Lisa in tune with life on the Border


Over time, musician Lisa Mitchell has come to view her childhood in Albury with a different lens.

“As I’ve become older, I’ve just grown to really appreciate having a country childhood, and what it gave to me,” she said over the phone from Sydney, where she now lives.

The 26-year-old singer-songwriter, who released her new record Warriors on Friday, chose to revisit growing up on the Border in her latest effort.

For Mitchell, the first decade of this century still had a level of mystique in terms of talking with one another, all but now lost now to smartphones and a relentless 24-hour media cycle.

And the album is dotted with tracks inspired by her early years in Albury, when technology was less a part of daily life.

“(The title track) Warriors is a song about being on a school bus on the way home and hearing the Silverchair song Straight Lines for the first time in 2007,” she said.

“I remember in that moment just how powerful the radio was, in a pre-completely internet-obsessed time.”

In 2007, Myspace was still popular among youngsters, and Facebook was just beginning to make inroads.

Although teenagers had long been hooked on instant messaging programs such as MSN, there was still a greater degree of old-fashioned interaction.

Smartphones were not widely available, which placed more of an emphasis on offline communication as people were not readily available all hours.

It’s clear Mitchell holds a certain nostalgia for this time, and for what it meant for the music industry. 

It was a period before Triple J listeners were bogged down in debate over whether to include Taylor Swift in their Hottest 100 competition, or when online trolls could take to a keyboard to unload abuse to anyone so readily.

“It wasn’t as on the pulse as you can be now,” Mitchell said.

“Triple J used to be so powerful when I was growing up. But I think there were less avenues to find pop culture, whereas now it’s so easy to get up to date with what’s happening online.”

And so in her latest album Mitchell tried to recapture some of this lost innocence, and decided the video for the first single The Boys had to be shot in Albury.

She approached Melbourne-based director Luci Schroder, who’s made music videos for Vance Joy, among others. 

Mitchell had a set brief she pitched to Schroder, which read slightly like an early noughties US college flick. 

“I wanted there to be driving around, I wanted there to be a car, and I wanted all my guy friends to be around,” she said

It was filmed this winter, and captures a verdant Upper Murray when Lake Hume was yet to fill. 

So why all of a sudden is there a nostalgia thing happening among the 20-somethings who’ve left Albury? 

Another rock band, Backyard, just released a great new track called Best View of Dean Street, which gets at something similar.

Mitchell puts it down to her childhood, before she was plucked from the Scots School to in front of cameras as an Australian Idol contestant at 16. 

“I really cherish that time before I left home for the first time, just because I was still a normal kid,” she said. 

“When I think of Albury, I think of walking around with my friends and having cheeky tequila shots in the botanical gardens on the way to a party, and doing Deanies. 

“I remember there was the youth café which I used to play gigs at on Dean Street.”

After finishing sixth on Idol, Mitchell carved out a successful career with the release of her debut album Wonder and its hit single Coin Laundry in 2009.

Things were looking up, and Idol judge Kyle Sandilands dubbed her “the future of Australian music”.

In response, music writer Craig Mathieson quipped in The Age that praise “was akin to being told you’d make a great corpse by a serial killer”. Mitchell’s first effort was followed by another record Bless This Mess in 2012. Critics praised Mitchell for her skill in lyricism and storytelling, while others lamented she needed a more focused vision.

She then decided to up sticks and move to Europe for a year with her musician partner Jordan Wilson, and spent time in London and Paris.

Upon returning to Australia, she teamed up with US-born producer Eric J Dubowsky, who has worked with a long list of big names including the Chemical Brothers, Weezer and Chet Faker.

In the studio, Eric J encouraged Mitchell to move away from the safety of her folk roots and explore electronica and synths.

“I love how Eric uses rhythms,” she said.

“When we were working he would always make up these rhythms with loops that would become the bass for a song. 

“He would do that on a recording program, which is very different to how I would record at home. And I like that it’s so rhythm-based, I think that really comes across in album.”

Dubowsky’s influence is evident in So Wild and I Remember Love, two songs which are standouts on the album.

“We got Matt Johnston, who’s an incredible drummer, to play on those two,” Mitchell said. 

“We had these live, organic full-kit beats that we could mess around with in post-production. Then we had a lot of digital beats, and old analogue samples that we would use on the beats and put on later.”

Mitchell tackled the songwriting process in two different approaches, depending on whether the lyrics or melody came first.

“I find it usually happens one of two ways,” she said.

"Sometimes I'll be feeling a certain way, and I'll sit with a piano or guitar or just sing until I find the right note. And then the lyrics will come in or the melodies. That's one way I do it, which is very feel-orientated.

"The other way is more in the poetic world, where there'll be a line I've thought of during the day, which I just keep thinking about. So then I'll do it the other way, and try and find the music which matches the idea of that line."

Mitchell cited her father, who used to listen to Neil Young, Cat Stevens and Sade on repeat, as a key musical influence.

She took to guitar at an early age, and loved going to the North East folk festivals at Yackandandah and Beechworth.

“That was the world I was plugged into,” she said. “I think a country childhood pushes you to be independent and responsible. It’s an interesting trait a lot of country kids have, they have a sense of self-sovereignty. I think you grow up a little faster.”