Interview: Theia, New Zealand's latest pop queen
New Zealand singer-songwriter Theia has just released the third single, ‘Candy’, from her upcoming second EP. A storming pop track with hints of R&B and urban, it’s gorgeous melodies and skittering beats draw sonic comparisons to Taylor Swift and Gwen Stefani while also being utteringly unique.
Theia first emerged onto the music scene in 2015 with her debut single ‘Silver Second’ and in 2016 she arrived in a major way when her single ‘Roam’ became one of the biggest hits of 2016 by a New Zealand artist, eventually pulling in over 13 million streams. She would go on to receive three nominations at the 2017 New Zealand Music Awards - including Single of the Year for ‘Roam’. After touring for much of 2017, she released new music at the beginning of 2018 with ‘Bye Bye’, followed by ‘Bad Idea’, ‘Avant-Garde’ and now ‘Candy’.
We recently spoke to Theia to find out more about her life, career and music.
Hi Theia! Thanks for chatting with us! Firstly, how is everything going in the world of Theia?
Thank you for speaking with me! Everything’s fab in my world. I’ve just released a new song, ‘Candy’. I played a launch party at home in NZ, now I’ve just arrived in Sydney where I’m staying for a bit and I’m loving exploring the city. I’m excited!
Going way back to the beginning, what are your first memories of music as a child?
When I was small I wrote lots of poems and little ditties. I don’t really remember what I wrote about. I also remember the first CD I bought. I was in primary school and it was the soundtrack to Charlies Angels: Full Throttle. I knew every song back-to-back. It was like an education in music for me because the songs were so eclectic, from Bon Jovi to David Bowie and Natalie Cole.
What musicians were you into growing up?
I didn’t have favourite musicians as a child but I spent a lot of time in the car with my dad listening to the radio station Coast, which played all the classics. So I got to know a lot of artists like The Everly Brothers, Nancy Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Billie Holiday, Johnny Cash, the list goes on.
When did you decide you wanted to make a career in music?
I was interested in music as a teenager and always wanted to make music but it wasn’t until I had finished university that I really started to take it seriously. I decided I was going to make a real go of it when I injured my leg badly and was bed-ridden for a while. I vowed that once I was up and walking again I’d get myself into a studio and start recording some of the songs I’d been writing. It just snowballed from there.
Your first EP Theia had success across the world - ‘Roam’ scored over 13 million Spotify streams and you were nominated for three New Zealand Music Awards. How did it feel to achieve such success straight out of the blocks?
To be honest, it wasn’t something I really thought about because I was just so busy at the time trying to find my feet as an artist. Before ‘Roam’ came out I’d never performed live, so all of that sort of stuff was a steep learning curve. But now looking back at the last two years, I do feel very lucky and grateful that people connected with my debut EP.
What artists inspire you, or influence your sound?
I love artists who are fearless and unashamedly themselves. For that reason I’ve always loved Amy Winehouse. At the moment I’m listening a lot to acts like The Secret Sisters, Tommy Genesis, Leikeli47, Dounia and Charli XCX.
Your new single ‘Candy’ has just been released and is fantastic! Can you tell me a little about the creation of the song?
For me, ‘Candy’ is about not caring what others think of you and being yourself in a world that tells you to fit in. That’s exactly the place I was in when I wrote it. I’d reached a point with my music where I realised that I couldn’t please everyone and I just wanted to write something that I loved. So I got in touch with Josh Fountain who produced most of my debut EP. We got in the studio and we nailed ‘Candy’ straight away - in one morning.
The music video for ‘Candy’ is a blast, what was it like to make?
I wanted the video to reflect the attitude and a feeling of grit and gloss. The videographer who shot the footage is the amazingly talented Zara Gilbert. I’d been looking at her work on Instagram and just loved her vibe. Then we took the footage to an Auckland-based graphic artist called Mardo El-Noor. He also directed the video for my song Treat You. Mardo worked his post-production magic on the footage and totally nailed the brief I’d given him.
You’ve been quite open in the past about your struggles with mental health, particularly with the song ‘Bad Idea’. Do you see your role as an artist as a platform to reach out and help other young people who may be going through similar problems you have?
I actually never intended to release ‘Bad Idea’ because it just felt too raw and obviously very personal. But once I finished it and spoke to my management about it, I realised how important the message would be for others too. I wish that I’d heard ‘Bad Idea’ when I was younger. When I did eventually release it, the response was overwhelmingly positive. I heard from so many people struggling with mental health and how they felt understood.
What advice do you give young people who may be struggling with their own mental health?
Please ask for help.You are loved and even if you feel isolated or ashamed there is always someone who is there ready to help you.
Have some go-to things to comfort you when you feel like you’re slipping into a dark place or triggered that can help calm you down. Things like watching my fave tv show in bed with a candle and heavy blanket, listening to music, texting someone you trust, eating something that’s a treat, walking in nature, stroking an animal.
What are your thoughts on the current gender equality debate? Do you think we have a problem with sexism in the music industry, both from within the industry and how the general public perceive female artists?
Sexism and fighting misogyny is an ongoing battle for female identifying, non-binary (NB) and women of colour (WOC) in this industry, the entertainment industry and the world at large. In my opinion practical ways to help as an ally are by buying and streaming music by female identifying/NB/WOC artists, supporting female lineups and gigs, calling out negative behaviours you see, using positive language and choosing to work with female collaborators - whether producers, photographers, booking agents or publicists.
In your career have you experienced episodes of sexism, or where you felt you were disrespected or treated differently because of your gender?
I encounter moments from guys, whether I’m in the recording booth, on stage, in interviews or shoots, who don’t respect me or my opinion as much as they do other males. I’m challenged a lot but fight and stand my ground - eventually most come around. I’ve had two experiences I can think of this year alone when two guys have said how they were surprised at how involved and knowledgeable I am with my project and their manner changed going forward.
There have been so many fantastic female artists coming out of New Zealand over the last couple of years – what’s in the water over there?!
Honestly I have no idea! I think there’s a lot of inspiring artists who have made their own niche and with the internet there isn’t any barriers to stop us getting our music heard in the same spaces as artists from other countries. It’s a place for all!
What’s next for Theia?
Releasing more music, traveling and enjoying the journey!