Q&A: Starley on how nearly giving up music inspired her global hit 'Call On Me'
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TORONTO — Starley was almost ready to acknowledge defeat when a last-ditch effort at writing a hit song delivered in spades.
"Call On Me" started as a way for the singer to dig herself out of an emotional rut, but over the past few months her debut solo track has climbed the global music charts with the help of a punchy remix.
The song was in Canada's Top 40 last month and went even higher overseas. In Sweden it topped the charts, while it leapt into the Top 10 in other key European countries.
"I believe God made me face my biggest fears and do this," the Sydney-raised singer, born Starley Hope, said in a recent interview.
"Every day now I have to face my fears."
Starley's next conquest is the United States, where "Call On Me" is being positioned as an early summer dance hit. It's currently sitting at No. 65 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The singer talked to The Canadian Press about how a remix by Australian DJ Ryan Riback sent both of their careers skyward.
CP: Australia's electronic music scene has been picking up steam recently, helped by a Grammy win for Sydney-raised Flume earlier this year, and buzz surrounding others like DJ duo Peking Duk. You've also worked with Brisbane-based Odd Mob. What do you think is driving this new energy from Down Under?
Starley: The funny thing is that I haven't lived in Australia for very long. I was in London for six years, so I just came back when I signed the deal with my label. Our dance scene is probably like how our rock scene used to be ages ago. It used to be all about rock in Australia — that was the only thing we ever produced that went international.
CP: That's true — for years it was bands like Silverchair, the Vines, Jet and Wolfmother coming out of Australia. You got into the Australian music industry about 15 years ago when you were still in your teens. Did you have trouble connecting with expectations at the time?
Starley: People wanted me to change my looks, straighten my hair, be skinnier. I felt like I was never good enough for the people I was getting in front of. As much as I was talented ... it just felt like somebody always had a reason for why I couldn't do it. It deterred me from being an artist. They used to say it was "too urban" for Australia. I wasn't sexy enough for what they were looking for — I was a 15- or 16-year-old girl, and I grew up in church so it wasn't natural for me to dress like that at that age.
CP: Was it that rejection that pushed you to London?
Starley: I went there with the idea that I was going to be a songwriter, but I had a lot of near misses. It didn't work out as I planned and I actually wanted to quit music. I came home to Australia and at my lowest point wrote "Call On Me." I felt like no one else was going to sing this (song) the way that I intended it to come across. I actually tried it out on another singer ... and then I was like: "No, I have to sing it myself." I just went for it, got my little indie record deal, found the right producer and everything else happened from there.
CP: What's it like making that decision to keep your music? Singer-songwriters like Sia have famously chosen to part ways with songs they love to sell them to other singers.
Starley: You hear of songwriters saying, 'Well the best thing to do is just let it go after you've written a song.' That's totally what my mentality was. But when it came down to this one song, me wanting to quit music, and then seeing someone else sing my story — it was so personal.
CP: "Call On Me" became a hit mostly due to Riback's remix, which stays true to the original but really amps up the energy. How do you feel about your success at least partly coming through a version you didn't create?
Starley: I'm very into dance music so it wasn't a big deal. I actually preferred, in the beginning, the ones that didn't sound like the original. Then I started to see that people were really responding to Ryan's version. It just happened very organically on Spotify. It just blew up. Dance labels — especially the one I signed to — see the genres merging all into one. I think there are still a lot of people who want to make boundaries where there shouldn't be any. The dance world is a little more forward thinking.
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