Photo: Renee Oliver/Nae Oliver Creative
We caught up with her to find out what’s been happening in her world, her new single ‘Disaster’ and how she’s faring in Melbourne’s lockdown..
I have been based in Melbourne for several years now.
You lived in Asia for 5 years, tell us more about that and how it is influenced you:
Yes, I moved to Bangkok, Thailand when I was 12 years old as my dad was working for the United Nations and I stayed there till I was 17. It had a profound impact on me in more ways than I could ever vocalise. Thailand is a Buddhist country and the teachings have stayed with me and shaped the person I am. It has helped me over the years to stay centred, calm, focused on the present and be my most authentic self, even if I am standing alone (which is hugely helpful in this industry). It is also behind my choice to be a pescatarian and to be kind to all living things. In Buddhism the lotus flower symbolises spiritual awakening, purity of the body, speech and mind, as if floating above the murky waters of material attachment and physical desire, so my high school best friend Fleur and I got matching lotus flower tattoos on our hips when we were 17 and leaving Thailand. We did this so the memories and philosophy would stick with us.
While in Bangkok I attended an international school and was introduced to people of all nationalities, cultures and walks of life and that has continued into adulthood. I like to be around a mix of people, or I get bored. It was a privileged existence, living in a gated community with a live-in maid. Suffice to say reality hit hard (understatement) when I moved back to NZ into a share house and had to clean, cook, and pay my own bills. Bangkok is also where I learnt meditation, kickboxing, Shaolin kung fu and Tai Chi. My dad used to shave his head and disappear off to a temple to live as a Monk now and then. He still meditates morning and night. I do still miss many aspects of Thai life, including the food/tropical fruit and Songkran festival, in which everyone basically goes onto the streets and has a huge water fight, symbolising the washing away of one’s sins and bad luck. I was also very naughty and started clubbing as young teenager, but we will leave those stories for another time… ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK AND THE WORLD’S YOUR OYSTER… need I say more!
How did you first get into music?
In primary school I was chosen to be in a special choir of a select few and my grandparents would fly down to Christchurch to watch me, which was special. Mum was always singing and playing guitar round the house too, there was always music playing in the background and at every family gathering all the Aunties would be up dancing to the likes of Abba or UB40, so I’ve always been listening. I was also a choir soloist at the International school, the other soloist is now one of Thailand’s biggest pop stars. After school I studied jazz at university, and I have done it on the side ever since. I have lived a transient life in many respects (living in many different places since I was young, going to 6 different schools, 3 tertiary institutions, working many jobs), which has often lead to feelings of loneliness and being misunderstood (that few know and understand me on a deeper level or know my past), but music has been a constant in my life since I was young. No matter where I go it is always there for me. I feel that I have life experience well beyond my years.
Melbourne has pretty much been in lockdown since mid-March, how have you been faring?
You know sometimes I’m good at accepting it for what it is and channel my energy into my music and being productive but I have times where I feel trapped and isolated missing my family back in NZ. I typically head back to NZ 4 times a year to see friends, family and be there for milestones, so clearly that has not been the case this year. My siblings are a lot younger than me (my youngest sister is 15 years younger than me and was 2 years old when I moved out of home), so I try to go back regularly so I feel connected to them and know them as people. I have also used this time to declutter and sell things I no longer want or need.It is a bit difficult watching family and friends’ lives returning to normality back in NZ, whilst we are back in lockdown with no no end in sight.
You worked corporate for a number of years, why the move to music?
Music has always been my #1 love, but I got into sales and broking to make a living but always felt I was in the wrong place, that it was no more than a pay cheque. Writing, creating, and releasing music can be a very personal and emotional yet rewarding experience and a great outlet. I believe I have both creative and business sides, which allows me to push forward when things do not go my way and see things from a business perspective not an emotional one. Most of all I love the process and know that this is what I am born to do.
What do you like to do outside of music?
I love the beach… it’s a Kiwi thing I think. If a week goes by where I have not seen the ocean I do not feel right. I like to go to the gym or do some form of exercise first thing in the morning (after a coffee of course). Exercise helps to put things in perspective and overcome obstacles and just makes me a happier person. I used to be a fitness fanatic, but these days I’m less particular about diet and exercise. Other than that, I like reading (self-help books and biographies) and baking (although only occasionally as I do not trust myself around sweets). Other than that, I like spending time with my cat and partner, going out for a meal or drinks with friends. Oh, and Netflix (limited to an hour each night – haha). My parents have a property on Great Barrier island off the coast of NZ (mum is the island doctor on weekends), which has the most beautiful beaches, so I try and get out there at least once a year. I always come away feeling more in tune with my spirituality and connected to the earth. Putting photographs in albums is also something I enjoy. I have always got a kick out of looking back through albums. Oh, and travelling… when that was a thing!
What are your plans for the remainder of 2020 and future goals?
Happiness is always the goal (In saying that heart break is what produces the best songs so there is a silver lining). Career wise I would of course love to win an Aria or a Grammy (go hard or go home). There are tonnes of amazing artists and producers I would love to work with including Joel Little, Skrillex, and Diplo (to name a few). A collab with Gwen Stefani, Rihanna or Charli XCX would be the ultimate for me though I think. This year I am dropping 3 singles and an EP. I had plans to do shows but for obvious reasons that is not happening, but I will be doing some live performances from home.
You have some new music on the way, what can we expect?
You can expect some edgy, sultry pop with powerful vocals on a bed of synths. As well as a tongue in cheek dance single thrust in there.
Who are some of your Influences:
I love world music, Ragga Music, Ravi Shankar (I love plucking instruments, they always sound ethereal and are used a lot in Thailand), African music (Johnny Clegg), Kate Bush, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Rihanna, Bjork, Imogen Heap, Flume, Hermitude and Charli XCX.
What are you listening to now?
I listen to such a range. A lot of Jazz (often without a vocal haha). I have been loving Charli XCX’s new Iso album ‘How I’m feeling now’ as she combines a lot of interesting sounds, Kita Alexander, Major Lazer, Hermitude and Ava Max. You can check out my ‘JoannaBop’ Spotify Playlist to hear what I am currently listening too…
What did you find most challenging and rewarding throughout the creative process?
I am very much an innate writer so it usually just comes out without too much thought, however I often sing a melody and then come up with words to it or alter the words in order to create a story that makes sense and or give it meaning/depth. The challenge for most creatives is to silence the inner critic and just be present and not pay too much attention to whether or not the song will be successful or not as that kills the creative process and energy flow.
Your new single ‘Disaster’ is available worldwide today, what influenced the song and how did it come about?
Disaster started off as a remix of one of my unreleased tracks, but I liked it so much that I gave it a new melody and wrote new lyrics. Disaster is part 1 of a 2-part narrative. This song is very much ‘fifty Shades of Grey’ sonically, however the narrative conveys the range of emotions that are felt when a person decides to end a relationship with their significant other. The loss of connection and loneliness that is felt when you realise you are no longer happy and you want different things to your other half, that there is no way forward. Then feeling responsible for tearing something that meant so much apart. Disaster is an anthem for the most difficult time for couples.
If your house were on fire, what would you grab on the way out:
I would grab my cat, photo albums, laptop, and hard drive (because all my music creations are on it). I (like most) enjoy the finer things in life but do not value or get attached to them. These are my only prized possessions.
Favourite food and place to hang out?
My favourite cuisines are definitely Thai …go figure haha (’Blossom Thai’ in South Yarra is the most authentic Thai I’ve found in Melbourne) and Mexican (‘Hecho en Mexico’ in Fitzroy do the best fish tacos, but I do make a mean home-made Guac). On a (rare) sunny Melbourne day you’ll find me walking bayside and popping in to Elwood Bathers for a coffee.