With the release of their third album Wind and Water, acoustic duo Stiff Gins seem at the peak of their creative powers and damn happy about it. “We’re totally excited about the album, it’s been a long time coming,” says Nardi Simpson. “The songs have been around for about four years, when we started to demo those songs. We waited a couple of years to get the album together, then we got funding to finish it, spent the last two years recording and finally…it’s here.”
Though four years may seem a long time between albums, Simpson and band-mate Kaleena Briggs are good at squeezing life experience into their time together since their formation in 1997. Playing in Kuwait to Australian army troops, extensively touring Africa and Europe and 2011 is the first year they’ve assembled a backing band for live performances. “It’s always just been the two of us,” Simpson says. “We’re usually loners, we’re a bit shy. We’re a little bit intimidated by musos because we think that we’re two friends, and we don’t feel like we’re ‘on the scene’ or ‘in the business’”.
Raised from Redfern but now living in Marrickville, Stiff Gins are most commonly identified as being an indigenous group, a label that initially obscured the music more than they would have liked. “We freaked out at the beginning because it has such strong associations,” she intones carefully. “When we went over to Edinburgh people thought that they were coming to see traditional Aboriginal music, so…words can overtake what we do. As we’ve become more comfortable with who we are it matters less,” Simpson continues. “We know we’re able to do justice to that term and represent that as well as representing a lot of different things. We’re blackfellas and we’re proud of that and we’re songwriters and we’re proud of that, we can deliver on both of those in 45 minutes.”
While Australians may just be catching on to the dazzling harmonies and sweet blend of folk-pop that the band birth, people in unlikely corners of the Earth who might be ahead of us. “Things that are huge for us; our heritage and who we are just disappears over there. When we went over to Africa we were driving around with this guy who asked us where we were from and we told him we were indigenous Australians, and he said ‘we’re all indigenous’. He said ‘oh no, you’re not black,’ and I got angry. Then I realised that the politics of colour of skin is totally different there; you’re black or your not, and we weren’t. What’s at the core of who you are might not have any relevance anywhere else.”
Identity and nature seem to be big inspirations for both Briggs and Simpson as songwriters, but overriding even these sources is their friendship, which has lasted even longer than the band. “It was hard for me to come to terms with being daggy relatively young,” laughs Simpson about the suggestion that their music will age well. “I was all about getting on stage at Homebake and the Big Day Out, winning an ARIA, all that stuff. I thought that being in a band would make me even a little bit cool, but because we had such different upbringings and we let the music unfold, your experience as you get older changes and your stories become more interesting and you get better at delivering them in a different way. Because we’ve been doing it for ages, I can’t envisage a time when we‘re not playing. A while back, I felt like we were losing a bit of what it is that enables us to have the friendship, but now -because we’ve got a publisher and record label and an agent, it’s cleared some space for us to do what we do best. It’s all about the friendship again.”