The Ekka is a big deal for Queenslanders – were you nervous about performing there?
I’m always so excited. It’s become less nerves recently and a lot more excitement involved. I love performing at the Ekka. It’s like this local community – I see lots of my family and friends come by, and it’s just really, really nice … On Sunday I have the honour of judging the junior section of the country music competition.
By junior section, I’m guessing that means children?
Kind of – the kids my age and a little bit younger.
Is it weird to be judging kids your age?
Yes – because I used to do exactly the same thing about three, four years ago. I was in their position, and they came and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Would you like to judge?’ and I said, ‘Oh! That is such an honour!’
When you’re performing, is it you and a guitar?
It’s a mixture – it can be me and a guitar, I have a band that I love playing with, and it can be a mixture of different things in the band. We can go acoustic. Depending on what suits the gig, really.
Do you have a preference as to how you perform, or is it all good?
I always love it but the bigger the better for me – the more people, the bigger the stage, the better.
It seems that most artists prefer a bigger show to a smaller one.
The smaller shows are nice because you can be relaxed and you can communicate with the people really well, but when it’s a big stage it’s so much fun to go all out. I remember I played the PBR [Professional Bull Riders events] recently – I’ve played PBR a few times, the most recent one was Sydney. That was so much fun. You get a big response [at those shows] – it is so much fun.
They’re big family events, PBR, so it’s a range of audience ages for you.
Yes, it’s quite surprising – you’d think bull riding would be a bit ‘oh my goodness’ but it’s actually really fun. My whole family goes, we all love it. I recently introduced my very city Sydney family to it when I went there and they loved it.
Are you from Brisbane or a different part of Queensland?
I am from Brisbane – grew up in the western suburbs. But my mum, she’s where we all get the country roots from – she grew up in the South Burnett [region], so she listened to Slim Dusty and John Williamson because our grandfather was in love with [them]. So Mum turned that into Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, and now Dad thinks he’s Johnny Cash. And then I took that introduction and turned it into Keith Urban, a bit of Taylor Swift, a bit of Kacey Musgraves, that kind of thing.
A lot of teenagers probably wouldn’t think country music is that interesting but you obviously have come from quite a background and know the music well, so you can bring that into your songwriting and performance.
Country music is amazing. The songwriting is incredible. I recently went to Nashville and learnt so much about how much effort is put into songwriting. It takes a solid nine years to write a country song – every word, every line in the song is thought out perfectly so that the listener does exactly what the songwriter wants them to do, whether that’s to say, ‘That was a beautiful line’, or ‘Yeah, that’s so cool!’ And then everything from the lyrics to the rhythm, the melody, the amount of range put into it, it’s just incredible. I love country music so much.
Were you in Nashville for the songwriting competition?
Yes. It was a few different things. I played a different gig every night – Nashville is the place of my dreams, I call it Country Music Disneyland. The NSAI [Nashville Songwriters Association International] Spring Training competition was there and we thought we’d go along for that. We had a bunch of meetings with publishers and publicists and producers. It was just an experience – I found that I was conquering millions of different dreams that I had been piling up in a couple of minutes, just being there.
It could be said that you’re young to be doing that, but you seem to be at a level of maturation in your career that others may not reach until they’re older, and it sounds like that’s come from you making a decision early in your life to do this, and also you’re at this school where you’re learning all these skills.
Definitely. I’ve wanted to be a household name in country music – is what I’ve always said – since I was nine [laughs], so I’ve been dead set on that. Music Industry College has helped me so much with professionalism and teaching me about the industry, learning how to handle people. My first maths assignment was to budget a world tour. We’re learning about human resources management in business. It’s just a whole bunch of very handy things which will definitely come in use.
How are you finding the balance of that with your creative side?
It’s tough, I’m not going to lie. But I get to combine schoolwork with music, which is so amazing, and I’m starting a diploma this year – thanks to the school I get to do that.
This song that you’ve released, ‘He Doesn’t Know’, what is the story behind
At the time I wrote it about a cute boy I’d seen in school when he was walking past in a hallway and I kind of had a bit of a crush on him. But as of recently I’ve realised that the people who light up your life don’t always know that and I thought that’s what I want the meaning of this song to be: I want this song to be to let the people who don’t know how great they are, tell them how great they are.
It sounds like the college you’re going to, you don’t have songwriting assignments because it’s an industry college, so for you, in that creative process of songwriting, do you tend to assign time to that or do you let inspiration strike?
Well, you can’t really teach songwriting. You can give advice – which is why the school doesn’t cover it as a subject. But I find that I have a lot of time sitting on the bus going to and from school and that’s my creative time. I can sit and think about things – 9.5 times out of 10 I’ll be thinking of song lyrics. I have my endless list of notes in my phone where I come up with little lyrics and ideas. When I’m jamming and learning different songs I get carried away with this little melody I’ve come up with. So I don’t really allocate time but the time finds me, really.
It’s not often you’ll find someone admitting that writing can’t be taught, but I believe that too. I suppose listening to other people’s music is a great education, too.
Definitely. You can kickstart someone with what they’re doing [creatively] but it’s individual to each person. I know someone who does solely lyrics and then they’ll get help with melody. Then there are people who don’t really know how to write lyrics and they’ll do the melody and get help with lyrics. And then some people do it all at the same time. There’s no real method to it, and I like that. It’s individual to each person.
And individual to each song.
Oh yeah, that too.
So I’ll put you on the spot and ask you what you’re listening to at the moment that you really love.
That changes every five minutes, to be honest. [Laughs]
So five minutes ago, what did you love?
Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Maren Morris. She’s more a new up-and-coming Nashville artist and I just love her stuff. She has really creative lyrics. Kacey Musgraves – she’s an incredible songwriter. And then Keith Urban, he’s a great jamming song. You can’t go wrong with ‘Somebody Like You’.
Because you’re sixteen and most venues where music is played are pubs, can you go in as a performer to those venues or is your age a problem?
The age is a bit of a problem, not so much in Queensland – I get my dad to come along and he enjoys sitting and watching – he calls himself the ‘dadager’. He loves country music and he’s very good at talking to people. In New South Wales, if I want to go Tamworth, they’re a bit more strict about it. But I think I’m a responsible teenager – I don’t really have any interest in underage drinking [laughs]. You can’t go off and be irresponsible and still expect to be allowed to go up and play.
It seems like songwriting and performing is your reaction, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on any fun.
I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on anything! [Laughs]
In terms of the next phase of your career, I imagine you have enough songs lined up for an album if not now then very soon.
I’m doing a few single releases. I have billions of songs – I write pretty much all the time – but I’m very picky when it comes to the songs that I choose. So I’m doing a few single releases first and I’ll see how that goes. We’ve got some plans coming up making including some music videos, which I’m a little bit excited about.
So Tamworth, I imagine you’re heading there?
Tamworth is very busy – that’s on the list of things to do, as well as in September I’ve been asked to play at the London Fashion Week.
And I saw a mention of you playing at a fashion week in Vancouver.
That was in early April, it was so much fun. And now I get to go to London Fashion Week and play in the Tower of London. I am super-duper excited about that.
How did these things arise?
This guy Jeff Garner, who is the designer, is so lovely. It’s a really funny story as to how he found me. He wanted a ‘bubbly country singer’ and one of his friends had seen me play at the Ekka last year, but couldn’t remember my name so googled ‘bubbly country singer with an Irish last name’ and my picture was the first to come up. So that was really funny – and then I played the Brisbane fashion show, his Sydney fashion show, then Vancouver and now London. I love playing for him, he’s such a lovely guy and I get to wear his gorgeous dresses. In Sydney I got to wear Taylor Swift’s dress, which was amazing – I got so excited I didn’t want to take it off. I was hoping I could just sneak away and ‘forget’ that I had it on [laughs].