At the other end of a Skype call, Em-Haley Walker — better known as homegrown superstar Theia — greets me with double Dutch braids and a small black heart inked on each cheekbone.
“I don’t actually dress like this around the house,” she clarifies three minutes in. “I’ve just been recording some live performances and wrapped up a track today.”
The grind has never stopped for Theia, who has been virtually performing, making new music and preparing for the release of the final track on her new mixtape during lockdown. 99% Angel is the Christburch-born singer’s third body of work, the first to be produced independently after she left her label last year.
“It came together so easily, it was amazing. Pretty much every song, I knew what I wanted to call it and what it was about before I made it. I’d already come up with the main hook and the melody and lyrics [for Frat Boyz] in Auckland. I was in the shower — the one time I actually came up with something in the shower. Like, every musician says that and I’m like ‘oh, yeah,’” she quips, “but I actually did.”
The four-track digital mixtape, which boasts detailed production and futuristic sounds, pays tribute to the history of records and the distinct music it prompted artists to make.
“It has worked out really well because the plan was to do an A-side, B-side situation, like the old school way. If you look at, say, Fleetwood Mac, their B-sides are really, really edgy and might not have been on mainstream radio — but are still super, super cool in their own right.”
“I mean, my A-side songs, Celebrity and Kitty Kat, are still a bit edgy but there’s no way the B-sides would be played on radio or anything. So, why not just release them and know they’ll be really huge in the clubs?”
99% Angel, the titular track and one of the B-sides, takes a strong stance against the Madonna-whore dichotomy, backed up with fierce lyrics and bold sonic choices.
“It’s about how, as a woman, you can be both a cutie and a baddie. You don’t have to be held by society’s standard of what a woman ‘must’ be. As soon as I wrote that, I knew the mixtape would be called 99% Angel.”
Theia laughs, “I should probably copyright it. It’s on all of my merch.”
99% Angel features the sounds of gunshots and breaking glass layered on each other. A cheetah roars in Frat Boyz (the other B-side). Theia’s songs are sonically as much a rejection of dichotomies as her upcoming music video is visually.
“If you can hear the dichotomies all through the sound, you’ll definitely see that visually in the Celebrity music video. It is my favourite music video I’ve ever done, I love it. It’s very soft, vamp, fantasy, that kind of vibe. I’m looking kind of vicious,” she sports ghostly contact lenses, carved cheekbones and three-inch talons, “but I’m also wearing white and a wedding veil.”
Theia recounts how the filming of that music video was hastened so that she could fly from L.A. to New Zealand before the lockdown commenced. On how she has spent her lockdown, Theia says, “I’ve done a bunch of collaborations, which has been amazing. The major thing is cyber shows — that’s occupied most of my time in isolation. I’ve done maybe five or six cyber shows, so I feel like that’s a really good thing for the underground, super-alt scene.”
“Differently-abled, underage people, people in other countries — it’s just such a cool way to get ‘out’ and party and see acts that they might never see otherwise. It’s brought the world so much closer together. This is the future.”
Even after we drop alert levels, “I think it should carry on because it’s just so inclusive, if you’re like me, who has mad social anxiety. It’s been nice to do it from my own house — where I can control everything a bit better.”
“That being said, I’m excited to get back to performing live and being in the studio. I’m a bit limited with my little set-up,” Theia remarks, panning to the compact soundboard resting on her desk.
“I’m excited to get back to just creating.”