Interview: Wallace – “I’m Finally Meant To Be Doing My Own Music”

When it comes to jazz and soul in Australia, few are on the same level as future soul singer Wallace Gollan, aka Wallace onstage. With her smooth and dusty tone reminiscent of the classic voices before her, it’s a blast from the past with a modern twist that instantaneously hooks you. Ahead of her upcoming single and feature at Brisbane’s BIGSOUND conference, we managed to catch up with the New Zealand born singer to chat about her beginnings, influences, upcoming plans, and everything in between!

Just to start this off I wanted to say that I’ve been loving the singles that you’ve been putting out over the last year, especially the latest Is It You? Can you tell me a little bit about the story behind the song?

One of my friends used the word ‘vapid’ to describe a group of people. Something about that word just stuck with me, and I was like right, I’m going to write a song. It just kind of evolved into a story about some people who feel like they need to be something they’re not in order for people to love them and be validated. Hence the title, it’s really just like, is this really you?

One of your earlier tracks you did with Sampa The Great and is now actually almost a year old. Seeing her at Splendour recently though, I only just realised that you perform backup vocals for her. How’d you two link up, and how has performing with her been?

Rodriguez who does Sampa’s beats is a good friend of mine, he’s an amazing guitarist and he plays in the live band. I’ve known him for years actually, we’ve done lots of little duo gigs together and stuff. I started writing my own stuff around the end of 2014, and I ended up mentioning to him that I was really keen to get a rapper on something, and he was like ‘have you checked out my mate Sampa?’. He’d been jamming with her and he played me a couple of recordings and I was like, ‘oh my god she’s amazing!’.

My song Beauty kind of felt like there was a space for another strong female feature. She liked the track, sat down and listened to it about ten times and then just wrote something and did it in one take, which was awesome. I got to know her better, and then she released her mixtape and asked me if I wanted to do backup vocals for her, and I was like, ‘hell yeah!”. It’s just so much fun, we mainly just dance around.

It must be crazy to now be going on huge national tours, filling out tents at Splendour In The Grass, even if it is just as a backup singer.

Yeah it’s been really cool and Splendour was amazing, it was such a huge crowd and we couldn’t believe it! It’s really nice to be playing on those bigger stages, getting a feel for them. Obviously I’m really keen to be doing my own music at festivals over the Summer so it’s a really good way to feel comfortable with those kinds of audiences.

I’ve been seeing your posts on social media with you in the studio, how’s that going? Do you have an album or an EP in the works?

We really want to release an EP either at the end of this year or the start of next. I’ve been doing some collabs over the past week, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say who they’re with though, so you’ll have to wait until those little sneak peeks come about. That’s really exciting; I love doing collabs, working with different people, and I’m starting to get hit up a wee bit more to do that which is really fun.

 Yeah definitely, well I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s up your sleeves then! Just to delve into some of your past, your music obviously draws a lot from jazz, soul and neo-soul, how did those influences come about?

My Dad is music mad and he’s a great singer actually. He’s a blues man through and through, so he also plays the harmonica. I grew up on Motown, lots of soul and blues, but not so much jazz – I think Dad was a little bit cut when I started to get into that (laughs). I got into jazz when I was 13 or so, such a geeky thing to be into in your early teens but I just loved it. I couldn’t get enough of all those incredible voices, the distinct tones, so I just instantly fell in love with it.

My parents have always been super supportive of me and helped me out when I was younger, I wanted to do everything. I’m not an extrovert but I’m pretty chilled out when I get on stage. I did a lot of musical theatre when I was younger along with dancing, I just always loved being on stage, so my parents were just like, ‘cool, that’s where she belongs’

Did you get into jazz and then think, ‘you know what, I want to do that’, or did you always want to be a musician?

I guess I’ve always just known that I’ve wanted to do this. There’s hasn’t really been any stage that I haven’t thought I wanted to be a musician actually. When I first moved to Sydney about four-and-a-half years ago I started just doing cover gigs and then tried to get as many gigs as I could – which is fine and I really miss that, but I’ve realised that I’m finally meant to be doing my own music.

As you mentioned before, you grew up in Wellington and now live in Sydney, did the move give you a new perspective to your writing?

Well, I guess it has. I was only writing a little bit when I was in Wellington so it’s kind of hard to compare them. Wellington has such a big place in my heart though, I’m actually going there on the weekend and I’m so excited! I’ve even written a song about Wellington, so it is definitely a big part of me. It really made up all of my formative years, you know my first gigs and everything like that were there, so it’s a really special place.

So with everything else going on, you’re also coming up to Brisbane for this year’s BIGSOUND, how excited are you to be playing here again?

I’m really excited, I kind of felt like last year no one knew who I was. It’s pretty full on but it’ll be amazing to meet so many music industry people, people who are passionate about that side of music. I spoke to my manager and I was like, ‘right, this year we got this’ *laughs*. So I’m really excited to show everyone what I’ve been working on this year, I’m pumped!

 Sounds exciting! What kind of opportunity does BIGSOUND hold for you personally as an up and coming musician?

It’s just such an amazing space to play in front of so many people who can change things for you. Having everyone there and being able to access their knowledge I just think it’s such an amazing time. You have access to all those people that normally it’s really hard to get a minute with them. Even if it’s just saying hello, or grabbing a drink, it’s more getting to know people rather than a meeting, so it’s an amazing vibe up there.

Do you feel like the Australian music scene is quite harsh for newcomers or have you seen otherwise?

I wouldn’t say harsh, it’s definitely hard, but it’s meant to be hard. I think triple j makes it that little bit easier, and also social media is an awesome tool to build that fan base. I think things are so different now, it’s so much easier to access people who are into similar music as you. It’s definitely tough, but it should be tough *laughs*.

Returning back to your touring, what can we expect from your live show this time round, any chance of some unreleased tunes?

 Yeah, so I feel like the live show is a little bit different to the recorded stuff, firstly I dance around like a crazy person! I’ve got an incredible drummer Tully Ryan, the rhythms that he comes up with are just insane, he’s just a really creative and beautiful man. So I’ve got him and I’ve got two keyboard players Andrew Bruce and Novak Manojlovic, we all just have a blast. We’re all really good mates as well so I think it’s a really beautiful vibe on stage. We get down and dirty in some bits, and in others we get really creative, I feel like it’s quite an organic sound. Hopefully lots of people come, I want to mosh up the front! *laughs*

 Just to wrap things up, what else do you have planned for the rest of year?

 So I’ve got a video coming out really soon, we’re just locking in a premiere for it. We got the colour grade done last night and we’ve got it now, so hopefully it will be out in the next couple of weeks. That’s for Negroni Eyes, I got a grant from New Zealand to do that so I’m really excited for it.

I’ve got another song called Raffled Roses coming out too, potentially just before BIGSOUND. I’ve got my first headliner in Sydney and we’re going to launch that song then, so apart from that there’s just a few more gigs coming up around the place. So it’s going to be exciting over the year!

Wallace Live Dates

‘Raffled Roses’ Single Launch
Friday, 2nd September
Oxford Circus, Sydney

Image: Matthew Predney