Australian three-piece electronica/indie pop band Safia hailed from Canberra, an unlikely but then-burgeoning source of new music Down Under. Beginning life in 2012 and initially consisting of two bedroom producers, Ben Woolner (vocals/producer) and Michael Bell (drums/producer), the duo soon expanded to include the synth and guitar input of Harry Sayers to complete the trio. They jokingly described their sound as “Skrillex and James Blake making sweet, tender love.”
The release of their debut single, “Stretched and Faded,” helped them to win the 2012 edition of the popular Triple J Unearthed competition, earning them a spot at that year’s Groovin’ the Moo festival where they played alongside major acts such as Tame Impala, the Kooks, and Tegan & Sara. After their single subsequently topped the iTunes electronic chart, Safia began to gain serious momentum not only at home in Australia but also abroad. Their follow-up, “Paranoia, Ghosts and Other Sounds,” hit the Hype Machine number one spot in early 2014. It was nominated for an Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR) Award and they were invited to perform at the ceremony.
Embracing Me They were featured on Peking Duk’s double-platinum single “Take Me Over,” furthering their growing reputation throughout the rest of the year and well into the next. Their 2015 single Counting Sheep peaked at number seven on the ARIA Australian artist chart, and was followed by the similarly successful “Embracing Me” in the summer of the same year. By this point, Safia were midway through a sell-out tour across Australia and had supported their Kiwi neighbor Lorde, as well as shared the stage with acts such as Rudimental, Disclosure, and AlunaGeorge. 2015 also saw the group perform at the South by South West Festival in Austin, Texas and Barcelona’s Primavera Sound.
I heard that you guys met at school. What kind of music were you into when you were younger?
We were all obsessed with like Guns and Roses and a lot of older rock and roll – and I know Michael still listens to a lot of classical stuff like that. I grew up listening to my dad’s jazz records and blues and basically everything in there. It wasn’t until later that we got into electronic music.
What’s the craziest thing that has happened at one of your shows?
Our set at Groovin The Moo was pretty funny. We had this guy who stripped down naked and stood on shoulders at not one, but three of the shows. He kind of followed us around and every time we played a set this guy got his gear out.
I’ve heard you describe that “External” was written in depiction of some of the more negative aspects of the music industry- what are they?
Insert three blank faces, and a couple of “UMMS” right here. Not gonna lie, sheer panic kicks in here. Should’ve stuck to this question about burgers. “Sorry I’ll ask something else.”
Ben: No no, it’s a good question. Ahh External was written about , and yeah but downside to this.
Harry: Definitely the early mornings, we’ve had a tonne of them lately.
Ben: Yeah early starts with tours, get to us.
I think it’s interesting how artists write their music and lyrics, what’s the process like for you three? Do you draw lyrics on real life? Or is it more what comes to you during the creative process?
Ben: We just get together and create tunes. The way I hear music is by breaking it down into syllables and from that I can write lyrics for it.
You’re quite experienced with tour life at the moment, if you could perform or stream anywhere, where would it be?
Ben: It would be pretty sick to do it somewhere back there. (Points to the bush area behind it).
Michael: And then we play music and people have to find the stage. But then we’ll trick them to sidetrack the audience and get them confused.
Ben: And then we can lay traps for them too along the way to make it harder.
What was your first ever major performance like?
Michael: It was pretty shit.
Harry: Yeah it was really shit. Haha.
Do you approach your shows differently when you are performing at a festival in comparison to a gig?
Yeah, obviously with shows, fans are buying tickets to see us so we can kind of play along with the extended show, so we can delve into some more long winded areas and play some songs that aren’t as popularly known, that kind of thing. So yeah, we can play a longer, more dynamic show whereas a festival set is always lots of hits and lots of big moments, like you have to sell yourself in 45 minutes because not everyone there knows us but maybe you win them over and they come to the show and they see the longer show with songs they might not know because they are a new fan. But yeah, festivals are a lot of fun and a lot of energy because there is all these big moments in 40 minutes.
And what are some necessities for your riders when you perform at festivals?
Pretty much all three of them say cheese!
Michael: And fish. Cheese and fish are always on our riders!
Harry: And Vodka. But that’s a given. It’s always there.