Escaping one’s hometown can often transform you into a different person. But for Carla Lippis, the dusky cabaret stage of Italy and London offered a way to bring all her many musical personas together at last.
“The door opened and I just walked through it,” Lippis says of her time overseas, a domino effect of opportunities that swept her into an entirely different world of performance.
“I lived in Italy for a while and was touring around Europe with a band called Sacri Cuori, that kind of prompted my move initially,” she says of the Italian spaghetti western band who also backed her 1960s inspired Baby Carla EP two years ago.
“That was fantastic, and when it came to a close the next logical progression was to move to London. Since then I’ve been straight into the cabaret and circus world here. Now I’m in a show in the West End, a big circus cabaret extravaganza, [and] then touring as well. It just went from there and kept going. I haven’t looked back — it was what needed to happen.”
Lippis had previously been a respected fixture in the Adelaide live music scene, masterfully scene-hopping from the hard rock of The Rules to the dulcet alt. country of The Martial Hearts. In each guise Lippis embraced and mastered the genre trappings of disparate styles and aesthetics, but cross-pollination was rare. Somewhat surprisingly, it was discovering the heightened theatricality and escapism of a cabaret stage that let her shed the pretences of the ‘band’ scene for something more honest and authentic.
“It’s a different kind of craftsmanship with this style,” she says. “There’s this real pressure to be ‘cool’ [in a band], even if you’re a fucking DJ. It’s all about being stoic and cool and projecting this kind of image, but here you can be completely vulnerable in front of an audience — that’s what they expect from you in a way. Which is kind of exciting, there’s not this pressure to have an image… which is essentially bullshit.
“It kind of changed my mind about how I wanted to do music; I wanted to make music that suited a more theatre setting as opposed to a pub or music festival. Then I started writing music for that setting, and I felt like ‘alright, I can live here, I can live in this space’, as opposed to ‘making it’ in a band sense. Because truth be told, that’s kind of dead now anyway. It feels like being in a band is something you do for fun, but not something you can do seriously in Australia unless you get really lucky.”
Lippis describes the shift to cabaret as a liberating one, allowing her to blur and hop between musical genres, and indulge in whatever physicality she pleases.
“I get to be a lot more physical in this show, jump around and head bang and just go for it. Whereas when I was doing the country stuff it was really subdued, you’re kind of plugging away at the same pace for the whole set. Now I can basically do whatever I want. Even in this show it starts off quite subdued, then I work myself up into a frenzy, physically into a frenzy, which is not something you get to really do in a band.”
Lippis returns home in June for Adelaide Cabaret Festval, with her new show Cast A Dark Shadow fresh from premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “It’s basically a culmination of my last two years in London — realising all the kind of dark stuff in my head and making a show around that,” she says of the show. “I was writing music for more of a theatre setting, and when you put it all together it ended up making this quite dark story, a bit of a journey from quite shy into something really fierce and intense and ugly.”
The result brings echoes of the intimidating rock queen, the heartbreaking crooner and the glittery 1960s pop star seen in Lippis’ previous projects together in a new light — even if that ‘light’ is dark, moody and David Lynch-inspired.
“It’s just music, you just write it. People think you have to stick to one thing or if you’re into something that it has to be the same thing all the time, but it’s just music isn’t it?”
Carla Lippis: Cast A Dark Shadow
Adelaide Festival Centre