Interview: All Our Exes Live in Texas excel in country harmonies but reveal surprising Aussie roots
Directed by Wheaton Simis

All Our Exes Live in Texas are a Sydney band of four jazz-trained singer/songwriters who don't actually have any exes in Texas though they did joke about trying last time they were in Austin. Four years ago when they wanted to start their band, the accomplished quartet looked to google to provide them with answers. They typed in a search for the worst or best country song titles and the King of Country - George Strait's decades-old hit was delivered to them. Living up to their moniker, the band penned a debut of break-up songs for All Fall Down which went on to win the 2017 ARIA award for Best Blues & Roots Album.

At last year's SXSW, they were touted as one of the must-see bands with their affable onstage banter, impeccable songwriting and lovely harmonies. Their harmonies have even made it to Kesha's "Praying" a single from her much-anticipated Rainbow album.

The band which comprises Elana Stone, Hannah Crofts, Georgia Mooney and Katie Wighton have previously toured with Midnight Oil, and are currently on their headlining North American tour. After their San Francisco show at the Cafe du Nord earlier this week, we caught up with Stone - who sings as she plays the accordion with her hands and tambourine with her foot - to talk about how the band was formed, what their next album should sound like and if they have a Dolly Parton cover ready yet.

AXS: This might be a little late but congrats on winning the ARIA last year. How did you all feel – was it like' oh it’s just great to be nominated' or did you really, really want to win?

Elana Stone: I genuinely had never been to the ARIAs and was truly excited to just be there, mostly focusing on the red carpet and how much fun that was going to be. It would have actually freaked me out but there was the four of us and we operate really well together. We enjoyed getting dressed up, getting our hair and make-up done. The category we were nominated for had Paul Kelly in it - he is basically a national treasure for Australia - so looking at the list we were all betting on the other bands. We were pretty relaxed believing we would definitely not win. I know everyone says this but when we got our names called out we had absolutely nothing prepared to say.  We were sitting next to people from the ABC – our record company in Australia and they also represent the Wiggles (laughs) – so we were sitting with the Wiggles, then jumping up and down, it was a very exciting moment. We went a bit crazy after that.

AXS: How did you go from different parts of Australia to Sydney, then deciding to play folk and country?

ES: It was really based on a friendship and an urge to hang out together because we made each other laugh, a lot. We didn’t know how we would play music together but a friend of ours put on an O Brother, Where Art Thou?  tribute night and as much as I hate saying this – one of our guy friends suggested that we should be like the sirens in the movie -(originally sung by Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss) we could easily do the movie’s three-part harmonies as a four-part harmony because we’re all singers. We quickly realized that we couldn’t all play piano onstage even though that’s what we're all trained in so we picked up new instruments, practiced towards a deadline and performed for half an hour.  It was like a challenge and it went so well, better than we could have expected. Our first gig was musically not polished but there was a lot of love. There was a lot of giggling, banter and jokes; but the songs were good enough and the audience loved it. And we got asked back. Then it evolved and just became the thing we do. This band is our job now. It’s amazing.

AXS: An O Brother, Where Art Thou?  tribute in Sydney 2013, you must have been hanging out with some hardcore bluegrass and folk musicians at the time – can you describe this very specific Sydney scene to us? 

ES: Americans know that American music permeates throughout the world but this movie introduced very specific artists to my friends and I, that we didn’t know about before. They were playing this form of bluegrass or country music, that wasn’t too pop or too polished. The singing was so heartfelt and this scene in Sydney was created around that, and it still exists today. It’s pretty funny to know sing these songs back on the other side of the world now. This happens with music as it travels around the world I guess like the Rolling Stones was so inspired by American blues music, it’s so vital this exchange. That’s just what was happening in this scene; there was definitely lots of parties and handing out instruments, and folks that have loved the music for a long time swapping information with us that had been into jazz or whatever. Then we all went on to take it onstage with us. 

AXS: Didn't you all have your own solo careers before?

ES: Yes, we were all very much focused on playing music and all studied jazz. I was doing my own stuff for years and also played in a duo. Every one of the girls was doing jazz or something else but not folk music; very different to what we ended up doing. I don’t know, life sometimes makes better choices for you. 

AXS: It doesn’t take long to see that you guys really enjoy each other’s company - what’s the best thing about being in All Our Exes for you?

ES: I think most bands feel like this; that it’s like being in a gang and my gang is better than your gang. My gang's gonna beat your gang. (laughs) I’ve been in other bands before but I’ve never been in one that has here such intelligence and drive; we all somehow picture a similar future with this project. The potential for it stretches pretty far in our minds, and the level of challenge and humor, I think for me it’s like stepping up to a mark. Really trying to be the best version of myself. I’ve got to pull my socks up, these people depend on me.  You’ve inherited a family, you don’t want to let them down but you’re also having a great time. Time passes quickly when you’re really laughing. My sister (actor Yael Stone from Orange Is The New Black) just had her baby last night, it’s the first baby in our family and I can see the girls; it affects them in the same way it affects me.  It’s a big deal because they know how I feel about it. We all go through this kind of stuff with each other. It’s family.

AXS: I understand you all write individually and then bring your songs to the rest of the band – do you get competitive about whose song is more popular? How do you sort out setlists?  

ES: We’re pretty democratic – we each contributed three on a record of 12 songs. Having done the amount of gigs that we have, I think we’ve gotten to a point where they all just feel like our songs even if individually we didn’t write them. And there’s always another gig so another opportunity to play your music. Sometimes, I want to play someone else’s songs because they’re good or I just like them. It’s, however, the flow of the show works.

AXS: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned doing this album and touring it and what would you do differently with the next album?

ES: There’s lots of heartbreak songs and ballads that I think are so beautiful but for a while there, I just wanted to make the audience feel – happy. (laughs) Like they'd gone out for a good night out. I’m hoping also that our lives have evolved and we don’t have to write so many break-up songs. I’m not sure if that’s actually true. There’s also the reflex to sit down when you’re sad and put words to paper, those are the songs you write about. I'll try to write when I'm not sad and perhaps it might bring up other subject matter. Also, we have been writing a lot more this time. We will have more songs before we commit to tape. We'll write a shitload than be more picky about it. We're also working with a new producer so we might get a different sound again. 

AXS: It was very fitting that with a name like All Our Exes Live In Texas, you would write an album about heartbreak and exes.

ES: That’s true. I do want to also write songs that make people feel more empowered during these times we live in. That makes me feel more empowered to sing. But who knows it could just be a bunch of more break-up songs. (laughs)

AXS: Speaking of empowered women, your vocal harmonies were featured in Kesha's single "Praying" on her album which also features a song with Dolly Parton. One of you mentioned doing a Dolly Parton cover. Your Tame Impala (Eventually) and White Stripes (Hotel Yorba) covers are great but do you have a Dolly Parton one ready yet?

ES: We still haven't! I find it quite hard to believe. We're going to have to pull ourselves up there because Dolly should be represented. At this point, it's just cool that we're on Kesha's album with Dolly Parton - does it get better? We listen to her a lot in the car but it's almost like 'how do you even do those songs? They are so crazy good.' But it is going to happen! 

All Our Exes Live In Texas Tour 

June 1 - Phoenix, AZ - Musical Instrument Museum
June 2 - Prescott, AZ - Prescott Center for the Arts
June 3 - Taos, NM - Music on the Mothership
June 7 - Dallas, TX - The Rustic
June 8 - Fort Worth, TX - Fred's Texas Café
June 9 - Austin, TX - Radio
June 10 - Kerrville, TX - Kerrville Folk Festival
June 13 - Nashville, TN - City Winery
June 15 - Richmond, VA - Downtown Music Hall/Capital Ale House
June 16 -Columbia, MD - Columbia Arts Fest
June 17 - Milton, DE - Milton Theatre
June 18 - Washington, DC - The Kennedy Center
June 19 - Exton, PA - Eagleview Concert Series
June 20 - Cambridge, MA - Club Passim
June 21- Old Saybrook, CT - The Kate
June 22 - Portsmouth, NH - The Music Hall Loft
June 23 - Concord, NH - Market Days
June 24 - Portland, ME - Blue
June 26 - Rochester, NY - Rochester Jazz Festival