interview: xani kolac, the twoks
Violinist/vocalist Xani Kolac and drummer Mark Leahy of Melbourne’s The Twoks are back with an uplifting EP, “First Light,” which they recorded at Sydney 301 with “sweet vintage amps, toy pianos,” along with producer Tony Buchen. The title track will have you up on the roof with Kolac dancing to the sound of better times rolling in. I spoke with Kolac two years ago when The Twoks had just put out “Making Holes” and it was a pleasure to chat again about music transcending perceptions, permission to play, being compared to The Edge, and belonging.
“First Light” is so full of percussive syncopation — especially on “Step Slide” — that I ask if Kolac and Leahy grew up banging on the pots and pans.
“Not really, no!” Kolac says. “I started learning violin at seven years old. So I was always banging away at that. But I do have to say that I feel like back then, I was so committed, so disciplined and the violin is so demanding of attention to technique and detail, that maybe I’m going through my pots and pans stage now! I’ve started tinkering around with a synthesiser, or a piano and I really want to go and buy a theremin. It’s like I’ve given myself permission to go play! (More like I’ve cleared it with the ol’ violin – she runs a tight ship that one.)”
Kolac shares some optimism about women in the music world.
“I often get asked to describe my experience of being a woman in the music industry,” Kolac says. “My answer has often been the same: I’ve had it good. My greatest supporters of my musical career have been men, I’ve never been denied a role, position or award because I was female (to the best of my knowledge) and I’ve never been made to feel like I wasn’t as good as my male counterpart. Sometimes I put it down to being an instrumentalist first and foremost, vocalist second. Especially when I’ve seen first-hand the kind of shit some female vocalists have to deal with. But perhaps I was naive, because I’ve started to notice small things, subtle things, that remind me that there is so much work to be done. For example, when I turn up to play a gig, I head straight for the sound engineer to introduce myself. The sound engineer is almost always male. I have, in all my time as a musician, worked with three female sound engineers. To put that into some perspective, I play at least one hundred shows per year. The initial response when I proceed to describe the line-up is usually something that looks a lot like, ‘Oh Loooord! Here we go! A violin. She won‘t have a clue…’ Anyway, we get through the sound check, the soundie catches a glimpse of my pedals, usually says something like, ‘I didn’t know The Edge was turning up tonight!’ and then I do my job. I play the best show I possibly can, give it everything I’ve got and then clear everything off the stage. Almost every time this takes place, the soundie comes up to me afterwards and comments on my use of technology, the way I play the violin, offers tips on amp settings etc. Now we are at the same level, on the same page. Now I am interacting with a lovely human being who respects me and I him. But I have to work through all of that before I am taken seriously. The cool thing is though, that you know what just happened? I just changed someone’s perception of what a violin can sound like. It’s not about being a woman or a man anymore. The music has transcended that. It’s all about changing perceptions, one person at a time. Somewhere along the line we’ve all forgotten that feminism is about the fight for equality. It’s not about identifying one another as a man or a woman, but as a person, with stories to tell and things they can do.”
Being an independent musician has its downside, but focusing on connection keeps Kolac’s signature ebullience at the fore.
“Man, when I think about it, Mark and I get to do so much cool shit it’s really baffling to me that I get so down sometimes!” she says. “It’s such a hard slog and they don’t give you gold stars out in the indie music world, but I do always get so amazed thinking about how we get to meet some of the most interesting, beautiful people on this planet being the musos that we are. We get invited into the lives of complete strangers who end up being our family away from home. We are so lucky. Being on tour at the moment has really highlighted this for us. We started playing together because of the music. We believed in it and we loved doing it. Over the years we’ve taken our hits, but we’ve helped each other up. On this tour however, we have stayed with our new friends who once were strangers, and we don’t have to do this alone. Our friends have helped us up, have given us their love and support. And it reminded us both of why we keep doing this. We do it because none of us wanna be alone. We all want to feel like we belong somewhere.”
You will not regret listening to “First Light” at https://soundcloud.com/thetwoks/sets/first-light-ep and then heading to see The Twoks at the next possible opportunity.