Starley’s breakout hit “Call On Me” — an uplifting pep talk to herself that she wrote at a low point in her life — serves as an appealing introduction to this Australian singer-songwriter. Her potent sound is a mix of warm indie folk and dynamic dance-pop powered by her affecting melodies, emotionally resonant lyrics, and soulful, gutsy voice that makes each song sound intimate and vital. Not surprisingly, “Call On Me” is resonating with fans around the world, having racked up over 150 million Spotify plays (between the original acoustic-driven version and a remix by Melbourne DJ Ryan Riback) by the start of 2017. It has cracked the charts in several countries including the U.S. where it’s climbing Billboard’s Hot AC chart. “I think ‘Call On Me’ is connecting with people because the lyrics and message are quite hopeful and genuine,” Starley says. “And having such a deep, heartfelt sentiment over the intensity of Ryan’s high-energy dance production, I just think it works.”
But “Call On Me” almost didn’t happen. The song was written at a time when she nearly gave up on making music altogether five several years working as a London-based songwriter-for-hire. Though she landed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV UK and collaborated with a wide range of producers and writers in Britain, Sweden, and the U.S., including MNEK, Labrinth, and P Money to name a few, placing cuts with major artists eluded her. Heartbroken and out of money, Starley returned home to live with her family.
“I went through a slight period of depression,” she recalls. “I had worked so hard for so long and I just felt everyone around me thought I was a loser. I didn’t understand why God put it in my heart to have this burning desire to want to do something that actually wasn’t meant for me. I was going to quit and focus on being a personal trainer. Then I wrote ‘Call on Me’ in my bedroom in my parents’ house and it felt really special. I sent it to a bunch of friends who were producers. One of them put guitar on it and when I got it back and played it in my car, I cried my eyes out. Because I realized that it was meant to be me the whole time. I was meant to be representing myself and singing my own songs. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to do this, I’m going to give it one last shot.’ The song is about encouraging myself to follow my intuition and essentially call on myself. I’m really an optimistic person. My surname is Hope. I’ve always been that way.”
It was optimism that led Starley to pursue a career in music from a young age. She grew up in a musical family, her Australian mother was a lounge singer who listened to the Carpenters, and her Mauritian father, who owned a blinds company, favored George Benson and his native Séga music. One of Starley’s earliest musical memories is watching the Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba over and over and falling in love with his music. She was also enamored with TLC, Kylie Minogue, and Mariah Carey, whom she cites as a major influence. “I was good at creative writing and I knew I loved to sing, so I naturally decided to put those two together and write music,” she says. “I knew Mariah wrote her own songs, so I thought if I wanted to be a singer, I should do the same.”
When Starley was 14, she recorded a three-song demo and began to attract attention from managers. From the age of 15, she had classical vocal training, and at 17 was offered a deal by a small record label in Australia. “This guy said I would have to lose weight and straighten my hair if I was going to do a deal with them,” she recalls. “I was probably the same size as I am now. They wanted me, as a mixed-race person, to have a certain look so I could appeal to Australian people. So I decided when I was older, I was going to save up my money and go to the UK where there were more people like me.”
Starley wound up spending five years based in London, which she describes as a crash course in finding out how tough the industry can be. “I took all my own A&R meetings where they’d listen for ten seconds to something I’d been working on for weeks and say, ‘No, next,’” she says. Opportunities would arise, like the time she was flown out to Los Angeles to write a song for the winner of The X Factor, but the artist was dropped before the song came out. Another meeting with a well-known music manager in Los Angeles ended in disappointment when the manager told her how talented he thought she was, but that he couldn’t sign her without a guarantee that he’d recoup his investment in her career. “Things like that happened all the time,” she says. “It was a really harsh reality.”
Discouraged and feeling as if she had the wrong people around her, Starley ended relationships with both her manager and her long-term romantic partner and retreated to Australia, which is when “Call On Me” appeared in her consciousness. The song has opened many doors for Starley, including resurrecting her desire to be an artist and leading her to a deal with indie-dance label Central Station Records. She hooked her up with Australian production duo Odd Mob with whom she scored the multi-week No. 1 ARIA Club track “Into You.” Now signed to Epic Records, Starley is writing songs for her debut album.
“I’m working in my bedroom writing music the same way I wrote ‘Call on Me,’ which is helping me tap into the same emotions I was feeling back then,” Starley says. “Because ‘Call on Me’ is only one small fragment of everything that was happening to me during that time. It was very intense, so I’m drawing on my life and I want to include more of those stories. I hope they will help people feel uplifted, encouraged, and hopeful. I want to make sure my message is really clear and true to who I am as a person.”