‘A lot of women are constrained by certain stereotypes’: Xylaroo on Wild Woman

A lot can change in a year. At the start of 2020, tal­ent­ed indie duo Xyla­roo were wrestling with turn­ing old ideas into new music. A fresh start beck­oned. And then the pan­dem­ic hit.

Like so many, their plans were heav­i­ly dis­rupt­ed. But the Xyla­roo sis­ters – Hol­ly and Coco Chant – fought through the chal­lenges to record songs for a five-track EP, titled Wild Woman. Released last Decem­ber, the EP is a fine intro­duc­tion to the group and their abil­i­ty to make beau­ti­ful songs. Songs with social mes­sages, songs that make you want to dance, songs that make you feel something.

When we caught up with song­writer and vocal­ist Hol­ly Chant (pic­tured above left) to dis­cuss Wild Woman last Decem­ber, she was in good spir­its. She had been jug­gling a demand­ing new job dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, while con­tin­u­ing to stay cre­ative. Her calm speak­ing voice con­trasts to the ener­getic songstress she trans­forms into when she sings.

Chant told us about how their Wild Woman EP came to be and its con­nec­tion to her Papua New Guinea her­itage, why she feels that many women are still con­strained in mod­ern soci­ety, the ben­e­fits of mak­ing music remote­ly, and how she hopes to evolve her own music mak­ing in future.

Fringe Fre­quen­cy: Ear­li­er in 2020, we under­stand you and your sis­ter, Coco, had planned to work towards a new album, which you’d ten­ta­tive­ly called Turis. Can you tell us some more about that? And how did it morph into the EP you have now?
Hol­ly Chant:
So, we were going to do the Turis thing. And we record­ed quite a few songs. But then, me and Coco both start­ed new jobs, and we kind of put every­thing on the back­burn­er for a bit. And then this lock­down stuff hap­pened. And we were just decid­ed we should just get those songs, which had got­ten kind of old now, out there, so we can start work­ing on new stuff. [We were] doing a lot of remote stuff with Joe [Sin­gle­ton], our gui­tarist. So, real­ly the EP is get­ting those record­ed songs out there, so peo­ple can lis­ten to them.

Xylaroo's Wild Woman EP cover features and image of their mother, who is from Papua New Guinea.

There’s five songs on your Wild Woman EP. Can you name them for us?
So, there’s ‘Swee­t­ooth’, ‘Wild Woman’, ‘Tomb’, ‘Like Planes’, and ‘Yes­ter­day’. These are kind of the old­er songs we record­ed with a full band. And we record­ed it quite a long time ago. They’re kind of like a mish­mash: songs that we’ve record­ed and liked the sound of, and stuff like that. But, yeah, we have them, so we might as well put them out – espe­cial­ly dur­ing the lock­down, when, you know, a lot of oth­er peo­ple couldn’t record stuff.

OK. So, you want to let these songs live on their own, sep­a­rate­ly from any new stuff. Is that right?
Yes. And also, because Turis means “tourist” in Pid­gin. My mum’s from Papua New Guinea, so it’s their Pid­gin lan­guage – it’s a bit like patois. They have, like, 800 lan­guages. But yes, it was gonna be called Turis, but then I thought that I want to keep that album name and make some songs that are a bit more [fit­ting]… It was kind of because we’ve moved to so many dif­fer­ent coun­tries, you always feel like a tourist in oth­er places. You know, they’re kind of home, but they’re nev­er quite home. And then, also, in music, you’re kind of a tourist in some­one else’s thoughts and emo­tions and stuff. So, I want to keep that [title] for some songs that I think will be more with that theme. So, I’m going to write some songs lat­er and hope­ful­ly make that an album at some point.

“I was think­ing about how a lot of women are con­strained by cer­tain stereo­types and ways that they should act and be. And, so, the song is about want­i­ng to escape from that and be, you know, this sort of nat­ur­al, wild thing.” – Hol­ly Chant

That’s inter­est­ing. Some­thing we’ve always loved about your music is how world­ly it sounds. You can analyse some songs end­less­ly, over and over, and nev­er dis­cov­er all their secrets. But then, one day, you’ll just be sit­ting some­where, maybe on the train or some­thing, and a lyric or a moment will just click with you, and you’ll think: “Wow. I nev­er caught this moment until just now”. It’s won­der­ful to be able to enjoy music with these dif­fer­ent kinds of lev­els. Your music def­i­nite­ly has that.
That’s cool. Yeah, that’s good to know. I real­ly like song­writ­ing. And, I guess, I’m not as inter­est­ed in the “music” parts. I’ll write some quite sim­ply with my gui­tar and stuff like that. And then, I’ll give it to my sis­ter and Joe and peo­ple to, you know, make it more musi­cal and nice, I guess. But I always like focus­ing on what I’m try­ing to say with a song and express­ing some kind of feel­ing or emo­tion. Yeah. So, it’s impor­tant that the songs express something.

OK. How about ‘Wild Woman’, for instance? We were just lis­ten­ing to that ear­li­er, and in the lyrics for that song, you sing: “I want to grow into some­thing wild / Wild woman, you give me life”. What’s the song about?
Yeah, well… See, I don’t know whether this is with hind­sight. Well, I can’t remem­ber exact­ly when I wrote the song. But, I guess it’s about wom­an­hood. And feel­ing kind of con­strained in cer­tain ways as a woman. It’s also sort of an ode to Moth­er Nature, and moth­ers as well. You know, we used our mum as the art­work [for the Wild Woman EP cov­er]. It’s an old pic­ture of her.

It’s obvi­ous­ly about women, but any­one can feel kind of penned in or caged in – I guess we’re quite caged in at the moment with locked down. [Laughs] But, I can’t remem­ber whether the [#MeToo move­ment] was hap­pen­ing at the time when I wrote it, or whether I linked that lat­er. But it has those kinds of themes in it. And I feel like maybe that stuff was going on when I wrote it. I was think­ing about how a lot of women are con­strained by cer­tain stereo­types and ways that they should act and be. And, so, the song is about want­i­ng to escape from that and be, you know, this sort of nat­ur­al, wild thing. Yeah.

Right. That’s great to know.
Yeah. And I was also think­ing about that song that goes: “born free, free as the riv­er” [‘Born Free’ by Matt Mon­ro], so it was a bit influ­enced by that. But, yeah, it’s about being free. It’s crazy how many [firsts are still to come for] women. I mean, it was­n’t that long ago when women couldn’t vote and women were get­ting paid a lot less than men. Now I think it’s a bit bet­ter, but these things are quite recent. I think we’re mov­ing in the right direc­tion with things. I feel pret­ty uncon­strained as a woman, I think. But I know a lot of women around the world don’t feel that.

“I think it’s very easy for us to just switch the chan­nel, or not think about it, and not think about the deci­sions that our lead­ers are mak­ing and how they are actu­al­ly ruin­ing oth­er people’s lives.” – Hol­ly Chant

Total­ly. How about your song ‘Tomb’? Do you have any­thing to say about that? To us, this is the oth­er side to your music, haunt­ing and chill­ing songs. It kind of felt to us like it was almost like an ode to youth dying or maybe the brief­ness of life?
Yeah. Well, it’s sort of about war, I guess. I was think­ing about the Mid­dle East, sort of imag­in­ing what it’d be like for a per­son liv­ing in some war torn coun­try, or before the war hap­pened. And then the song goes through as they lose peo­ple and get angry, and stuff like that. So, the Mid­dle East, but also the oth­er half of the island where my mum’s from, West Papua, which is still expe­ri­enc­ing genocide.

But, yeah, the song is sort of about war but it is about that youth­ful­ness as well. The begin­ning is like when [the char­ac­ter in the song is] young and care­free. The cho­rus is sort of sup­posed to be like a lul­la­by that par­ents sing to their child. And it’s about life car­ry­ing on despite the destruc­tion. But then, the vers­es are sort of about the destruc­tion of war, or even just some­thing bad that hap­pens, you know? Yeah. And some parts are like a funer­al march, and then the cho­rus is more like a lul­la­by. I guess that was what was behind it. I think I’ve always been quite angry at the way that coun­tries, like Eng­land and Amer­i­ca, just go off and bomb oth­er coun­tries and stuff like that. Yeah, that song was sort of about the human cost of war.

Mmm. You’re mak­ing impor­tant com­ments. As we’ve seen this year, some peo­ple in the world lack empa­thy, which is very sad.
Yeah, it real­ly is. Espe­cial­ly now. I mean, when you think of World War II: where the war came to people’s doorsteps, peo­ple could see it, and it was there. And they knew the grave­ness of it. And then the wars we have now are so far away. I think it’s very easy for us to just switch the chan­nel, or not think about it, and not think about the deci­sions that our lead­ers are mak­ing and how they are actu­al­ly ruin­ing oth­er people’s lives. And then mak­ing them angry so that [lat­er] new con­flicts arise and, you know, we take out gov­ern­ments, and then, worse ones come in! Yeah, I just think it’s a bit crazy. So, I guess that song was about that. And even though it’s not overt, it’s sub­tly about that.

Tell us a bit about the song ‘Swee­t­ooth’. That’s one we’ve been play­ing over and over and over. You played that at your con­cert at The Jago, too. The record­ed ver­sion is real­ly some­thing spe­cial.
Yes, ‘Swee­t­ooth’ is just a bit of fun. That was the name of our [debut] album. [When I start­ed,] I was just play­ing around with our key­board and then sang the first bit. It’s sort of about lik­ing things that you shouldn’t like.

On our first album, [the title] “Swee­t­ooth” was was about much dark­er and deep­er things. But this one’s like a light-heart­ed dis­per­sion. It’s sort of like tox­ic love, but in a fun way, you know? It’s kind of like: you haven’t real­ly learned your les­son with a bad rela­tion­ship or some­thing like that. But, yeah, that one’s most­ly just a bit of fun, really.

And it is fun to play as well. I want­ed it to be sort of like an old rhythm and blues sort of song. And the guys just went with that and did a quite clas­sic rhythm gui­tar and bass [arrange­ment]. But I like it. I love the bass.

What are you hop­ing lis­ten­ers take away from your Wild Woman EP?
Mmm. I mean, most­ly, I just want them to lis­ten to it and enjoy it. And it depends. I mean, the sounds are quite dif­fer­ent. It’s a bit of a mish­mash of dif­fer­ent songs. There’s not a par­tic­u­lar theme. But I’d like them to lis­ten to the lyrics and enjoy the eclec­tic nature of the EP.

Cool. Final­ly, what’s next for you two?
It’s kind of up in the air. I think it’s weird, because my sis­ter is plan­ning to move [aboard] at some point. So I’m not sure. I mean, we were gonna keep mak­ing music, because I have been doing a lot of remote stuff with our gui­tarist. I think we have to see exact­ly what’s going to happen.

I mean, the Psalms one [‘Psalms 23’] I did actu­al­ly by myself. What I was hop­ing to do is be a lit­tle bit more flex­i­ble and quick­er with releas­ing stuff, and get my sis­ter involved when she can be involved, get dif­fer­ent musi­cians involved, and just do some­thing a lit­tle bit more free and exper­i­men­tal. For a lit­tle bit, I guess, just to sort of have a stretch. And just try out a few things and stuff like that. Because we’re not with the label any­more. So, it’s nice, we can just do what­ev­er we want. And, yeah, I don’t want to be tied down with think­ing: “I have to do it this way, or get this out at this time”. I just want to do it how­ev­er I feel like, and how­ev­er my sis­ter feels like.

Wild Woman by Xyla­roo is avail­able to stream now. Since releas­ing their EP, Xyla­roo has released the sin­gles ‘Iso­la­tion’ and ‘Wild of Desire’.

Images: Hai­ley Atkinson