It feels like a lifetime ago when Sydnee Carter graced the stage for the performance of her life, earning her a standing ovation from the industry’s most influential for one of the most memorable auditions in X-Factor’s history.
…a lot of things have changed – not just my age, but also my experience.Sydnee Carter
Six years later and only twenty-two years young, the prodigious singer-songwriter has established her own brand, style and identity thanks to her musical penchant, infectious personality and maturity beyond her years. Her sweet, soulful vocals are undeniably unique (think of the female version of Passenger), drifting through journeys of love, vulnerability, naivety and heartbreaks.
Sheldon Ang speaks with the cheery 2017 WAM Song of the Year recipient on her latest single ‘Haulin‘ – a catchy collaboration with Wasteland that thematically eschews the ‘being the victim’ sounds of her previous works for an upbeat and empowering narrative with a coming of age entwinement. Carter briefly takes us to a crystallised past and onto a ride that’ll inspire many to seek redemption from within. After all, life is divided into chapters – we just need to turn the page.
Sheldon: Talk to us about Haulin’. I understand you and Matt Riley (aka “Wasteland”) met at a writing camp?
Sydnee: Yes, we first met at the APRA song session in Perth. We were put together randomly. We hit it off and we really like working together. Matt sent me a message a few weeks later that he and his writing partner had some songs that they were pitching to other artists, and they really wanted me to work with them. Haulin’ was one of the tracks that they had worked on. We tweaked a few parts, and when we sang the song, we really enjoyed the vibe. It’s not what I usually do and it’s not what Matt usually do as well. It’s not out type of genre, but we really liked the way it came out. We were really proud of the end product.
Sheldon: Did you write the guitar parts as well?
Sydnee: No, the boys had everything laid out at a high level. The country sounds from the guitar was added last minute. Initially the song was more of an electronic and dance type, and then I got a message from Matt, ‘let’s put some guitar on’ and it sounded much better – and that was the changed that it needed (chuckles).
Sheldon: I can’t imagine Sydnee Carter singing a song without the guitar
Sydnee: (Chuckles) Yeah.
Sheldon: Will there be a music video to accompany the single?
Sydnee: Yeah we have several ideas for a video, and we have a lyrics video we are going to release at some stage…and we have the advantage of hitting those social media platforms now that everyone is stuck in this Covid19 situation. So when we can, we’ll definitely be jumping on it (chuckles).
Sheldon: Lyrics can be very ambiguous, with metaphors, symbolism etcetera. From a literal point of view, this song could be about a stronger person leaving behind a toxic relationship, as much as it is about independence, empowerment, self believe and taking that leap of faith? Am I correct?
Sydnee: One hundred percent! The good thing about the boys (writing collaborators with Wasteland) was that when we had an idea, we said it out loud. We’re about storytelling and we drew a lot about the independence thing. But obviously it depends on how you want other people to interpret. To us it could be more about the independence, but we also want to draw other feelings that encompass that feeling of leaving everything behind and just focus on yourself, whether it is about a toxic relationship, or sick of living in a place, for example.
Sheldon: Haulin’ along with Fall Right In are more of the high tempo tracks, something that’d you’d hear in a country music festival. Is this a coming of age kind of song for Sydnee Carter?
Sydnee: Oh yes, one hundred percent! As you can tell from my first EP, a lot of things have changed – not just my age, but also my experience. I want to give different perspective and the more mature me. I want those songs to be more empowering, as opposed to being the victim. My early tracks were more about the lovey-dovey stuff. I was feeling powerless. Now I want to be empowered about a not so good situation. So Haulin’ is about ‘I’m leaving all these behind’, but I’m also looking forward to leaving it without dwelling over things that I’m leaving. As I get older that’s how I’m looking at life – as things come you get knocked back. And now, as I’m older, I’m looking with that perspective…and when I was sixteen, I took those knock backs to heart. And now I’m older, I take it as being part of the journey.
Sheldon: And you’re only twenty-two. Fantastic!
Sydnee: Oh yeah (chuckles).
Sheldon: Can we expect more of these sorts of songs?
Sydnee: Oh yes definitely a hundred percent (chuckles).
Sheldon: I have to say, I love Plans.
Sydnee: Oh, thank you! It’s definitely one of my favorite songs that I’ve written…one with strong connection. It’s one of the songs that I was anxious to release, but I’m happy with the results with something like over eight hundred thousand streams so far, and I’m so proud of it (chuckles)!
Sheldon: This interview wouldn’t be completed if we skipped talking about that X-Factor audition. How was it like to sing in front of the like of Ronan Keating, Red Foo, Natalie and Dannie Minogue…and getting that standing ovation?
Sydnee: (Chuckles)To be honest, in the experience I have had in the last six years I’ve been doing some pretty insane stuff, and I when think of that moment, I was so naïve then. I didn’t grasp the concept that I was about to walk in front of four very influential people, a huge crowd, a TV audience in Australia and potentially to an international audience. I approached by saying, ‘I got my guitar, I do this all the time in my bedroom, I’m just gonna be singing to my aunties and my uncles…and hope for the best’. And my only memory that I had was I felt really cold at backstage. Until today, I still feel it’s so surreal and it’s one big blur.
Sheldon: I was watching the clip again last night…some may say you were nervous, but what I saw was this endearing person who may be vulnerable like most sixteen-year-olds, and that added the artistry towards the performance. So were you really nervous?
Sydnee: (Chuckles) Oh yes, I was really nervous. But if I think about it, if I were to have do the gig today (X-Factor audition) I’d probably be more nervous now. I think it’d be because I was so young and so naive. I just did as what the producers tell me. Now, I process and pick up every little detail that could go wrong. I think I had things better mentally back in the day (chuckles).
Sheldon: Was it difficult to be in the spotlight as a sixteen-year-old?
I am the exact same as I was sixteen in terms of dealing with it. I was doing high school and homework. Fridays and Saturdays I had the show, and during the week I had rehearsals. And I had Year Eleven exams to study for. People still remember me now. Some of my sisters’ friends would come and say, ‘hey you’re on X-Factor’. And there’s no reason to be ashamed; it got me to where I am now, and it makes me appreciate how much hard work goes into being a musician. So I think it worked out for the better (chuckles).
Sheldon: Of course, you should be proud of it. And look at you now, you have something like one hundred and thirty thousand monthly listeners on Spotify, and over forty thousand likes on your Facebook page.
Sydnee: (Chuckles) That’s true.
Sheldon: You’ve probably answered the question already, but how much have you evolved as a person and musically since X-Factor?
Sydnee: I’m still the same Sydnee to heart, the same girl that you saw walking on stage. I’m still as vulnerable as I was. Obviously, I’m more matured and I have a lot of life experiences since I was sixteen. My first EP is being about my now husband. Then I thought that was it, and there was nothing else to write. Now I’m twenty-two, I have a lot more to write and to dwell on. There are aspects of me that has changed and developed. But to heart I am still the same girl six years ago.
Sheldon: You have developed your own brand and identity. But was it difficult to break away from that X-Factor tag?
Sydnee: Oh yes it has taken its time (chuckles). Some people see it as a fast-tracking process, given the Perth music scene depends a lot on tour. It took a while for people from seeing me as that sixteen-year-old, covering songs from my bedroom, and it took me a while to show to the people that I do write my own music…and I do play my own guitar. I was genuine and I wasn’t looking to being just famous, as I was looking to do something that I will enjoy for the rest of my life. But it has taken a long time to get that respect from industry all over Australia. It’s a journey that has shaped and formed who I am, by making the music that I released (chuckles).
Sheldon: Are you still in touch with Ronan (Keating)?
Sydnee: Ah no…I wish (chuckles).
Sheldon: When can we expect an album or an LP, and what’s next for Sydnee Carter.
Sydnee: Yes, at the moment I’m just smashing out songs, collaborating and building a catalogue for myself. I’ve been releasing songs in bits and pieces. I have three song in the works that will be digitally mastered. We have plans to release them throughout the year, probably a little bit earlier than later because of everything that has been happening. We have lost our ability to tour. We have another single to be released in the next couple of months. So you’ll be hearing more new music in the near future.
Sheldon: Please let me know when they’re about to be released.
Sydnee: Oh definitely (chuckles).
Sheldon: Sydnee, it was a pleasure speaking with you. Just want to say, when you were on X-Factor saying you wanted to be like Ed Sheeran because you want people to recognise you just from your vocals…well I think you have the most unique singing voice….and I could listen to you singing all day and night.
Sydnee: Ah thank you so much, Sheldon. I really appreciate that. It means so much to me.