It’s hard to believe that it’s coming up on seven years since Anthony Callea dropped the fastest selling single in Australian chart history – the all-conquering ‘The Prayer’. Equally hard to believe is the fact that it’s been almost four years since we’ve heard so much as a skerrick of new music from the former Idol star.
But Anthony’s back – armed with a new sense of independence and a collection of new recordings, some of which will form the tracklist for his forthcoming album.
We caught up with the singer after his break from the music biz (“I just wanted to go away, not sing, not talk to anyone and just chill.”) and discovered what’s taken him so long to furnish us with new Callea tunes.
“There have been a few things going on,” Anthony tells us. “But I’ve spent the past two years just going back and forth to L.A. I think I’ve been about four or five times. It’s been great because I really wanted to hone in on the songwriting, get back into the studio and have no restrictions,” he says.
Anthony’s enjoying plenty of creative freedom since he parted ways with Sony Music a few years back after his last album project ‘A New Chapter’. But he quickly discovered that there’s much more to being an independent artist than enjoying the benefits of creative freedom. There’s also a hell of a lot of hard work involved.
“I swallowed my pride for the first time, because when you’re with a record company, the A&R department is setting up all the songwriting and recording sessions. Everything’s done for you from even the tiniest things – like we have to book that accommodation, we have to book those flights. Basically I’m my own travel agent now. And of course, I’ve got a team working with me, but it’s my team.
“I went over to L.A. the first time and I sat at my computer and thought ‘who do I like? What music am I singing? Who am I listening to? Who am I digging in terms of production?’ and I simply sent them emails. At the end of the day they can only say ‘no’. Or they don’t get back to you.
“But I got quite a few responses and to be able to walk into a room and for them to have no preconceptions of what you’ve done beforehand and no restrictions in terms of creatives, it’s refreshing,” he says.
Although Anthony does admit that being cut free from the relative safety bubble of that record company contract after such success was a daunting prospect.
“I suppose you’re just on your own all of a sudden, which can be scary,” he tells us. “It’s like a relationship – when you’ve been in a relationship for a while and all of a sudden you’re on your own, it’s different.”
Just to clarify, Anthony IS definitely still in a relationship.
“Yeah, I’m not talking about THAT one,” he laughs. “It’s a different frame of mind that you have to get yourself into. But it’s a positive one and I’m happy at the moment. Obviously it’s always scary, but it’s good.”
Anthony’s new single ‘Oh Oh Oh Oh’ is released to digital retail this Friday. It marks a departure in style from his previous outings and sees him heading straight for the dancefloor. He explains the reasons behind the switch from ballads to dance/pop.
“That’s what I first started recording when I was 16,” he admits. I remember being in a studio in South Melbourne. All those first demos and writing sessions that I did were dance/pop tracks.”
“It’s music that I’ve always loved and I suppose that at this point in time, this is where I am musically. Like anyone with any job, hopefully there’s an evolvement with what you do.”
We ask him if perhaps there may be the possibility of an Anthony Callea ‘lost recordings’ album somewhere down the track.
“No. I do have them in a little private folder on my laptop, which no-one hears,” he says. “The funny thing is that one of the songs that I originally wrote as a ballad ended up on my first album. I recorded it when I was 16 and we never re-recorded the vocal.”
We also probe Anthony as to whether he made a conscious decision to pop the word ‘boy’ (“You captivate my soul, boy”) into the lyric of ‘Oh Oh Oh Oh’ instead of ‘girl’.
“You know what? When we were writing the track, that didn’t even pop into my head,” he admits. “A few people have picked it up. But you know when you make a statement you just exclaim ‘Oh boy’? That’s what I was actually thinking at the time. But I don’t care if that’s the way you want to hear it – it’s perfectly fine.”
The official video for the clip is due to premiere tomorrow night. It sees Anthony and a bunch of party-goers taking over two floors of an exclusive club in Sydney and is designed to show a less serious side to the singer.
“It’s just a fun clip,” Anthony says. “Every video that I’ve done in the past has been very serious and very straight to camera and very rehearsed, so I just wanted to have fun with this one. Let’s not be too serious about it – listen to the track – let’s not over-complicate it. At the end of the day, especially in this country, we don’t have the budget of a Lady Gaga video, so don’t expect a Lady Gaga video! I did have a few Coke cans that day, but I decided against it,” he laughs.
Anthony co-wrote the ‘Oh Oh Oh Oh’ with DJ Poet, who’s most famous for his work with the Black Eyed Peas, and he’s gone on the record a number of times over the past few weeks describing the producer as ‘loopy’.
“He IS loopy!” Anthony exclaims. “In a good way. I so mean it in the most positive way, because musically he’s a genius. I remember walking out of that session feeling mentally drained because he just doesn’t stop.
“I like to sit back and take things in and get my thoughts about something and then attack it, but he’s completely the opposite 24/7. It was really inspiring to work like that. Over there, it’s all about the music – and especially when certain writers and producers get major cuts with internationals. They’re not doing it because they need to, they’re doing it because they want to – and it makes such a big difference.”
“I’ve worked with Paul Mac, the DNA boys and I’ve worked with Jaakko who’s from Finland who did all the Bomfunk MC’s stuff. And Matt Morris who wrote ‘Figher’ for Christina (Aguilera) and who works quite heavily with Justin Timberlake,” he says.
“I was so scared the first day that I knew that I was going in to work with Paul Mac because obviously I knew what he’d done and I didn’t think that he’d want to work with me,” he admits. “I walked in there thinking ‘don’t fuck it up, don’t fuck it up. Just be cool ‘cause he’s really cool and I’m so not cool’. And out of everyone that I’ve worked with, he was the loveliest, most encouraging person to work with. I wrote three tracks with him.
“Then Matt Morris, again I looked up what he’d done and I thought ‘I can’t work with this guy’. He’s an amazing singer as well and as a singer you don’t get to work with many people that are singers too, so he actually got it. He understood it from a male vocal perspective as well. I said to him ‘I need to come to Denver and write with you again – or you need to come back to Australia – I’ll just put you in my suitcase’.”
We wonder how Anthony would go about explaining that kind of concealment on ‘Border Security’.
“I also did some work with this DJ in L.A. called ‘Baron Von Luxxury’. He was very, very cool to work with. The sounds that he was pulling and the way that he produces tracks was just ridiculous. He was asking whether I liked what he was doing and I said, ‘I fucking love it all – just keep doing what you’re doing. I’ll just sit here and have my coffee and when you’re ready for me to write the top line, I’ll do it’.”
Anthony admits to having “forty to fifty” songs to choose from for his new album, but he says that his dedicated legion of fans will need to wait just a little while longer for the long player to surface.
“Obviously I’m leading towards an album,” he says. “I’ve got the second single up my sleeve hopefully ready to go. What I would like to do ideally is release a second single early next year and then put an album out in the first half. Obviously when you’re doing it independently, you have to think about things a little more strategically.”
His fans will also be heartened by the upcoming announcement of some live shows, which Anthony clearly gets excited about.
“I love live performances!” he beams. “You can only coop me up in a studio for so long! I’m all about live performances and we’re locking some in at the moment. The more of them, the better,” he says.
Looking back on Anthony’s already amazing career, it’s extraordinary to think how much he’s accomplished in his almost 29 years – not just through the Australian Idol competition, but through various stage shows, support roles for visiting artists, Channel 7’s ‘It Takes Two’ and countless industry and fan-voted awards.
On reflection, especially on the last seven years since his second place result in Idol, Anthony says there is nothing he would have done differently.
“Obviously if I did it now eight years down the track, I’d know better. You evolve and you learn things. Hopefully you learn things in eight years. Idol was overwhelming at the time. It was the biggest series ever – over three million people voted.
“I remember walking down that red carpet at the Opera House for the finale and it was a complete head fuck. I literally wondered what was going on. It was ridiculous, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Anthony’s single ‘Oh Oh Oh Oh’ hits digital retail this Friday (including a global release on iTunes).
His new album is due in the first half of 2012.