Queensland singer-songwriter Chloe Styler has released two truly enchanting songs in the past year: the bewitching ‘When Your Light Burns’ and her new single, ‘Patient Heart’. Styler has been a musician from a very young age, and has been developing her skills as a performer and songwriter since her school days. I learnt more about her, and ‘Patient Heart’, when we spoke recently.
You saw your first live concert when you were five. Whose concert was it? And did it change what music you listened to?
It was a Lee Kernaghan concert. It definitely opened my eyes to the country music world. I know I was only five, so I’m probably assuming a lot of things here, but I do know that my parents played a lot of country music when I was young and a lot of Aussie country music, which is definitely different to American country music. And I’m so glad that they did bring me up on Australian country music. I think that really shaped the way that I then wrote my own songs and I started writing music at about thirteen. I found that what naturally came out was in the style of country.
Were there other concerts you went to as a child?
After that first one I had a bit of a hiatus from concerts, probably because my parents realised it was really bad for my ears. But then I went and saw The Veronicas and lots of pop acts. So I have been very open to all sorts of genres and of course I always see country acts whenever they are in town. I just love all sorts of music and I really enjoy going to live music to remind myself that there are many other ways I could write a song and not to constrain myself in certain ways that I do write music.
Are there favourite musical artists you had while you were growing up who are still favourites now?
Yes – Fleetwood Mac. I was brought up on my mum’s radio station when we would drive to school. It was the Gold Coast 92.5 Gold FM and it played hits and old school, or something like that. Lots of old classics, so Fleetwood Mac were a regular. And then Mum would play Fleetwood Mac on CDs. I actually only saw them a month ago now live in Brisbane and they’re still as amazing as they’ve ever been. I just adore them. They are definitely a huge inspiration of mine.
Not only were you seeing music as a child, but you learnt piano at a young age and then took singing lessons – and then you took up saxophone at 10. Was that a Lisa Simpson thing?
In Year Four at my school we all had to learn an instrument, and I was obsessed with The Simpsons, as all young kids probably were. And I thought, Oh, you know what, Lisa Simpson could teach me while I watch The Simpsons every night at 6.00 p.m. on Channel Ten. It definitely wasn’t the case, but I kept it up until Year Twelve and I still have the saxophone. I don’t often play it any more because guitar and piano take precedence. But thanks, Lisa Simpson, for the inspiration.
And you weren’t tempted to try clarinet as well?
I played in a lot of bands so I did dabble in clarinet, but I never bought one and I never actually did any exams for it. I did exams for piano and saxophone and singing up until Year Twelve, but I never actually did exams for clarinet or guitar.
Out of the four instruments you have, including voice, which is the one that challenges you the most?
Right now: guitar, because I’m self-taught on guitar. I wouldn’t say I’m basic any more – I’ve done a lot of practising and a lot of learning new tips and tricks. But I’m definitely more capable on the piano and capable on voice, and guitar I would love to just learn more and probably take up some lessons.
So do you write more naturally on the piano?
I actually write more naturally on the guitar. I always chuck a capo on and then I really easily write on the guitar. With piano, I find the songs have chords that aren’t the normal chords you would hear in a song written on the guitar. When I write on the piano I use minor chords and augmented chords and more mature chords, and so the songs always do sound a little bit different to how I write at the guitar. But I think that is cool and something that I should showcase whenever I get to release an album.
When you’re writing a song and putting a melody to it, putting lyrics to it, do you find your voice adapts to the instrument you’re writing on or performing on, or do you adapt the instrument to the voice?
I think my voice definitely adapts to the instrument. With piano I can’t just chuck a capo on, so I’m usually in a certain key and my voice sits nicely in that key. And then with guitar I can change the key.
Have you had to unlearn any of your more formal training for voice or piano?
Yes. With my voice, I was in choirs for my whole life for at school and that was very regimented and sort of classical and I’m not classically trained. My vocal lessons were whatever the opposite is of classical. But at choir we sang a lot of classical songs. So when I, when I turned to songwriting it was a development over a few years and it’s still developing now. But my voice definitely had to change and alter from how I would sing every day at school or for my exams. I actually thought I wanted to be a musical theatre person when I was about fifteen, because I did a lot of musical theatre in my voice exams and I always did the school musical every year. My dream at that time in my life was, Oh, I want to be on Broadway and I want to do musical theatre. And it’s funny when I look back on it now and I see how that’s evolved, but I still want to do something in the music industry. It’s just definitely more me now [laughs].
In musical theatre you’re really dependent on having a whole cast of people, whereas it’s an incredible ability to be able to stand on stage with you and a guitar and entertain on your own.
It’s definitely something that builds up my nerves right before I play. But I love it. And I think if you don’t get nervous then why are you doing it.
You mentioned that you wrote your first song when you were thirteen. Was that a case of thinking, All right, now I’m going to write songs, or did you have an idea that came to you and suddenly it was, Oh, okay, this is a new thing for me?
I’ve always been a very emotional person and I feel things very deeply and I was never really good at keeping the journal – I’m still really bad at keeping a journal. I just don’t understand how people do it [laughs[. But I turned to songwriting as my journal and probably at thirteen I was writing about homework and my dog and things like that.
Are you a songwriter who sets aside time to write songs or do you follow the idea when it comes to you?
I follow the idea when it comes to me. Usually I know a song is good if I write it under an hour because it just pours out of me. If I am writing a song and I can’t finish it, I get halfway through it, I really struggle to come back to it because I feel as though it’s just probably not going to happen. Or usually I take it to a co-writer and then then they bring in a different idea and that’s how it’s meant to be finished.
The mention of a co-writer leads in nicely to my next question. You wrote ‘When Your Light Burns’ with Fanny Lumsden. Had you started that song and then took it to Fanny?
I’d always had that idea in my head. I just didn’t know how I wanted to articulate it because it was tricky. I wanted it to sound country but I wanted it to sound sort of like an island getaway in a song, if that makes sense. So when I went to the Academy of Country Music in Tamworth, and I was given Fanny as co-write, I thought, This is the perfect opportunity. We got along like a house on fire and the song really just wrote itself in that two-hour co-write period that we had.
That helps add to the picture I’m forming of what the Academy is contributing to Australian country music, which is that it’s turning out artists who are really mature at an early stage of their lives or career development. And you’re one of them. You have to apply to get in, don’t you?
I did the Junior Academy in 2016 and I had to apply for that, and that was kind of a big deal for me because that was the first country thing that I really went for. I was in Year Twelve when I applied and I got in and that was fantastic. And then I did it and it was so much fun. Then I started my university degree and five years later I was still doing my university degree [laughs], but the senior one was two years later and we had to apply for that and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to get in. I didn’t think I was experienced enough. I’d been doing Tamworth and performing as much as I could and gigging and just trying to get myself out there. Then I was accepted, and really it is the perfect thing for Aussie country artists to do. It gives you so many invaluable skills and knowledge. And I’m so glad I’ve done both.
Also it seems to be about the relationships that it fosters – like you meeting Fanny – and it may be that an artist meets another at the Academy and puts them on as a support act, and then there’s all these great collaborations that can happen out of it. But I don’t think your collaboration with Jenny Mitchell would have come out of the Academy …
It did, actually! Jenny and I met at the Junior Academy when I was seventeen and I think she was fourteen or fifteen. We laugh about that now because she was so small. But she’s one of my best friends and we’ve just stayed in contact since. She hasn’t done a Senior Academy yet, but I’m trying to push her to do it because I think she’d love it. So last year [Jenny and I] and George Goodfellow, who is the other co-writer [on ‘Patient Heart’] all decided to apply for the DAG and we all got accepted and then we all went, and then the song came out of it, ‘Patient Heart’. So that was fun.
I interviewed Felicity Urquhart earlier this year and she was talking about the DAG, and it seems like there’s a process of pulling names out of a hat for some of it, but obviously if you go there with people you know, you can use that opportunity to write while you’re there.
I got my name got pulled out of the hat to write with Felicity [laughs]. You only get one co-write with one of the tutors through the five days, but then you have ample time to create connections and say to someone at lunch, ‘Hey, do you want to write this afternoon?’ We are advised to do that. Me, Jenny and George all just had a spare afternoon and we were actually just hanging out as friends and then I was playing this little riff on my guitar and they all came up with ideas and the song just got born out of hanging out and chatting with two mates.
The song has ended up with you to record – was that always the way it was or was there a bit of a tussle about who got it?
No, I think it’s really nice how it worked out when it was finished. As soon as we wrote it, Jenny turned to me and she said, ‘That’s a Chloe Styler song’ and George agreed. I didn’t have to fight for it or anything, but if they’d wanted it I would have happily let them record it as well. I was just lucky enough that they believed that it was suitable for me.
So what’s the inspiration behind the lyric?
We sat down and we were on the sheep station in Nundle and it was very secluded from the world. And as millennials we really struggled with the idea that there was no phone service or wifi. I love getting that news notification on my phone every day and I turned it off and said, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be so weird if something were to happen in the outside world? We just wouldn’t know about it.’ And then we got thinking about how we wouldn’t have the opportunity to tell the people we love that we love them. It was very post-apocalyptic and very dramatic, how we came up with the idea. But we just started talking about relationships and love and just making sure that the people you love know that you love them and you’d hope that that person would tell you back. For us, the patient heart was someone who does love someone, but they’re just waiting for that person to tell them back. It could be that if the world was to end they never got to hear. But in terms of the song, it was actually the personal experience of one of the writers and they were just waiting patiently for this person to tell them.
Looking at the artwork that’s on both of your recent singles, it’s beautiful. So where does that come from? Was the idea yours?
The idea for the art was me. I really like being creative and I’m not much of an artist myself, so I got other people to draw it. ‘When Your Light Burns’ was drawn by a lady called Jessica Blackmore. And then the ‘Patient Heart’ cover was drawn by Cassie Zaccardo. I found Cassie on Instagram and messaged her and said, ‘Hey, would you be keen?’ It was all corresponded by email, and I’m so happy with it. I’m looking at my Spotify now and I really love how there’s a theme for the covers – it’s a theme that I’ve tried to start and I love cohesiveness. I’m studying business at university and my major is marketing, so it’s definitely coming into play here when I’m doing my releases.
You released an EP in 2017. I imagine that you’re releasing singles with a view towards perhaps releasing another EP. I also know these days that an album is not necessarily something that’s required. Do you think you’ll just continue to do singles for a while or release something larger?
I would really, really love to get into the studio early next year and just smash out an EP. That would be ideal. But I also don’t want to rush it. So if it works, that’s great. And if the songs are ready and I’ve got the right songs, then I’ll do it. But I also understand that it may take a little bit more time and then if it does take more time, more singles will be released and off that EP or off that album. I am very traditional where I would love to release an album, but I also understand that it’s a changing market at the moment and not many people care for albums. They just want the top two or three singles off the album. So it’s definitely something I have to weigh up but I’m working towards something.
At this time of year I always tend to say to people, ‘Are you going to Tamworth? And if so, can you say where you’re playing?’
Yes, I’m going to Tamworth. I would never miss Tamworth! I have a few gigs confirmed. I will be playing the Pig and Tinder Stage on the Wednesday, playing a few shows at the Red Door Cafe at the Imperial Brew House – and that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. I’m holding out for a Fanzone slot! I’ll be announcing [everything] probably in December.
Listen to Chloe Styler on:
Apple Music | Bandcamp | iTunes | Spotify