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Safia tells how their supersonic journey almost stagnated

“We were just doing everything on instinct,” says Woolner, sitting alongside drummer Michael Bell in the office of a Sydney PR agency. “It was the first time doing everything, there wasn’t a lot of time for reflection, and luckily things worked out.”

Inevitably, though, the activity began to slow, and when it did the trio found themselves no longer operating on instinct but instead battling self-doubt as the task of following a successful debut dawned.

Writers’ block coupled with a false start in which Woolner says he was too focused on writing “big ideas” that were “a little contrived” stifled the process. Throw in a slight identity crisis as each member faced down their mid-20s and it’s no wonder Safia’s new album, Story’s Start Or End, opens with the line, “Oh winter, it’s cloudy up ahead.”

“Winter can represent doubt, forms of anxiety I might not have admitted I was experiencing,” says Woolner, with a nod. “That song [Ivory Lullaby]… is basically a love song to my old piano in my parents’ house, because I think in hindsight I realised how much [writing music on] that piano was a way for me to compartmentalise my emotions without even realising it.”

Such lyrical concerns contribute to the darker, more introspective mood of the first half of the record, before a lighter, freer touch opens up the album’s back end. That sonic journey is, says Woolner, representative of each member’s experience over the past two years, as techniques such as meditation eased anxiety around the creative process and notions of identity.

Safia return to the road this month, energised by a tour of China last year during which enthusiastic audiences lavished them with gifts. Woolner says the scale of the production for the Australian shows is larger than ever.

Surprisingly, the inspiration for such grand spectacle comes not from the dance world, but from one of the first concerts Woolner and Bell ever attended: Alice Cooper.

“That’s what we started on,” says the singer with a chuckle. “For us, shows were this spectacle and huge, entertaining thing. So it made sense that that’s what we wanted to do.”

Safia play the Forum Theatre in Melbourne on September 7 and 8, and Enmore Theatre in Sydney on September 14. Story’s Start Or End is out now.

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