Usually – and in most industries – the way up is about who you know. It takes just one big guy to vouch for a smaller fry and change their career trajectory – and its pace – forever. When it comes to music though, raw talent doesn’t lie. We’ve seen Justin Bieber give Carly Rae Jepsen her start. Taylor Swift brought along Australia’s own Vance Joy on the American leg of her Red world tour. Now, Demi Lovato has given Australian musician and producer JOY. (real name Olivia McCarthy) her first taste at International fame.
In August 2015, the now-20-year-old released her debut EP Ode, a chilled, dreamy and ethereal indie pop offering; her delicate vocals singing of love, lust and the pain of moving forward. McCarthy has spent the past few months in Los Angeles honing her production skills. In March this year, she released her second EP, SIX, a collection of moving and intricate electronic-pop tracks coupled with her hypnotic vocals. Lovato noticed. “My new favourite artist is JOY.” she tweeted to her millions of followers. At first McCarthy thought it was a prank. Now she’ll join Lovato on tour across Europe and the U.K. making it her biggest international performance to date.
Here, McCarthy sent some polaroids snaps of her time in LA back home for us. And we feel like next chat might be harder to secure given her rising star.
GRAZIA: We feel like GRAZIA tapped into you early when we shot you in 2016. Since we last spoke, you’ve been quietly achieving some very big things. Tell me about what you’ve been doing in Los Angeles.
JOY.: I’ve been training my production skills for the past couple years both home in Australia and in Los Angeles. I think LA’s really the place for creative people like singer-songwriters and producers. You can work in that environment and see what everyone else is doing and see what you need to fix. [Editor’s note: JOY. has been hard at work producing with Khaled Rohaim who works with Rihanna and Ariana Grande.]
Tell me about the new record deal with Columbia in the U.S….
“Colombia came on board, along with Sony Music Australia, so that was really great to have both territories, both here and in the U.S., kind of handled. I’ve been travelling to the States a lot while I’ve been having a bit of a hiatus and doing more production, so Colombia’s been helping a lot with that side of things and now they’re on board with this EP that’s out so it should be really great. “
You’ve also spent a lot of time in the studio honing your production skills. Is it essential these days that a musician be schooled in production as well do you think?
“I think it’s the same as learning an instrument. Music is changing so much right now and its becoming more technology-based, and learning that is a special tool to have. I mean if you can record yourself or make your own instrumentals, it saves a lot of money and it’s also really cool to just be able to own that by yourself, and not have to rely on other people to make stuff for you.”
“I feel like if you know how to produce yourself, everything you hear in your head you can create, rather than hoping the other person knows what you’re hearing.”
Last time we spoke, you said you don’t know how you got through your AMEB piano exams because you couldn’t really read music very well, you were doing it all by ear. Is this a skill you’ve had to learn or get better at now you’re producing?
“I think the production thing kind of started because I played piano. Like it was easy for me to play melodies into a computer on my keyboard. And then, I don’t know you don’t really need to be able to read music to produce, it’s all about the sound and that’s probably why I enjoy it so much because I’m more of a listener rather than a visual one. So, I think that’s why I like it but I think doing the piano exams actually has helped a lot with production. Learning the theory behind time signatures – it’s just good to have some sort of knowledge to fall back on with that stuff.”
You’ve garnered attention from some pretty influential taste makers like Zane Lowe. What do your friends think about this?
“I only have like a couple of friends and some of them are musicians and some of them aren’t, so some of them have no idea who Zane Lowe is. I’m freaking out inside, I love him, he’s amazing. I guess my musical friends were excited as well about that type of stuff. It’s pretty like surreal.”
Tell me about your single Smoked Too Much.
“Smoked Too Much has been out for a little bit. It’s like a rebirth I guess. I was releasing an EP and it was like the first single of that project and because I’ve been concentrating on production for the past few years, I haven’t really been releasing a lot of music under JOY. So, I think this is kind of like a rebirth, like a comeback and this single was the first taste from JOY. It’s grown lots, I think it’s a little bit more developed, it sounds less like a bedroom project, so it’s moving up.”
How has your sound changed since your first EP, Ode (released in 2015)?
“Back then I was still kind of making stuff in my bedroom and I don’t even think I listened to a lot of different types of music back then. My iPod had the most random stuff on it. But I guess from producing for the past couple of years and taking a break, I’ve really studied production and learnt a lot from engineers. So, like my sound selection, my engineering skills have become a lot better. I feel like Smoked Too Much is a part of like – it’s a lot more polished and clean than my old stuff but it’s still kind of chill and simple.”
How different do you feel as a person? Obviously now that there is so much more maturity and knowledge than when we first met.
“My friends always say I’ve changed a lot in the couple of years. I think because I was only 17-years-old when I released Ode so I had just finished high school and I was also young for my grade so I had no idea what I was doing. But I think I’ve become a lot more serious, but it’s not a bad thing. I think I’ve become more focused.”
You are still so young. What do you find the most challenging thing about being in the spotlight?
“Sometimes you’re not ready for the spotlight”
“Like, if you’re at the grocery store and someone comes up to you, you’re just not ready for that. Doubting yourself is probably the most difficult thing. Sometimes you think things aren’t good enough for other people but you have to realise that it’s you that is thinking that. It’s hard to know what people want to hear. So I feel like that’s a struggle everyday, I think, ‘What do I put out?’ and ‘What will people like?’. You just kind of have to guess and hope it works.”
What gets you inspired when you are song writing?
“I like to listen to a lot of seventies music. I listen to a lot of rap so that’s like the complete opposite of that, and I think that’s cool to have both worlds. Also, seventies music, they use a lot of instruments and it’s not made from computers so it feels soulful. I feel like I have to listen to something that’s kind of old and nostalgic to be inspired.”
You went on tour with James Bay and you’re about to go on tour with Demi Lovato which is so exciting. If you could choose your next move, who would it be?
“Probably Stevie Mac at this current moment. That would be amazing. My parents raised me on Stevie Mac and I fan out every time I see them anywhere. I just love their music.”
Last time we spoke you collected sneakers. Do you still collect sneakers and do you still get compared to Gigi Hadid?
“[Laughs] Yes and yes. My sneaker collection is less. I think as I grew up I was like, ‘Oh I can’t wear sneakers to a nice restaurant, it’s like a little inappropriate’. But then I became more of a boots fan. I still have a really huge sneaker collection but I’m not as good at collecting anymore. And the Gigi Hadid situation, I don’t know why that is. I think it’s the hair.”
It’s the face.
“It’s the face? [Laughs]”