At first glance, a neo-hippie rural Australian psych-folk band and a 22-year-old musician son of Hollywood and hip hop royalty seem like unlikely collaborators. Okay, actually, even at second glance it still seems odd. I’ve had weeks to process the fact that King Gizzard cohorts Babe Rainbow brought Jaden Smith in on their new single and my brain still does a double-take every time I think about it.
But really, it shouldn’t be that odd. For the past couple of years, Smith has mentioned Babe Rainbow every opportunity he can and took heavy influence from the band’s ‘60s-style psychedelic on his latest album CTV3: Cool Tape Volume 3. No longer known solely as Will and Jada’s son, the album is proof of Smith coming into his own as an experimental musician with diverse influences.
The unexpected collaborators’ first single together, “Your Imagination,” is the third single to be released off Babe Rainbow’s upcoming fourth studio album, Changing Colours, following the jauntily beating “Zeitgeist” and the dreamy meditation “The Wind.” The mellow track is customarily breezy with measured guitar strums and twinkling percussion but in every other way strays from the typical Babe Rainbow formula.
As frontman Angus Dowling explained to KEXP in our interview below, the song began as a “beddy-bye” (which I take as the very precious Australian colloquial term for “lullaby”). He’s certainly not the first father to use Gene Wilder’s classic Willy Wonka song “Pure Imagination” to rock their baby to sleep and far from even the first musician to record a version of it. But his use of the melody, only hinting at the original, while creating his and Smith’s own dreamy lyrics is truly inspired.
“You’re too loosely strung /You might come undone /It’s your imagination,” coos Dowling softly. Over a meandering guitar, Smith jumps in a little over a minute in. Interpolating delicately sung lines like “She only listens to the Lonely Hearts Club Band /Thought we had a long term plan” with spoken word phrases such as “How come you never kiss me more than twice?” and “Cool beans for a cool guy” may seem disjointed but makes for a fascinating listen. As Dowling put it in our interview, he’s brought the song “back to life.”
The song comes to us via an appropriately retro video of the blonde Aussies enjoying their envy-inducing laid-back lifestyle on the rural coastland while Smith leisurely strums his guitar 8,000 miles away. Alongside the video, Babe Rainbow are officially announcing Changing Colours which is due for release on May 14th via the band's own label Eureka Music through AWAL for digital, and Flightless Records for vinyl worldwide.
Below, watch the video for “Your Imagination” and read KEXP’s interview with Dowling about the song, their upcoming album, and the current landscape of live shows in the now essentially Covid-free Australia.
KEXP: I'd love to just talk about "Your Imagination" and how it came together, because it's kind of an interesting song, the fact that it's a collaboration with Jaden Smith and it's kind of a funky play on Willy Wonka and everything. Tell me a little bit about the song.
Angus Dowling: Well, it was just an instrumental song for ages. It was actually like a beddy-bye's jingle for the babies, you know, it's like doon-doon-doon. It's like a strummy acoustic, you know? And then I used to hum on it, like doo-doo-doo-doo. And then I guess everything else just fell together. And then we were chatting with Jaden, who just I think liked one of our songs and he was asked something about it and then we started chatting and I was saying how next time we were in L.A., we should get together and do a song and he was like, "Great."
And then, I don't know, I just I had this song that didn't feel complete because it had this section in the middle that was kind of a solo, I guess, and no instruments really could do it. It was like I couldn't do the solo with an instrument and so we didn't really know what to do. We'd never done a feature or anything, I mean, I would never have thought about it. And then someone had the idea and it took him like two seconds because he's obviously so good at it.
Right. So he just kind of threw on his verse at the end after you had already kind of created the song?
Yeah, pretty much. Well, I mean, he's sort of like brought it back to life really. Because I don't think it was even going to go on the album. It was more just like we were chatting about doing a song together, and then I just sent him that one because I was like, "Oh well, it's not going to go on the album, so..." I always felt like it was a cool one because my singing isn't particularly leady, it's a little bit more easygoing. I didn't have that sort of intense front lead vocals sort of vibe. So I thought it would be a cool one for him to play with. And then, I don't know, it just sounded so cool and I'm like, "Oh, sweet!"
Yeah, it's cool. It's definitely different from your prior work. It adds definitely a different flavor to it.
Which is always good, to get some different flavors going.
Absolutely. And it's interesting because Jaden's been very vocal about his love for Babe Rainbow for a while now. Were you aware of that? Did someone tell you like, "Jaden Smith keeps talking about Babe Rainbow"?
No, we weren't for so long because we don't really get much reception where we live, and so we definitely wouldn't say that we're all over the social media stuff, which we should be, but we just don't get reception where we live and at our studio. So it's not like we can follow it as closely. But our really good friend Louise in Paris - who used to play with us all the time and used to live over here and we used to make music with - he was actually the one that was like, "How funny. That's a funny connection." And we're like, "What do you mean?"
So how did you get connected?
Well, as soon as he told us about it, we just sent him an email and then we just started chatting heaps. I sent him all of the songs off this new album and asked what he thought and we were still working on them, and he sort of did the same with his ones. And then we had this conversation going about the two projects. His one's out now and it's really good. And yeah, we were talking about skating and surfing.
I love the combination - because you do have kind of a California vibe to your music so it does seem like kind of a perfect melding of an actual Los Angeles, California kid and...
Yeah, yeah, we love LA.
You made the new record in California, correct?
Right. In Topanga, in the canyon. With the laddies of the canyon.
When was that and what was that experience like?
When was it? It was like just before...it was like the end of the year before last. That's so long ago, isn't that crazy?
But, yeah, we were just there with our friend Kyle at his sweet studio house and we were surfing a lot and working there every afternoon. And it was just so good driving around out there and then we were playing random gigs. We actually played in Seattle at that time. And Portland and San Fran and we were just like going and coming back to Topanga and keep working and then we'd go to like Mexico and San Diego and stuff, and then we'd come back and keep working. It was so fun. It was the best way ever to do it.
Yeah. You used it to where you're kind of getting a tour out of it as well.
Yeah, well, we weren't expecting to make songs, but as it always happens when we're on the road, you always end up writing so many songs in the soundchecks because they go for so long. We had all these new songs that we were playing in the soundchecks that we were really excited about, and then Kyle and his studio just sort of presented itself and then we sort of changed our schedule around when we weren't playing gigs to, like, keep going back to L.A. and basing ourselves there, which is so good.
Oh, for sure, but the fact that you recorded it more than a year ago, have you just been kind of sitting on it because of Covid?
Yeah, totally. Well, we've just been working on all the next stuff. But, yeah, a lot of it was rough, you know, like we came back and heaps of it needed fixing. And so we did all of that at our studio here in Byron. It was quite nice not having any rush and everybody had a baby last year.
Right! I read that all of your girlfriends had babies this year.
No, last year. The year of the weird virus, they're all virus babies.
[laughs] Wow. I mean, congratulations, but wow.
Thanks! They're all sweethearts. But it was really cool to get to spend so much time at home with them for the whole year and just sort of work on all of the songs from L.A. And a couple of them got axed and a couple of them were new ones.
Yeah, so it was a nice downtime to kind of take your time putting it together and everything.
Because prior to this, you put out a new album every year since 2017. So is this kind of like a nice new way of doing it where you're like, "Okay, we don't have to rush, let's really get it right"?
Do you think you'll do that in the future?
Well...I don't know, we were talking yesterday about starting to do more seven inches and EPs and saving the albums for more like themed...
Like a concept.
Yeah. Doing more concept albums that don't have all of our pop songs on it, you know, like doing shorter player pop song EPs and like smaller LPs and then saving the - I don't know, that was just an idea. But the fact that we have our own studio now, which we never had before, means that we didn't have to rush really fast in a studio that we were paying heaps of money for. We can sort of take our time and go back and forth. That's really the main reason.
Yeah, I love that idea, actually, because you're putting out material at the same rate, but you're having more intention behind the actual albums.
Yeah, I know. I really resonated with that as well. I was annoyed that I had only just thought of it or something.
[laughs] Hey, you've got plenty of time.
Yeah. There's no rush.
Yeah. But no, I think that's a great idea, especially now that we're living in this streaming world. I feel like there's a lot of pressure to put out singles all the time, just to get your streaming numbers up and have it in people's brains and get on playlists and everything. But like the actual album, I don't know, maybe has a different place than it used to.
Totally. And how nice is it to get...you know, you make some like jazzy pop songs that are shorter and like, you know, all in a sort of group and that's really good and maybe they're more similar to what a live show would sound like. But then you work on this really thought about and themed album with a lot more acoustic instruments and, you know, softer sides of your poetry or whatever. And it's so much more of a...you know, you put it on and you listen to the whole thing and it really flows all the way from the start to the end as opposed to for us, for example, our albums, even though I love them, they're quite erratic because they kind of jump around because half of them are in that vein and the other half like more pop poppy or something.
Absolutely, yes, it's more of an immersive experience when you put the record on.
Yeah, less like a groovy Japanese playlist and more like an old cowboy movie.
[laughs] I think that's a great idea. How would you describe this new album?
Um, definitely more jazzy. More jazzy and more today. You know, as we get better at playing, we sort of start to explore. I don't want to say it's more modern, but it is. I don't know, it's not like we're suddenly doing remixes, it's more just like maybe we've done what we came to do with the groovy, old school rock and roll music, but I don't know...even though some of them are.
Yeah, I mean, clearly, the collaboration with Jaden shows that you're delving into new territory that's more modern, like you said.
Yeah, well, we love that. We're so open to anything.
Yeah. Are there any other collaborations on the record?
Hmm. I shouldn't say. [laughs]
Oh! All right, piquing interest. Love it.
So I'm completely jealous because you've essentially stamped out Covid in Australia. I'm so curious what the music scene looks like right now. Are venues reopened?
Yeah, we're very lucky. All the venues are open, but they're still at half-filled capacities. Like we all went to King Gizzard in Melbourne and they played at the Music Ball, which is like a fifteen thousand person stadium. But I think only like three thousand people were allowed and that was like boothed off. And it was so good like it was still so, so good. It didn't feel weird.
Did you have to wear masks?
Wow. That's bonkers. But you're saying it didn't feel weird?
No, it didn't feel weird, but that was the first gig that they like spaced out and it looked like that's what it was supposed to be. It's like these little boxes and you and your friends get your own little box that's like zoned off.
Okay, yeah, that doesn't even sound bad! Just get to hang out with your friends!
I know, it's actually so good! And weirdly, we've done some gigs - haven't done heaps but we have done some - and there's something that I really enjoy about the sitting. I mean, people are allowed to stand now, but up until like a few weeks ago, you had to sit down and when we played all of our shows, I don't know, there's something I really enjoyed about everybody sitting down. Is that weird?
No, I don't think that's weird at all! I personally am partial to sitting down on the show if I have the option to do so.
Especially if you love the band. It's so nice sitting down and relaxing.
Yeah. And I can see your music being perfect for that. You can just sit back and vibe.
Yeah. It was so nice joining all the songs out and playing heaps of old songs and even playing new songs that don't even have really like words or anything yet and just sort of rolling through them and seeming really relaxed. As opposed to sort of you want to keep everybody having this amazing feeling and time and knowing the songs and singing and dancing, which is so sweet. But it can't be like that so it's like a different thing. It's quite sweet.
That's interesting. I can't wait till we're there.
I know, we can't wait to come back because we love it over there.
Yeah, we'll get there.
I wonder when it'll be. I hope it's soon, like the end of the year.
Honestly, I mean, if we really do get this vaccine rollout by summer, like we're actually all vaccinated by summer, then I don't see any reason why there can't be at least outdoor shows.
Totally. I don't see why either.
I actually don't know why they can't do outdoor shows now with like if there's social distancing and masks.
Totally. Like that big King Gizzard show. I mean, everyone just could have been in masks.
Yeah, I feel like everyone's just a little bit too scared to risk it. It's definitely the safer choice but at the same time I do feel like it's time to find a way to get things going, especially with the music industry. Venues are suffering and musicians are suffering.
You said you played some shows, but you have an official tour planned for May right? For Australia.
Um. Yeah, well, we did some of them and some of them got moved to May, like we're going down to Melbourne and to Western Australia, which is so fun, in May, yeah.
That's awesome. So is it going to look kind of like the recent shows you've been playing where it's all social distanced and sitting down and everything?
I don't think it's going to be sitting down anymore. But I think you social distance as much as possible and say the venue, you know, like we don't really play fifteen thousand person venues normally, like the King Gizzard guys do - we probably play like one thousand, maybe two thousand. And I think they just like half the capacities. Like in Sydney, at this really cool place called the Enmore Theater, which is a two thousand person standing hall, like a beautiful really old hall, I think they'd probably do a thousand people in there. But because you don't stand right against one another, it sort of seems really filled and has a good atmosphere or something. It doesn't feel like it's a funny half-filled room or something, even though it is.
Yeah. You played the Crocodile when you were here in Seattle right?
Yeah, so much fun, grooviest little venue. And one of our favorite bands from L.A., like funny surf buddies, Tomorrows Tulips played with us on that little like tour. They just came in the van and we all drove up and around, and that was such a fun night, I remember it being really good.
Oh yeah. I imagine you probably made a bunch of, like, friend bands here in the States that have a similar...
Yeah, it's cool. Everyone's so nice.
Yeah. Did you make any friends in Seattle?
No, I wish. I remember we had a friend, but he moved back to San Francisco. I just remember...I don't think it was friend bands, it was more just like because the venue was so cool and little and warm and it was so cold outside and raining. It was just like both bands played and then everybody just relaxed. And then there was this funny bar like just next to there or down from there. I remember it was like in the back of this cafe or something.
Yeah, well there is a bar right in the building that has great pizza.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's it.
Well, I can't wait till you can come back to Seattle.
Oh me too. Summer!
Summer! It's going to happen. I'm just going to put it out into the universe. Summer's going to happen.
I'm putting it right out there.
I'll just finish off with a pretty KEXP-centric question. Since KEXP is the station where the music matters, why does music matter to you?
Because the music gives us the energy to teach the children peace. [laughs]
Okay, John Lennon. [laughs] No, but that's beautiful.
Yeah, let's dance. Now I don't know if I stand by the children.
Do you want to change your answer?
Yeah, I'll change my answer. Why the music matters...it teaches us to relax and smile. That's better. Let's go with that.
All right. Surf's up.
Surf's so up. [laughs] Definitely say, "Surf's up." If you ever come to Australia, come this time or more in winter, because it doesn't even really get cold and the surf is so good in winter. It's all about the surf in winter. That's why I told Jaden as well. So you guys should all come together.
Okay, yeah, I've never surfed before, but if I was going to do it, Australia seems like...
It's easy. It's so easy.
Oh yeah? Okay, well, I'll hit you up when I'm in town.
Yes. It's easy to enjoy, you know.
Right. Because you don't have to like do it intense right? You can just kind of float if you want?
Yeah. It's tricky to master, but it's easy to enjoy. You don't have to like be dominating and doing backflips and going to Kelly Slater's ranch and stuff.
Right. I'm also a little concerned about the shark scenario.
Well, there's no sharks at Kelly Slater's ranch, so.
In that case, I'll see you there.