In November 2020, Andy Bull returned with the new single, ‘It’s All Connected’. It was Bull’s first new release since his 2014 album Sea of Approval – an album that brought the Sydney performer national acclaim, leading to a sold-out national tour and main stage slots at Laneway and Groovin The Moo.
‘It’s All Connected’ was a fresh hit of synth-pop delivered with the precision of an artist who had refined his approach to music. It not only offered a glimmer of optimism amid the anguish of 2020 but also re-positioned Andy Bull as one of Australia’s most interesting pop songwriters.
Cut to 2022, and Andy Bull has released his long-awaited third studio album, People You Love. The record captures the Sydney songwriter and multi-instrumentalist emerging from a chrysalis of personal rediscovery and empowerment. He’s endured a rollercoaster of experiences since his last album, navigating parenthood, death, isolation and reinvigoration.
Music Feeds catches up with Bull for a chat about how his new music matches his current outlook on life.
Andy Bull – ‘It’s All Connected’
Music Feeds: When did this album begin to take shape?
Andy Bull: When I finished Sea of Approval, which was seven or eight years ago… that record was mostly made in solitude. Me in a room for a year and a half, really, from beginning to end. I made heaps of music, and I was alone for a lot of the time. I was learning a lot at the time. It was a really intense period.
There were moments of breakthrough and excitement along the way, but for the most part, I was quite stressed. I felt heaps of pressure. I’d put out ‘Keep On Running’, which broke through before I even had a record – I was pedalling to keep up. I made ‘Baby I Am Nobody Now’, and I felt the pressure to keep the thing going.
When it finished, we toured and that was the real pay off. And when that album cycle closed, I didn’t want to hear my own voice any more. It was this really strange thing. I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to sing. My voice felt like it was a physical phenomenon; there was a tiredness of the nervous system, or something.
I started to write music thinking that I had to follow up that record and do the next album quickly, because things were finally happening and there was an audience to actually play to. All I did was write instrumental music. They were slow pieces. I didn’t want to sing, I didn’t have an urge to write lyrics – it was a real retreat. I went into this real place of solitude.
MF: Were there moments to reflect on what was happening around you?
Andy: Life started to feel like a cycle was ending. My dad started to die, for example, which took four or five years. It was a really sad period. It really did feel like a particular cycle of life was ending. It became a really reflective period. I started to reflect on my life and all the experiences I’d had with music.
To a degree, the beginnings of my career were really hard. Often really fun, but I really slogged it through. I was trying to reconcile all those experiences, all those personal ambitions; I don’t mean ambitions for fame, just ambitions to be doing the thing you love. It’s a deep romance, you know?
I was reflecting on all of that – years of rejection or feeling like things didn’t really land where they needed to. Sea of Approval got picked up by [Republic Records] in the States, and the guy who signed it left the company and then no one would put it out. I started to reflect on the early stuff. I guess I felt embarrassed when I felt bad about it not going well.
But then with this new music, I started to be able to write songs that used the words that I would use in a conversation, which was a real breakthrough for me. I was becoming the songwriter I had wanted to become, but at the same time, reconciling all these past dreams. And rediscovering musical loves from teenage years, music that maybe isn’t hip like Marvin Gaye or Shuggie Otis, stuff that I fell in love with to begin with.
“It all began mingling. This new music is a product of looking forward and looking back at the same time.”
3/ never thought I’d put out an album that I wasn’t slightly ambivalent about, but here we are, it’s bloomed 🌹 Hope you can have time to listen.
— Andy Bull (@Andy_Bull) December 4, 2022
MF: There is a comforting feeling of nostalgia with a song like ‘Slipping Away’. But at the same time, it still feels new.
Andy: It really does feel like there are these seasons that you have to go through – there’s no shortcut through it, and I find that really frustrating. I could tell when I was going through that quiet period, it was like I was going through my winter or something. A period where you rest and consolidate. I don’t want to jinx anything, but it does feel like springtime in my life, in many ways.
MF: It’s a period of reawakening?
Andy: Absolutely. So, last year when we had my daughter, after my wife gave birth, she had this freak medical condition and she nearly died. She was in hospital for quite some time. I was at home with the newborn and my son – just me, for a good week or two there, just waiting for a phone call that would tell me my wife had died. It was a really surreal experience.
I was lying in my bed. I had my baby on my chest and my son beside me, and I had a list of, “What to do if Renee died.” What I’d have to do tomorrow, what I’d have to do over the next week, what were the jobs that needed to be done. Because if it happened, it would be chaos.
It was in the middle of lockdown. I wasn’t able to go into the hospital. I said goodbye to her in the ambulance one night. She was really sick, really close to dying that night. I didn’t know if I was going to see her again.
This last year, there has literally been a birth and almost like a resurrection, because Renee came back. The first few months of her coming back was all about nursing her back to health while handling the kids. It was a really strange experience to go through. It was frightening but also probably the most invigorating year I’ve had in a decade, really.
Andy Bull – ‘Something I’ve Been Thinking’
MF: Do you think the confidence you can hear in your new music is a result of being able to come out the other side of these experiences?
Andy: The confidence in this music has come from a place of being like, “Fuck it,” you know? The confidence has been in saying, “You’ve got this window of time left.” Whether you live another 40 years or whatever, it’s a window. You’ve got to do whatever this is fully, and not be the thing that blocks you.
I think it’s something that every person who has a project, a goal or a dream goes through. You’ve got to get out of your own way and with that comes having to accept your own limitations as part of the package.
MF: How do you think the Andy Bull who made Sea of Approval differs from the Andy Bull who is creating music now, in a songwriting sense?
Andy: I spent so much time with Sea of Approval wondering if it was cool enough. There is time for that conversation, but it’s a much smaller part of the process than you’d think it is. What you need to be doing is tapping into your passion, whatever that is, no matter where it sits in the milieu of what’s going on.
There’s a sweet spot between being aware of the world and also not letting it define you unduly. This has been a really beautiful and empowering shift for me. I feel like I’m listening to music like I’m 15 again, with enthusiasm and no judgement. It’s really nice because it opens you up to a whole lot of experiences.
You know when you’re really young, all you have is potential – you feel like you have time and potential and anything is possible. I was thinking about how I’d been working on this record for three or four years and it’s like… I can feel all of this potential again.
There’s this feeling of, “Something is about to happen.” That is what I’ve missed so much. When you’re a teenager, everything is about to happen. It can be frustrating, but it can be exciting.
Andy Bull – ‘Slipping Away’