Today, I had the pleasure of speaking with Novac Bull, an Indigenous artist from Western Australia who recently released a song honoring Mary Ann Bugg, a strong Australian Indigenous woman who lived in the 1800s. Novac’s latest release, simply titled ‘Mary Ann’, features her earthy vocals backed by sweeping acoustic guitars and soulful piano, telling the extraordinary story of Mary Ann’s life and romance.
In our interview, Novac shared with me her inspiration for the song and her experiences in the music industry, from performing at major events like Big Day Out and Blues and Roots to fronting Soul/Rock band Boom! Bap! Pow! Get ready to learn more about this talented artist and the powerful message behind her music.
Mary Ann Bugg was a significant figure in Australian history, what drew you to write a song about her?
It’s a song about Mary Ann Bugg who was a unique Indigenous woman in Australian history. A story that is buried in the history books that deserves to be brought to life and celebrated, and what better way than through music! Her story intrigued me when it was presented to me. I loved the way her story was cleverly told through this song, so I agreed to record the song.
Mary Ann embodies the combined values of Indigenous and early Australian settlers being a child of both worlds. Mary Ann navigated the two worlds in which she lived. She was living in the European settlers’ world while trying to maintain her links to her Aboriginal people.
At the heart of Mary Ann’s story is a relationship with Captain Thunderbolt, the notorious Australian bushranger during the 1860s. It is evident that they had a strong love affair and partnership, and while it was short-lived, we can surmise that it was deep and passionate.
How did you approach capturing Mary Ann’s life and romance with Captain Thunderbolt in the lyrics of the song?
The songwriter Johnny Tedesco has captured Mary Ann’s life and romance through the song. I wanted to do it justice by singing it with passion and feeling. I tried to feel what Mary Ann experienced during her life when preparing to sing the song.
Can you describe your journey in the music industry so far, and how has it shaped your sound?
My journey has been an exciting, colourful, trying, ecstatic, low-high, rollercoaster ride. I have been lucky enough to experience and work with so many great artists and continue to do so to this day. The experience thus far has shaped my style and sound by allowing eclectic influences such as Fleetwood Mac Queens of the Stone Age to the Divinyls and everything in between to mould my vocal and music style so I can bend between genres.
How have the influences of artists such as Etta James, Chrissy Amphlett, and Beyoncé impacted your musical style and approach to performing?
I have been influenced by numerous artists over the years – mainly female artists who have given me such huge inspiration and courage and to know that we can do it whether it be in a band or solo.
How did you come to combine Indigenous and early Australian settler values in your music, and how does it influence your work?
This is the first time I have sung a song about this theme or topic. However, when the song was presented to me, I felt that I really wanted to sing it and bring Mary Ann’s story to life through this song that Johnny Tedesco had written. I was inspired by Mary Ann’s story and felt a connection to her.
Can you talk about your background in the music industry and how it has influenced your work as an artist?
I have performed or supported bands for nearly 20 years. I have performed at a range of Folk, Blues, and Australian music festivals like Big Day Out, Blues and Roots, Queenscliff and supported an Indie Rock band The Cruel Sea. After this, I started singing with the soul/rock band Boom! Bap! Pow!, and ended up fronting the band with great success. The band is currently having a break from performing while I’m raising my two babies.
However, I do some session vocals, and I collaborate with other songwriters when time permits. The ‘Mary Ann’ song is a great example of that collaboration.
How do you feel your Indigenous heritage and values come through in your music, particularly in ‘Mary Ann’?
Being an Indigenous woman, I believe in us women being strong and displaying leadership within our communities. I believe Mary Anny Bugg displayed those qualities and values as best as she could in her time, and therefore presents us Indigenous women with a positive role model.
As an Indigenous artist, how has your cultural heritage influenced your music?
My music has been affected by growing up with music in my family and having that run strong through my spirit has always propelled me to sing and create music. My children have the same strong musical spirit in them.
What can fans expect from your career moving forward, and do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re excited about?
Going forward I hope to write, record and tour more. I have a couple of collaborations in progress currently, and I’m excited about one involving the Perth Symphony Orchestra coming up in May this year.