It was 2016 when Summer track ‘Call On Me’ was blasted across Australian, and international sound waves. Behind the pop-infused, soulful melody was Sydney singer/songwriter, Starley. The catchy pop hooks and dance sensibilities caught the attention of the world where the now-32 year-old garnered top 10 chart placements in over 30 countries and became the second most streamed song by an Australian artist on Spotify with over half a billion streams. I recall this achievement back to the artist on a phone call, which was met with a nostalgic response.
“It was absolutely insane,” she replies.
Starley reveals to GRAZIA she was working for her father at the time, making blinds. With the first pay cheque that came from the hit, she bought herself a Gucci bag and just four years later, would go on to shoot in over 20 Gucci looks in the lead up to her debut album, One of One – a seemingly perfect intersection of her past and future self.
In an exclusive first, GRAZIA speaks to Starley on the greatest advice she’s ever received, her forthcoming project, and why she won’t ever be put in a box she didn’t create for herself.
GRAZIA: What was your first memory of music? When did you decide you wanted to become an artist for a living?
Starley: “I guess that was at a super young age. I was around 5 or 6 and I watched this movie called ‘La Bamba’ which is the story of Ritchie Valens and his life. When I watched that movie, it was the catchy music. And then the fact they came from a poor environment and he bought his mum a house when he became a singer. I wanted to do the same thing, so it made me dream really big from a young age.”
Who has had the most influence over your music growing up?
S: “I don’t know if I could name one particular artist who had the most influencer, but Mariah Carey was my favourite artist of all time and she still is. Singer, songwriter and a female; I was such a big fan of her growing up, I pumped her music. Destiny’s Child, Phil Collins, I used to love him because he was also a singer-songwriter. Prince. Super soulful artists but Mariah Carey has always been my standout number one.”
Do you find that you take inspiration from Mariah Carey when writing your own music?
S: “I don’t know if I do or if I don’t. I think maybe it’s the catchiness, because her songs are super melodic and I’ve always been really interested in that and the kind of idea, the mathematics behind melodic music and how catchy things are. So, it could be subconscious I think because I’m sure it has affected me as I’ve listened to her my whole life.”
What is the most important piece of advice you received when you started in the industry? And how has it shaped your career and you as a person?
S: “I guess I started on this journey at a young age, didn’t make it until a lot later than I expected but I’d say the best advice I got was from my own father.
“He told me not to back down when I believe in something, from anyone.”
“Just because you think they might have more experience than you, if you believe in something and you’ve written a particular song or feel a type of way about something, you have to speak up and stand up for yourself. All the time, that advice had helped me throughout my career, just standing my ground and making sure that whatever I do is authentic to me and not letting anyone push me around.”
Your debut-single, ‘Call On Me’ sent the world into a spin reaching Top 10 status in over 30 countries and becoming the second most streamed song by an Aussie artist on Spotify with over half a billion streams. How did it feel to have your first single be met with such a reaction?
S: “It was absolutely insane, when I put that song out I was still in my parents’ house, I was working for my Dad making blinds. I had moved back from England, with my tail between my legs and I just had this one last show to sign with an indie label and put out some music.
“But when the song first came out I was under the covers of the bed, I didn’t want to get out of bed, I was paralysed.”
“I was that scared about a song of mine coming out with my voice on it. Then to be met with such warmth and love from everybody. Then the remix came out and the way that was received as well, it changed my life and I didn’t expect it but at the same time, that’s when the best things happen. Because it was so authentic and it was a real story about my life and I was using that to connect with something greater than me.”
Talk to me about your new track ‘Let Me In’. What was the recording process behind that?
S: That song really resonates with me. It’s very much similar to the experiences I have in relationships, a lot of the time [I’m] making mistakes and I’m always being cheeky and trying to figure out a plan for how I’m going to apologise… it’s kind of acoustic and broken down so it’s quite different from the rest of the songs on the album. I was recording with a guy called Tek (his real name is Chris O’Ryan) who is Australian but lives in LA.
He’s one of my favourite people to work with and we basically went through the ideas to feel out how I was going to approach it. It’s a super fun recording process because he understands my voice. We go through a few different versions and break it apart and put it back together in a way that feels right for the song.”
Has your music evolved since your first track in 2016, now to this new single?
S: “I think it’s evolved because I’ve been a little more open to just trying everything I want to try. I’m basically a pop singer so as much as people will try to say I’m EDM or electronic and I try to ignore those things, at the root of everything, I love pop music and that’s what I do. I might be a bit more soulful at the time or urban but it’s always very true to me to be melodic which is usually, it fits into the pop category, I guess.”
How do you feel about people trying to put you into that box or genre? There are so many different influences out there and looking at lots of different artists they seem to pull from different areas. What’s your response to that?
S: “I think art is just about fusion, putting ideas together so I don’t ever want to be restricted. I mean, nothing anyone says could really restrict me, but I think the main thing is moving forward, I would just say that I’m a pop artist because I want to pull from everything I am inspired by. That might change at different points in my life. I never want to put a box around myself. If other people want to do that, that’s fine but I’m in control of where I am going so it’s all good.”
What three words would you use to describe ‘One of One’?
S: “I’d say introspective, soulful and a little bit spiritual.”
Talk to me about your shoot day, donned in Gucci. The images are beautiful.
S: “That was amazing. It’s funny because Gucci was the first brand name that I bought when ‘Call On Me’ blew up and I made my first money. I went and bought a Gucci bag. It’s funny now that I’m working with them because they are one of my favourite brands ever, if not my favourite. So for the shoot they gave me over 20 outfits to choose from, which was incredible and such a blessing. So I went through the clothes with my stylist, Gucci just fit my idea of what I wanted for my shoot. I wanted something very 70’s and very androgynous, almost Jimi Hendrix like and that’s what we were going for and Gucci just fits that vibe very well. The shoot came together really well. It was one of the best days of my life, creatively and visually. I couldn’t have asked for more. It was a dream.”
Do you still have that Gucci bag?
S: “Yes I still have it, I still use it. Gucci is timeless. You can have it forever and it always fits with everything.”
The pandemic has rocked many young creatives such as yourself. What are your coping mechanisms for moving through these tough times?
S: “I’d say my number one is going to the gym and eating healthy. It sounds so silly and simple but in general, I’ve been through this kind of thing before when I was in England. I felt like, not exactly this, but I was very isolated over there because I moved to be a songwriter. I didn’t know anyone or have any friends, so I often felt isolated and lonely, so the biggest thing for me was always fitness.
This happening was so surreal but at the same time it’s not even too new to me and everything is up in your mind and you have to take control and do the best that you can. So, fitness and health are the biggest thing, because that gets your gut health on track. Then writing music and creating and doing things that I love have been the most rewarding for me. Finishing the album during this time has been rewarding and so exciting. In the beginning I was a bit down, it took about two months to get myself on track and once I got into the zone, that was it!”
What do you hope people take from your latest track, and forthcoming album?
S: “I hope that they get to see all the sides of me and where I am at the moment. It’s a chapter of my life that I’m super excited to now let fly into the world and so I hope they take away and get to know me a bit more. Then they’re anticipating more music, I’m going to be quick with the next songs I start putting out. Hopefully they just get to know me more and love the music and they want to just hear more.”
What are you most excited about, heading back to LA this month?
S: “Number one, biggest thing? I would say probably the weather, it’s super-hot there at the moment. So, I’m excited to get back into the sunshine. And my apartment. I have an apartment there that I rent out and it’s got all my stuff there, so I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the whole of thing year and that’s not been very fun.”
Starley’s debut album ‘One of One’ will be released on September 25. For more from the artist, visit here.