Written by Colin Kirkland
When I call JOEY, she has just played two sold out shows at Club Café in Los Angeles. Over the past few years, since competing on The X-Factor Australia, she has formed an independent label, released two viral singles, made a home for herself in LA, and finished a debut record. “Enough” is a thirteen-track melodrama infused with soulful R&B flavors laden in silky beats. It brings the listener through a toxic intimate relationship, emanating emotions that highlight the human condition. And that seems to be JOEY’s purpose: bringing true feeling to the forefront. With short-blonde hair, an Aussie accent, and an unrelenting willpower to do things her way, JOEY is here to show the world that she doesn’t need mainstream pop or a big-time record deal to succeed.
JOEY was rejected from most of the plays and musicals she auditioned for as a kid; it is this early rejection that has fueled her vision. “I used to get rejected because they wanted ‘classical singers,” she says. While they were expecting show tunes, JOEY was singing along to Boys 2 Men. When she was sixteen, she changed schools and took her first formal music course. “It scared the shit out of me,” she recalls, “because I was really shy. That’s where I started being around musicians. Then I got into a group for the first time when I was seventeen.” Before this, JOEY was putting melodies to little poems she wrote about boys in her class. When I ask her what artists really inspired her, she can’t name any. “There weren’t really any singers or bands that made me go, ‘I want to do that,” she says. “I just thought music was so surreal. It wasn’t something that I thought I could do.”
In 2014, JOEY competed in The X-Factor, which took place in her hometown of Sydney, Australia. Watching videos of her performances on the show is somewhat strange. She conveys the same talent, but it is more difficult to see the authenticity that she exudes in her music now. I ask her why she decided to try out for the show. “They asked me to audition,” says JOEY. “I was not interested in doing it because it looked so scary and it also seemed controlling. I had built up a negative association with it, but when the opportunity came, I’d just gotten out of a sticky deal.” JOEY tells me about a record deal she was locked into in LA. When she finally broke out of it she decided that the X-Factor offer was happening for a reason. “To be honest, I don’t usually talk about it because some people really put artists in a box once they’ve been on a show,” she says. “But it did teach me that moving forward, I can say, ‘This is who I am: I’m a tomboy, this is my personality; I’ve always liked to influence and teach others; I’m not going to be able to fit the mold.’ It taught me really early mornings too, and a big work load, and the politics too – how the industry can work around personalities and different egos.”
“Was there a persona you adapted on the show?” I ask. “If so, how did you go about leaving it behind and creating your own image when you left?”
“That’s the thing,” she says with a reflective sigh, “I’m so me. I didn’t grow up on stage. I didn’t grow up getting into an outfit for a particular occasion. I was me! I’m not going to change who I am. They told me what to wear but I didn’t have to create my brand, I am my brand. I have short hair like I did when I was sixteen.”
Since watching her music videos for the first time, I have been curious how JOEY, a white woman from Sydney, Australia, adopted an R&B-influenced vocal style. “It just came naturally,” she tells me, “which is bizarre. But I’ve never given a shit about who I should be or what works, or what there’s a demand for.” A clearer picture emerges when she tells me about what she would listen to as a kid: 106.5, Love Song Dedications. JOEY utters the name of the channel in the same low, smoky way the deejay would have said it years ago. “All my friends would be on the pop channel, but I wasn’t,” she says. “So I have a little India.Arie in me, and maybe a little Lauryn Hill probably because of that.”
I ask JOEY if there is a specific audience she envisions when she’s writing her tunes.
“I just write whatever I need to get off my chest,” she says. “What do I need to talk about? What do I need to say to my ex today? (laughs).” JOEY has attracted a female-dominated following; she thinks this is due to how “emotional” her songs are – “I just put feeling back into the world.” While talking to JOEY I realize that she is truly fascinated by how people get through things in life. This is a big part of what drives her music and writing style, which is evident in her debut record, “Enough.”
In “Enough” JOEY loses herself in an unhealthy relationship; she is overcome by denial and finds herself accidentally putting the responsibility of her happiness in her partner’s hands. As the record proceeds her journey becomes evident. She becomes responsible for herself. She deals with the deep shit head-on. And in a similar fashion as Kesha’s powerhouse single, “Praying,” JOEY says “Thank You” to the person who has ultimately made her who she is today, even if they were and still are a complete asshole.
For JOEY, the therapy came through transferring feelings into tracks and connecting perfectly with the finished product. However, she explains to me that the remedy of music-making coincides with an exorbitant amount of effort. “Being independent, starting my own label and doing all these things kind of balances therapy with a little psychotic sprinkle on top.” she says, laughing. “It’s therapeutic but it’s a lot of work, a lot of people trying to stop you, trying to doubt you, trying to tell you what to think about and what not to think about. So it definitely has helped me become who I am, but it’s not all therapy.”
When JOEY gets overwhelmed by her consistent fight to see out her vision, she takes time to remember why she is doing what she’s doing. “I bring myself back to basics, you know what I mean? I’m just careful of what is influencing me and where I’m at and who I’m involving in my life,” she says. “I’m ready, I’ve designed my mentality. I think I can handle anything now because I’ve been through so much.”
JOEY’s first-ever released single, “Save Me,” is an extremely catchy song that intersects R&B-styled vocals with a pop-driven arrangement. It ended up charting internationally and provided a quick glimpse into something special that may have not been visible on The X-Factor. Her next single, “Wish I Never,” went viral with over thirty-million streams. However, through the process of releasing these two songs, it seems that JOEY had to learn to call the shots. “I had a lot of labels hitting me up and people kept telling me that I can’t put something out on my own, even the most supportive industry people,” she tells me. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t want to sign a label, I’ve just had an experience being on a show and I need to prove myself.’ That was the first example of what I’m capable of: going against everything and writing a song and getting it mixed, releasing it, getting it on the charts, and getting on the radio! I just decided then that it’s not time for a label, I just need to show them that what I am can work.”
Shortly after the release of her two singles, bigger labels started approaching JOEY. But when they arranged meetings, it was always the same outcome: “Why don’t you try pop?” So JOEY kept releasing her music independently and now she has a distribution deal with Universal, as well as her own label called GRONKEHVILLE. JOEY tells me that “it’s common knowledge that a label thinks they know best, and they’ve succeeded many times, but I know who I am and I know what will work for me.”
“Are there many difficulties being a female musician in Los Angeles?” I ask.
“I have to friend-zone every single person,” she says. “And if I had a dick I wouldn’t have to do that. It’s so annoying. It’s like, ‘Hi, I’m JOEY and I’m not going to sleep with you, how are you doing today?’ That’s quite frustrating and I’m very motivated and very driven and there are these men who are supposed to help artists and open up opportunities and they all don’t want to see a woman move quicker than them. It’s intimidating for them. I think a real guy would promote that in a woman but lots of times I just have guys that can’t handle it, they’ll be butt-hurt.”
Through all of the challenges she has faced thus far, JOEY’s mission to bring some feeling to her listeners has manifested in the city of Los Angeles. “If you numb yourself from the pain, you numb yourself from the good,” she tells me, quite earnestly.
“You don’t seem to have much trouble taking your emotions and sharing them,” I say.
“I find it empowering,” says JOEY. “I wear my troubles on my sleeve.”
Check out JOEY’s newest video for “Got Me Like”