SAFIA have become one of most intriguing bands in the Australian music scene. It’s easy to describe them as an electronic trio, but you can hear the layers of soul, folk, pop, rock, and dance with every second, third or fourth listen.
They seem to have mastered that ultra sinister sound. You want to get down and boogie, but you’re also feeling a little creeped out. Their music is weird and wonderful, with soulful vocals that pull you through to the end.
Ben Woolner-Kirkham, Michael Bell and Harry Sayers are the boys behind SAFIA, and have known each other since meeting at Radford College in Canberra.
“We’ve been playing together for years,” Michael said. “All of a sudden, we started getting into electronic production and music like that, and I think that’s really when it started to show some kind of promise.”
SAFIA built themselves up much like any other indie band.
“The first thing was putting up a song on triple j Unearthed, not really thinking it would go that far,” Harry said. “We started touring a little bit, got some good supports, and then I think there was a time when people were actually coming to the shows for us.”
“That was probably a big moment,” Harry said. “Like this is actually going to go somewhere.”
“I was doing building construction at uni for a few years,” Harry added. “I just totally cut that off.”
“I was a liquor store assistant,” Michael said.
Ben was finishing up a music engineering course at the time, so it was easy for them to put things aside and focus on SAFIA.
“It takes you on a bit of a journey,” Michael said.
He’s right. The opening track, ‘Zion’, transports you into an Australiana epic space-age film, before Ben’s vocals break it up with ‘Embracing Me’, ‘Together, Locked Safely’ and ‘Fake It Til The Sunrise’, feel-good tracks about love, loneliness and wanting.
“It kind of moves through different feelings, different emotions… different headspaces,” Michael said.
‘Over You’, ‘Bye Bye’ and ‘Close To You’ channel that psychedelic, eerie feel, but it picks up in mood with ‘My Love Is Gone’ and ‘Make Them Wheels Roll’. Ben cites ‘Go To Waste’ as one of his favourites, an earnest ballad with a simpler production.
And then, as Harry describes it, the album “finishes off with a bang”, with hyped-up tracks ‘Home’ and ‘External’.
Ben’s in charge of the lyrics, but they write the music together. Michael’s on drums and plays guitar, and Harry takes care of the synths, guitar, and the painstaking details (he’s a perfectionist).
The hardest part about being mates and working together professionally?
“I think the proximity. Being so close together all the time” Michael answers.
“There’s no beef or anything. It’s just like with anyone you spend months with… you need to just have your space, so it’s always good just to get home and kind of take a breather,” Harry said. “Otherwise it’s awesome to be able to just work with your mates and tour the world.”
Though it seems like they’ve got an insane career ahead of them, Harry jokingly says that he wouldn’t mind retiring at 30. Michael reckons 40 is a pretty good bet.
“Everything happens when you’re in your 40s. That’s where you really come to life,” Michael laughs. “You get to do things like go out and have breakfast with your family.”
“And wear trackies wherever you want,” Harry adds.
So if they’re retiring at 30…
“We’ve got six years left,” Michael laughs.
“If we can financially keep ourselves above water, for as long as possible, that would be amazing. Just so we can do exactly what we want to do and hopefully be as happy as we can,” Harry said.
“I think people should be more aware how difficult it can be to tour a band,” Michael said. “You know, be grateful for all the streaming and music websites that they have out there because a lot of the artists don’t get paid very much money. It’s quite difficult.”
Though Harry admits the future scares him a bit, SAFIA’s short-term goal is to just keep writing music.
“That’s really all we want,” Michael said. “I tend not to think too much about the future… I just enjoy the ride while it lasts.”
SAFIA kicked off their Australia and New Zealand tour last weekend. Tickets are still on sale, so commit to a live show before they settle down and retire. This could be their farewell tour.
Hometown: Canberra, Australia.
Latest album: Internal, released 9 September 2016.
Sounds like: The Kite String Tangle, Peking Duk, RÜFÜS.
Say what? SAFIA received death threats from Arianators *shudder* last year, after Ben commented that Ariana Grande’s ‘One Last Time’ music video was similar to their video clip for ‘You Are The One’.
“That last shot is frame-by-frame exactly the same,” Ben was reported saying. “I’m not claiming the comet theme or the end of the world theme is by any stretch an original idea but it’s more the execution of it and it’s just those little things that are a little bit too similar.”
Pink sky. Meteors. Couple kiss and embrace. Explosion.
Also, the boys occasionally get together and play polo in Canberra for Harry’s birthday. The more you know.
Ciao ciao, Arianna