Stan Walker has done a great job of recharging his career following the disappointing performance of his second album, ‘Let The Music Play’.
Whilst he seemed to disappear from the Australian music scene, bar a couple of duets with Jessica Mauboy and Ginny Blackmore, he focused on securing his place as one of the biggest singers in his native New Zealand. He has a bourgeoning film career over there, and is a judge on the controversial ‘X Factor NZ’ alongside Natalie Bassingthwaighte and All Saints singer Melanie Blatt.
Now he’s returned to Australia with his new album ‘Truth & Soul’, a covers album of soul classics that he calls a “breath of fresh air”.
Brad got the chance to chat with him late last week about his new record, the realities of fame and that ‘X Factor NZ’ controversy.
The first thing we noticed about Stan was his refreshingly blunt honesty. For example, without being prompted, he openly admits he wasn’t thrilled about putting out a covers album.
“I was like, ‘No way! I’m not doing covers!'” he laughs. “Denis (Handlin – head of Sony Music Australia) suggested the idea to me. They wanted to put my original music out in Australia but I said that it wasn’t really there, so he said ‘Do you want to do a soul album?’
“I was so determined not to do it, but then I started going through my Facebook and I saw all the videos I put up of the covers that I love doing. When you’re doing your own stuff, it can get a little political sometimes with having to have the ‘right sound for radio’ and all that jazz. With an album like ‘Truth & Soul’ I could be self-indulgent, because it’s all about the stuff I love and I just thought ‘why not share it with the fans?’
“I had to humble myself and honestly, for me, it’s been a breath of fresh air, because I’ve been so full on in the last three years doing other things and it can get very stressful. So there’s a sense of freedom with this.”
Despite ‘Truth & Soul’ being a covers album, Stan was adamant that he would make these classics his own.
“Oh definitely. If you know the songs then you’ll know how different my versions are,” he chuckles. “Hopefully I pull it off and people like it. When we went into this, we had the ability to go crazy. We kind of went down the Amy Winehouse route in terms of production style. She managed to make the old school sound new by adding things to make it relevant for the mainstream. I changed up a lot of the songs actually, which was a lot of fun.”
Speaking of the late Ms.Winehouse, we were curious as to why Stan didn’t include more modern soul numbers.
“Where I come from, the kids that were brought up like me, and even the kids that are still kids at the moment, they love these sorts of songs,” he explains. “It’s really about introducing the younger generation to this kind of music. You’ve got your old school greats like Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross and your new school, like Boyz II Men and Maxwell.”
The recent resurgence of soul pop has also inspired the album.
“These artists are keeping that soul buzz alive. If anything, it’s kind of like what is in right now,” Stan notes. “People like Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and John Legend are creating songs that are timeless. They’re going to go down as the greats for this generation. I’m almost re-introducing these inspirations to show why people like Sam or John or myself do what we do.”
Speaking of the next generation, Stan takes great joy in his judging role on the ‘X Factor’ over in New Zealand, although his advice isn’t as upbeat as his usually cheery nature.
“To be honest, I prepare them for the worst because I teach them from my mistakes,” he divulges. “It can be full on. People say to me, ‘You must love being famous’. Man if people knew what fame was, then nobody would ever get into this business.
“Fame is 95% loneliness, sacrifice, tiredness… you’re somebody else’s the whole time. You get depressed, there are political battles, there are battles for your soul. People are pulling and tugging and poking and prodding from every direction. They’re telling you who they think you should be and who they think you are. Dealing with all that crap can get to you but that 5%, when you get to be on stage, sing to your fans and do what you were born to do… it makes it all make sense and worth it.”
Considering his unforgiving view on the world of celebrity, it’s understandable that Stan thinks that, ideally, people below 17 shouldn’t be allowed to compete on shows like ‘The X Factor’. That being said, Stan knows that it’s not quite that simple.
“People have different levels of maturity,” he admits. “I know some kids who are 14 or 15 who have their heads screwed on better then people in their late 20s or 30s!
“It’s hard to explain. These young people are fragile and they’re still growing and learning. Then again, we’re all growing and learning but I’m talking about… they are still babies! You’ve got to have some life experience. There are people like Justin Bieber. Imagine starting out at 14 and getting all these people on you. He gets the absolute best, but he gets the absolute worst as well. To still be doing what he’s doing… I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. To be honest, I feel sorry for that boy!”
He certainly doesn’t feel sorry for former ‘X Factor NZ’ judges Willy Moon and Natalia Kills, who were recently sacked from the show for their over-the-top comments about one of the contestants.
“There’s always going to be stuff that people don’t agree with, but it’s not even a fine line,” he maintains. “People know where to go. If you’re a judge, you know what you’re signing up to. You know it’s a family TV show and ultimately it’s about finding an artist. We’re not there to hate on them or nitpick on the stuff that we hate; we’re there to build them up. Sometimes you have to be hard but there’s a way of going about it. In that particular matter they just went overboard. It wasn’t even on subject, it was just way off.”
For the record, we couldn’t help but ask if, putting Natalia’s exaggerated comments to one side, Stan could see her point, that the contestant’s look was too alike to Willy Moon’s. ”
“No!” he laughs. “I thought that was stupid. I was just thinking, ‘What a joke!'”
Back to the present, Stan is not only excited about ‘Truth & Soul’, but also about having the time to promote the record both here and in New Zealand.
“The only reason why I released an album in New Zealand (2013’s ‘Inventing Myself’) was because I was doing the ‘X Factor’ there,” he confesses. “I didn’t want to release anything here because it’s hard to release stuff when you’re not connecting it yourself.
“If I’m releasing something, I want to connect it to the people. Sometimes songs, and the way they get presented, aren’t done the right way or the best way. I’m the only one who can present these songs in the best way, so I didn’t want to release anything at the time. We’ve had heaps of opportunities but it’s never been right. Plus, even one film or one season of ‘The X Factor’ takes up a year. They’re only two gigs but they take a really long time,” he laughs.
Now Stan is gearing up for the end of ‘X Factor NZ’ whilst celebrating a return to the Australian top ten album chart. And he reveals that there are more good times ahead for his loyal local fan base.
“I will definitely tour in Australia and then I will probably finish it in NZ,” he excitedly reveals to us. “I’ve also got all of my new music and new singles that I want to release very soon after this album, just so that people can see me as an artist again. I can’t wait!”
For now though, it’s all about ‘Truth & Soul’.
“I’m just having fun with this album,” he says. “Honestly, I’m happy just coming back to music, with no pressure and just enjoying it like I used to.”