interview by Michael McCarthy
This Friday, April 12th 2019, New Zealand’s rising pop star Theia releases her highly addictive EP, Not Your Princess. She loves the word sassy and it’s no wonder why because it’s the perfect word to sum up her sound, which features lots of perky tunes with attitude, such as “Honest” and “Bye Bye.” Always one to take action when she believes in something, she recently released a DIY video for her song “Not Your Princess” featuring female identifying and non-binary influencers from around the world, which is one of the reasons we love her and among the things we asked her about in the following e-mail interview. Naturally, we recommend you read it while listening to her accompanying songs.
Your new EP is called Not Your Princess. What does that title mean to you?
It’s taken from the song ‘Not Your Princess’ which I’ve not long released. It’s a sassy song, with loads of attitude and it just felt right as the title for the EP, because most of the songs on it are pretty sassy.
You released a DIY video for “Not Your Princess” on International Women’s Day featuring female identifying and non-binary influencers from around the globe. Did you personally hunt all of these people down or did you have someone helping you?
Yes, I found everyone on Instagram and searched for their emails or DM’d them. I probably contacted 40 different people, and around 20 ended up doing it. Nearly everyone I contacted came back to me. Obviously some were unable to do it for various reasons but my manager then followed up with those who were keen and sent them a few brief instructions on how to film it themselves.
Can you tell us about some of the people featured in the video?
Each and everyone of them is incredible in their own right. They’re all kicking ass in their respective fields and they’re all people who I admire. A few examples of who’s in the video include:
Tia Feng is a fashion designer based in New Zealand. I wore her pieces when I performed at the NZ Music Awards in 2017 and also in the shoot for the artwork on the cover of my EP.
Frances Cannon is an Australian artist who I follow on Instagram. Feminism, self-love, sexuality, gender, sex and mental health are all themes in her work.
Olivia Pudelko is a British artist who works under the name Western Affair. I also spotted her on Instagram and was in awe of her edgy designs.
Selina Finch is a British-born, US-based artist. She has designed pieces for me in the past, including the image that’ll be used for my Not Your Princess merch.
Alive Ivy is an Australian artist and producer. She produced the song ‘Honest’ on my NYP EP.
Why was making the video important to you?
I mostly just wanted to have a bit of fun with it and thought how cool would it be if like-minded creatives all came together to just sing and dance to the lines “I am not your princess, stay out of my business”.
“Not Your Princess” reminds me of Charli XCX, who I love. Is she an influence of yours? If so, were you thinking about her at all when you wrote this one?
I do like Charli XCX and have seen her live a few times, including a show where she and I both opened for Sia. I think she’s a fantastic songwriter and I love how she pushes boundaries with her stuff. So yes, for sure, her creativity inspires me, but I wasn’t necessarily thinking about any other artists/singers in particular when I wrote NYP. It just came from a place within, at a time when I was feeling particularly sassy and motivated to get stuff done.
Who are your favorite contemporary artists?
I love artists such as Dounia, Brooke Candy, Rihanna and Jaden Smith.
We’ve heard most of the tracks already since they were released as singles, but “Telling Everyone My Name” and “Honest” are brand new. What can you tell us about them? Are they based on real life experiences? If so, could you tell us their stories if they’re not too personal?
Honest is a song I wrote with Alice Ivy (who’s also in my video). She’s based in Melbourne but we met when she was on tour in New Zealand. It’s just a fun, upbeat song which I love to play live.
Telling Everyone My Name is a bit darker and it’s pretty epic. I wrote it on my own and LA-based Tony Buchen, who worked with me on Bye Bye, produced it.
All of my songs have an element of the autobiographical in them, but it’s not always literal. Songs are very personal to me, but at the same time, the moment you release them, you’re giving them to the world, so you also want people to find their own meaning in them.
Who did you collaborate with on each of the songs on Not Your Princess?
I wrote ‘Bye Bye’ with the legendary Mike Elizondo, who has worked with the likes of Eminem and Dre. ‘Bad Idea’ was started with Emily Warren (who’s worked with the Chainsmokers). We only had one day to work on it and only got through the first verse and the chorus, so I finished the rest and took it to a New York producer, Sean Turk. ‘Not Your Princess’ was written in Sydney, with Liam Quinn producing and ‘Candy’, was written at Golden Age in Auckland with Josh Fountain who made most of my first EP with me.
Do you get involved in the production/programming or do you just focus on writing and singing the songs?
I am very much involved in working alongside the producer to make sure we achieve the sound I’m after. So writing a song normally involves being in the studio with the producer from scratch and working through everything from the beat and melody, to the lyrics and vocals. Sometimes, I’ll go away and work on the lyrics outside of the studio and then come back in and we’ll work on more production together, or over email. But yes, I am focused on all aspects of my music.
If you could collaborate with any producer alive today, who would you like to work with and what have they done in the past that makes you want to work with them?
SOPHIE and Mark Ronson. They are both incredible and with very different sonic flavours.
Your song “Roam” has an impressive 13 million streams on Spotify and seems to be your most popular song by far. Was there something that happened that skyrocketed it song to that level of popularity?
Roam was my first official single and I really have no idea how and why that particular song took off like it did. I guess it resonated with people and it just took on a life of its own on radio and platforms like Spotify.
One of your songs is called “Avant Garde.” Has anyone ever called your music avant garde?
Avant Garde is actually a cover I did of Dounia’s. It was just a bit of fun and I did a soft release of it on Spotify. I have heard my music being referred to as avant-pop.
If so, did you take it as an insult or a compliment or were you simply not phased?
I love art, fashion and music that’s individualistic and goes against the grain, so if someone was to refer to my music as avant garde, that would be a huge compliment.
Speaking of “Avant Garde,” that song has some elements of trap rap. Are you a big fan of the subgenre?
As I mentioned above, it’s a cover. Dounia did the original song and I loved her version so much, I wanted to record my take on it for fun. It’s now one of my favourite songs to perform live. And yes, I love trap rap.
These days a surefire way to have a hit is to get a famous rapper to guest on your track. Did you consider doing this with any of the songs on Not Your Princess?
I’ve certainly talked about it with my manager. Not because it’s a way to make a song a hit, but because I think there are some songs that would really work well with rap in them. It just wasn’t the right timing for NYP but I’d love to collab with a rapper at some stage.
Is it something you would be open to doing in the future? see above
If so, who would you like to work with?
Would you rather open on an arena tour or headline your own club tour and why?
I wouldn’t turn either down. I’d love to open for a big artist and tour arenas, because it would be such an amazing experience. But equally, I love small shows and it’s so special knowing that people are coming to YOUR show because they love your music.
If you could do an arena tour opening for any artist alive today, who would you like to open for and why?
Bjork. She’s edgy and the ultimate queen of avant garde. I love her.
How popular would you ideally like to be? For example, would you like to super famous like Dua Lipa has become or would you rather not be so popular that people constantly recognize you in public?
Ha ha ha. I honestly haven’t sat around thinking about what level of fame I’d like to achieve. I know that I’d like my music to be heard by as many people as possible, because that’s one of the reasons why I make music – so that people around the world can listen to it and hopefully that it resonates in some way with them. I guess if that ends up meaning that a certain amount of fame comes with it, then so be it. I think a lot about connecting with my fans and making sure they know how much I appreciate their love and support. But I don’t necessarily think about fame. It’s not what drives me.
You have a song called “Champagne Supernova,” which I’m assuming you borrowed from Oasis. Are you a big Oasis fan? If so, do you prefer Liam or Noel’s solo work?
I may be judged harshly for this but when I wrote Champagne Supernova, I had never heard Oasis’ song. The title in fact comes from a book I was reading at the time about the 90s renegades of fashion (Alexander McQueen, Kate Moss etc).
Since you only have about one album’s worth of songs out, do you do any covers to fill up your live set or do you do other original songs that you haven’t released yet or a mix?
I have a bunch of demos that I have re-worked to be played live. They’re songs that’ll probably never be released, but they compliment my released songs and make the set longer if it needs to be. and yes, there are always new ones that I’m trying out on the audience, to see how they’ll be received. But it’s not normally a problem filling a set as most of the festival sets I play are only around 30-45 minutes long. My own shows tend to be around 50 minutes to an hour and I have enough material to fill that.
If someone was giving you a million dollars to give to charity and it all had to go to the same charity or cause, which would you give it to? Do you have a personal reason for choosing it?
Could I establish my own charity? And if so, I’d set up an animal sanctuary.