“A moment of eye contact can be a very powerful thing,” says Australian songwriter Mark Wilkinson. “It might last less than a second, but it can stay with you for a lifetime.”
Wilkinson’s music operates in much the same way, forging profound and enduring connections with just a subtle turn of phrase or an unexpected melodic twist. His songs quietly burrow their way into your heart, tapping into the swift currents of pain, hope, and desire that flow just below the surface of our daily lives, giving voice to the unspoken passions and anxieties that at once terrify and excite us. His brilliant new album, ‘Blue Eyed Girls,’ is the kind of spare, organic collection that instantly weaves its way into the fabric of your life: familiar like an old friend, thrilling like a new love. Tender and heartfelt, the songs conjure up the sorts of intimate scenes that usually pass by in an instant—a furtive glance, a candid confession, a clean break—slowing down time in order to examine them under a microscope and understand the ways in which a seemingly unremarkable moment can, in fact, change everything.
Wilkinson’s career itself is proof of just how powerful such moments can be. One afternoon while busking in Amsterdam’s iconic Dam Square, Wilkinson caught the ear of a producer from the prestigious RTL Late Night show, and within hours, he was booked to appear live on Dutch national television. His performance that night reverberated around the country, sending his music rocketing up the charts and his name trending across social media. Another busking session in Wilkinson’s native Sydney drew the attention of an advertising executive on a lunch break, and sure enough, Wilkinson’s music was soon soundtracking a massive Nescafe campaign.
“It’s such a real and raw experience to be out on the street sharing your music with complete strangers,” he explains. “I originally started busking out of frustration because I just always wanted to be performing, even when I didn’t have gigs booked, but I actually found busking to be a really powerful way to connect with people. Those connections you make as a busker really stick with listeners because they’re usually so unexpected.”
Wilkinson has always been a magnetic live performer, and through relentless international touring and busking, he managed to sell more than 70,000 copies of his self-released CDs, rack up millions of streams on Spotify, and build up a devoted audience that pushed his most recent full-length, ‘Wasted Hours,’ to the #1 spot on Australia’s independent albums chart. Upon making his American debut, Wilkinson was named SiriusXM’s Discovery of the Year, and he earned spots on bills with everyone from Brian Wilson to Peter Frampton.
“I went from performing to groups of less than 100 people at some gigs to performing on stage in front of thousands, which was obviously a completely different experience” says Wilkinson. “Watching those bigger artists perform taught me not to be overawed by the size of the show, though. At the end of the day, the gig is still all about connecting with listeners on a personal level.”
It was that desire for personal connection that drew Wilkinson right back into the studio mere months after ‘Wasted Hours’ hit the shelves. Rather than sit back and celebrate the album’s critical and commercial success, he decided to push himself even deeper, working with producer/mixer/engineer Peter Holz (Gang of Youths, Vance Joy) to elevate ‘Blue Eyed Girls.’
“‘Wasted Hours’ was mostly self-produced,” says Wilkinson. “That was quite a challenge in many ways, particularly in the sense that you need to have faith in your creative ideas and treatments for the songs. There are no right answers in the studio, so it’s hard not to second-guess your choices sometimes. The response to the album was a great confidence booster, though, and I think that confidence really helped with making the new record.”
Wilkinson and Holz performed every single part on ‘Blue Eyed Girls,’ tackling all the guitar, keyboards, bass, piano, vocals, percussion, and programming themselves. A layer at a time, the album took shape at Sydney’s Damien Gerard Sound Studios over the course of three months, a period defined equally by the duo’s exhilarating artistic adventurousness and their deliberate sonic restraint.
“When you’re experimenting and layering different ideas and sounds into a track, it can be easy to get carried away and end up with something overly complex,” reflects Wilkinson. “Throughout the process, we tried to be focused on what our original intentions for the songs were, and we tried to never stray too far from those ideas.”
‘Blue Eyed Girls’ opens with the bittersweet “Thought You’d Be Around,” a soulful meditation on the freedom that comes with letting go. It’s both a brilliant showcase for Wilkinson’s crystalline vocals and an ideal entry point for a collection that frequently blends hope and sadness, longing and loss, faith and heartbreak. The slow-burning “High” grapples with the rollercoaster ride of addiction, while the tender “Old Songs and Spanish Wine” searches for childlike wonder in the jaded world of adulthood, and the insightful title track looks at heartbreak from both sides, recognizing that pain can lead to growth and self-understanding.
“I consider myself a pretty happy person day to day, but I’ve always been drawn to music that has a yearning and a sadness to it,” explains Wilkinson. “Music that has an undercurrent of pain has always felt accessible to me. It’s like it allows that feeling to be shared, and in that way, it’s almost therapeutic.”
Like therapy, Wilkinson’s songwriting challenges you to open up, to access your most vulnerable, honest self. The Jeff Buckley-esque “The Diary,” for instance, lays bare the kind of dark secrets we work so hard to keep hidden, while the delicate “Give A Little Love” is a welcome reminder that the most valuable thing we can share is ourselves, warts and all.
“Songwriting for me is often a way to expand on thoughts and feelings that I rarely touch or talk about in real life,” says Wilkinson. “It’s a way of taking those emotions I normally try to smooth out—joy, anger, frustration, jealousy, lust—and amplify them.”
In the end, that’s what ‘Blue Eyed Girls’ is all about. It’s a chance to reflect, to give voice to all the joy and pain we carry with us but so rarely acknowledge. It’s a chance to connect, to make eye contact, to see each other and ourselves clearly, if only for a moment. A moment, after all, can change everything.