Having first dipped her toes in the solo waters for the soundtrack to the movie Suburban Mayhem in 2006, Adalita Srsen has remained steadfast fronting Melbourne’s mothers of sonic invention, Magic Dirt. With the announcement of a low-key tour through some of New South Wales backwater towns road-testing new material for her first solo album, Webcuts felt it was long overdue to reacquaint ourselves with Miss Srsen.
Tucked away in the corner of The Heritage Hotel in Bulli, we find Adalita killing time making paper dice and nursing a glass of red wine. Bonding over The Church, who’s “Tantalized” randomly appears as an encore in her set (though sadly not tonight), we discuss what has brought her into this new arena — the transcription of this chat appearing below. Walking on stage and starting off with Magic Dirt’s “Full of Rope”, Adalita seems a little adrift, swaying between the microphone and her amplifier as if fronting a ghost band. The sparseness of the new tunes and the jagged tone of her guitar don’t easily translate well in this setting, at times making what seems like a tender song sound ugly and abrasive.
Unaccompanied by other instruments, and with the ubiquitous Gibson SG hanging around her neck like a mahogany security blanket, you felt the songs weren’t given a deserving chance. Of the tracks I recall, “Perfection” is a soft ballad that seems to bear a close resemblance to Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song” and would work perfectly backed by the Dirty Three. “The Repairer” is a gritty, dark country tune, one of the few songs that Adalita stretches herself on vocals to rise above the din of the Gibson.
A few songs, in particular the strong melodies of “Good Girl” radiate a self-assured confidence but at other times Adalita appears uncertain of a songs potential, giving a delivery devoid of colour or spark. It’s not all bad, and by no means should this be taken as over-critical of what is obviously a low-key testing of the waters, but “Invite Me” resonates with a kind of stripped back beauty you would expect from Patti Smith, and when Adalita dips into the back catalogue on “Tee Vee”, one of the stand-out tracks from Magic Dirt’s Tee Vee, you realise just what she is capable of with her voice and a guitar.
Finishing up with the hypnotic confessional “Hot Air”, Adalita looping a two chord rhythm riff and then soloing her heart out on the extended outro, she closes this one woman show to a jaw-dropping degree, single-handedly putting all of my previous concerns to bed. Dragged back for an encore of vintage Magic Dirt in the form of “The Influence” and once more again (to her utter surprise) for a perfunctory sprint through Neil Young’s “Harvest”, you feel like Adalita ‘The Solo Artist’ is very much a work in progress, but for what was shown on-stage, the parts are definitely all there and Adalita herself, is definitely all there. Bring on the album.
This is my first time in Bulli, have you ever played here before?
This is my first time too, but I’ve heard good things about the venue. It’s a nice sit down affair. Doing the solo shows which I haven’t done many of and playing in rooms where there is that sit down at a table style gig, works really well.
Has this been your first official solo tour?
Yeah. It’s pretty low key, which was deliberate. I did my very first solo shows in Melbourne. I did a residency at the Retreat Hotel in Brunswick, and that was my very first one, and then we just planned New South Wakes and now I’m going back to Victoria for some regional residencies.
So have you been playing a lot of places you’ve never played before?
Oh yeah. The Hopetoun gig was the only place I’d played at before with Magic Dirt, but all of the other places are new.
…and more “adult” establishments…
It is! I know! I’m growing up. I don’t know, I’m getting older now and turning into an adult and doing adult things.
Is this a sit down or a stand up affair for you?
I stand up. I tried sitting down when I was rehearsing, but I couldn’t sing sitting down. I can, but I can’t push it out. Standing up gives me more oxygen and more push with the vocal and I move around a little tiny bit. I can’t keep still.
How do you feel being on-stage alone? Is it a little nerve-wracking?
(laughs). Traumatised is the word. But happily traumatised. It feels really full-on.
A bit of a challenge too then after fronting a band for 20 years?
It’s definitely the unknown. It’s really hard and it’s really different because there’s so much more space around you. I just try and get used to that space and silence and see what to do with it and what not to do with it. Just accept it and let it settle around you like a fog and just go with it.
Did you go away and watch solo artists before this tour to see how they manage the space and silence?
I think you can learn a lot by people doing solo shows. In Melbourne I watched a couple of local artists do their thing. Amaya (Laucirica), she’s like a Mazzy Star-esque singer songwriter. So I watch her and ask her a lot of questions and kinda hope that her confidence rubs off on me. She been gigging for a long time and you can glean a lot of information from people like that. But when you get up there you kinda have to do it your own way.
How did this decision to go solo come about? You’ve been pretty busy with Magic Dirt, but was it time for the band to take a bit of a break?
Definitely. We had a five month long tour last year which was intense and that really burnt out at the end, in a really great way. It was a great tour but we haven’t had a proper break for many, many years and it’s been 16-17 years of constant playing. I guess it was a bunch of things. People were asking me “are you going to do solo stuff?” and I had never thought about it. It was like “Nah. Why?”
You did contribute two songs under your name though for the Suburban Mayhem soundtrack.
Yeah — “Double Dare” and “Sex Beat“, the Gun Club cover. Yeah, I guess it was that as well. Little things started to happen where I was naturally being pushed in that direction. There’s a lot of songs I’ve written that haven’t worked well in a rock band format or just haven’t even been tried ever. I kinda feel good airing those songs and trying a new vocal territory.
So this break isn’t really a break then.
I haven’t had a break, no. I’ve kept working through my break (laughs). But it’s good, it’s good to be busy. It’s good to be productive and it’s a great challenge for me in many ways.
So are you using this tour to road test what you’ve written?
Absolutely, yeah. Just to see what people think, get some feedback and see if it actually flies. I wasn’t really sure if I could do the solo thing, and I’m still not sure. It’s an experiment still, but it’s going well so far.
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