Perhaps her calmness has something to do with New Zealand, a country that, by her account, doesn’t really go in for excitable celebrity culture: “I’ve had two of the biggest songs in the country and I can do exactly what I’ve always done. I can walk around, go to parties with my friends, it’s still relatively casual.” Or perhaps it’s the result of what, by anyone’s standards, seems a pretty unique musical apprenticeship. The daughter of a civil engineer (dad) and a writer (mum), she was signed aged 12 – “so young I didn’t really feel like it was that much of a big deal” – after a record label talent scout saw a video of her singing in a school concert, “doing Warwick Avenue by Duffy. Not cool. Sorry.”
They suggested she put out an album of soul covers: she refused, telling them she wanted to write her own material, even though she had never written a song in her life, only short stories (albeit short stories influenced by Raymond Carver, her favourite author “when I was a kid”) and had no idea what she wanted her music to sound like. “They were pretty open-minded about it,” she shrugs, as if a major record label taking orders from a 12-year-old who doesn’t seem to have a clue what she’s doing is the kind of thing that happens all the time.
Described like that, it is sort of funny that you had a 12 year old laying down the rules to a recording studio. I suspect they are glad they let her do things her way.
“They got straight away that I was a bit weird, that I would not be doing anything I didn’t want to do, and they completely went with that. I dunno,” she says, noticing my faintly incredulous expression, “maybe it was because the record company was in New Zealand. Anyway, it’s cool that they were cool with that, because if they hadn’t been,” she laughs, “it wouldn’t have been a very good outcome.”
Self-describing yourself as a bit weird is pretty healthy also, suggesting the fame is not going to the head – like it has tragically for many other young artists.