Clairy Browne has the kind of voice that would have gotten 1950s teenagers in trouble with their parents for sneaking a listen to her on late-night radio. Bubbling up from her gut, it’s big and brassy, down and dirty. She imparts a sense of danger, like you’re listening to something naughty and not at all nice.
The fact that her voice emanates from a young Australian singer speaks to the reality that classic soul music is a state of mind, not a genre beholden to era or geography. It helps that Browne, who leads the nine-piece Clairy Browne & the Bangin’ Rackettes, has always had a sense of humor about her spin on an old-school art form. Unlike many contemporary singers who mine a similarly vintage strain of soul and R&B, Browne pokes fun at her image as a throwback belter.
In the video for “Love Letter,” the band’s breakthrough 2011 hit featured in a Heineken ad, Browne got dolled up in a blond bouffant, a bad-girl jailbird behind bars with her face set to a permanent sneer. Intentional or not, it was a playful send-up of Amy Winehouse and other female singers deemed “retro” at the time.
With a new EP, “Love Cliques,” released last week, Browne brings her band to the Sinclair on Wednesday. On the phone recently from a tour stop in the South, Browne proved her sass isn’t just for the stage.
Q. When you have a big voice like yours, is there an expectation or maybe even a temptation to let it rip?
A. For sure! There’s a misconception among people that you’re not really singing if you’re not doing these vocal gymnastics. Two albums I’ve been listening to quite a bit lately are the new albums from Kelis [“Food”] and Beyoncé [“Beyoncé”]. They both explore different levels of vocal capacity and hanging back and realizing you don’t have to clean out the stadium in order to sound beautiful.
Q. You really got to dip into new shades of your voice on this new EP. How did these songs challenge you as a singer?
A. You can always expand as a vocalist, and I think “Baby Caught the Bus” [the band’s debut] showed a very particular side of me: tough and fierce and a lot of roaring. But there’s also a really pretty side to my voice. I feel like the influences we were taking from on [that album] were a lot of Tina Turner and the Ikettes, early rhythm and blues, James Brown, Etta James, Esther Phillips. A lot of the way I sing has to do with heart, and it’s important for me to connect on a cathartic level with an audience. And also with myself – it’s a very therapeutic thing.
Q. That debut came out in Australia in 2011. What did you want this new EP to capture?
A. We’re not quite ready for another album yet. We’re actually working at Stankonia Studios in Atlanta with [engineer] Chris Carmouche. That’s all cooking away, which is really exciting. We wanted to put something out that showed a little bit of what we’ve been doing. The idea is that it’s a bit of a teaser. It’s about lamenting pagan ritualistic love and healing and moving through fear.
Q. It sounds like this band formed by happenstance. You put it together for a club night in Melbourne, right?
A. Yes. Sweet Jelly Roll was this night we used to go to, and a friend used to run it. The night was about getting a bunch of excellent weirdos together in one space and getting super dressed up. It was at an underground club that not many people knew about, with really great DJs and ridiculous stage shows. It was kind of hammy but fun and there was a lot of talent going on. So I handpicked a bunch of people to perform, and some of them are still in the current lineup. We had just five songs that we liked and put our spin on them, stuff like “Lean Lanky Daddy” by Little Ann and “Mojo Hannah” by Esther Phillips. As time went on, we took a lot of influences from different art forms. We’re all really into film, and the music and show we put on is fairly cinematic and haunting. I tend to liken it to a cult. It’s about old-school showmanship but at the same time exploring modern stories and sounds. It’s a landscape.
Q. What made you think the band was worth pursuing beyond those club nights?
A. People just took to what we were doing. We kept getting more and more gigs and a bigger following in Melbourne. Then when we got that gig with the Heineken ad, when they licensed “Love Letter,” that put the music on an international market. The USA took really strongly to what we were doing. It’s always been a dream of mine, but I didn’t imagine it was going to go this far. And then you get to the point where you’re like, “Well, I want it all now.” (Laughs.) I’m just going to keep on going and dominate the world.Interview was condensed and edited. James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJamesReed.