Banoffee is the wonky-pop extraordinaire turning pain into cathartic hits

After a mammoth world tour with Taylor Swift – and seven years after its origins – Banoffee's storming debut is finally here. The Australian-born artist tells Hannah Mylrea about the journey to 'Look At Us Now Dad and what its like to jump into a really dirty pond.

Filming a music video may sound like a glamorous affair, but most of the time that’s far from the truth. There are painfully early starts, all-nighters just to get that perfect shot (that probably won’t be used), and in the case of Australian musician Banoffee, the very real risk of permanent illness from jumping into a pond of extremely dirty water.

In the finale of her new, Parent Trap-influenced music video for ‘Count On You’, Banoffee ends up in a fencing match against her doppelgänger, and as she struggles to defeat her masked foe, she gets shoved into a stagnant pond. “There’s eels and frogs and slugs and everything in that pond, so that was that was not enjoyable,” she tells NME over FaceTime from Melbourne, “the face of disgust is real! There’s no acting in that!”

In fact, the water was so grim Banoffee took preventative causes to avoid catching something from her dip. The video had been shot on location at the top of a hill in LA they had to hike to, and as such there weren’t any luxury facilities or showers to wash off in. “My manager had all these bottles of water ready and I just stripped naked in front of everyone, and everyone was just washing me with water because I was so scared I had something in the suit!” The glamour.

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‘Count On You’ is the latest tune to come from Banoffee’s upcoming debut album, ‘Look At Us Now Dad’, out in February. The collection of shimmering, glitchy pop songs fuse PC Music-flecked production with hook-laden choruses and poignant lyrics that tell a story of survival and hope against the odds. ‘Count On You’, which blends ‘Pop 2’-era Charli XCX with stadium-shaking guitar riffs, was written as a response to the high profile sexual assault cases and #MeToo movement of 2017.

“I wrote that song initially for a friend,” she explains. “And then it became sort of a more universal song just about something I thought we could take from everything that was going on a larger scale and how we can flip it and make it positive, and work out a way to survive it together.”

This honesty and strength in the face of adversity is a thread that runs through the entirety of the record. There’s the titular track, a song about survival that celebrates what her family have overcome, particularly her father who had a tough upbringing, with his own father in out of care for mental illness, and his mother ostracised for the colour of her skin.

CREDIT: Julian Bouchan

And there’s beautiful interlude ‘I Lied’, which is about the white lies and promises Banoffee told family members before they passed away. “It’s about telling someone lies about my personal health and where I’m at in order to let them die peacefully. And I still believe I did the right thing,” she explains, “but I still find that song difficult to listen to actually…that song reminds me that I have a standard to live up to in order to honour that.”

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The lyrics are hauntingly honest, with Banoffee’s sparse, vocoded vocals saying: “When you died I sang to you/I lied, told you I was better/told you I would look after my mother”; but despite her Mum featuring in the lyrics, she hasn’t yet played it to her. “My sisters have heard it; but my mother hasn’t. Which is going to be a hard one. My Mum is just the strongest woman and she’s been through so much as a mother with some pretty chaotic children. I think I worry about her hearing that song and interpreting the lyrics in a different way than they meant.”

She’s close with her family and growing up they encouraged her musical pursuits from an early age. Born Martha Brown in Melbourne, music was always part of her life. “We had that classic sort of dorky sibling band when we were very young. And then me and my sister were in a folk group when I was a young teenager,”. She attended a Steiner school (a type of school that focuses on things like creativity and spiritual values), and there played several classical instruments. “We were that family who has a combi van, and my Dad didn’t wear shoes, and I would busk playing the viola every weekend. It was very sort of embarrassingly feral, hippie vibes.”

Initially obsessed with pop bands like Destiny’s Child and the Spice Girls – she later played was Sporty Spice in a tribute band – Banoffee’s first real love affair with a band was with Australian rock band Silverchair. “I had all the DVDs, I used to cry watching [frontman] Daniel Johns’ on TV. And all I wanted to do was grow up and marry Daniel Johns and be in a band.”

She started writing songs at the age of 12 at school. “I started writing really embarrassing sort of singer songwriter stuff. I probably should have stuck to because now that’s like, huge, I mean Ed Sheeran like the highest earning musician in the world!” Curious about other things, at University she studied things like politics and law, but music was always the priority.

Her first release as Banoffee came with ‘Ninja’ in 2013, a woozy cut of balearic drenched R&B. Since then she’s moved to LA (where she aimed to “reshape myself and reshape my narrative, and make some choices in my life and how it would go for once”) and knuckled down in the studio doing writing sessions. And now, almost seven years on, her debut album is almost here.

However, this isn’t the first cut of the album, as there was a version ready to go a few years ago. “I was pretty much finished before I went on tour with Charli [XCX] in 2018. And I was really ready to release it”

The tour she got called out on with as part of Charli XCX’s backing band was Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’ world tour, so you know, just a small gig. “It was so many things. It was extraordinarily fun. Never having played a show bigger than maybe 10,000 people before that, I then fly to 80,000 people first show in, and it was a rush!” but despite it being an incredible opportunity, it could also be tough.

“It was challenging in the way that it made me question my work and question my worth when you’re working with people who are the same age as you and absolutely killing it, you’re like ‘what am I doing?!’” Banoffee now thinks of the album being delayed as a blessing, as the tour spurred her on to write new tunes and in that time the album changed massively. Now she’s desperate to get the final cut out there. “I’m annoying everyone. I have been for the entire year!”

It’s been several-years in the making, so imagining a post-debut album life for Banoffee is hard for her to compromise. “It feels like the whole world will blow up when it comes out; but I know that’s not going to happen. And then the day will just go on like any other day, and then my record will be out and I’ll just have to make another one.”

The world might not explode when the album is out; but given its sheer quality ‘Look At Us Now Dad’ is sure to set off a few sparks. With its brilliantly candid lyrics and political edge, Banoffee’s debut may have been a long time coming; but we’re sure glad it’s here.

‘Look At Us Now Dad’ is out February 21, 2020 via Cascine and Dot Dash.

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