The Prinnie Stevens story sure is an interesting one. She cut her teeth in musical theatre, was signed as part of a girl group in the United States and released an independent single all before becoming a household name as part of the inaugural edition of ‘The Voice’.
She’s been busy since; Another single release, an album of duets with Mahalia Barnes, as well as roles on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ and ‘The Voice Kids’. Now, however, Prinnie has given us the best indication yet of the kind of artist she is, with the recent release of her ‘One Night’ EP.
We thought it was about time for a chat with the likeable songstress, who begins by admitting that her first love was musical theatre.
“As soon as I finished school I landed a role in ‘Rent’ the musical – that was my first show,” Prinnie reveals. “It literally threw me into the industry in a crazy wonderful way. I was a swing, which meant that I covered absolutely everybody and if anyone got sick or hurt themselves, I’d be thrown on stage at any time. I went on to do about six shows after that and it really got me ready for a crazy industry.”
But although she loved the world of musical theatre, there was a burning desire to branch out into a more mainstream direction.
“I auditioned for ‘The Boy From Oz’ when Hugh Jackman toured with it. I can’t remember the name of the role, but I got asked to do that and because with musical theatre you get into this pattern of going from show to show, I just remember thinking, ‘much as I love musical theatre, I really want to record my own music and become a commercial pop artist’.
“So I made the really hard decision to say ‘no’ to that and then decided to forge on with my career. I went to America and got signed over there for about four years. That was really the moment I remember thinking that I’d made the right decision and I’m so glad I did.”
The US market was quite kind to Prinnie, who enlightens us about her time in the States as one quarter of a successful girl group.
“I was doing a musical with Kathy Sledge from Sister Sledge and she put me into a girl group with her daughter and her nieces,” she recalls. “So we were the second generation Sister Sledge and we worked with people like Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan and did shows with John Legend, Joss Stone… absolute insanity.”
Prinnie also had the chance to work with other big names, including super producer and songwriting legend Dallas Austin (Michael Jackson, Madonna, Lady Gaga etc) and tells us that the industry lessons learned throughout that period in her life were invaluable.
“It was such a whirlwind and I was really thrown into it, but I think the biggest thing I got out of it was that – and I know this sounds silly – but dreams really can come true and they’re attainable. I never thought that I’d be singing next to these people or recording with these producers that I’ve loved since I was really young. So I think it really opened my mind up to a world of possibility.”
Those possibilities were endless when Prinnie packed her bags and headed for home. With a blank slate and using the lessons learned Stateside, she released her first independent single… ‘Lion’.
“It’s funny, because I’d come straight from America and the girl group and you can even hear it in the song… I have this fire in me to want to be a solo artist again,” she says. “I came back and promoted that and did it independently. It was a bit of a struggle to try and get the interviews and get it on radio, but I’m really glad that I went through it, because now I know the hard work that goes into doing a single, doing a video… Now having the support of Universal behind me, I just appreciate all of it just that much more.”
We’ve heard of a number of instances within the Australian music industry where labels turn their backs on prospective pop artists because of a lack of a ready-made audience. We ask Prinnie whether that was a contributing factor in her auditioning for ‘The Voice’.
“Now that you mention it, I did have meetings with major labels and they were saying, ‘go and do some more stuff, get your profile bigger and then come back and see us’. As a solo commercial pop artist, you’re always going to get that. But yes, it was definitely a big part of why I wanted to do ‘The Voice’. I was just really excited about the new show and what it could do for my career and I’m so glad I did it.”
We ask her whether she believes that, for pop artists in particular, an appearance on one of the reality TV singing competitions has become a necessary evil.
“I’m not sure that it’s an evil,” Prinnie explains. “It’s something that forces you to… you really need to build from the ground up to really have a fan base. I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s making people do what is necessary and you see the people fall off that haven’t built that. You’ve just got to really work hard at it every single second of every single day.”
Prinnie clearly impressed the decision makers in TV land with her work ethic and professionalism. She was soon signed on to appear in a series of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’, inked a record deal with Universal Music, released an album of duets with long-time friend Mahalia Barnes and, more recently, appeared as a mentor on the inaugural season of ‘The Voice Kids’.
“I’ve been very blessed,” she admits. “I just work hard and any opportunity that comes up, I’m always there and willing to prove myself again and again. I think that’s part of the musical theatre in me. You’ve got to be there and willing to prove yourself. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past. You’ve got to audition for that and put yourself forward for this. You’ve just always got to be hungry for it.”
We wonder out loud that given ‘The Voice’ and ‘The X Factor’ has been joined by ‘The Voice Kids’ on our screens this year, whether we’ve yet reached TV talent show saturation point. Especially with so many former contestants competing for radio airtime.
“I think amazing people continue to come out of these shows,” Prinnie tells us. “Unfortunately there aren’t many other avenues that are left for singers. It’s so hard for a pop artist to come out without having a show like that. People like Taylor Henderson… he’s amazing. Dami Im’s doing really well. There’s a lot going on at the moment, but I also think the shows will change and end up going after more rootsy/earthy artists.
“We’re in a bit of a pop wave at the moment. But I think they’ll probably steer away from that. Even with ‘The Voice’ this year, you saw the brother/sister duo (Gabriel & Cecilia) and people like ZK and Frank Lakoudis… they’re not so mainstream. I think people are really starting to warm towards that. But at the end of the day, they did vote for Anja and she’s amazing and I’m really excited to hear what she comes up with with Will.I.Am. I think that’s going to be great for us – and for Aussie music. She’ll go all over the world.”
Speaking of ‘The Voice’, Prinnie recently got to impress national audiences as part of ‘The Voice’ national tour, throughout which she performed tracks from her just-released EP (cover below). She believes any opportunity to connect with an audience is critical.
“It’s so hard singing in front of a camera”, Prinnie admits. “But once you get in front of these audiences, meet the people, get to shake their hands and have a chat, it’s awesome. I was really excited and honoured to be part of it.”
Prinnie’s ‘One Night’ EP is her first opportunity to give the record buying public more than a single-track snippet of who she is as an artist and performer. She tells us about the title track.
“I wrote the song with some friends of mine from Newcastle. They’re called Diesel Jones. We based the video on a long distance relationship, when it’s all about really making the time you have together count. Just really appreciating every second you have.
“There’s one song called ‘MT’. I wrote that in London with another Aussie duo production team who I grew up and went to school with them. That song is about a love affair that I had many years ago.
“It talks about a relationship in which when everything dies down, you realise that there’s just nothing there. I’ve compared it to the fuel tank in your car when you look down and you think ‘crap, I’m empty… I’ve got no petrol left’. That’s why I called it ‘MT’. Letter M. Letter T.
“And there’s another song called ‘Shot Of Love’. All the songs are really close to my heart and you can hear that. You can really hear the emotion and the feeling behind them. I’m just excited for people to hear a body of work from me and really get to know me a bit better musically.”
And, Prinnie tells us, there’s a bigger body of work just around the corner.
“Definitely. I’m nearly finished with the album. We couldn’t get it all together as quickly as the label wanted. So we’re doing this first and then probably the end of the year, the full album will be out.”
Whether the “end of the year” prediction comes to fruition or not, we’re pretty sure we’ll be hearing Ms Prinnie in long player mode well within the next 525,600 minutes. For now, however, we’ll make do with our 420 minutes. That’d be seven hours. Or, more’s the point, ‘One Night’.
Prinnie’s ‘One Night’ EP is available digitally now.