John Moyle explores Australian songs and music videos for the Sentinel – but this time, he’s taking a detour across to ditch to New Zealand, profiling Kiwi singer Theia and her landmark song and video, ‘Celebrity’.
The name Theia can refer to a goddess in Greek mythology or to the young Christchurch woman born Em-Haley-Walker, who has adopted the cognomen to bring her special brand of musical fierceness to the world.
Like so many of her compatriots, Theia burst seemingly fully formed onto the musical scene with both songcraft and an aesthetic sense that pushes boundaries beyond the comfortable.
“My aesthetic is a bit cyber with some Y2K influences. I am always on the lookout for things that I think are cool and refreshing and I work with a lot of young designers who are experimental and don’t really fit in and don’t fit comfortably in one genre,” Theia said.
“I just like to put all the things that I am inspired by … together.”
Writing and performing punchy alt-pop/electronica music, her three EP releases since 2017 have have gained her a stack of nominations in New Zealand and two appearances in the finals of the International Songwriting Competition.
She has also has an impressive list of openings for international acts including Tones and I, Sia and Mika, and has played most of New Zealand’s large festival stages.
Proudly identifying with her Māori heritage, Theia has now embarked on a side project called TE KAAHU where her fluent te reo language skills are being engaged to rewrite her songs in her native tongue.
“When I write for TE KAAHU it is very influenced by the music and the language that my ancestors used and the music is quite old school and based around the Māori drum,” Theia said.
“Everything is very minimal, but as I am writing in my native tongue it is different.”
Theia also has strong connections to Australia, having lived and worked here, including co-writing ‘Keep Me Coming Back’ with Guy Sebastian.
She was also a headliner at the 2020 Sydney Mardi Gras Heaps Gay party along with Dorian Electra.
“I was living in Sydney and I have a beautiful and strong connection to Australia, and even now I am working with the same team and producer in Australia and I write from afar,” Theia said.
Her first single ‘Silver Second’ was produced by Alex Hope (Troye Sivan, Tove Lo), who is the daughter of writer Micheal Robotham, and now based in LA.
Theia’s 2020 mixtape 99% Angel was recorded and mixed in Sydney with producer Liam Quinn and includes the single ‘Celebrity’, while the song’s incredible film clip, shot in LA, had a gestation firmly rooted into the digital age.
“After I had written ‘Celebrity’ I was on the lookout for a collaborator for the video and I found this girl called Nas Nixx on Instagram,” Theia said.
“I instantly knew that she would be so incredible to work with and add to my aesthetic.
“I wanted it not to be hyper real as in the song I am talking about groupies and the idea of being in a cult where everybody is so hungry for fame.
“LA was the perfect place to shoot it.”
Nas Nixx is a young photographer based in the Southern California city of South Pasadena who deals with hyper real imagery firmly based in altered realities and fantasy that owes more the the Brothers Grimm than the elfish world of Tolkien.
Besides her own portfolio and magazine commissions, Nas has also been represented in public art displays, including a billboard for the SaveArtSpace LA.
“I had done videos before but this was the first one with a budget,” Nas Nix said.
“The concept was one of a Hollywood-type world of people seeking fame through celebrity, and because I am a photographer, I know my frame, so I drew a storyboard for Theia and discussed that.
“The world of celebrity is really damaging for young women and you need a good head on your shoulders to deal with the stuff, or you can end up like the girl in the video just spiralling down.”
Shooting on an ARRI Alexa and edited on Final Cut Pro under Covid conditions meant that everyone had to get tested and wear masks when not in front of the camera.
Casting was relatively simple as Nas has a group of people around her who share a similar aesthetic sensibility and she quickly found her three girls from within that group.
“I usually look for people with a certain aesthetic and I don’t want the models to look the same, and I had used all three models in still shoots before,” Nas said.
Renting an old Victorian-era house that became the perfect backdrop for the clip, Nas chose to light the scenes with tungsten light rather than strobe.
“I felt more comfortable with tungsten as I use it in my photography,” Nas said.
The result is the perfect marriage of two very distinct personalities and has produced a clip that is captivating from the first frame to the last.
“Working wth Theia was such a perfect choice as she is also into the same kind of stuff as me, like the dark fantasy stuff, so we connected on those aspects,” Nas said.
Right now, Theia is embarking on one of the bravest times in her career, having parted with Warner, her long-term label in New Zealand.
“It was terrifying at first, as to how I was going to go without a huge machine – but on the other hand I am now able to choose the kind of music that I want and I am really happy with my future and where I am going,” Theia said.
Meanwhile, Theia is embarking on a month long tour around New Zealand and promises to keep up her online performances, a new outlet for performers which she has embraced.
“I did an online show with Heaps Gay again, and some stuff with this amazing collective called Club Immaterial out of Melbourne, plus stuff with artists out of Canada, New York and LA,” Theia said.
More power to the goddess Theia.
Director: Nas Nixx
Camera/editing: Lilia Pretto
Special effects/make-up: Bunny Armendariz
Wardrobe: Ivory Woods
Assist: Kiera and Sean
Featuring: @unclecrunkle @timothyheller @vewn_
Made with thanks to NZ On Air
Thanks to NickNack Media
The 99% Angel mixtape is out now through Ditto Music. You can download on iTunes or stream on Apple Music and Spotify.
For more on Theia, visit her official website: www.theiaofficialxo.com.
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