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Kylie Price might have moved from country roads to pop on her new release, yet the Dunedin singer-songwriter still trades in true grit, writes Shane Gilchrist.
It is late on a Friday afternoon, the end of another working week for Kylie Price, yet she exhibits signs that she is anything but jaded. Instead, the Dunedin singer-songwriter is breezily explaining a highly personal metamorphosis that is encapsulated in just six songs.
The primary reason for the conversation is the fact Price is about to release a new EP, Bones, which is out on Friday, although she’s been on the radar for a decent chat for quite some time; and for a number of reasons.
Here’s a quick list:
• She has won no fewer than five Gold Guitar awards, including being named overall winner in 2012.
• She has claimed several awards at the Norfolk Island and the Tamworth country music festivals as well as walking away with two prizes at the 2016 Texas Sounds International Country Music Awards.
• She crowd-funded $15,000 to record and release her debut 2014 EP Wanderer/Wonderer, a six-song effort that was produced by Australian country legend Bill Chambers and reached No 1 on the iTunes country charts.
• She was part of the line-up of singers who added plenty of polish to the material of the various Dunedin Sound artists showcased at the 2015 Tally Ho! concert at the Dunedin Town Hall.
• In 2012 she withdrew from the semifinals of the television competition New Zealand’s Got Talent, refusing to sign a contract that would have given the show’s producers exclusive use of her music.
• Oh, and she has friends whose support is so strong they agreed to be tattooed in an effort to woo English star Ed Sheeran’s promoters into giving her a support slot at the Forsyth Barr Stadium concerts in March.
The 24-year-old’s new collection of songs could well have gone by another name: Kylie Price 2.0.
"A lot of people know me as this country girl, a country music singer. However, over the years my songs have progressed into the pop mainstream genre. I look back and see how much I’ve changed.
"This is something of a re-brand, a signal of the type of music I want to go into.
"Until about three months ago, this was going to be a five-track EP. Then I heard an album by [Australian artist] Betty Who called The Valley, the title track of which is a capella; it’s this statement of intent: ‘I hope you like it; I’ll see you at the end’."
After listening to that album, Price wrote the song Bones the next day. Actually, it practically wrote itself, she says.
"It addresses the fact I’ve kind of been absent from the music scene for the past few years. Sure, I was playing gigs, but I was struggling to come to terms with what I stood for and what I wanted.
"Bones explains to listeners that I had some s*** to deal with.
Having graduated from Otago University in 2014 with a bachelor of music (contemporary performance) degree, Price was suddenly confronted with an excess of time. It scared her, more than a little, she admits.
"Having gone from primary school (St Mary’s) then high school (Kavanagh College) and on to university, all of sudden I didn’t have lessons or people telling me what to do.
"I don’t like big changes super-quick. Here I was having to find a job (she has a full-time role at MTF) and trying to find out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. That was a real struggle.
"I was also struggling as my writing was moving away from country music, a form I was familiar with. For a while I didn’t write anything I thought had substance."
Price documents some of that struggle on her new EP, although there is no hesitancy in her performance of material that falls well outside country music. This is polished, chart-friendly pop.
Spacious, ambient, and laidback at times, Bones showcases Price’s obvious vocal talent as well as serving as a vehicle for her often confessional lyrics.
Wired, for example, deals with the notion of picking fights just for the sake of it.
"I was a little bit of a s*** in doing that with my boyfriend for a while," Price confirms.
"He is an amazing person; he has been awesome. I think it must be hard to go out with a musician and it must be even harder to go out with me.
Another, I Don’t Want To Go, details Price’s choice to prioritise a relationship over the lure of an OE.
"I was thinking about going overseas but my boyfriend has a good job here so I had to make the decision whether to live with or without him.
"Obviously, I chose to stay because, sure, you can write awesome songs or have a great career, but living without someone I love would just tear my heart.
"It’s a very honest song: ‘this is how I feel — I’d like you to know’."
Significantly, Bones was recorded and produced on a shoestring budget, Price working with fellow University of Otago music graduate Maddy Parkins-Craig, a producer and multi-instrumentalist who has a modest home studio in Port Chalmers.
In another example of how technology has empowered musicians by providing relatively inexpensive ways of recording and producing their songs, Price and Parkins-Craig are the sole performers on the EP.
"With just the two of us, we didn’t have to worry whether other musicians would show up. I did vocals and acoustic guitar and Maddy did the rest; keyboards, drums, bass, electric guitar and vocals. She’s amazing.
"In my opinion, I don’t think you have to spend heaps of money to get something of quality. Likewise, it doesn’t cost anything to write a good song. We just wanted to work smartly and cost-effectively.
"In saying that, one track, I’m Going Back, is a pretty massive leap into electronic music for me. It is quite a drastic change, but it is also exciting to have such a song on my EP.
"Maddy sent me a couple of samples because she wanted to see how far she could push things before I thought she was getting too ‘out there’."
As the release of Bones looms, Price has been busy juggling tasks, although she says she has been helped greatly by the intervention of Christchurch promoter, label owner and fellow musician Katie Thompson.
"She butted into my life when I was 18 and had won the Gold Guitars. She said I should have a Facebook page. At the time, I was like, ‘why?’. So she made me one. And she was the campaign manager when I did PledgeMe to raise money to record and release my first EP.
"She just pipes up when she thinks I should be doing something," Price explains, adding that any plans to do a tour to mark the release of Bones are still some way off.
"We will do one a wee bit after the EP is released, so people are a bit more familiar with the songs."
Also on the horizon is one Ed Sheeran, the English pop star to whom Price is attempting to appeal on the basis of the fanaticism of her own fan-friends.
In June two of them decided, after a drink or two, to get tattoos (specifically, ‘‘#KPforEd’’) in a bid to raise awareness of their friend, who would like to be the support act for Sheeran’s concerts at Forsyth Barr Stadium in March.
"For goodness sake, they got tattoos ..." Price says, not quite chuckling.
"I also tattooed the tattoo guy. It’s a real art. I suck at it. Thankfully, I got it all right. But the ink runs so you can’t see the outlines. I have this new appreciation for tattooists.
"The idea was to make as much noise as possible," she says of the attempt to prompt a response from Sheeran’s promoters, Australian-based Frontier Touring, from whom she hasn’t heard a peep.
"But, hey, they haven’t said no yet.
"You have to try these things. I think each city delivers its own set of artists and Dunedin is really lucky to have such talented people.
"The tattoo thing was not about blowing my own whistle or thinking I’m better than anyone else. It’s more about creating an awareness that Dunedin artists need opportunities as well."
On the subject of opportunities, Price was castigated in some quarters for walking out on a national talent quest in 2012.
Having qualified for the semifinals of Television New Zealand’s series New Zealand’s Got Talent, she refused to sign a contract allowing the show’s producers exclusive use of her music.
End result? No result.
"It was hard to say no," she reflects.
"I was 19. I’d just won Gold Guitars and, really, people had just started noticing me. But you have to go to sleep at night happy with the choices you’ve made during the day.
"A lot of people said I was ungrateful for pulling out — ‘who do you think you are?’ — that there were others who would’ve jumped at the opportunity. But I didn’t do it out of disrespect for others."
At the time of the furore, a TVNZ spokesperson said the conditions pertained "to a Sony management deal and other recording agreements that are potentially part of the NZGT prize package. This contract is universal to the NZGT format here and internationally".
Price, who had signed a non-disclosure agreement on entering the competition, regrets she might have been a "bit blase" about her rights at first.
"I just wanted to sing. It only hit me later.
"When you rock up to perform in front of the producers — this is before it has even been televised — you had to sign a contract. Then you sign something else for the live performances and something else when you reach the top 30.
"There were a few contracts that were flung at me. But it just made no sense. It didn’t feel right," says Price, who was helped by a couple of University of Otago music academics, who offered advice while she had a phone conversation with the show’s lawyer. Given she was still in her teenage years at the time, such a decision might be regarded as a reflection of a certain strength of character.
Price: "I hate conflict." (Earlier confession about picking arguments with her boyfriend notwithstanding.)
"We just had a team-building thing at work and we had to work out our personality types. I’m exceptionally introverted, which means I don’t want to have any sort of conflict or any discussion where I have to be up front.
"The way I see it is that I’m an introvert who does extroverted things.
"I could perform to so many people, but would prefer to go home after and have a drink by myself. I love that downtime and get my energy from that quiet, rather than being surrounded by people.
"It’s quite a big deal to stand up for something when I don’t want to rock the boat. But it’s even harder to silence the voices in my head telling me that I should stand up."
The fact Price was no stranger to the concept of music competitions probably helped, too.
"I just had to trust that there would be more opportunities for me in the future, that there had to be more to my career than a television show."
Price wrote her first song at the age of 7 on a broken ukulele in a glasshouse in the backyard of her family home in Wakari. Her mum, a witness to that impromptu compositional session, promptly bought her a guitar. The love for music stuck.
"It has always been in my life. I can’t say I’m one of those people who always wanted a career in music. I wanted to be a lawyer for a while; I wanted to do performing arts ...
"I think I first entered the Gold Guitars because one of mum’s friends did it. I don’t like competing. I hate it."
(This from a performer who, at the age of 14 and in the space of a year, had accumulated 16 trophies at various country music events.)
"There are so many skills you learn from those competitions — stage presence, how to lead a band you’ve never played with before, how to choose songs that showcase you and your voice.
"I remember when I was in my third year at university, getting up with a band of unfamiliar musicians and leading them. They didn’t know how to do that, but it registered with me that I’d been doing that sort of thing since I was 11," Price says, adding she has been involved on the other side, as a judge at the smokefreerockquest secondary schools music contest.
"Even though I didn’t really enjoy the idea of being judged by others, it’s good to put yourself out there."
Now, Price is putting herself out there again. A new batch of songs. A new direction. Yet from the same honest place.
"It is harder to keep up with everything when you’re working full-time and trying to get a music career off the ground.
"I hope this EP opens a few doors and gets people asking, ‘who’s this?’."
• Kylie Price’s new EP, Bones, is released on Friday, September 8.