Any reason to come to Melbourne: interview with Candy Royalle

Ahead of Candy Royalle’s show alongside her band, The Freed Radicals, at The Toff on August 14, Director Benjamin Solah asked Candy a few questions about performing, collaborating, diversity and political spoken word.

You’ve been to Melbourne a few times before to perform. What do you like most about performing down here? How does it differ from other places?

Well the truth is I love any reason to come to Melbourne – I just love it. It has a more real vibe than Sydney I feel – it doesn’t feel as gentrified in some ways (though I know gentrification is a huge problem in Melbourne too). Audiences are always warm and passionate and such great supporters of my work.

You’re known for unapologetically raising political questions whilst also using quite beautiful and stark images and metaphor with your spoken word? Why do you think that’s important and what advice would you give to other poets wanting to raise political questions whilst also maintaining artistic craft in your work?

Sometimes I write a piece that is a political rant because I just need to get it off my chest, and also the audience likes a bit of a political anthem as it were, and I think that’s okay. But no one wants to go see a performer perform 60 or 90 (or even 15) minutes of what feels like a political beating over the head. So in order for the message to get across without an audience feeling preached to, we need to make it nuanced and beautiful and almost not obviously political at all. Doing this by telling stories is a great way to present political ideas to people – through arresting human stories infused with metaphor and beauty.

What is it about spoken that you think can give people a chance to express their diversity? How do you think we measure up compared to other areas of the arts?

I believe spoken word gives people a platform to be heard – to share their lives and stories and actively reduces voice poverty if those running events ensure the line up is diverse and that they are offering that platform to people of colour, women, LGBTQIA etc. It’s definitely getting better but still I see events where the majority of performers/poets are white CIS people (and lots of dudes) and maybe a tokenistic POC or queer. Australia is so incredible – it has this beautiful, rich mix of cultures, religions, sexualities etc, ours stages need to reflect this and it will only enriched our events and encourage those marginalised groups to also attend events. In terms of how it is compared to other art forms, I do believe it’s better than say visual art or dance or theatre. My exposure to those art forms, the performers, exhibitions, productions etc feel very very very white. Again, I do see people trying to change that, so I’m hopeful but we have a long way to go (especially with the elitism of the “fine arts” which are so white as to make me uncomfortable even attending – not that I can generally afford to!).

You’re performing alongside your band, The Freed Radicals. Can you give an idea to spoken word artists out there what it’s like to collaborate with a band? How does it differ from doing your solo work?

I believe every artist should give collaborating a go. It’s challenging but also helps you experiment more, play more, explore more. I collaborate with so many diverse artists and myself identify more as a writing performer these days (rather than a poet). In any case, I absolutely love being on stage with my band. There’s six of us and we are a very tight and loving family. When we create and when we play, it is a very spiritual experience for me. We tap into something much greater than us. Due to financial and time constraints, this album was written and recorded in 4 days. In order to make that happen, we have to push ourselves creatively, emotionally, spiritually. The output then is intense, raw, reflective of that process. How can I get that as a solo artist? It’s much more difficult without others around to push me or bounce off. I feel the work I produce as a solo artist and then with my band is quite different for those reasons.

What new things have you got planned for us with your show?

We’ll predominantly be playing our new album “Birthing the Sky Birthing the Sea” which is definitely our most musical and experimental album yet. Though we still engage in some funk, we’ve expanded our sound to rock, more hip hop inspired stuff and also beautiful and rich soundscapes. It’s also my most honest offering yet. A lot of it is difficult for me to perform, emotionally, but certainly there’s still the high dose of the political too. We’ve also made the work a lot more upbeat because we consciously wanted to think about pieces that people could dance to. We’ve been doing more festivals and so we thought it would be nice to let people dance while they listened to poetic tunes. Lots of my fans have told me this is my best work yet, which is nice to hear. I’ll be interested to see if Melbournites think so!

Candy Royalle and The Freed Radicals are performing on August 14 at The Toff in Town supported by some great acts including Janelle Da Silva, Ebony MonCrief and Sea. We’re giving away a double pass to see the show. See the Facebook Group for more details on how to enter.

Annie Solah