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LIFTING US UP!

Vika and Linda Bull
Vika and Linda Bull

VIKA & LINDA’S GORGEOUS NEW GOSPEL OFFERING IS RELEASED TODAY

When I ask what inspired them to stand on their porch one Sunday in March and sing the first number of what became their weekly Sunday Sing Song, Australia’s sisters of soul, Vika and Linda Bull, talk about the pressures of lockdown, cancelled gigs and refunded tickets, and say they were inspired to check in, make sure everyone was okay and give back to their fans. Little did they know that their raw, enthusiastic and soulful contribution to the isolation quickly encircling the globe would strike a chord, inspire a new album and open up a world of possibilities in reaching people through social media. “It showed us the power and scope of it,” Linda says, “it completely changed everything.”

“Getting into this career was always about longevity,” adds Vika, “We weren’t’ going to have a little crack at it and if we didn’t like it, give up. We were in it for the long haul, so to get that number 1 in our 50s felt like thirty-five years of singing and touring had paid off. It was very humbling. We were chuffed.”

Their first livestream session reached an audience of 280,000 but it wasn’t until they performed their rewritten cover of 1973 hit, ‘Nutbush City Limits’ (thirty minutes was the beauty limit / a lot of shops, no people in it / no town on Saturday, no church on Sunday / they call it Iso City Limits) that things really took off. With an organic reach of six million, the video, filmed in Linda’s loungeroom, gained them attention around the world. They even did the dance.   

“It showed us there was an audience that we didn’t know we were speaking to. It lifted us up and spurred us on, although the sheer number of people was a bit overwhelming. It’s a different world,” says Linda. Vika adds, “It was eye opening for us. It really did my head in, actually. We’re very old school. It’s absolutely wonderful. Now even our mum can get online and see what’s happening at home!”

Not only did the weekly singing bring joy to established and new fans, in a period of quiet and uncertainty, it gave the sisters something to work towards each week. “We’d discuss what song to do – do we need piano, do we need guitar, who should we ask to guest with us? We’d think of different positions we could film in, the lights, what we were gonna wear – do we dance, do we sit, do we stand? It was really something to look forward to during lockdown. It kept us inspired and moving forward and not getting depressed. It was a very positive thing. It was good fun!” says Vika.

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“Everyone was suddenly coming to us through a lens,” says Linda, “It was much more than we were used to. We had to adjust to the way people were viewing us. We made some mistakes. One time we filmed it sideways,” she laughs, “but we learnt quickly.”

Growing up in a gospel-music-loving family, they were taught to sing at a young age by their mother, Siniva. “She was a good teacher,” Linda says, “she was so close all the time.” Vika tells the story of one of the first times the girls were on stage. “We were singing in church and we were holding candles. Mum was crouching right beside us and Linda turned to look at her and her hair went up in flames. I remember mum dousing her and burning her hands. I’ll never forget that.”

“That’s how much of a hands-on coach she was,” adds Linda, “I could have been horrifically burnt. She probably saved my life.”

“She was a big part of how we started,” says Vika, “She taught us to sing in harmony and how to hold our notes and finish them. She encouraged it and loved listening to us singing along to the radio but when we decided to make it a career, that was another thing.”

Apart now, enduring Melbourne’s second lock-down, the sisters are having to readjust to not singing together (their Sunday Sing Songs were pre-recorded during the brief hiatus) and not catching up socially. “It’s been really hard,” says Linda, “I miss Vik, she’s my buddy. We keep in touch but there’s no singing.”

There is, however, no shortage of celebration. Their first ever best-of collection Akilotoa (Anthology 1996-2004), became an ARIA #1 album in June – no mean feat in this industry for two women in their 50s.

“We worked really hard for years,” says Linda, “so it was so lovely for people to respond the way they did. It was very gratifying that our parents could see that we worked hard and that sometimes things do go your way. And it was great for the team of people who worked hard to help make that happen.”

“Getting into this career was always about longevity,” adds Vika, “We weren’t’ going to have a little crack at it and if we didn’t like it, give up. We were in it for the long haul, so to get that number 1 in our 50s felt like thirty-five years of singing and touring had paid off. It was very humbling. We were chuffed.”

“Everyone was really sweet about it,” says Linda, “even rival record companies. We were getting messages from people we’d worked with thirty years ago, saying they were so happy for us. There were so many messages from the general public too; it was very touching. We’ve got very grounded parents and they’re just like, all right do the dishes, take the rubbish out, normal life goes on,” she laughs, “but we were also aware that there are a lot of women out there, especially biracial women that it was sending a cool message to: you don’t have to stick to a stereotype, good things do happen if you work hard.”

Inspired by the response to their Sunday Sing Song series, the sisters recorded an album in June entitled Sunday (The Gospel According To Iso). Its first single, a vibrant and pulsing Brother Claude Ely classic, ‘There Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)’ isn’t the only inclusion alluding to the pandemic. Their version of ‘Memphis Flu,’ written during the 1929 influenza outbreak and once recorded by Blind Willie Johnson at Clemens State Farm Prison, is so playful and fun we almost forget what it’s about. Chiming into the mix are Kasey Chambers and Harry Hookey, with their moving and sombre contribution, ‘Shallow Grave.’ The album is full of absolute gems, with plenty of uplifting numbers to get you smiling and dancing in your kitchen, including gently rocking anthem, ‘In The Land Where We’ll Never Grow Old’, featuring none other than Paul Kelly.

Not content with resting on their laurels from their soaring contributions to what has been a rollercoaster of a year, Vika and Linda are in the throes of planning another album, for release in 2021.

“It’s a different album to the one we would have made when we started out,” says Linda, because we’re different people. We’re more set on our path now.” An album of original gospel songs, she says it is designed to demonstrate who they are as women. “It’s by nature more direct. There’s a different strength to the songs. We want to show all sides of us, from strength to frailty and everything in between. We’ve been gathering material and we’re close to locking in the songs but, like Paul Kelly says, it’s not final til it’s vinyl.”

Sunday (The Gospel According To Iso) is out now.

Vika and Linda in their Sunday best

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