Back in 1996, Blind Melon made popular the song ‘Three Is a Magic Number’, forever solidifying the 1973 Bob Dorough ditty as a social staple, a term used in social banter and instances of luck, and of course, the music industry and an artist’s all-important make or break third album. For Dope Lemon – the solo nom de plume of Byron-based indie lord Angus Stone – the faith is unwavering when it comes to his third studio effort, Rose Pink Cadillac.
Love, too, is unwavering. It’s present in Stone’s commitment to unlocking his full creative potential by throwing caution to the tonal winds, and too in the album’s thematic interest. The sound and the sentiment are part and parcel to that end; jaunty jungles titillate the senses, while the album’s narrative – a dizzyingly romantic story, one of utter self-belief, wherein Stone discovers the silver lining that is true love amid darkened skies – sees our hero capture the thrill of realising a far-fetched dream in a chasm of psych-y bends and dizzying strums.
Some, though, may not be as drawn to the glitzy daydreams aesthetic of Rose Pink Cadillac, and instead pine for the mystic waters of its predecessors, 2019’s Smooth Big Cat and 2016’s Honey Bones. But as Stone tells Australian Guitar, it was time to evolve. For Dope Lemon, three definitely is the magic number.
I know the big day was supposed to come a fair while back, but still, how does it feel being in the home stretch with LP3?
It feels good! I think it’s a solid, solid body of work. Every record starts with one song, and if it’s strong enough, that song can be the catalyst for an entire project – you sort of feed off that energy, and this kinetic snowball starts to builds up momentum. And this was one of those projects.
What was that catalyst?
I think it started with a song called ‘Howl With Me’. I was playing Grand Theft Auto, back in the day when I used to game a bit, and you can change the radio stations in the cars when you’re driving around. I heard this old band called The Chakachas, and this song [‘Stories’] had this really cool vibe. So I called up the head of Sony, and then he called someone else, and we were all trying to find the band so I could sing on the track.
We found this old guy in Paris that owned the rights to the music; I think everyone in the band had either passed away or just weren’t involved in it anymore. But this guy, he allowed us to sing on it, and that ended up becoming ‘Home Soon’ [from the Hound’s Tooth EP]. But The Chakachas had another instrumental that I really enjoyed and that I wanted to sing on, and that became ‘Howl With Me’. That’s the song that sort of sparked this record. It’s a bit of a storytelling tune.
Is that a fairly typical method of songwriting for you?
No, those songs were super different! I’ve only done it twice – the first time was ‘Home Soon’, and now ‘Howl With Me’. But I don’t know, I think it’s good to diversify your craftsmanship and the way you approach songwriting. This is me, in a way, picking up a new skill – finding something and making it my own.
When I think about a rose pink Cadillac – the car itself, not the album – a lot comes to mind. It’s a very distinct aesthetic – not to say it hasn’t aged well, but it’s certainly a product of its time. Is that motif something you wanted to channel into this record sonically?
Yeah. I think it comes down to a few things. Some days you’ll wake up and your mood will be on a whole different level to where it was the day before. Stylistically, I like to just follow that and see where it takes me. And then you also have to be conscious of your intention of, like, what style you want to go for. I think it’s just that each day is different when you step into the studio, but if you keep an open mind and heart, it’ll only lead you in the right direction.
I love the concept that the first half of Rose Pink Cadillac represents the “daytime” Dope Lemon experience, and then you kind of get a little darker for that second half. Where did that idea come from?
I think when you start talking to different journalists, and you start explaining what it is that happened, you start to piece together what actually did happen. We stepped into the studio just as COVID was kicking up dust, and I guess my way of looking at the world and where it was, was to try and share love through what I do. It felt like it was the right thing to do at the time, with what was going on – y’know, the anarchy of the world.
I thought of [Rose Pink Cadillac] as a way that I could give back – that’s the concept, I guess. Now that I can look back on it, I’d like to call it my “love album”. And the artwork, with the animated vinyl, it sort of follows the mood as it goes down into a different place.
What kind of guitars were you strummin’ away on for this record?
I’ve got this one guitar from my dad – it’s the first guitar he ever bought off his guitar teacher. That was his first guitar, and it’s only had three owners. It’s a 1968 Telecaster with a Bigsby. It’s super rare to have the Bigsby on the Tele. It’s beautiful. The patina on it is worn away from years of belts scratching against it whilst playing, and the arm over the base and the pick guard is all worn away.
And all the frets, you can see where dad obviously loved to play his favourite chord – it’s just this really beautiful, warn, and well-loved guitar – and that generally makes it into a lot of the records that that we make. Besides that, there was a 1960s Epiphone guitar that I got at the Chicago Exchange maybe five years ago. That was cool to have, that made it onto ‘Kids Fallin’ In Love’ and ‘Every Day Is A Holiday’.
There’s a whole wall of different guitars in the studio, and depending on the mood you’re in, you can sort of reach up and pick off the instrument to suit.
What about in the way of things like effects, are you much of a pedal nerd these days?
I have my staple diet, in the pedal world, that I stick to. I love the [JHS] Pink Panther and the [Electro-Harmonix] Holy Grail – they generally give you a really lush and interesting way to get a warped sound on what you’re doing. Those are my two staples.