Adalita reflects on the origins of Magic Dirt following the death of their bassist

Adalita reflects on the origins of Magic Dirt following the death of their bassist

Image by Lisa Businovski
Words by Augustus Welby

Adalita’s been releasing music for 25 years, first with Magic Dirt and then more recently as a solo artist. But while the two projects have previously been kept separate, she’s currently jumping between the two.

Adalita and her full band are headlining the Alfred Square Stage at this year’s St Kilda Festival, but in the meantime she’s leading Magic Dirt around the country on the Hotter Than Hell tour. It’s Magic Dirt’s first tour since 2009 and the sad passing of bassist and founding member Dean Turner.

“It is really great to be back together, but of course we miss Dean and it’s so hard without him,” says Adalita. “There’s still so much grief and sadness to deal with every step of the way, but we feel like he’s here, we feel closer to him by doing the shows. And I know Dean would want us to do this.”

Turner’s death from a rare form of soft tissue cancer, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, had a profound impact on Adalita. He wasn’t just the band’s bass player, but also played a pivotal role in forming and steering Magic Dirt.

“He discovered me pretty much,” says Adalita. “He heard a cassette of my demos and he said, ‘This is great, I’m going to learn bass, let’s start a band.’ So we did. Dean was almost like clairvoyant or something. He always knew. Throughout our whole time as a band he’d make all these calls – we should do this, this and this – and it always worked.”

After two decades of Magic Dirt, including six full-length albums and a long list of EPs and singles, Adalita launched a solo career in 2010. Her 2011 self-titled LP was named Best Independent Album at that year’s AIR Awards. Once again, Turner’s influence was essential to its creation.

“Around 2008 he said, ‘Oh you know your other songs? You should do a solo record.’ And that was it. He said, ‘You should do something with this person at this studio,’ and I went, ‘OK.’ And we did it and it was great.

“I’ve been writing all the time since we started and along the way there have been songs that have been left behind because they weren’t suitable for Magic Dirt or I didn’t even bring them into the jam room. They did feel like different bits of music, something a bit weirder or something that didn’t require a rock genre around it.”

Adalita’s stripped back and more measured sound is a far cry from Signs of Satanic Youth, Magic Dirt’s recently reissued debut EP. While the four-piece from Geelong cleaned up their sound in the early-’00s to deliver the radio hits ‘Dirty Jeans’ and ‘Plastic Loveless Letter’, they started out as a heavy, deviant and sometimes chaotic rock band.

“[Signs of Satanic Youth] has got that real innocence about it and sounds like a band that’s exploring their craft, their songwriting skills and we’re just so cute,” says Adalita.

“We’re having a ball and we’re turning up the guitars super loud. It’s a bit of an experimental record. Lindsay Gravina, who engineered it and produced it, he feels it’s a real arty record. And I agree. We were fascinated with pedals and making our guitars do weird noises. We were just obsessed.”

Adalita’s second album, All Day Venus, came out in 2013, but she’s kept quiet since then. However, her 2019 activity won’t be limited to the St Kilda Festival.

“I’m working on a new record at the moment, which has sort of been my Apocalypse Now. It’s a monkey on my back. I’ve just been working on it for years, since 2015. It’s been such a tough record to do. I’ve written myself some pretty complicated songs,” she explains. “This third solo record feels different to the others and I want to keep evolving. I’ve got other ideas for the next album and a couple of ideas for some other projects.”

Adalita plays the Alfred Square Stage at St Kilda Festival on Sunday February 10. Find more details on the full program via the festival website.