Starling, London-based singer /songwriter, describes herself as a ‘real girl in an unreal world’. To us, she’s the epitome of the Stay Sunny Chicago Girl: gutsy, determined, and destined for great things. Signed by record company Communion (set up by Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett) in 2015, Starling has quickly gained recognition for her songs and music, described as emanating a strangely ‘dark warmth’. She’s not afraid to explore the bleaker side of the human condition in her lyrics. When we caught up with her she was just back from New York where she has been working on some exciting new projects.
As a young child what or who did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an actress as I wasn't very confident as a kid so thought they were really brave and cool. With good actors you feel like you know them, that they are somehow your friend because you relate to their story.
You started out with covers of Joni Mitchell and Bill Withers. When and why did you decide to become a singer/songwriter yourself?
I didn't really decide. I mean, I guess I did - as soon as I got over myself. I never thought I could sing, I was always too nervous; I thought my voice would shake so I didn't sing in public for the first time until four years ago. I have no musical training but I always loved singing in the shower and stuff and so when I got offered a slot in an open mic night in Soho I decided to go and that’s when I sung covers of my favourite artists. The voice didn't shake too much so I decided to follow my heart and various events followed on. I met my now manager in the bar where I worked and also Henry Binns of zero7. I wrote my first song 'take it down' with him and he produced the record. On one hand it just happened but on the other hand I worked hard: on songwriting and my voice and on loosening the grip of my fears.
What was the inspiration for the first song you ever wrote?
My parents’ divorce. I came across the paperwork when I was a kid, before they announced it and I was sad to the core.
Who gave you the support to keep writing in the beginning?
My manager, Alex Martin. He put me in loads of sessions and told me 'you know what you want and you know who you are'. The thing was I didn't but that kept me positive until I did.
Which of your songs did you have the most trouble writing? And why?
I have a few stories for you but it won't make sense as they are not coming out until the next ep. In short, the expression that ‘art is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration’ is true. You get so inspired and buzzed at first with melody and concept and a few cool words you want to say but then the rest is like a puzzle and it’s working out how best to frame it.
Depression, solitude and a cathartic approach to writing form the lyrical basis to your work – is there a sunny side to Starling?
For sure. Like everyone I'm a million different people - and in this second ep 'the body' you will see the freedom and carelessness, I guess I’m just not afraid of my shadow hence why the debut was dark. I was giving myself the permission to sing the pain but now that’s passed through I’m in quite a bright place.
What famous musicians have you learned from? Which do you most admire?
I watch a lot of Bowie interviews. He's a clever man. Also Prince has inspired me so much. Not afraid to push boundaries take risks and basically be an inspiration to the world - to be free with identity, gender and sexuality. I love how they constantly evolved musically as well as visually, there is nothing contrived or generic about them. Rest in peace.
What’s the advice you live by?
I have a lot of quotes in my mind. I’m a bit obsessed with quotes on Instagram but it can all be bit much. Basically without sounding morbid as hell, I just think about my funeral and what I would like people to remember me by. Life is so short that I try to remind myself to have the best life possible as there really is no dress rehearsal. So cut the small stuff and focus on what you love.
Have you had any crazy fan encounters?
Not in person but you should see the private messages I get on my fan page, wow. Some guys write telling me their relationship issues and if I could help them out. The detail is gross, honestly
What next for Starling?
I really am excited for this year. Releasing this second ep over the next few months, then my third ep after that and then my debut album next year. I love singing more than anything in the world I can't tell you. So this dream now being my job is blowing me away!
What’s your message to the Stay Sunny girls out there who have a dream they want to follow?
You will get the break before you break. So keep going... and don't listen to your doubt, listen to your heart.