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30/70’s Allysha Joy talks social change and songwriting

Dan Webb
Allysha Joy is the lead singer of Melbourne hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk collective 30/70. She’s also an accomplished artist in her own right. We caught up for a chat ahead of a scheduled festival appearance earlier this year.

Why do you feel women have historically been so underrepresented in festival bookings?
Well I guess it’s just part and parcel with really the oppression in broader society. I don’t really think that there’s many aspects in life where women aren’t underrepresented, especially in the workplaces and music is a workplace. Just like in every other workplace, women are under represented in music and it’s not – I guess the the thing that a lot of people don’t understand when we talk about this is that it goes far beyond the booking agent, but the booker needs to be responsible to make some sort of change there. Obviously there’s a lot that occurs before the booking agent, so you know, women are maybe not – there aren’t as many female musicians coming up in the scene at the moment, or you know, there’s not as many female musicians accepted into schools to study music. And those issues need to change over time but we definitely know that women – young girls need to see women doing the things that they look up – like, we need to put women into places of responsibility and into places of I guess, just elevating women so that the younger generation can see that and feel like they can do those things as well. Sorry, it’s such a complex issue and I feel like a bit flustered answering it right now. But yeah I guess – all I can say is that it occurs because the underrepresentation of women has been occuring for so long. And festivals are just another factor within a very wide issue, you know. And it’s not just women who are underrepresented, it’s you know, LGBTQI communities, it’s people who are not necessarily able bodied, it’s you know, people of colour. We need to see representation extend to more than just white men, cis men.

It’s certainly a complex issue. Have you personally had any trouble booking gigs?
Well we have a booking agent at the moment so I’m not necessarily as involved in the booking for 30/70. But for myself I definitely do see a change and I definitely do feel that there’s been a shift in the past couple of years to give opportunities to more women and to you know, non-cis LGBTQI communities and people of colour. I definitely do feel like there is a shift but I guess that’s more on like a community scale, like maybe if I’m booking gigs in Melbourne. I think on like when it comes to festivals, that’s where the responsibility can sometimes be overlooked and people – the audience is going to buy a ticket to a festival a lot of the time regardless of the lineup, so I think it’s really important that festival bookers are looking to diversify their lineups because that’s often where I don’t see as much diversity. And I think as well like, it feels like to me – I’ve toured in Europe and in Australia and it feels like to me, like in Australia, maybe I just know the scene better but it does feel like there’s a bit more of an emphasis put on this, especially in the past few years, than maybe there is in other countries. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being a bit biased. But I do definitely feel like there’s a change. Booking’s difficult, no matter who you are, but yeah it definitely is changing and needs to continue to change.

Allysha Joy performing with 30/70 at By The Meadow festival 2018. Photo: Liam Brownlie

Alright, let’s get onto songwriting. How does the songwriting process for 30/70 differ to that of your solo output?
I guess with 30/70 it’s a lot more collaborative. I write all the lyrics myself, in both projects that’s the same, but the music does come together in a very different way. In my own project I write pretty much all of the parts and then bring it to Ziggy and Henry and in 30/70 it’s more, a lot of the time it’s more like somebody just brings in an idea and then we jam on it. Which is really fun to write that way. But I like writing both ways. So I bring in tunes to play with 30/70. That’s fun too.

Are there any over-arching themes in your work?
Yeah, definitely. I think lyrically I’m often trying to – I guess talk about social change, environmental change, and that’s across all of my music. I want it to be in all of my work, no matter what I’m doing. And then as well like, I can’t help but bring elements of my personal life, whether it’s relationships or you know, whatever I’m going through at the time. Of course I’ll bring that into my music as well and that’s like regardless of what project. Which is sometimes kind of funny. Like one of our recent 30/70 tunes that we’ve just started playing is like, about like making love in the kitchen. And when I first started singing it – and I’ve lived with nearly everyone in the band. So yeah, when I first started singing these lyrics I was kind of singing them under my breath before I kind of fully divulged what the song was about. But yeah, we’re all like really close family so it’s all cool, so it’s funny. (Laughs) They’re like my brothers.

People need to sort of feel connected to what you’re bringing before they can really trust your message…

You mentioned wanting to sing about and inspire social change. Do you find it hard to incorporate those sorts of elements into an upbeat track? You want people to dance to it, I imagine. How do you find the balance there?
Marvin Gaye talks about this concept a lot. And it’s just sort of like this balance between like making sure you’re saying something that you believe in but at the same time it can be sort of – go over lots of people’s heads. In that sense that you can just be grooving to a track and you don’t even know that it’s about, in Marvin’s case like, taxes or something, you know. I think that’s really hip, I think that’s important. Because people need to sort of feel connected to what you’re bringing before they can really trust your message, I think anyway. I mean even, not necessarily in a musical situation but in any situation. Like whenever I talk about being a vegan or like, these are big concepts like, capitalism or whatever it is. It’s important that there’s trust there or otherwise people don’t really necessarily want to listen to you. So I think musically if the music can be engaging and fun or you know, doesn’t necessarily need to be sad to be talking about something that’s depressing like climate change. You know, I think it’s kind of really hip to be connecting on multiple levels and people can read into your lyrics once they feel that trust and feel connected to you on another level.

As a band you perform a fusion of hip hop, jazz, funk and neo-soul. Do you feel that’s a benefit or a hindrance in reaching a wider audience?
Sometimes I feel like yeah, it can be a bit of both. I think some – like a lot of the time it’s really great because we get asked to play a wide variety of festivals or gigs or, you know, we can play Melbourne Jazz Festival but then we can also play, I dunno – in Sydney we just played in a basement and it was sort of almost a club night. And like we can do both of those well, which I think is awesome. I think sometimes the jazz element can be intimidating for people or like, because we’ve got quite heavy production stemming from hip hop or lo-fi inspirations, that can sort of be a bit daunting for people and it might not necessarily mean we get played on mainstream radio. But I don’t really see that as a hindrance any more, I just kind of see that as us following what we love. You know, that’s the music that we love to make and that’s what’s true to us. You know, we all grew up listening to soul, hip hop, jazz, funk. And we’re just sort of paying testament to those people who came before us and I think that’s all that matters, is that it’s honest and to not think about that too much, whether it’s good or bad but just doing what’s real for us.

Do you have an all time favourite jazz album?
Woah. My one is really daggy! It’s kind of like the first jazz – I first started listening to jazz maybe when I was 12 or 13, I came kind of obsessed with all these jazz records. But the one that’s sort of like stayed with me and is now completely nostalgic is the first record that I ever really listened to. And that’s Ella & Louie (Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong). And it’s 100% trad, corny jazz and I love it. My dad gave me the record when I was like, 12. (Laughs) It’s my favourite of all time.

I think the issue comes when people only see Hiatus and they don’t see what came before Hiatus.

What would you say to cynics who might dismiss your music as sounding too similar to Hiatus Kaiyote?
That is funny you say cynics, because I think it’s a beautiful thing that we’ve created in Melbourne like this Melbourne soul sound and scene and I don’t think it’s anything to shy away from or be ashamed of. I think it’s really important to acknowledge where you come from and the sounds that have influenced your music and Hiatus is definitely one of them. I think the issue comes when people only see Hiatus and they don’t see what came before Hiatus. And you know, there’s so much music that we check out, that both bands check out, and we’re all like good mates with those guys. (Paul) Bender, the bass player from Hiatus helped mixed this record. So like, you know, we’re all crewing up jams together and vibes together. So yeah of course we’re going to have similarities in our music and in our influences. (Laughs) It’s all love, it’s all community, it’s all music.

You released a solo 7” last year. The single, “FNFL” was dedicated to the traditional owners of Australian land. What do you make of the push for constitutional recognition and what are your thoughts on a proposed representative body?
Yeah I think this is so important, of course. I feel like you’d be, yeah. Of course this is something that we need to have… It’s kind of conflicting for me to even talk about it and to have a song that’s sort of dedicated to traditional owners of the land, it’s sort of contradicting what I’m about to say but I think it’s really important that that community is able to speak for themselves and not constantly be represented by white men and women. And I think that’s something that over the past couple of years I’ve really learned. I wrote that song maybe like, four years ago and it’s taken me a really long time to put it out. But it originally came about in bushfire season and it was just sort of frustrating for me that the traditional owners of this land know better than anyone how to care for this land and you know, they’re not given a voice. And so to have a body of people that stands up and can stand up in parliament and have a voice and have representatives there for that community, it’s just like so integral for any forward motion, for any sort of reconciliation in what’s happened. Because we’re still not seeing that and that community’s still not able to speak for themselves. And I definitely don’t want any of my songs – I don’t want to claim their issues on land rights or environmental rights or human rights, I don’t want to claim those issues as my own, I guess I want to encourage awareness. And if that just means like, dedicating this song to them then that’s what I see as really important. And yeah, we need to see legislative change.

If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?
Woah, oh this is so hard. Oh my god. I kind of don’t want to pick a musician because it’s easy… I’d love to create like, (laughs) create a film clip with Klimt, Gustav Klimt, the painter. I just think his visual world, to be created in some sort of moving imagry would be amazing and I love the way he presents women. And yeah, I just think it’d be really great to work with a visual artist on that level. And maybe in an alternative universe I’d be really good at painting, too (laughs).