Banoffee is on a walk without a destination. That’s where NME finds Martha Brown, anyway, when we ring the pop artist to talk about her new album ‘Teartracks’. It’s a quintessentially September morning in Melbourne – read: relentlessly unpleasant and windy – but, amid the city’s sixth COVID-19 lockdown, Brown’s just happy to leave the house. Living with fibromyalgia, which she offhandedly calls “this dumb pain disorder”, means she takes advantage of the outdoors whenever she can.
Brown, who usually lives in Los Angeles, isn’t supposed to be in Melbourne, just as millions of Australians still in lockdown in September 2021 aren’t where they’re ‘supposed’ to be. But without COVID-19, we wouldn’t have ‘Teartracks’, her second album as Banoffee – an independent release which has released her from commercial and, most importantly, logistical expectations. When we chat exactly a month out from its October 22 release (which has since been moved to November 10), the album isn’t completely finished.
“I’ve never done it this way, without a label or [without] following the rules. Poor Brid who’s on mute,” she says, referring to the publicist silently sitting in on the call. “She’s like, ‘give me the record’. And I’m like, ‘I’m still deciding on some things!’”
Brown adds, “I’m not trying to push for commercial success. I’m not doing it the way that I’ve been advised to, because I did everything right on the last record. We work so hard, and you don’t know what curveball is going to come and take it away.”
“I’m releasing this because I’m really proud of myself for doing this in lockdown, facing really difficult emotions and being honest about them”
‘Teartracks’ arrives 20 months after ‘Look At Us Now Dad’, Brown’s debut album that she says “took a lot out of me and many years of my life”. Centred on survival (of physical and mental illness, intergenerational trauma and cycles of abusive relationships), ‘Look At Us Now Dad’ is a clash of industrial and bubblegum. Refusing to be defined by victimhood, Brown juggles darkness and a sleek pop sensibility for a defiantly cohesive work.
Last year, Brown told NME that by moving to LA, she hoped to “reshape myself and reshape my narrative, and make some choices in my life and how it would go for once”. But her hopes of a new, successful chapter were soon dashed. She managed a two-show tour in Australia in support of ‘Look At Us Now Dad’ before COVID-19 shut down the world, and she remained stuck in Melbourne – due to the cost of US medical care, her health has kept her here. For Brown, it felt like the album completely disappeared in the chaos.
“Losing the buzz I had worked so hard to create with that first record, to be honest, was so heartbreaking. And it really got me down for a long time,” she confesses. “I felt like, ‘do I even write another record? What’s the point?’
“The way I’ve [made] ‘Teartracks’ is to avoid that heartbreak in some ways. I’m releasing this because I’m really proud of myself for doing this in lockdown, facing really difficult emotions and being honest about them. And that’s enough for me – I don’t need to make sure that I get a good score on Pitchfork or have a good set on a world tour,” referencing Taylor Swift’s 2018 ‘Reputation’ tour, where she played in support act Charli XCX’s touring band.
“A lot of those things can disappear. And I learned that the hard way, like a lot of artists did.”
“You should be caring about the fact you’ll never have children with this person, all the beautiful things you’ve lost. But the beautiful thing I lost was an amazing orgasm”
A break-up album through and through, ‘Teartracks’ is more refined in both scope and sound than Banoffee’s debut. Those heavier industrial elements have been scraped out in favour of crystalline, airy synths reminiscent of Empress Of, Caroline Polachek and Charli XCX’s overlooked lower-tempo moments on ‘Pop 2’.
Brown jokes ‘Teartracks’ is a label no-no because it’s an album of “only ballads”. While that’s technically true, you don’t notice, as the record is flecked with humour and hyperpop breakdowns throughout, offering moments of joy and dance-inducing release. It had to, as ‘Teartracks’ was made while Brown was stuck not only in Melbourne, but in the house where she went through her break-up.
“When you go through a break-up or you go through any type of trauma in your life, you leave the site of trauma and physically move somewhere else,” she says. “You get a sense of release and distance from what you went through. [But with COVID-19], we were all lying in our trauma sites. For that reason, it was nice to be like, ‘well, if I can’t escape it, I might as well dive right into it’.”
Across ‘Teartracks’’ nine songs, Brown traces her break-up early in the pandemic. There’s the loved-up lead single ‘Tapioca Cheeks’ (an ode to the freckles across his face) and ‘Tear’, an Auto-Tuned ballad promising she’ll always be there for her ex. It also inadvertently traces two creative new relationships: one with Charles Teiller, aka one half of Planet 1999, the first band signed to PC Music, and with Sydney producer Petro, who both co-produced the record alongside Brown’s close friend Ceci G.
Brown’s collaborators were roped into an emotional creative process. “I remember when I sent Charles ‘Tear’, halfway through the demo I just burst into tears, sobbing into the microphone and then I started again. I sent it straight away and was like, ‘can’t really listen to this again. Can you work on it for a bit?’”
She wanted to detail her every emotional shift across the album, no matter how embarrassing. See ‘Never Get To Fuck Any1’, an electro-pop tantrum about fearing you’ll never have sex that could match up to that with your ex – and, according to Brown’s friends, a potentially self-fulfilling prophecy.
“They were like, ‘do you write songs like this to make sure you never do it again? Because no one is going to have sex with you after they’ve heard that song’,” Brown exclaims – before doubling down. “But that’s what you think at the time. And someone comes along and blows your mind, and you’re back in that cycle of love and heartbreak all over again. But it feels so real, and [you don’t want] to tell anyone, because it sounds petty – you should be caring about the fact you’ll never have children with this person, all the beautiful things you’ve lost. But the beautiful thing I lost was an amazing orgasm.”
Another highlight is ‘I Hate It’, a mixture of silly and serious grievances (“I hate that you never let me in… I hate that you’ve finally cut your hair”), inspired by Julia Stiles’ speech in 10 Things I Hate About You. Instead of leading to a teary declaration of love, the track builds up to breakdown, Brown’s voice chopped up and torn apart.
“It’s true, that feeling – the thing you hate the most is that you’re putting on this performative hatred for a person that you care about so deeply, and a lot of it is just protection,” she muses. “You say that you hate them, you make these petty, very performative observations to your friends to make it seem like you’re over it, and then you go to bed and cry.”
Brown admits she’s not done crying. Album closer ‘Tear’ remains too difficult for her to listen to, and as of our interview, it’s also one of the few tracks her ex hasn’t heard. He’s given his blessing for the album, but Brown is prepared for a mixed reaction. She was in the same spot a “long time ago”, when an ex wrote a break-up record about their relationship.
“I hated it!” she laughs. “At the same time, I felt this real sense of pride that I was such a significant person in their life, and I got this beautiful time capsule to keep forever. It’s very double-sided, how it can feel to have a break-up record written about you. To be honest, I think he’s loving it.”
Banoffee’s ‘Teartracks’ is out November 10