Sounds and Styles with Hemm

Hemm is the unique Melbourne-based duo formed by Juice Webster and Robert Downie. Appearing and identifying as ‘two halves’ glued together, their debut EP feels nothing but complete.

Juice is thoughtful and honest in everything she writes. Undeniably poignant, her lyrics explore the intricacies of the every day — friendship, insecurity and love. Bobby’s bold and complex production is exciting and experimental, yet consistently refined. The duo maintain minimalism and control in their music through an inexplicable understanding of each other. 

Hemm’s live performances are often unpredictable, dedicated to exploring their relationship on-stage whilst simultaneously forming a bond with the audience. 

Ranging from intimate serenades to unexpectedly energetic moments, they are unafraid of live experimentation. Juice and Bobby’s humble charisma and sheer delight in the experience of sharing their music is incredibly refreshing to witness. 

The merging of folk and psychedelic rock is how we find ourselves here, with Hemm. 

We spoke with the pair below.

Can you tell us about your personal and professional musical influences? Although you’re often quite experimental, everything we’ve seen or heard you do is very clearly thoughtful and considered. How did Hemm get here?

B: I started making electronic music when I was 15 and thought music made by Pendulum and Skrillex was the sickest stuff ever. How good are those heavy wubs and big growling alien robot sounds! I recently started re-listening to the really really bad trance/dnb music I used to make and upload to the Newgrounds audio portal, and some of those sounds are lingering around in the music Juice and I make today. Some things never change.

J: I listen to a lot of folk and rock music by artists like Big Thief, Wilco and Sufjan Stevens (to name a few.) My parents played a large role in my music taste and I still find myself listening to things they used to play around the house. My writing has definitely been influenced by artists like the ones I mentioned. Like Bobby says, some things never change! When writing for Hemm, we often go into each project with a clear idea of what we’re trying to achieve sonically. We discuss what kind of sound palette we want to use and what mood we’re aiming to create before we begin, and to that end the music we make together is very considered. 

Bobby wears the Check Wool Overcoat in Green over the Merino Saddle Neck in Lobster and Relaxed Pant in Navy. Juice wears the Panama Jumpsuit, coming soon.

What brought you together as a duo? It’s obvious that you’re both very individually talented (and have successfully explored working solo) but why do you think your success has blossomed as a pair?

B: Juice’s songwriting is absolutely stellar. When we first met I was entranced by the purity in her voice, and how earnest her lyrics are. Her songs are so simple, but so deep with complexities. For me, I try to take the songs that Juice writes in a surprising direction without ever getting in the way of the essence of what the melody and lyrics are trying to achieve. Our music tends to have quite a serious and heartfelt tone, but we keep the production fairly playful and inventive. I’m mature enough now to know how to laugh at myself, and I hope that’s a sign of true blossoming.

J: When I met Bobby I was so new to the world of audio production and I found it all very overwhelming. I just didn’t know where to begin! Up until that point, I had written folk songs on my guitar and hadn’t really had much experience with anything else. I was drawn to Bobby’s creativity, in particular his choice of sounds and his use of textures in his music. I was quite taken aback with how intricate and detailed his compositions were. I asked him if I could come over and just watch him work one day, and we ended up working on a song I had written. Because we both work on things individually, I think there’s this real lack of pressure when we’re creating together. We never make something with the mindset of it needing to be successful. We just experiment, and try to write things that we don’t feel are possible without the other. 

You always seem to perform in matching outfits. Why and how do you find that what you wear contributes to the connection you share as a duo — with each other, and in your expression to the audience?

B: Everything we do in a performance is very considered. We have a ritual before we step on stage to make sure we are sharing a similar energy, whether that be a level of restraint, or an excitedness. Our clothing choices on stage often reflect this energy too; stark and sharp textures convey a very different feeling to bright colours in a cute pattern. Musically, we have designed our set in such a way that silence and stillness jumps out, and is sometimes more attention grabbing than the louder more abrasive sounds. This control of space and energy is very important to us.

J: I think it generally just adds another layer to the performance. We really like to think beyond the music when we play live, into how our bodies are positioned against each other as well as what we physically have on. If Bobby reaches forward to play something, maybe I will counter this movement in a different way. We like having really subtle bits of choreography which keep us in tune with each other, and also to add another visual dynamic. 

It’s fun watching artists (like you) who fully embrace and explore stylistic choices made in relation to their appearance. How do the outfits you wear on stage help to define Hemm within the very loud space that is the Melbourne music scene? And how do they differ to the clothing choices of Juice & Bobby off the stage?

B: I’m not sure if we have really defined how Hemm looks yet! We tend to dress in a fairly minimalist and clean style in photoshoots and on stage, maybe because it’s an easy way of drawing attention to how similar we look. I would love to have a big budget to get some super hot outfits made one day, but for now our civvies are pretty similar to what we wear on stage. I’ve always thought Juice looks super cool, and we often end up matching off stage anyway because I pretty much just copy her style.

J: Bobby is actually the style guru of the two of us! He is just being modest. But yeah, like Bobby mentioned I think we’re still playing around with our look! What we wear on any given night is also very reflective of what kind of mood we’re in or what kind of show we’re playing. Sometimes we’ll just shoot each other a text beforehand and be like “I’m wearing jeans and a white shirt”, but other times we’ll kick it up a notch and wear matching black leather vinyl pants with a tank top, or pants that have big red love hearts all over them. It really depends! 

What do the next 12 months look like for you both as a band?

B: Making music is definitely a focus for us right now. We’re working with a more acoustic sound palette at the moment, and the results are really exciting. Maybe when the time is right we will think up some interesting ways of presenting new music in an intimate setting. Maybe some extra band members will be involved?!

J: Yeah. There’s something nice about being forced to just knuckle down and write some music. But we do miss playing shows, and going to shows above all else!! But it’s a good excuse to revamp the set and hopefully the next time you see us play it will be all new songs and a whole new vibe! 

Bobby pairing the Polo Saddle Neck with Relaxed Pant in Navy. Juice matching the Staple Pant with Box Blazer, worn over the Merino Turtleneck in Black Pine and paired with Solovair Dealer Boots.

Can you tell us about the selection of music you’ve chosen, and the experience you have created for our customers with this playlist?

B: This is a selection of music that has inspired every Hemm release so far, and music that will continue to reshape who we are as creators well into the future. This playlist will take you from the saddest, most intimate moments all the way to the fattest party bops!!

J: We hope you love it! It’s a bit of a wild ride but it’s full of songs we love and are really inspired by. 

You can find Hemm’s HANDSOM playlist here.

Interview by Victoria Hermitage