By Poppy Tohill
Lately I've been hearing a lot about numerous emerging artists from Christchurch, with one of those being the talented alternative songstress Shayna King, who has been on my musical radar for a while. With the release of her new single ‘Calling You' on Monday, it was a treat catching up with Shayna for a chat on the phone a few days prior to the single's release. Aside from lots of laughs which came from both ends of the phone line, we had a great conversation about the past, present and future of her musical career, also covering numerous aspects of ‘Calling You' and which famous celebrities she'd invite over for dinner.
Kicking off the conversation, I asked Shayna if music was always a big part of her life growing up. "Yeah!" she happily chimed. "I went to a bilingual school where we spoke 80 percent Maori for most of the day, so that also meant we did a ton of performing, in kapa haka groups and there was lots of travelling around to competitions also, so that was kind of my introduction into singing, performing and all of that," she exclaimed. "I started playing guitar when I was six and just carried on playing and songwriting. I had a bunch of little bands throughout primary school and I was always doing some kind of songwriting and wanting to perform, so I guess that just carried on through high school and afterwards," she concluded.
In terms of making the decision to pursue music as a career, Shayna explained, "I didn't really start pushing myself until I met a few people in the industry that mentioned to me that I could take it further or actually start recording an album. I started off doing a lot of open mic nights, then the odd gig here and there," she explained. "Then once I had most of the album done it got to the stage where I was just gigging so much, that I had no choice but to leave my job, and it kind of just started from there," she exclaimed. "Now I can't really see myself going back to working full time in a job, because music is something I'm so much more passionate about. Like I'd rather work harder at something that I love than just work for someone else," she truthfully admits.
Noticing that both ‘Of Mice and Men' and ‘The Lumineers' were cited as influences on King's Facebook page, I asked who else has influenced her music and style. "That's interesting you noticed that," she laughed. "I really wrote that about the new single," she continued. "I listen to a lot of folky, upbeat music and I think with the latest single and a lot of my recent songs that I've been writing in the last year and since the album came out, they are a bit more similar to that style. I just wanted to show that's the music I like and listen to the most and it kind of comes through a little bit I guess in a few of my newer songs, but I've always been influenced by New Zealand singer songwriter's a lot also, like Bic Runga, Anika Moa and Mel Parsons, but I've always loved Incubus and bands like that too."
"I would say contemporary singer-songwriter," Shayna replied when asked how she'd best describe her music. "I guess I'm a little bit different to a lot of singer-songwriters though, with the fact that I have a band which I play with and that's a big part of my music," she continued. "There's elements of folk, elements of pop and some elements of alternative rock, it's kind of a big mixed bag really, but I'd mostly say describe it as contemporary alternative singer-songwriter."
Having been on an incredible musical journey over the past two years, Shayna went on fill me in on what her proudest achievement from her career to date is. "My proudest achievement is the New Zealand tour after releasing the album," she remarked. "Because that was something that I put together for months beforehand and put a lot of effort into and got to see quite a good result at the end. When I went away to Wellington and Auckland I didn't expect to see the people that I did there and it was just so supportive because so many people had heard about the gig and tour and showed up to support, so it was quite a realisation to me that if you do really put the planning and effort into doing something and doing it well, then you can have the results that you imagined," she honestly exclaimed. "So hopefully with this single which also shows a new side of my music, people will like it and it will reach a few new ears," she added.
On the topic of ‘Calling You,' I pointed out that the single shows a much more mature and developed style of songwriting from King, and this led to her explaining just how she believes her songwriting and music style has evolved since the release of her debut album ‘The Day Is Young,' earlier last year. "The debut album was kind of a mixture of songs that I had written from the age of 12 to about 19," she began. "I've been doing so much songwriting lately and I'm 24 now, so I have a lot more experience, and also a much better idea of what sort of artist I want to be also," she explained. "I think when I was making the album it was more about, ‘I want to have a record with these songs that I've written throughout my life,' rather than about what I wanted to be seen as, as an artist. So I think, now that I'm more aware of that and what I want to sound like, that whole idea is shining through my music in a way," King continued to explain.
Remaining on the topic of the single, King continued talking about the overall meaning and inspiration behind the song. "This is going to sound reallycheesy," she laughed, "but after I read the book ‘The Hero' by Rhonda Byne, which is one of the secret series, the song basically wrote itself and was one of those five minute wonder kind of songs," King admits. "It basically can be interpreted in many ways, but to me it's an empowering song to just make you carry on with your dreams, and let people know that if they love something they should just keep pushing themselves. It's also about telling people that you are responsible for your own happiness and no one else can make you feel otherwise," she continued. "So I think that it's just kind of a message about telling people to encourage themselves to be better than you are, or to just keep doing what you want to do and love, no matter what."
Also co-producing the single, King filled me in on what that experience was like. "Yeah, so Nick Poortman from Auckland who I've worked with before, came down to Christchurch and mixed, engineered and also co-produced the single," she responded. "So he had heaps of ideas for the track and we both kind of worked together to see what we liked the most," she went on. "It was really all of a sudden because we had planned to spend less than a day on tracking, but we ended up spending over a day and a half because there was just so many different parts and things to try. I think there was over ten harmonies in just one section, so it was just a lot of fun to be really creative and have freedom with what I was doing, it was a really enjoyable experience," King admits.
After asking if co-producing or self-producing is something she'd be keen on doing again, King truthfully responded admitting, "That depends. I'd be interested to work with other producer's as well, but it also helped obviously having Nick there because he's really experienced with what he's doing. I don't think I could be a producer, 100 percent on my own as I still need to have someone to bounce ideas off a lot. But it was really fun and also just having the band with me too, because they also have a lot of ideas, and everyone was experimenting and seeing what they liked, and it was really good to be able to do that," she concluded.
As a woman of many talents, King also self-manages herself, taking control of organising all aspects of her career. Slipping this into the conversation, she went on to express the difficulties of being self-managed, after letting out a little laugh. "It's quite fun!" she gleefully chuckled. "I used to be in a couple of marketing jobs, so I am quite grateful that I've previously had some experience of dealing with businesses and other people one on one," she admits. "So that means I am a bit more comfortable at pushing myself to send emails, contact new people and things like that, but at the same time, if you do have something coming up it is a lot of work to be doing all of the promotion on your own. So sometimes you do need help," she laughed again before continuing, "which I definitely know! So, in the future if I came across someone that was interested in helping me as a manager, I'd definitely consider it," she confessed.
With this in mind, King went on to share some great advice for other emerging artists who may be wanting to break into the music industry and thinking of self-managing themselves. "Just meeting people and always maintaining a professional image has been something that's really helped me out a lot," she declared. "Like with the marketing I am kind of aware of how I am seen from a business perspective, because at the end of the day your music is a product and that's how other people are going to see you, so that's how you kind of need to see yourself. You've got to enjoy what you're doing and love the music, but you've also got to have a business mind," she added. "But I'd suggest if you're breaking into the industry, just releasing music, touring and playing as many shows as possible is very helpful."
With the mention of touring, we soon began chatting about her first nationwide tour, which happened earlier this year. "It was a lot of fun and it makes me want to do it again!" she chuckled. "But yeah, it was great. It was good being able to have the band with me too and there was obviously a lot of musicians that we met also who I've stayed in contact with, like Eden who opened for our show in Auckland," King added. "It was just a really good experience to get out there to new centres that we haven't played before and to play to new audiences," she remarked.
Seen as the tour was during May, we began talking about NZ Music Month and Shayna went on to tell me about what it means to her. "I think it's a good opportunity for artists if they are planning on doing a release, tour or something like that. I mean people are a bit more aware of New Zealand music in that month, but at the same time, obviously NZ music should be played any month of the year and should be supported any month of the year. For the general public hearing about your music it kind of helps a little bit, so that's how I aimed it at them, but I think once you get that established name anyway it's just a helpful tool you can use to help push your release or tour," she declared.
Having played support for the New Zealand Collective ‘Fly My Pretties,' UK Legend Nik Kershaw andAustralia's Mark Wilkinson, King declared that, "I would really love to open for KT Tunstall some day! I don't always listen to that style of music, but I just love her energy and I think it'd be heaps of fun," she gleefully remarked. "Even if I was just playing tambourine and singing back up vocals with her for one song, I'd be like- ‘wow! this is so much fun," she added before erupting with laughter once more.
With this year having already proved a fairly big one for King, being nominated for the Taite Music Prize, adventuring out on a nationwide tour andnow also releasing a new single, Shayna informed me of what the rest of this year has in store for her. "I'm really excited to go to Big Sound in Brisbane in a couple of weeks and see some international artists perform over there," she began. "I really need to do a music video as soon as possible and maybe another single towards the end of the year, and a small tour. So yeah, there's a few things!" she laughed. "But I don't have anything set in stone just yet," she acknowledged.
"I hope so!" was King's eager response when asked if we can expect another album from her in the future. "I'm kind of planning on doing an EP at some time, maybe with a slightly different feel, like more acoustic. Just something a bit different to what I've been doing, so that might be in the works for next year," she chimed.
To bring the serious interview questions to an end, Shayna paused and took a deep sigh, before bursting into laughing and responding, "Oh gosh, I don't know!" when asked where she can see herself in three years. "I guess I see myself touring a lot. I definitely want to tour Australia, if not next year then definitely the year after," she admits. "But yeah, I guess just branching out internationally would be definitely what I am aiming for."
With all the seriousness out of the way now, we went on to draw the interview to an end with a not so quick but great game of the quick fire five.
Three NZ artists who you could listen to for the rest of your life?
"Sheep Dog & Wolf, Bic Runga... " (Scrolling through itunes)... "I really like Five Mile Town. They're based in Australia, they're a bit more folky... Actually I think Fat Freddy's Drop would be one because I've loved them for so many years and I just never get sick of listening to their music because it always makes me think of summer."
If you could play any instrument really well what would it be?
"Guitar! I haven't really learnt anything new on the guitar since I was about six" (laughs). "I've just gotten better at playing really basic stuff. So if I could actually dedicate time to learning the guitar properly or better, like scales and stuff that would be good."
Who have you been most star struck by?
"This is really silly, but Shaaanxo from Youtube. I felt like such a dork because I kind of had a reason to introduce myself because I'd done a 20/20 interview with her, so I thought- ‘oh she'll know who I am.' But I was still such a blubbering mess like I couldn't get my words out. It was so embarrassing and then when I walked away I was like ‘oh my god, she's going to think I'm such a weirdo. Why did I act like that?' I couldn't understand. But yeah... " Laughs!
(This question involved a lot of controversy, hard thinking, laughter and googling...)
So despite the simple answer below- I can assure you, a lot of thought and time went into answering this question.
"I really like Searching for Sugarman but I wouldn't say it's an all time overall favourite." After much humming and haring- ‘American Beauty' was decided on. "Everyone will think I'm crazy but what the hell!" (laughs). After 10 more minutes passed, ‘Something About Mary' won out in the very end, (yay, Cameron Diaz!)
Last but not least, I gave Shayna the situation of a dinner party where she could invite five famous guests; here was the very heartwarming outcome...!
"Beyonce- That'd be amazing I'd probably just sit and stare at her the whole time!" (laughs)
(After more googling)
"The Dalai Lama"
JK Rowling- that's ridiculous, but I really love Harry Potter!"
"and, can I say you...? Would that be weird?..
(After much debate and laughter, this was the final decision Shayna decided to stick with) and although I wouldn't really say I am famous (whatsoever) I was very humbled by this and definitely wouldn't mind sitting next to Beyonce!