Artist Xela stops by THEAUSSIEWORD.COM for a chat with Brian Peel.
How and where did it all begin for you? What drew your interest to the music industry? I began getting into music from an early age and enrolled in songwriting classes from about 8 years old. While I was classically trained and performed/toured with my primary school choir, I knew classical wasn’t for me and I often leapt at any opportunity to break away from it. End of primary school I joined the Wellington ‘School of Rock’ and formed my first band, entering in competitions like Rockquest and Battle of the Bands, never really getting anywhere but it was good to get used to playing with others and writing music. I then joined the New Zealand School Of Music Young Musicians program to train in jazz performance ahead of joining the University.
What are some of your biggest goals you hope to accomplish? I often visualize playing in front of a massive festival or stadium crowd, wearing a crazy outfit and platform shoes and seeing the crowd go wild. That really is a life goal to feel that in person. I want to hear my music performed and played worldwide. I try not to get attached to numbers, but I want to see the streams in the millions eventually whether it’s my songs or writing for other artists. I definitely see that as a possibility as long as I continue on this path and am consistent.
What can we expect from you in the coming months? Any plans to tour? I’m playing So Far sounds this weekend which has been a goal followed by Breaking Sound in May. I’m putting my head down to really focus on perfecting my craft in writing, upskilling and collaborating with other global artists. The goal would be to play my first festival before the end of this year and get closer to a publishing deal at least or securing a good manager.
Tell us a bit about your latest release and how would you best describe your music? The EP In The Grey is a collection of songs that have gone alongside my journey of not only discovering what sounds like me and feels authentic, but also a massive shift in personal development and learnings. The last few years have been very turbulent for me, and these songs are a reflection of not only learning to trust and love myself but making sure I’m being selective about the people who come into my life and not settling with someone for the sake of it. You may recognize the EP has a few genres in it, but at the core of all my songs is a theme of self-empowerment, freedom of choice and sensuality. I’m not one to be afraid of my body and being in touch with it and respecting its needs and desires so I carry that through what I create. I’m sonically really inspired by jazz and soul music and the beats of afrobeats, funk and R&B so I plan to go down this track and further explore what feels like my sound and what I want to listen to.
Give us an insight into your creative process. What gets you writing songs? Honestly, I’m very melody driven so it almost always starts with that and recording something into my voice notes. As I wouldn’t call myself a talented musician in any particular instrument, I’ve learnt to accept this not as a burden but just as a different creative way to approach things which can end up being a strength even though most would see it as a limitation. I have a strong ear for melody and harmony and am getting better at depicting what I envisage through what I create.
Is there a hidden meaning in any of your music? Not really, I don’t think I’m at the stage where I can be all methodical like that with my lyrics, but as I learn more from other artists that inspire me and how they write metaphorically to convey meaning, it informs how I try and portray what i’m trying to say with more out of the box writing.
Success, what is the secret to it? Consistency, hands down. Both in creating a brand/style and staying consistent with what you stand for but also with releasing and posting. Unfortunately, our world is built on a constant need of stimulation and the algorithms on platforms favour consistency, so in order to build and not lose fans or engagement, you have to be constantly putting yourself out there.
What has been your biggest career highlight so far? Releasing the EP was a big one for me and premiering it with my debut sold out headline show at Lazy Bones Marrickville was just so awesome to feel that support. Also being selected to play So Far sounds this Saturday has been a goal of mine for a while. While it’s only the Sydney one and a smaller audience, this is a stepping stone. Each release I do is met with more and more uptake and interest so it’s just building and being consistent which is hard, but I trust the process and am enjoying it.
Which stars of the music industry do you find inspiring? RAYE, Kimbra, Victoria Monet, Billie Eilish are four of my biggest ones. I love female songwriter/producers who I see really owning their craft but also writing for others is such a goal of mine and so inspiring to see these artists. It would be an absolute dream of mine to open for any of them or collaborate with them. I also just came across an interview from Julia Michaels and found her super inspiring in her approach and achievements in the songwriting world.
Are there any new projects in the pipeline? Yes! A bunch of collaborations with different EDM producers globally getting into my toplining, as well as more singles from my end of things.
The music industry is constantly changing, where do you see yourself in a few years? Really hard to say, but I would hope I would have gotten off my ass and built a much bigger following through the use of video content creation and posting which I’m working to really train myself in at the moment. I want to be travelling and playing, and collaborating with big artists. Writing sessions in LA and the UK is also a big one as I find that Australia doesn’t have a big market for my niche at the moment.
What is your favourite and least favourite part about this line of work and why? The marketing side of things honestly feels like such a grind. I think it’s every musician’s worst nightmare to have to put more focus on that rather than just creating and seeing it boom. Also the need for constant posting, I have an irrational fear of Tik Tok even though I know it could be such a catalyst. Also late nights… I love bed. :,)
Name a few of your favourite Australian artists. Matt Corby, Tame Impala, Rufus Du Sol, Tkay Maidza are all amazing, and SIA of course. I listen to all these guys frequently.
The shape of the music industry has changed significantly over the years, including the use of social media, how do you feel about the industry as a whole and what does it mean to you in getting your records out into the public eye? Look, it’s always changing and while it can really feel overwhelming to be across all these platforms and to get swallowed up by oversaturation of the market, it is also an opportunity and as I said earlier consistency is key to making it work and being seen. I need to get my head around it still and start making myself a schedule to get on top of posting. Music is more accessible than ever which means it is just as possible for you to do well as anyone else if you want it enough and have the talent/drive to make it happen.
How will you continue appealing to the international market? I have multiple international collaborations in the works, and plan to hopefully tour in NZ as well as Australia soon. I’m also looking to go to LA and the UK for a few months later in the year to network and collaborate so there’s a lot of possibility in there somewhere.
Do you collaborate with others? Who is on your wish-list? I do and I’m looking to do more of it and get more into session writing/singing. My wish list would have to be RAYE, SIR, Sabrina Claudio, Lady Gaga, Flume and probably someone like Calvin Harris or Sigala as I do love electronic dance music and catchy melodies..
What advice do you give for other artists wanting to follow in your footsteps Write down your goals and what you want, even if they seem far fetched, it will help you actualize them. Don’t feel like you need to do everything yourself (this was a big one for me) as it can feel overwhelming to even get started. There are plenty of people looking to collaborate and build just like you and will work with you to get it there. Make yourself a release timeline and treat it like a business. Have your visual assets and brand across websites and platforms consistent and reflective of you as a person. Have a prompt and solid EPK ready to go with an elevator pitch.
A message for your fans. How do you best interact and respond with your followers and fans? I love you! I always appreciate a message sent my way. For me instagram is my main platform so that would be where to reach me at @xelatheartist or flick me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Any last words? Go stream my new EP In the Grey out now everywhere! If you’re on the same path as me, just keep going. Don’t make things that you think people want to hear because trends don’t last. Stay true to yourself!