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Flume Took A Step Back Before New Album: 'Am I Happy? Am I Doing What I Want?’

26 May 2022 | 11:26 am | Liz Giuffre

“I think that kind of fear and anxiety is why I pushed it quite hard."

(Pic by Zac Bayly)

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Flume, aka Harley Streten, talks down the line in the same timezone as the one he grew up in. It’s a connection to his roots and to a place that he’s not had for much of his career, but one he’s enjoying. Settling into a new life, a new lifestyle and a new outlook, the result is new album Palaces, a collection that is more direct, more honest but still essentially Flume.

“Yeah, well, honestly, the whole COVID situation, it was quite dark," he confesses. "I was in the States, and then my girlfriend and I broke up. And I was kind of there for a few months with my dog during lockdown thinking, ‘I've got to get out of here.’ So I flew back to Australia and brought the dog back, and I just started a new life here. I grew up in Sydney, [but] I'm living up in the Northern Rivers."

He’s not that long back in Australia from Coachella, which he doesn’t really brag about but only casually just calls “great”. An old hat at the big leagues, for Flume a party in the desert with a few thousand friends and icons like Damon Albarn and Beck, as well as fellow Aussies Kučka and MAY-A, is just another day. It makes sense – the album is lush and his address book has always been brimming. Now with a just-announced Australian tour, which will follow on from the US leg he’s about to head back to complete, the pace seems to be quickening again. This time, though, it’s a pace of his choosing, and one he knows he can modify if he wants.

"I have kind of just been going and going and going for the last 10 years or so. Just touring constantly with deadlines, and kind of on this speeding train - I finally got a chance to get off.” Even now, it’s as if he feels he needs to explain, perhaps even apologise for the pause. He adds, “Because everything cancelled, you know!”

There’s no way anyone could achieve half of what Flume has without ridiculous dedication. With a swag of awards - including a Grammy - the accolades have been huge but so must have been the pressure to keep it all up. “You know, in my 20s, I was trying to basically make this thing work. And I've had a lot of success and luck, and I think things have really come together and I really wanted to make the most of that,” he says. The way to do that though was to “just say yes to everything, and try and strike while the iron is hot, because you never know how long these things are gonna last. You never know if, in a year or two, you're gonna even be relevant anymore."

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A hunger to stay relevant and make the next release as good if not better than the last can keep your chops up and the trophy mantle full. But it can also take a toll on the person underneath. “I think that kind of fear and anxiety is why I pushed it quite hard,” he says. When the world shut down and most of us had to just stop and be still, whether we liked it or not, it actually meant the pressure could be released. Flume says, with respect, “COVID, strangely, allowed me to take a step back and take a look at my life and be like, 'Am I happy? Am I doing what I want? Is this how I want to live?' And slowing down has been the best thing. It helped me write this record with space, and I think I'm going to take that forward into work in the future... mental health first.”

Talking about any kind of struggle can feel like a weakness. In music scenes that literally buy and trade on creating a good time, it’s easy to feel like there’s no room to be really honest if you’re not coping or doing it tough. But these days Flume is committed to not staying guarded, especially about just being human and having times that aren’t all beer and skittles. “I used to not really want to talk about it in interviews at all,” he says, referring to low periods in his life. “I feel like I've always been open and honest, it's only been in the press where I haven't been. Because when I had been in the past, I think that things have been kind of quoted out of context and taken out of context. And I was just like, ‘This sucks. I guess I'm just gonna be closed off and say the right things.' Because when you say things and you're transparent and open and honest, you know, people pick apart what they want to put as a headline. So I guess it's more difficult to be open and vulnerable. But ultimately, I think it's the way forward.”

Flume won’t pretend that doing ‘the press thing’ is his main aim – actually, being the centre of attention really isn’t his aim. “You know, it's funny. I mean, I'm an introverted guy who likes making music on my computer. And then all of a sudden people take a look into your life, and you're thrust up on stage, doing interviews, and you’re kind of like the face of this thing. You definitely get dropped in the deep end. But again, after doing it for so long, I [now] feel quite comfortable. And yeah, it's just a whole new set of skills.”

There’s a directness and economy in the way Flume speaks, much like the soundscapes he makes in his music, which means the gaps are just as meaningful as the beats. When the issue of mental health and staying safe and well comes up again, he says, “It’s also good to talk about that … it's real.” These days he works knowing that there are limitations for himself, but also to those around him. And he’s keen to pay it forward while working with new artists especially. “[If] I get the sense that [someone’s] struggling with something, yeah, I'm always on the chat.”

Self-examination can be painful but it can also allow space to actually celebrate achievements and take stock of hard work that’s paid off. When the pace was super hectic there was little time to take it in, let alone enjoy the view from the top and explore. Now that the fear of stopping has been faced, Flume has found more space to actually work smarter not harder. “I've always had the kind of fear of ‘how long this is gonna last’? 'Who am I going to be relevant to?' All these things I can get to keep doing, trying to stay on top of it. I've done three records plus a mixtape, so basically four full-length releases. I'm kind of like, 'I can actually kind of take a breath and slow down, enjoy a little more and take risks.'"

Palaces is a more mature Flume but one that is no less exciting. With the sounds of Northern NSW literally in among the production, there’s plenty for fans of old, as well as lots of new sounds and new collaborations to enjoy. “I mean, now moving forward, I've put all this experience under my belt. I kind of hate to say ‘we are all on a journey’, but it's really, you know... I've learned a lot. And now I'm kind of doing it in a way that is sustainable."

Tickets to Flume’s Palaces Australian tour in November are on sale now – head to frontiertouring.com/flume.