Her debut single Call On Me caused a stir internationally and blasted the ready-to-give-in musician into the international pop icon stratosphere. The track went three-times platinum in Australia and fives-times platinum in Sweden and saw the 30-year-old become the star attraction of any given late-night talk show. Starley will return home to Australia to be your personal dance partner as she performs in the coveted 3am spot at the 40th anniversary of the Mardi Gras this weekend, following the one and only Cher. GRAZIA caught up with this beautifully humble woman – and yes, we were every bit starley-eyed.
Let’s take it back to the beginning for a second. You moved to London – and reportedly, the outlook was pretty bleak. Can you tell me what sort of mind frame you were in at that time? What were your surroundings? Where were you living?
“I was living in Dalston in East London. At the time, it wasn’t a very nice area. It wasn’t the type of place that everyone is excited about now, it was kind of a little bit run down and there was a lot of crime. But when the Olympics happened [in 2012], they cleaned it up and now it’s quite gender-fied. I was working there for a while as a songwriter and I got signed and I thought, ‘My life is going to change, this is it, I’m going to get to do music for the rest of my life!’. Five years in, it was getting really hard and I decided I wanted to quit. I had been working really hard and I basically had no life.
“I felt like life was passing me by and I had to do something that was actually fulfilling.”
“I moved back to Australia – and moved back in with my parents which was tough – and I decided to become a personal trainer. Music was all I ever wanted to do so it was a massive decision to walk away from everything. In between looking at PT courses, I wrote my single Call On Me. I don’t even play piano very well, I play just enough to write a song and some chords. The song was about not giving up and believing in yourself and trusting your instincts and your soul. It ended up connecting with a lot of people and I got an indie deal! When Ryan [Riback’s] remix arrived, the track ended up taking over the world. I was really blessed.”
One place that that kind of success really matters is Sweden – the global epicentre of pop music. Have you performed there and what was the experience like?
“Yes, it was really awesome because at the time Call On Me went five times platinum over there. It was cool for me because I’d been back and forth to Stockholm and different places in Sweden for songwriting but to go there as an artist – before I was just walking around the streets for so long and not really knowing where I was going – it felt so good.”
If Call On Me didn’t happen and you threw in the towel, what would you be doing instead?
“I think I would have started as a personal trainer and then I might have gone into the food business because I love healthy food. I like making my own options because a lot of the time I feel like I go anywhere and I can’t find enough vegetables and I’m obsessed with veggies.”
Mardi Gras is tomorrow night. What can we expect from your performance?
“You can expect a lot of excitement. It will be high energy, there’s a lot of dancers, there will be a massive intro.”
“I’m going to be wearing something really raunchy. But it’s Mardi Gras, you have to do it!”
“I’m going all out, you’ll definitely see a lot of skin, it’s going to be a lot of fun!”
Have you met Cher?
“I haven’t, no!”
This is an incredibly important year for the gay community of Australia – the parade’s 40th anniversary but also the first year marriage equality has been legalised. Referring to this Saturday you said on your Instagram, “this year is so special for so many reasons”, can you elaborate on that?
“I think the main thing for me is I recently got into a same sex relationship last year. For me, it was my first time in a gay relationship and it was a big deal. My girlfriend is American and a little bit ago she said, ‘I didn’t realise Australia hasn’t legislated!’ At the time, it felt really backward. It was a pretty big deal for me because when I come home, I hope people around me are accepting of my relationship. Not that I really deeply care what they think but at the same time, I love other people and I’ll go into any situation without judgement and I would expect they would do the same for me. I was really hopeful that this bill would pass and the country would be OK with it.”
“I love that people are for love.”
Where were you when you found out Australia (finally) Said Yes?
“I was in the States at the time so I was asking a lot of people what it was like back here. I would have loved to know the energy around it. In my family, people weren’t for [marriage equality].”
So your family weren’t supportive of your new relationship?
“At the time, no. Since we’re making progress. My girlfriend came home for Christmas and met everybody and she’s so loveable and it’s pretty hard not to like her. Slowly, slowly my family are getting used to the idea. I don’t know how over-the-moon they are about it but they are OK with it.”
Well they probably see you so happy as well. I think that emotion emulates on your Instagram and in particular the photos with your girlfriend…
How will you celebrating after your performance?
“We’ve got some tequila which is all I’ll ever drink. We’re just going to have a good time and dance. I’d be in WeHo in LA and just be dancing all night with no alcohol – because I’m not a big drinker – so I’d just go out and dance!”
Where do you go when you’re in WeHo?
“Straight to The Abbey. And then when that gets boring, I just sort of bounce to the other clubs nearby with my little group of friends. They know me there so I just get straight in! [Laughs]”
I LOVE Been Meaning To Tell You. Can you tell me what inspired this track?
“That was the way I was feeling about my ex-boyfriend. I’d been with him for a long time – since I was in high school. My friend asked me how I would feel if I bumped into him with another girl. I broke up with him thinking that I needed to explore my life and just expand my horizons a little bit. It would be heartbreaking for me to see him with someone else and not too long after that conversation, I did. So that’s where that song originated.”
“I was still kind of in love even though I knew we weren’t destined to be together. I definitely trust my gut with things like that.”
When do you do your best songwriting? When a relationship or life is in a good place or a place of pain?
“Hopefully in life, we’re more in a place of happiness than in pain but I think I do my best songwriting when I’m in pain or I’m thinking about the pain that I went through. Life is about growth and hardships and that’s part of appreciating the happy moments. Definitely when I’m down, I think I write the best songs!”
How would you describe your style?
“I’m a mix of masculine and feminine. A lot of the time, I’ll lean all the way masculine and do that for a while but because I’ve got curly hair, I think it balances things out. I don’t really care about brands per say, I care about wearing something that suits my body. Just because I love something on someone else doesn’t mean it will suit me. I try and play with things and find things that fit me really well and speak to my personality.”
Do you have a style muse?
“Not somebody that is a go-to. People that are similar to me are SZA and Kehlani. They play with the masculinity and femininity.”
What about a musical muse?
“I was obsessed with Mariah Carey growing up. I love Sia. Phil Collins. Prince. A lot of classic songwriters that make really cool melodies.”
You’ll be 31 in October. They say your 30s is a period where things start to fall into place, you become more self-assured, more content – has that been your experience?
“Yeah I think it started happening when I was 28-years-old. That was the biggest time for me and that’s when things started happening because that’s when I got my [record] deal. I think there was something in me that started thinking like, ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter about all those ideas you had about your life in your early twenties’. You had this idea for your life that it had to be so perfect and go down a certain road. And then you realise that most of the time, it doesn’t work out the way you planned and you just have to go with the flow and start listening to yourself because your intuition actually tells you a lot. I’m continuing to learn about that part of myself and learning to let go and not let other people’s judgments affect me as much.”