There’s one word that sums up how Zoë Badwi is feeling right now… “excited”. She’s using it constantly. Managers, record company types – they’re all telling her that she’s using it way too much, but when everything’s coming up roses the way they are, why the heck shouldn’t she be excited? The world is beginning to fall in love with Zoë Badwi just as we have, and the singer is about to begin an all-out assault on charts around the world. But back home, with her single ‘Freefallin’ getting a little mainstream chart love, we pick up the old ‘dog and bone’ and have a natter to Australia’s newest pop princess and discover that the way things started for Ms Badwi sounds suspiciously like a line from an Abba song.
“I guess right from the beginning, mum says I sang before I spoke,” she says, “So that would have been annoying for her. I wasn’t into the school musicals because I was too disruptive, but after school my friend was a DJ. I was actually singing one day and he said that he was trying to produce his own stuff. He asked me whether I wanted to sing on it and I said, ‘Yeah, for sure!’ So I did that for a bit.”
Zoë then spent some time modelling and featuring in a series of television commercials, most notably a frequently broadcast Telstra commercial. (HERE’S one we prepared earlier…)
“A girl’s gotta eat. And it all rolled into one in the entertainment industry,” she enthuses. “I did a mini-series for eight months called ‘RawFM’ for ABC. I also did lots of ads like the Telstra Drive Safe ad – that one played for about six years in a row. Just things like Mars Bar ads – cool things like that.”
From there, the young starlet was signed up to Sony Music to be part of the girlband ‘Sirens’ who had a minor hit with ‘Like Fire, Like Rain’ and the cover version of The Pointer Sisters’ ‘I’m So Excited’ featuring Sara (bum dance) Marie of ‘Big Brother’ fame. She cringes when we mention it, so we ask her whether or not she looks back on that time favourably.
“It adds to who I am,” she says, “But the other day, they had 15 minutes of fame on ’20 To 1′. They had Sara Marie on it and that film clip came on and I just went ‘oh dear’… I’m not embarrassed by it, but I just laugh. I remember I got my hair cut short because I wanted to look like Sarah O’Hare. But here’s a little hot tip – no-one looks like Sarah O’Hare but Sarah O’Hare.” (she laughs)
Though both the commercials and her role in Sirens brought her national exposure, it was a chance encounter with TV Rock’s Grant Smillie that would forever alter the course of Zoë’s career.
“I was playing with my band at a venue in Melbourne and Grant Smillie was out having a Sunday afternoon drink and I saw him tapping his foot,” she says. “He came up to me afterwards and he said ‘You’re great, do you write your own stuff?’. I said, ‘yeah, I sure do’ and he said, ‘I’ll send you some beats – and we’ll see what happens.’ So he sent me some beats and I wrote ‘Release Me’ and went around to sing it to him and the other guy from TV Rock (Ivan Gough) and they both just said ‘yep, we love it’ and I had no idea that everybody else would love it.”
To say that everybody else loves it is an understatement to the highest degree. Taken to a whole new level at the Sensation dance party in Melbourne on new years eve 2008, the track soared into the club stratosphere, dominating club charts and creating worldwide demand. According to Zoë’s own reckoning, at this stage ‘Release Me’ has been signed in 26 countries around the world.
“They were just looking for someone to sing on the new years eve countdown,” she says of the Sensation experience, “And then they asked me and we thought it was being filmed anyway, we should see about using that as my film clip for the single. Turns out they used it as promo for the party all over the world.”
‘Release Me’ went on to top the club chart here in Australia for seven consecutive weeks – a dancefloor monster in anyone’s books.
“I remember the first day I got the ‘No.1’ call, I was in Bali. I’d just gone for a bit of a mother/daughter bonding trip and got the text saying ‘it’s number one’ and I just wanted to run home and tell everybody. Every week when they’d ring me with the chart update I’d scream. I couldn’t believe it. It was the first single that I’d ever done and it was No.1 for nearly two months.”
The TV Rock boys’ support of Zoë hasn’t gone unnoticed. She remains fiercely loyal to them and to their record label Neon, with whom she’s signed.
“Love those guys! I’ll always work with those guys,” she enthuses. “They’re great – we just get each other. And because we’ve all shared so much now – I really value their opinion. If I’m writing with other people, I still send it to them and ask ‘what do you guys reckon?’ because I just really really value them. Grant Smillie’s also one of my managers and one of my best friends and just a really good sounding board.
The key, it seems, to her label Neon’s success is that it’s run by people who are not only passionate about the product and the industry, but are part of the industry and work in it constantly, so they know what works… and what doesn’t.
“They don’t just do things because they have to meet a quota of how many songs they’ve got to sign. They really believe in the songs they do sign. Or if they hear something – even if it’s not in a song – they’ll say ‘there’s something in this, let’s explore. Let’s get you to work with this person ‘cause they’ll help get the best out of you’. And that’s what they’re all about – sharing the love. It’s not all about what makes one person better. And that’s what I’m so grateful for, because in this industry, that’s very rare to find.”
Zoë’s new single ‘Freefallin’ has already bulleted into the top 30 on the ARIA singles chart – it’s a corker of a track, with uplifting vocals, a Europop sensibility and that insanely catchy chorus. The tune was co-written by former Sony Music signing Amy Pearson, who was dropped from the label at the end of last year. We ask her if ‘Freefallin’ was a cast-off from Amy’s unreleased LP.
“No, no. ‘Freefallin’ is a completely different angle to where she was going,” Zoë says. “She was really pop – and ballads. It wasn’t anything like that. ‘Freefallin’ really didn’t suit her at the time but it suited me!! We both wrote it on that bed of music and then when I heard her version of it, I thought ‘this song’s undeniably good’. It’s the third song I’ve found that’s not been what I’ve written, but I was willing to break all the rules for that little ditty. And it suited my voice and everything,” she says.
And though the excitement for the track here in Australia is building gradually, the single and it’s saucy singer are already finding favour on the other side of the world.
“Oh get ready for this… I’ve been signed to Atlantic Records in America! Pretty much everyone wants it,” she giggles with delight. “It’s been signed in the UK, all over Europe – even the Middle East. It’s all go! G.O. Capital G capital O! It’s just ON! I’m going to be everywhere.”
She pauses momentarily for breath.
“It’s like ‘Release Me’ made some waves and it’s great that I’ve got ‘Freefallin’ to back it up – it shows that there isn’t just one, there’s more. And you wait ‘til you hear the next couple I’ve got!”
This is where Zoë starts to tease us with more golden ZB pop in the months and years ahead, but she’s unwilling to give too much away just yet – primarily because she has so many options.
“It’s just a case of choosing them and fine-tuning them. Everyone’s asking what the next song’s called, but I haven’t picked – I can’t pick yet, so that’s a good problem to have,” she says.
She also gives us an indication of when to expect of that first full-length release that has pop kids all over the country salivating at the very thought of.
“Well they want it in the first quarter of next year, but realistically I would say half way through next year,” she says. “I’m in no rush. I want it to be all killers, no fillers. It’s going to be a labour of love. I want to really love everything and not rush because I’ve got a deadline.
“I’ve been writing with lots of different people – Amy Pearson, Stuart Crichton… I actually had a chat with Cheyne from Madison Avenue. I’m writing with the guys from Static Revenger – the guys who wrote ‘I Like That’. Even just telling you the story back now I’m still just pinching myself, I really am.”
She’s also thrilled that while there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the project, there’s been no limit placed on her in terms of releasing the all-important debut LP.
“They’ve been very good to me because there isn’t a final date in mind. And because I’m very hard to get into the studio on a regular basis, I’m just juggling it all. But I can’t complain – I’m rapt – I’m living the dream,” she says.
A massive number one club hit, a follow-up top 30 mainstream chart hit (also a club No.1), record company signatures around the world… It seems there’s no stopping the Zoë Badwi juggernaut. Proof, of course, that plenty of persistence, hard work, talent and dedication is starting to pay off.
“That’s exactly what I think it is,” she closes by saying. “Just sticking with it even when people start saying ‘time to get a proper job’.”
Zoë’s single ‘Freefallin’ is available digitally now.
Her debut album is expected in the middle of 2011.