our corner of the room. The woman best known as the stunning vocal foil for local folk savant Paddy Mann in Grand Salvo is not one for superciliousness or facade.

“I didn’t want to make anything amazing,” she says of Dear Hamlyn, pausing for a moment.

“I just wanted to make some nice music and sort of see if I could. The goal was to create pictures or images, or retell stories that are accessible in a bit of a timeless way. So, you know, I’m not singing about frustrations with my iPod or something,” she laughs.

Timelessness is something that Randell has already accomplished. While Grand Salvo may be the product of Mann’s creative muse, for the last half-decade Randell has played a crucial role in bringing his vision to life. The wondrously pure qualities of her voice and her innate abilities as a harmonist have established the 32-year-old’s place among the Australian indie scene’s highest coterie.

But with the help of Hassett, Randell – who grew up listening to her parents’ Ray Charles and Paul Simon records in the tiny town of Upotipotpon, outside Benalla – has been able to find a voice and render a story that’s truly her own in Luluc. And true to her humble character, the experience has come as something of a shock.

“It’s sort of nerve-racking in a different way to singing with someone else,” she says. “I mean, it’s not something I’m totally new to. I made some music when I was younger, but I guess it’s a bit overwhelming how quickly things seem to be moving with it. The momentum around it seems to have taken its own course.”

It’s not as if Dear Hamlyn came about quickly. Randell and Hassett – who was a founding member of Melbourne noir-country iconoclasts Wagons – have spent the last three years working on the equally lush and skeletal vignettes that comprise its core.

Considering where the songs came from, it’s little wonder the duo took such care. As Randell explains, Dear Hamlyn was something of a tribute to her late father.

“Grieving is a very difficult thing to go through, so I suppose I really wanted to do something beautiful with it, rather than just be saddened by it,” she says.

“Hamlyn is my dad’s middle name, but it also means ‘lover of home’. I really wanted to try and create something beautiful, and it was a bit of an ode to my father, but also an ode to my history and all the sort of things I’ve come to value.

“When he did pass away, I sort of had to reflect on what was most important to me. And I realised that people and music are essentially it and I probably would regret it if I didn’t explore it a bit more.”

The results, tracked in Randell and Hassett’s home in the attic of an old Fitzroy North mansion, have an ethereal quality. Pealing with the subtlest of harmonies and drawing on a cast of musical sorts – from the murmuring double bass of Pete Cohen and cello of Jessica Venebles to the French horn of Libby Chow – the duo layer whispered arrangements under their bare-boned guitar and voice motifs. The hymnal lilt of I Found You and The Wealthiest Queen are two of the most evocative, gorgeously poignant melodies you’ll hear.

“I feel like Steve and I have a very clear vision that is very compatible,” explains Randell. “While I write the core of the songs, Steve is very much the editor. Music is basically something that we’ve shared from the start.”

She pauses. “And I get a real joy out of that.”

Dear Hamlyn is out now through Shock

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