credit: Dennis Leupold
Starley’s breakout hit “Call On Me” — a record written as a symbol of hope for herself waswritten at a low point in her life — serves as an appealing introduction to this Australian singer-songwriter. Her potent sound is a mix of warm indie folk and dynamic dance-pop powered by her affecting melodies, emotionally resonant lyrics, and soulful voice that makes each song sound intimate and vital. Not surprisingly, “Call On Me” is resonating with fans around the world, having racked up over 220 million Spotify plays (between the original acoustic-driven version and a remix by Melbourne DJ Ryan Riback) by the start of 2017. It has cracked the charts in several countries including the U.S. where it’s climbing Billboard’sHot AC chart. “I think ‘Call On Me’ resonates with people because the sentiment is genuine. It's a song about never losing hope in a dire situation, which a lot of people can relate to” Starley says. “To add to that, the music production is
But “Call On Me” almost didn’t happen. The song was written at a time when she nearly gave up on making music altogether five several years working as a London-based songwriter-for-hire. Though she landed a publishing deal and collaborated with a wide range of producers and writers in Britain, Sweden, and the U.S. placing cuts with major artists eluded her. Heartbroken and out of money, Starley returned home to live with her family. “I went through a slight period of depression,” she recalls. “I'd made sacrifices, moved countries and worked so hard, but it just wasn't working out the way I envisioned. I questioned God about it many times. Asking for answers, wanting to know if music was really part of my purpose. I was thinking of walking away from music altogether and becoming a personal trainer. Then I wrote ‘Call on Me’on keys in my bedroom and it felt really special. I’d asked one of my friends to
play guitar for the song which I then sent out to a handful of producers. One of those producers was New Zealand based P Money who took my guitar vocal and created the majority of what the original version of ‘Call on Me’ sounds like today.
I got his version back, played it in my car. I cried my eyes out. Because I realized that it was meant to be me the whole time. I was meant to be representing myself and singing my own songs. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to give it one last shot.’The song is about encouraging myself to follow my intuition and essentially call on myself. I'm an optimistic person. My surname is Hope. I've always been that
It was optimism that led Starley to pursue a career in music from a young age. She grew up in a musical family, her mother, who is part Australian, part Filipino and part Japanese, was a lounge singer who listened to the Carpenters, and her Mauritian father, who owned a blinds company, favored George Benson and his native Séga music. One of Starley’s earliest musical memories is watching the Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba over and over and falling in love with his music. She was also enamored with Mariah Carey whom she cites as a major influence.
“I was good at creative writing and I knew I loved to sing, so I naturally decided to put those two together and write music,” she says. “I knew Mariah wrote her own songs, so I thought if I wanted to be a singer, I should do the same.”When Starley was 14, she recorded a three-song demo and began to attract attention from managers. From the age of 15, she had classical vocal training. She had some interest from labels around that time but nothing really panned out.
“This guy said I would have to lose weight and straighten my hair if I was going to
do a deal with them.” Jokingly, she recalls, “I was different in Australia. There were a lot of people trying to fit me into a box which was never going to happen with the size of my Afro!”Starley wound up spending five years based in London, which she describes as a crash course in finding out how tough the industry can be. “I took all my own A&R meetings where they’d listen for ten seconds to something I'd been working on for weeks and say, ‘No, next,’” she says. Over time, opportunities would arise and it would feel like the tide was finally turning; but, inevitably something would happen and it would never quite make it over the line. Discouraged and feeling as if she had the wrong people around her, Starley ended relationships with both her business team as well as her long-term boyfriend and retreated to Australia, which is when “Call On Me” appeared in her consciousness. The song has opened many doors for Starley, including resurrecting her desire to be an artist and leading her to a deal with indie-dance label Tinted Records. They connected her with Australian DJ duo, Odd Mob, with whom she scored the multi-week No. 1 ARIA Club track “Into You.” Adding Epic Records to the team, Starley is currently writing songs for her debut album.
Programming descriptions are generated by participants and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of SXSW.