Rebel Yell’s Grace Stevenson on Splendour, Singles, and Sydney Nightlife

Rebel Yell is a balancing act. On one hand, Grace Stevenson has attitude, creativity and a rhythmic drive. On the other, there’s a burning desire to take her music to a broader audience. It’s a perilous place to be but with each new release, it feels like Grace is getting closer to where she needs to be.

Catching Grace fresh off the back of a European Tour and at the end of a debut Splendour in the Grass DJ set, this is what she had to say.

Photo: Charlie Hardy

A lot of people are confined, whereas I feel like I could do the warehouse parties and the raves or like a DIY punk show“: We chat to Rebel Yell.

HAPPY: We’re here at Splendour in the Grass – your first Splendour in the Grass – and you’ve just played a DJ set. Tell me a little about the experience…

GRACE: Well for one, I did not know that they were filming me and projecting me up onto a screen behind myself! I had no idea. But yeah, it was fun! There were some good parts, when I played [Fatboy Slim’s] Right Here, Right Now all the people went off. But I’m not usually a DJ so it was an interesting experience.

HAPPY: You’ve just been touring in Europe doing smaller indoor sets and now you’re back to Australia to do a big outdoor festival. Your normal environment would be more of a boiler room sort of thing…

GRACE: It’s very much inside. [Laughs] Very much inside. [The European tour] was like a little holiday for me. I was there to visit people and then threw a few shows on. But it worked out perfectly in terms of timing because it was in between Dark Mofo and Splendour. [The European Tour] was five shows; Vienna, Berlin, Iceland, London, and Bristol.

HAPPY: Your music leans on the more techno and industrial side of things and those are places where people are very excited about that kind of music…

GRACE: It makes more sense. It makes so much more sense. I think it was the sort of response that I’ve been craving.

HAPPY: So far as Rebel Yell you’ve released two EPs and two albums is that right?

GRACE: It’s weird. The first one [Mother of Millions] was like a four-track, then I released an eight-track one [Hired Muscle] last year and there will be a proper album next year. But this year is just singles.

HAPPY: One of the most singles you’ve released, With You, you did with Exhibitionist who is also Kirsty Tickle who plays in…

GRACE: Party Dozen!

HAPPY: I’m wondering how you guys came together. Party Dozen is an experimental band but with pop ambitions – they want to get their music out there. I think that’s kind of similar to where you’re coming from with Rebel Yell.

GRACE: Well we met on a tour with These New South Whales last year. Me and Party Dozen were the supports for all of the shows. So that’s how we met. Which is interesting because Kirsty is from Brisbane.

HAPPY: Is she? I didn’t know that.

GRACE: Yeah, but from way back. She knew my brother who was in the music industry way back. And then we became friends and started hanging out in Sydney heaps. And over Christmas, we were like, “Oh, let’s just jam on a song together.” And then we were like, “Okay! Let’s actually get serious on this and make it a proper song.

HAPPY: Was it you who initiated that?

GRACE: No. We both just thought, “We should do a song together!

HAPPY: I didn’t even know she sang. I thought she was mainly a trumpet player…

GRACE: Yeah exactly. If you only see Party Dozen you’ve got no idea Exhibitionist exists really. But she’s got a beautiful voice.

HAPPY: You were originally based in Brisbane but very recently (at least in my mind) relocated to Sydney…

GRACE: Do you know that it’s been a year this weekend? It’s my anniversary.

HAPPY: The cultures of the two cities seem different.

GRACE: Well, yeah. I mean venue-wise at the moment Sydney has had a real rough time. The one place that was great, this little DIY space that was really close to my house that was BYO and fun every weekend, has been shut down. Another really good one, The Gaelic Club has also stopped doing shows. Two really crucial venues for DIY are gone. That’s been really disappointing.

But in other ways – I always thought that it doesn’t matter what city you’re in because you’ll link up with people and you’ll tour, and you’ll make things work. You’ll go to other places to play and blah, blah, blah. But then I actually have met a lot of people in Sydney that I do want to work with, and I have made really lovely friends. I feel very much at home there. A lot more than I did in Brisbane.

HAPPY: The DIY scene in Brisbane is a very unique species of animal and then Sydney’s is very different as well. In Brisbane, there are a lot more venues, but bands often struggle to draw an audience. In Sydney, there are people who are committed to play even though it’s a lot harder to find a space.

GRACE: Yeah. And I feel people are so much more passionate about it and have so much more drive. They really want things to happen and they want to go out of their way to make it happen. There’s a lot of effort that goes into it. And then like, a lot of people just play in so many bands. Everyone has so many projects which I love.

I was trying to organise a Brisbane show coming up and I was like, messaging some people being like, “Who’s doing electronic music in Brisbane?” They were like, “Uh, bad question at the moment…” And I’m just like, “Why!? What is happening?” It’s gone back to Guitar Land!

HAPPY: One great aspect of DIY is playing to small, supportive and close-knit crowds. But then as an artist, there’s this challenge of taking your work and getting it to a broader audience without making it formulaic or derivative.

GRACE: Fully. That’s why it’s amazing that I’m here. I think that because I sit in different pockets of genres and scenes, I can do so many different things. A lot of people are confined, whereas I feel like I could do the warehouse parties and the raves or like a DIY punk show or like a commercial party thing you know? So I’m really lucky and I don’t know how my music can do that but apparently, it can!

HAPPY: What are you working on at the moment?

GRACE: So I’ve got a new song [Night Drive] and a film clip (because it’s apparently just what I have to do.) And then probably one more [single] before the end of the year. And then next year a full album, a 10-to-12 track.

HAPPY: Albums are a big commitment. A lot of bands just do singles. Do you think releasing albums is important?

GRACE: I feel as though it’s a personal accomplishment. I think last time we had an interview I said, “The albums are DEAD! It’s all singles!” And then a made an eight-track thing with eight film clips. I was like, “They’re all singles.” They were releasable as singles. But I do want to do a proper one, refine my songs more and have songs that don’t have lyrics and don’t follow as much of a pop structure as mine do.

HAPPY: You are always very supportive of other musicians in the DIY community and the musical community in general, are there any Sydney acts that are bubbling below the radar that you think people should check out?

GRACE: There’s like, so many new Sydney bands. There’s one called Eternal Dust, Optic Nerve – my new band Australian Idol!

HAPPY: Who is that going to be with?

GRACE: It’s just with three boys. And they’re very young and cute and nice and it’s yeah…

HAPPY: Any closing comments. Anything you want to throw out there to the fans, the true Rebel Yell believers?

GRACE: [Laughs] Thanks for watching me play live and struggle through my Splendour DJ set! I’m glad I did it.

Catch Rebel Yell performing live at The Bank Hotel on September 1st as part of The King Street crawl. More info here.