It worked a treat. Within two years, Banoffee released her self-titled debut EP of smart electronica with a playful pop edge, and was invited to major festivals and showcases across Australia and the States. She quickly became known for being a multidisciplinary artist, creating a strong visual aesthetic for the songs and videos she released. There was even a fashion collaboration with NYC/LA designers Skodia (Brown described her style to iD: ‘‘it’s The Matrix meets a scientist who also likes to jog and do the occasional Zumba class’’).
In 2017, she moved to LA, which bred fruitful friendships with other artists, and in 2018 found herself travelling on private jets as she joined Taylor Swift’s worldwide Reputation tour as part of Charli XCX’s troupe. Which further delayed releasing her own album, but, you know. Worth it.
Now she sits in her family kitchen in Melbourne’s Clifton Hill, on the verge of releasing her debut album Look at Us Now Dad, co-produced with Yves Rothman. It might have taken her five years to put out, but as she told The Age in 2015, ‘‘An album is like a marriage. With Banoffee, I feel like we’re not married right now, we’re at the stage of buying a pet.’’
While all Brown’s releases have been intensely personal, Look at Us Now Dad takes things to another level. It explores abusive relationships occurring out of cycles of trauma, along with sexual assault and the complexities of family.
‘‘It’s really nerve-racking. In interviews lately I feel like everyone is my counsellor,’’ she winces. Then brightens. ‘‘But once you have no secrets there’s no fear of being found out.’’
One niggling concern to her is that journalists got to hear the album – which includes songs about family dynamics and a sneakily recorded spoken-word interlude from her father – before her family did. ‘‘I think it’s a little-sister complex,’’ she says. ‘‘I wanted them to think I was tough enough to do the whole thing on my own. And I know I’m no good at trusting my own instincts if I hear a million opinions, so I just don’t show people.’’
Brown’s father spent time in a children’s home while his own father was being treated for mental illness. His mother was ‘‘a brown woman born as a ‘bastard’ without any knowledge of her history,’’ says Brown, who wrote the title track of Look at Us Now Dad about intergenerational trauma and inherited predisposition to addiction. She thinks her father, now a counsellor, can understand her motivation, while other family members wish she’d had the discussion first.
‘‘We all have different opinions on our memories and how family functions,’’ she says. ‘‘I try hard to be sensitive to that, while also saying, ‘Yes, but it’s not about your perspective, it’s about mine’.’’
The toughest song to listen to lyrically is the most compelling sonically. It’s not a huge jump to picture Permission being performed on US talk shows and raising the hairs on the neck. The song contains the verse: I didn’t want you in my body/You never asked me to invite you in/You never asked for anything/You never asked … for/Permission.
‘‘Finally we’re at a time where we’re beginning to question the nature of consent and also the fact that consent is a spectrum,’’ Brown says of the song. ‘‘In some cases it’s black and white, and in others, everyone has an opinion. I do hope to do more with that song. I saw a psychic the other day who told me that within the next couple of months I will be stamping my foot down and saying enough is enough. I feel like I’m really ready, because I’ve finally built up my chops.’’
But how will she instigate that conversation if – understandably – she is starting it only in the vaguest lyrical terms?
‘‘It’s good that you ask that question, because right now is when I practise saying, ‘I’m a survivor of sexual assault’,’’ she says. ‘‘The song discusses the fact that I, like a lot of survivors, have a very complicated, unhealthy relationship with assault, which means that I had to challenge myself not to seek out really dark, abusive situations. Certain men can pick it – it’s like you’ve got a sign on you.’’
Ideally, she hopes people will be able to sit around a dinner table and for someone to be able to say they have been sexually assaulted ‘‘without everyone at the table thinking, ‘Oh god, they’re a bit full-on’. So it’s helpful to be asked this now, especially to be asked by a woman, instead of some dude on a show saying, ‘Yo, permission for what?’ A lot of male sound guys have already been asking me that when I play it live.’’
Because of her heavy touring commitments, Brown has moved seven times in three years. ‘‘Making music in Australia is a double-edged sword,’’ she says. ‘‘You’re part of this small, supportive community, but there’s also the mentality that there’s not room for everyone. I was told when I started that there’s already a Grimes, because I had blonde hair and synthesisers.’’
And if a new wave of female musicians are being told ‘‘We’ve already got a Banoffee?’’ ‘‘God, if that happens, I hope they tell me about it so I can set them straight. Men don’t get that. Do you know how many Post Malones there are? Do you know how many Future try-hards there are on the radio?’’
When the Australian summer is over she will return to LA, a city that has been a roller coaster of opportunities and let-downs. ‘‘But that’s my life anyway,’’ she says. ‘‘My friend describes it as a heart monitor. She said, ‘Your highs are so much higher than everybody’s highs, and your lows are laughably low – a bad movie.’ That’s LA for you, too.’’
As documented in the track Chevron, an all-time career low came two days prior to getting the call to support Taylor Swift. Brown had been driving to get dumplings in Glendale when her car filled with smoke. ‘‘I was screwed. I paid the wreckers $70 to take my car and didn’t even take my belongings from it – I needed to never see it again,’’ she says. ‘‘I was working four nanny jobs and also for this old rich man who was pretty much just paying for me to be around in a disgusting, sleazy way.’’
She’s invented a name for that role: Personal intimacy worker. It’s very LA.
‘‘I was playing chaperone to someone else who was giving him life advice and massages,’’ she says. ‘‘I’d pull him into line every now and then, which he got off on. I had his credit card.’’ The first single from Look at Us Now Dad is Tennis Fan (featuring Empress Of), about fairweather friends in the industry. ‘‘Over the past couple of years I’ve had so many wake-up calls; people that have made me feel super-alone. I don’t fit in the way a lot of people do. I’m not good at going to industry parties. When I play festivals, everyone’s friends and they all know each other. You’re constantly having the rug swept out from underneath you. You think you’ve learned a lesson and then you realise it was all an act.’’
Brown was determined that if she was going to live in LA she would not be that Australian who only hangs out with fellow Australians. ‘‘There are all these Facebook pages like ‘where to find the best meat pie’ and ‘cinemas showing Australian films’,’’ she says. She has, however, joined a fine lineage of Australian songwriters, including Sia Furler, Nat Dunn, Sarah Aarons, and Miriam and Olivia Nervo, who have written for high-profile artists. Perhaps she could give them some incredibly personal lyrics to sing, to take the heat off herself.
‘‘I know, right?’’ she says, laughing. ‘‘Or just give them Permission. Probably should have.’’
Look at Us Now Dad will be released via Cascine + Dot Dash on February 21. Banoffee supports Wafia on tour in January and headlines Nocturnal as part of VAMFF Melbourne Fashion Festival at Melbourne Museum on March 6.