IIn a trio of overgrown flower beds, tomatoes and chili peppers soar skyward. There are bite-size peppers, green and orange, as well as bushy shrubs of parsley and rosemary. Somewhere here, I am told, there is pumpkin and sweet potato.
“I had a bunch of kale too, but it died when I was at Coachella,” says Harley Streten.
We’re at the Northern Rivers property where Streten – better known as music producer Flume – now spends most of his time growing vegetables and slowing down. Further down the backyard there are citrus and avocado trees, as well as a large open field where he plays ball with his dog, Percy the groodle. In the morning, Streten surfs. At night, he mostly stays at home tinkering with his modular synthesizer or scouring online estate sales for vintage furniture. He’s a world away from the main festival stage he played a week earlier, debuting tracks from his upcoming third album, Palaces. But that’s the domestic dream that Streten has nurtured for many years now.
“I think when you’re traveling so much, for so long, you just want to settle down so badly,” he says.
Prior to purchasing this sprawling, secluded property in early 2020, Streten had been on the move for nearly a decade straight. He was just 21 when he swept the Aria Awards with his self-titled debut in 2013, arriving on the red carpet in a stiff suit that made him look more like a kid in his 12th year than a multi-talented musician. platinum. Her second album, Skin, won her a Grammy in 2017, hitting #1 on the Australian charts and #8 in the US. He was widely hailed as a supernatural talent who pioneered a lush, layered electronic sound that was often imitated, but never bettered. But that didn’t make him happy.
“I felt like there was something missing in life,” the 30-year-old told Guardian Australia over lunch in a pub near his home, Percy cowering at his feet. “But after being here for a year, I started to have friends and a community, and I realized, oh, that’s what this emptiness was. I haven’t really been able to live my 20 years old and never thought about it like this before, I just didn’t know what I was missing until I got this time.
After a four-year stay in Los Angeles, Streten returned to Australia at the start of the pandemic to be closer to his family. Exhausted from the cities and eager to escape the temptations of alcohol and drugs, he decided to start over in northern New South Wales instead of returning to his hometown of Sydney. He was newly single, having spent much of his adult life in relationships. The global music industry shutdown meant that for the first time he had no deadlines to meet, no tours to launch. He just went to the beach, hung out with his dog, and learned to be alone. “It was, honestly, one of the best years of my life,” Streten says.
The bounties of his career have been a double-edged sword. Streten is keen to emphasize that he is grateful for the opportunities he has had, but the catapult to glory at such a young age has been isolating. Streten — who is thoughtful but reserved and, by his own description, has struggled with social anxiety since his teenage years — has always seemed out of place within the bro-ish, back-slapping dance music scene. His touring schedule meant he was never in one place long enough to form real friendships; as he became more and more famous, he began to distrust people who clamored to get close to him.
“I always had this super paranoid ‘why are you hanging out with me?’ thing in my head, trying to figure out if it’s status-related,” he says. This neurosis extended to his professional life: “I don’t have any bandmates. For months, all my interactions were with people I was paying to be there. I’d say something funny and I’d start to say, ‘Oh, are you laughing because you thought that was funny? Or because you’re literally on my list pay?”
And if Streten always liked making music, he never liked what comes next. “I’m pretty introverted. I’ve never really been a performer, but I had to. This whole life was about being in front of everyone and speaking in public and all those things that really don’t come naturally to me.
Inevitably, he soothed his anxiety with alcohol. “Before the show, I had a few drinks, during the show, after [the show] – because I was constantly anxious. I ended up drinking at every gig, five days a week, on a three-month tour. I would just feel really bad.
It didn’t help that the dance music scene he came into was defined by late nights and popping bottles, a world where the pursuit of excess was celebrated. In the past, Streten has compared himself to Swedish producer Avicii, who killed himself in 2018, aged 28, after a long struggle with addiction.
“He died because he was treating himself like me: with alcohol, drugs, whatever. He wasn’t happy,” Streten said in an interview with his then-girlfriend Paige. Elkington, on the My Friend podcast in early 2020.
“I was definitely pushing him [with partying] a long time,” he told me. “But then you get older and realize it just makes you sad.”
In 2016, things go wrong: “I was depressed because I was constantly alone in hotel rooms. I didn’t want to tour anymore. I went to see a psychologist and I said to myself, I hate my job.
She suggested antidepressants. Deciding to take them was “the best decision I’ve ever made,” says Streten.
“In three days, I instantly [felt better]. I was at a party in Venice Beach and I was like, Oh my god, I don’t want to leave just yet. I don’t feel super anxious. It works.
Artist Jonathan Zawada, one of Streten’s longtime collaborators and close friend, says Streten is “so much happier” now than when they first met in 2014. He remembers Streten as the boy who was so nervous while filming an acceptance speech from Arias that he asked everyone to leave the studio while he practiced what to say.
“He was very successful at such a young age and that meant there were always lots of people to help him. He didn’t have to make a lot of decisions on his own,” says Zawada, who lives 15 minutes from Streten and sees him at least once a week.” Over the past two years he has started to understand who he is and what he really wants [from life]. He’s become much more empowered and confident… He’s really worked on maturing and becoming well-rounded – as we often joke, a “three-dimensional human being”.
With Flume’s new album out Friday, Streten is set to embark on a month-long bus tour of the United States, which he plans to do “almost completely” alcohol-free. Now that he’s off antidepressants, he feels like he’s in a very different position than the last album cycle. His music, too, has changed slightly: Palaces features fewer pop radio hits and more glitchy, harsh production. He may not be courting the Top 40 as much as Skin or his debut, but Streten isn’t trying to get bigger than he already is.
“I feel sorry for the people who are so famous. It would be terrible,” he said. “I remember one time when I was with Ella – Lorde – and we were walking around Sydney, and she was wearing sunglasses, but everyone could recognize her because of her hair. I thought, ‘I am so happy to look like a normal person.’ »
Streten has, however, signed up some big collaborations for Palaces, including Blur’s Damon Albarn and Chairlift singer-turned-solo-artist Caroline Polachek. He and Polachek became friends in LA; now that the Australian borders have reopened, Streten travels there regularly for work and to play Magic the Gathering with Polachek and music producers such as AG Cook and Bloodpop. (“I love Magic cards,” he says.) Sometimes shots pass for one night — like musician Grimes, who recently praised Streten for the high-profile video of him jokingly performing a sex act on his then-girlfriend on stage at the Burning Man festival in 2019. (“I didn’t think much about your career before,” she reportedly told him. “It’s like you’re too clean.”) He found a real connection in this band of people, who understand the unique perks and pressures of living in the spotlight.
Back home in the northern rivers, Streten has a small but solid group of friends – mostly couples, like Zawada and his wife, because “it’s 30s,” he shrugs. Together they do regular things like hang out at his house or go to the local pub where the staff all know him and Percy. “I’ve had the opportunity to live a more normal existence and I feel really good about it all,” says Streten.
For now, Flume is content – even if there’s one little thing missing from his life: “I’m still looking for my Magic Card crew in Byron.”
Palaces is out May 20 (Future Classic). Flume’s world tour begins in the US on May 23 and will travel to the UK, Europe and then Australia in November and December