There may be times that we scan the endless lists of tour dates posted by international artists and feel our hearts sink when New Zealand, once again, does not make an appearance. Sometimes, though, it’s important to take a step back and look at the amazing musicians that call our little island home. The 8 month long Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa exhibition that recently ended at Auckland Museum is enough proof that we are not short of some incredible world renowned musicians, and believe me when I say that Theia is only going to shine more light on the amazing talent that this country is capable of producing.
If you read no further than this, then know that Theia – otherwise known as Em-Haley Walker – is worth your unconditional support. Not just for her blatant talent, sick fashion sense, and adorable infamous space-buns, but also for her massive heart. Almost every experience that she gushed about was followed by the acknowledgement that she is blessed or thrilled, showing that not a single moment of her career is taken for granted. She is full of empathy and kindness to the point where there is no doubt in my mind that, now at least, she makes music as much for others as she does for herself.
The inspiration and motivation for writing had to have a starting point though, and the now 25-year-old Em had been wanting to visit LA since she was 8 or 9. Naturally then, when it became apparent earlier in the year that this dream might actually be realised, there were definitely fluttering anxieties that it might not be all she had hoped for. On reflection though, there was no need to worry.
“I had this minor fear that it may not be as amazing as I had hoped but honestly it was just, it totally exceeded any expectations. I mean it was mind blowing.”
Memories of her trip – where she was invited to perform at the MUSEXPO Showcase – sparked crazy levels of zest as she recapped all of the incredible experiences she was lucky enough to have while she was over there – not least her trip to the iconic Canter’s Deli where Guns N Roses are known to have hung out back in their heyday, and where sister-trio Haim had held their album release party amongst friends, fans, and family members just days before.
“Yeah, like everyone hung out there and then like two days before I think – Oh I’m not quite sure when it was but basically like we heard that Haim had done their release party and like a whole thing there and like everyone had come along and we’d only just – I’d – you know, I’d just gone for my first time and then they did that so it was really amazing.”
Theia used her time at the deli to write a brand new track, as she sat feeling super secure in a little booth with her headphones in. The details of this track – which she modestly describes as “quite a cool piece” – are to be kept under wraps for a little while longer, but she can disclose that she got to write alongside some “super talented musos“. With iconic surroundings such as Canter’s Deli to use as inspiration, the super secret track will no doubt totally blow our minds just as Los Angeles blew hers. If Theia’s current releases (and the two unreleased tracks you should be dying to hear) are anything to go by, we should be hella excited for what’s to come.
Everything that Theia was able to do while in LA is relayed with uninhibited enthusiasm, and it’s clear that the boundaries between reality and fantasy are becoming fuzzy as she continues to earn her place in the music industry, which subsequently leads to opportunities that encompass everything that she has always hoped to achieve. As well as having a writing session at Canter’s Deli, Em spoke with disbelief as she explained her crazy interaction with Grammy Award winning producer Mike Elizondo who has worked with the likes of rap gods Dr. Dre and Eminem.
“I went into his studio and it was like so crazy um just sitting there and playing him my songs and he was vibing out and um, just to be there where I think the Jackson Five have recorded in the studio as well and like, Dre, and so it was really amazing. I mean it’s ridiculous! So it was so amazing and yeah, so it’s just kind of surreal and LA – I just like fell in love with it. So that’s like everything. Like I just felt like my dreams just came true.”
All of this, as well as a trip to Australia to support Brisbane based The Kite String Tangle back in April, has come before the release of Theia’s debut self-titled EP – out June 30th. Despite the anxieties she may have felt about finally getting to visit LA, she feels only sheer excitement about finally putting her EP out into the world, having performed each track a number of times on both her overseas excursions and during the Electric Coastline tour that took place across NZ over summer. The crowds have been nothing but receptive, which is unsurprising considering the uncontrollable need to dance that comes when you listen of any one of Theia’s songs. The love that she harbours for the 6 tracks is evident in the way that she takes her time to perfectly and accurately explain just what they mean to her with the tender care that she clearly put into creating them. She has worked with some rad people in creating these tracks – Josh Fountain and Alex Hope – who she claims both balance out her “anxious, flighty tendencies”, and with whom she feels totally safe laying herself out there with total vulnerability.
“I’m totally excited. Because they’re like children um, that I’ve made very carefully and lovingly… so it’s like quite um, like a gift to be able to you know, release and have people connect with them as well.”
This idea of a connection is vital to Theia, and her love for these tracks surely comes from the fact that each one was born of a personal life experienceY, and the EP as a whole takes the listener on a journey, telling the story of the most stand-out, emotional moments of Theia’s life thus far. Piecing it together in this way was all part of the excitement, and while fans have already heard 4 of the 6 tracks, there is still the complete picture that they have to look forward to; one that will allow them to finally hear each note, and each lyric in the way, and in the order, they were intended to be heard.
“It’s cool, it’s like basically my diary you know, for as long as I’ve been alive I feel. Kind of like, summarised, or just little key moments and things, yeah so you know, tracks on heartbreak and breakups and love and just like enjoying life and like living in the moment and dealing with your issues and feeling confident with who you are.”
Even without that full story, the response has already been amazing. From 600 of the cutest kids at Maungawhau School who learnt to sing Roam (“It was like crazy! Oh my gosh!”), to fans that Theia now knows by name simply because they take a moment to call into radio stations every night without fail to request her songs, she already has an incredibly loyal fanbase. Each and every one of them is important to Em, and to her, having her fans forge a connection with her music, and being able to help people through some tumultuous times is by far the most important thing. Her gratitude knows no bounds, and Theia is under no illusion that she could have done any of this without these people who really believe in her – stating that “it’s beautiful to have”. To have heard from so many people – not just from New Zealand but from as far away as the US and Brazil – and to read messages that express how much she has helped them has been super special, and Roam in particular has been the track that seems to have garnered the biggest response.
“You know obviously it came from me and being in an place where I just felt really lonely and quite isolated and just like struggling or trying to adapt and like accept this new lifestyle kind of? And then I turned it into the song which was like the opposite of how I was feeling at the time, you know that… I’d try and feel confident and comfortable and at peace in my own skin. And so even though it came from music, from – at the time – what I was doing, it’s just the essence of the song like, being comfortable with yourself can be relatable to everyone, I feel. Even though, it doesn’t really matter – I mean like, it does to me – but what the reason was behind me making this song, I feel like the most important thing is that, um, the listener can like identify and relate to it and really connect to it and take it, and regardless of where it came from.”
It isn’t just her fans that Theia is determined to help, either. Whether it’s through the music and lyrics itself, or whether it’s through inspiring and empowering others, her entire mantra seems to be based around using her platform as a way to do amazing things for anyone that she can. Em is inspired partly by the fact that many of the musical and fashion icons that she has admired and looked up to throughout her life always made an effort to use their position of power to do that in some way, and sure, it would be easy to say that she’s simply doing what she knows will make people like her, but it takes someone who is inherently kind and thoughtful to be drawn to kind people as Theia is. Her idols are her idols partly because of what they stand for, and it may be a total cliché to say that actions speak louder than words, but it is certainly true in this case. Theia doesn’t just say that this is how she wishes to use her success, the authenticity of her desire to help others shines through in her decision to recruit an all-girl support crew for her upcoming EP release tour, and in the way that she talks about that no-brainer decision.
“There’s like a real power when women stand together you know and I’m like, obviously I love everyone I think everyone’s like, awesome – all kinds of people [laugh] – however, like I find it really important that I try and empower like female identifying people and um, the fact that you know, any way I can do that is fine… I try as hard as I can to like, empower people and let them know that I’m thankful and how awesome they are and like help them through what I’ve been through but, um, just to why not add an all female support group as well?… And it’s cool! It’s frickin’ cool, like I just wanna show that like it’s cool to just to support women and it’s cool to do things that are like, female empowering.”
Even recently, Theia has seen first-hand what just one small gesture can do for someone’s career. Earlier in the year, she scored an amazing slot supporting American duo Tegan and Sara in New Zealand on the Australasian leg of their world tour. These shows were subsequently cancelled due to illness, but not before the duo had taken to Twitter to promote Theia’s music, leading to an onslaught of Canadian fans.
— Tegan and Sara (@teganandsara) February 28, 2017
While it was a tiny action that will have taken them no more than a couple of minutes, Em is not blind to its impact (not to mention that Tegan and Sara checked out her music – v cool), and her gratitude, once again, comes across in the enthusiasm with which she explains the situation – an enthusiasm that suggests that however big Theia may get, she will always take the time to help people along the way, paying forward the goodwill that has been sent her way in the past.
“Tegan and Sara were meant to come here and I was going to um open for them and they totally didn’t have to because they’re so huge, but they shared some of my posts and just my songs on Twitter and things, and on Instagram, they like followed me and all of that and so like, basically all of their fans like – a number of them – ended up finding me as well so I’ve still got them which is so amazing, just like by people giving you a hand and like, for them just using 1 minute of their day to send a tweet, has like, helped me as well. It’s like, they don’t have to at all but it’s so awesome that they like – anyone could do that you know? And um, yeah but it’s very cool. Girls helping girls – it’s awesome.”
Every word that was exchanged during our coffee/tea/OJ date went further towards solidifying Theia’s absolute authenticity and integrity as both a human being and an artist. Whether she was backtracking on a question after losing her train of thought, or checking that she wasn’t overstepping by sharing too much information about future projects, there was never a moment where I forgot that this is just a 20-something year old Kiwi who continues to work extremely hard to achieve everything that has propelled her career forward thus far. And while her stage name is becoming increasingly more common, and you’re more likely to hear her music on the radio now (!!), she’s still floating around in the clouds, taking in every opportunity that has been presented to her with her eyes wide open, with the humble goal of – for now – simply doing more of the same.
“Just making more music, for sure, really what I’m so – I can’t wait to begin to – I mean there’s already stuff there but to begin to build on that, just to make even more music and more tours, hopefully more performances um, and I hope to be able to go overseas again because I’m just loving like travelling, and like stretching my wings and just soaking everything in, yeah.”
So yeah, while it might outright suck that your fave international acts may never step foot on our wee isle of flightless birds, don’t be blind to the talent that’s right on your doorstep, and appreciate Theia as she joins the ranks of other bad-ass women that have shone a blinding light on our country’s music capabilities. Check out the EP on the 30th (it’s a total banger and you are not ready for the emotions that come with my fave track Everything), and if you’re over 18, I won’t insult you by suggesting that giving up your avocado on toast for a month will buy you a house, but it certainly will buy you a ticket to one of Theia’s 3 NZ shows this July. Whatever her music has made you feel so far, it’s nothing in comparison to what the live performance will ignite inside you. Go dance with Theia and let her inspire, motivate, and empower you.
Theia’s self-titled EP is out June 30th.
Find details to the EP release shows in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch here.