INTERVIEW: NZ’s Theia releases new EP: 'Not Your Princess'
Theia is Not Your Princess
With the release of her second EP Not Your Princess on 12 April, New Zealand’s Theia is finding herself exactly where she wants to be: making music that tells an empowering tale.
Boldness and honesty are second nature to Christchurch-born singer-songwriter Theia (real name: Em-Haley Walker), who has attracted critical acclaim for her up-front, raw and empowering mix of pop, R&B and electro since her first single release back in 2015. But it’s only now, with EP number two out in the world, that Theia feels she has arrived as a creative force. “This is definitely the unleashing of me as an artist and a writer,” she says. “I’m starting to really open myself up and push limits. It’s really nice to release this – to celebrate how far I know I’ve personally come in my confidence as an artist and in knowing who I am.”
Not Your Princess is the follow-up to Theia’s self-titled 2017 EP, which featured the hit single ‘Roam’, nominated for Single of the Year at the New Zealand Music Awards the same year. And while Theia featured a softer, introspective R&B-infused form of pop, Not Your Princess takes Theia into harder, more electro territory, incorporating vibes from R&B and rap into a blend just as mesmerising as her earlier releases. The pop hybrids she creates are an integral part of how she makes music. “I combine anything and everything, you know – just switching it up,” Theia says. “Some of the songs are super nuanced, but very chaotic. It’s just fun. I’m all over the place stylistically and I really like blending the lines between genres.” It is her ability to shift genres that makes Not Your Princess such an outstanding collection of tracks. Single ‘Candy’, first released last year, is perhaps the best example. A brash, chanty, punky verse segues into a swaggering bridge (“My reality, better than your fantasy”) before erupting into one of the most gorgeous pure-pop choruses you’ll ever hear.
Theia’s music isn’t just a sonic blast, though; in many ways her lyrics are more important than the beats that accompany them. ‘Bad Idea’, first released as a single in 2018, documents Theia’s struggles with self-harm and is both a harrowing and exquisitely beautiful song. “Here we go again, there’s a hurricane in my head / Cos of something someone said / And I’m used to drawing red”, she sings. It was a song so personal she initially didn’t want to release it, but changed her mind when she realised how important its message would be for her listeners. “‘Bad Idea’ has helped a lot of kids with self-harm, as it did obviously me – that’s why I thank the lord I actually went through and did it,” she says. “When I feel really crap and I’m thinking, ‘What am I doing this for?’, and some really sweet babes recognise me on the street and tell me how much my music means to them – that’s like: wow, this kind of reaction and passion hasn’t happened before. I must be totally doing something totally right.”
Theia is open about how much she grew personally as well as creatively through the recording of Not Your Princess and says the title track, a gritty electro banger in a similar vein to ‘Candy’, helped her overcome some of her fears while also producing an encouraging moment of gender equality. Co-producing the track was Australian producer Quinn, who Theia says supported her vision for the song without question. “The fact that he’s a guy has been really incredible,” she reveals. “It’s actually been freeing and taken a lot of stigma and fear away from [working with] male producers for me. As a woman who thinks ‘I want to write a song because I’m so pissed off with how I’m treated, mostly by men’, to be able to go and tell a dude that and have him respond by helping build a song to encompass all those ideas without biting back or going ‘No’ – that’s incredible, that’s cool and that’s how it should be.” She says ‘Not Your Princess’ left her feeling “free and fierce”, and that sense of empowerment transferred to the music video, which she recorded herself on her laptop in her bedroom. “It was my own self-empowerment, because the labels expect you to spend, and the music industry creates this expectation of opulence, [the idea] that you need to go into huge amounts of debt to make music videos. We are all, like, practically impoverished,” she says. “And I just so love this song – it’s a bad-ass bitch song so I thought ‘I’ll take the power back in my own way and I will make this video on my laptop. And it will be incredible.’”
Theia worked with acclaimed musician and producer Alice Ivy on the track ‘Honest’, a skittering, avant-garde, experimental electro track. “We wrote it in like three or four hours – we didn’t even really know what we were doing,” she laughs. “It was nice to be in the studio with a chick. I haven’t worked with many electronic producers so it was really interesting seeing how she crafts her sound. I just spat out cute little melodies and she just jammed along. We literally sat there and effectively did one line each. It was just super fun.” Theia names American rappers Brooke Candy and Jaden Smith as other artists she would love to collaborate with in the future, and this may not just a pipe dream considering she recently found herself in New York writing songs with one of her musical idols, English singer/songwriter Teddy Sinclair (aka Natalia Kills) – something she achieved simply by asking. “I just was like ‘There’s no way she’s going to want to write with me,’” Theia remembers. “She was down because she liked my music [and] I flew to New York and wrote with her for a couple of days. So yeah, you never know. You just have to ask!”
Theia is already working on new music, and is planning on touring in the near future, something she is now looking forward to after years of suffering stage anxiety. “A few months ago I couldn’t even get off the mic stand,” she says. “Now I’m like strutting around and inviting fans on stage – it’s like really, really fun. I’m just really driven now. I am so hungry and so excited.” And she’s now more determined than ever to send her message out into the world: “Music has saved my life. It’s given me a way to voice my feelings but has also given me a way to feel connected, as a listener and then as an artist. I think it is the most potent language in the entire world.”
Not Your Princess is out now - stream or download here