Folk-rock troubadour Little Wise has just released a powerful eighties-influenced single entitled Heart Beats Quicker. I spoke to her about the process of co-writing the song, baritone guitars and the getting of musical wisdom.
How did Sophie Klein evolved into Little Wise?
Little Wise is the literal meaning of my name, reversed in order. Sophie (Greek; wisdom) and Klein (Yiddish/German; small, little). I have a friend who called me by the nickname Wise Little. When I started performing, I began using the stage name Little Wise. I think initially it came from the need to hide behind something, and being a bit shy. Over the years I’ve had mixed feelings towards it as my artist name, as I prefer to steer away from the cutesy, diminutive descriptors, especially being a woman in the industry and really wanting to claim my power. I was thinking of scrapping it actually! But it has really stuck and I’ve ended up embracing it. I like that it holds wisdom and humility – just a little wise. The act has had a few different incarnations, being a duo, band and solo act and I have had different collaborators over the years. However I guess the central theme has always been my voice and songwriting at the center of the music.
As a listener, what’s an album that changed your life and why?
Macy Gray ‘On How Life Is’. I was ten when this album came out and it was the first “good” pop music on my radar, that I had sought out myself (my older sisters listened to plenty of great pop music which I was also lucky to absorb). The CD was in my discman on high rotation! It was sexy – more so than I actually understood at the time – but I knew it had a certain feeling about it. I am certain I misunderstood all the MA-rated references, but I liked the idea of the explicit language warning on the cover! More importantly, I was absolutely obsessed with Macy’s voice. Later on, I discovered a love of singers who don’t have “trained” voices, but possess a certain quality that is so uniquely their own – Dylan, Lennon, Tracy Chapman, Lucinda Williams, Ani Difranco et al. Perhaps loving Macy early on made me open to the way that the human voice can be so vastly expressive. Listening back on it now, I hear flavours of Marvin Gaye, Aretha and many of the great soul and pop artists that came before; but to my inexperienced ears at the time it was completely new. I was hooked.
Congratulations on the new single. Great to hear such a heartfelt co-write. Tell us about your relationship with Larissa Tandy.
Larissa and I met in Nashville in 2017. I was there on the American road trip of my dreams, stopping in at AmericanaFest in Nashville. Larissa was living in Nashville for a period, but was and is generally based in Vancouver, Canada, but is from Australia originally. Larissa was in Nashville on an Australia Council songwriting residency, regularly attending co-writing sessions and sharpening her songwriting tools daily. It was wonderful hearing about the life of a working songwriter over there.
One of our first encounters was being interviewed together by Brian Wise of Triple R, for an overseas broadcast of Off The Record from a radio studio in Nashville. Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings sat in the same chairs to be interviewed by Brian, just moments before it was our turn. (Those kinds of magical mind-blowing events are so important as a small-time indie songwriter, and something we [clearly] hold onto!) Anyway, Larissa and I had lots of common ground and stayed in touch. We’re both queer, both songwriters, and each have kids born a week apart. Larissa invited me for a co-writing session on her visit to Melbourne in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit. I was thrilled, and a little nervous, and we came out with this song.
How has parenthood influenced you as an artist?
Initially, becoming a parent made me – strangely – more driven. I guess when a whole chunk of your time is taken up by caring for a child, you suddenly become acutely purposeful about how you spend your time. Lately, it has helped me access a whole new set of emotions that can inform my songwriting. I think this is evident on ‘Heart Beats Quicker’, which is about Larissa and I wanting to protect our kids from our own anxieties and life worries, big and small. I think this thread carries through on a few of my other songs that will be on the forthcoming album.
It’s a very cool combination of sounds in terms of instrumentation. How did it all take shape when it came to arrangement and recording?
I take very little credit for the wonderful sounds that are on this track! In reality, a fair chunk happened without me present as I handed over the reigns to producer/engineer Fraser Montgomery, and co-producer/drummer Josh Barber.
The longer story… In April 2021 we held a recording session at the Aviary Studios, with a studio band (Josh Barber – drums, Richard Bradbeer – bass, Jude Perl – piano, Matt Dixon- guitar and pedal steel). We tracked the song together live, after spending a short period working out the form and the feel. It was a new and wonderful experience tracking with an entirely new band and coming in relatively fresh with the material. The ensuing lockdowns left Fraser and Josh somewhat to their own devices and before I knew it they had each gotten creative with the wonderful synth and guitar lines and depth to the production. The sonic palette came out of discussions about wanting to find the meeting place of classic pop/rock music and more folk/rock singer-songwriter styles. I think lockdown led us to luxuriate a bit with the mixes and overdubs and we didn’t have a finished version until October 2021.
Indulge this question, but I love baritone guitars and I know you give one a run in your live sets. Tell me about your relationship with that instrument.
I love this question! I played a little bit of baritone in the Want it All album sessions, as there was one at the studio. I didn’t really have the chance to get to know the instrument well but left the sessions with my interest piqued. I already play a Danelectro 6 string electric and just love the tone. I ended up ordering one in the mail at some point in 2020 during the lockdown. YThe only guitar I’ve ever bought online, sight unseen. I love what I manage to draw out of it and find it a great tool for songwriting, because the same shapes on regular guitar played on baritone have a completely different pitch and resonance.
What’s your idea of a perfect gig?
I have just returned from a weekend of playing outdoor shows in Northeast Victoria, in the towns of Yackandandah and Wandilligong on the lands of Dhudhuroa, Gunai-Kurnai, Taungurung, Waywurru and Jaithmathang people. I brought the band, we had perfect Autumn weather, played outdoors in the afternoon and were home in time to put our feet up at 8pm! At Wandi Pub, we played against the backdrop of the Mountains. Kids lined up for Little Wise stickers at the merch table and folks danced in the last of our three sets. I would say that’s pretty much a perfect gig!
To celebrate the release of Heart Beats Quicker, Little Wise plays a special full band hometown show at George Lane in St Kilda on Saturday 23 April. Special guest T.Wilds (Blue Mountains, NSW) will open the show. A limited-edition run of Heart Beats Quicker t-shirts will be exclusively available at the single launch show.