Photo: Courtesy of Nettwerk Records

Singing about the ways in which people deceive and hurt one another may not be the most upbeat of song topics, but Julia Stone wouldn’t have it any other way. “To be honest, I don’t feel bad [about] feeling bad. When I’m having an experience that’s uncomfortable or maybe even painful, I don’t feel like I want to change it,” says the Australian singer-songwriter, whose sophomore solo album By the Horns deals with the more unsavory sides of love. Whether it’s detailing a divorce (“I’m Here, I’m Not Here”) or a cheating partner (the album’s title track), Stone faces them head-on. But emo this isn’t, in part because she doesn’t bask in pain; instead, she just admits that it exists. “It’s not like I want to live in the darkness of life, that it’s all suffering—I don’t feel like that at all,” Stone notes. “I feel like a very happy person in general. But when I feel moved, I don’t want to change that. Because sometimes I get in this mode, like, Wow I really have it together. And there are songs that remind me that I don’t have it together, I don’t know much about anything, and I’m quite afraid at times. And that’s OK.”

While there may still be some things Stone is figuring out, it’s clear that she’s got the songwriting process down pat. Each folk-tinged track on By the Horns hits you right in the heart, with her Joanna Newsom-esque voice delivering damning lines like a lullaby. There’s a grounded etherealness that runs through the album, even in its most meandering moments. For Stone, who in addition to her solo work is in the band Angus & Julia Stone with her brother, playing music hasn’t changed much since she first stepped up to the mic. “It doesn’t feel like the process is different. I get a feeling that I want to pick up a guitar and sing, and then I start singing.” But this doesn’t make By the Horns just a repeat of her debut album, The Memory Machine. “My experiences have changed, and I’ve been through things that make me change the way I view love and life and the world. What makes it different is mainly the production of the record—I didn’t want to be involved as a producer, and it’s the first time that I’ve done that.”

For Stone, it resulted in a much freer process. “I could let things go, I felt relaxed,” she explains, adding, “It was a nice feeling to go into the studio and just make music.” With a full touring schedule slated for fall, she’ll be doing plenty of music-making in the coming months. But until then, Stone is just enjoying living in the moment—and basking in all of the inspiration that comes with it. As she puts it, “You don’t really know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and for now that’s good for me, creatively.”

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