Just a few years ago, when Australian soul-pop singer-songwriter Evie Irie was still in high school, it wasn’t music but sports on her mind. While she was always creative as a child, and loved crafts and music, sports gave her what she thought was the best platform to work out her extremely competitive personality.
“I was always a kid who excelled at sports and athletics,” the now-17-year-old said. “I didn’t really like school, and … my only social aspect of school was all these sports.”
Her competitive nature eventually caused her to fall out of love with sports, too. She placed so much pressure on herself and would beat herself up when she didn’t win, such that the joy eventually drained away. But as it turned out, that mindset fit right into her emerging passion.
Irie, who’s now signed to Republic Records and surrounded by industry-leading mentors—and promise—began writing songs around 12 years old, based on her older sister’s drama-filled stories. She was already playing guitar by then, but even before that, she had learned to play the French horn. She’s learned classical music and music theory.
Irie didn’t like school at all, however, so when her classmates in her grade were going on exchange programs in 2018, the 15-year-old Irie convinced her entrepreneur parents to take her to the U.S. for half a year to try to start a music career.
“I made a deal that if I kept up with my school online, that we would take it month by month and see how it went, and that’s what happened—that’s the start of it all,” she said.
She and her dad relocated to L.A. without a plan in place and without knowing anyone in the music industry. They Googled “top 10 open mic nights in L.A.,” and she sang at all of them, night after night.
“I only had 12 or so songs. I got up there with confidence, and strummed my guitar and really went for it,” she said.
One night she met a woman with a music industry contact in Nashville who suggested Irie and her dad go there to kickstart a music career.
“I was, like, ‘Huh? Nash-what?’” Irie said. “I never heard of what Nashville was before. I hadn’t even heard of what a songwriter was or what a writing room was.”
Nonetheless, Irie and her dad were on a flight to Tennessee the next day. With each step she took, she committed herself more and more to music and affirmed that it was what she wanted to do. There was never one revelatory moment, just a gradual realization.
With music, her competitive nature found a healthy outlet, which she said she got from her parents, who are businesspeople who pursue their interests.
“My parents are very ‘yes’ people … and that was just another thing ingrained in me,” she said. “If I want something, I’m just going to go for it, so I just said ‘yes’ to everything. I took the opportunities that I could, and I was grateful, and just kept on the grind.”
In 2019, on another five-week sojourn to L.A. with her dad, she found a manager in Troy Carter (who’s worked with Lady Gaga), and signed a publishing deal and a record deal with Republic. This came during the fourth of her five weeks, after taking numerous meetings. They met up at his house, where she played him some songs and talked about what she wanted to accomplish. The plan was for him to help mentor her and find her a manager. But the next day, he volunteered for the job.
At the beginning of her five-week L.A. trip, Evie Irie began writing about her own experiences rather than her sister’s. Before, she didn’t feel like she had anything valuable or interesting to write about from her own life.
“I didn’t know myself enough to write about myself,” she said.
In Nashville, she had learned a lot about the specific aspects of writing a song to which many people could connect, but not about writing deep, personal songs. But in L.A., for the first time, “I had creators and mentors that directed me to be vulnerable in that place and open up.”
She was pushed to figure out who was what and what stories she had to share.
“That’s when I started thinking, ‘What am I?’” she said. “So I went to one of these writing sessions and sort of opened up. … That was the switch, and I realized that the outcome of those songs was so personal, genuine and real. It was a connection that I’d never felt before.”
Irie said she knew she was making the right choices because of a unique quirk she’s followed for years:
“If I see butterflies anywhere, it means I’m on the right path; that I’ve chosen the right decisions,” she said. “And I saw a butterfly there. It really felt like this is what I had to be doing.”
The songs that she would end up recording turned into her debut EP, the aptly titled 5 Weeks in LA.
Since then, she’s performed in front of large audiences for the first time: with Sigrid in the U.K. and with Bastille across Australia earlier this year.
A follow-up EP is already in the works for this fall, and Irie has released two singles from it, the glitchy “Over Him,” about needing to escape a relationship; and “Worst Enemy,” a piano ballad accentuated with hip-hop percussion. The latter song is about facing off against personal demons, which include spawn from her competitiveness.
“My inner demons have very much to do with not being good enough, or not being the best. … Wanting to strive to be good enough or make people proud,” she said. “It’s not something I open up to a lot of people about. But in this writing session I felt so comfortable and let everything out. … The chorus is very literal. ‘I think too much/ I need human touch/ Now I don’t know what I need.’ The indecisiveness, the need to be around people, the need to be loved.”
Irie said that the newer material is more cohesive and planned out than her debut, and that her writing process has also changed as she’s grown as an artist and experienced more of life.
“I think my voice has become much stronger, not only literally, but lyrically—my pen,” she said.
Besides music, she’s also still working to finish her education online, now joined by many other students worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s sheltered with her parents and sisters at her childhood home in a beachside a couple of hours outside of Sydney—but can’t take advantage of the beach since its wintertime in Australia.
Her days have consisted of playing guitar, redecorating her room and relaxing—the opposite of her grind in Los Angeles or Nashville. She’s been going on runs but wanted her parents to get a treadmill for the garage so she could sing while running and build up her vocal endurance—“for when I go back and get to finally play live again.”
Evie Irie is growing more confident in her own musical abilities, and she’s never lost her competitive streak. It’s been years since she’s played a French horn, she said that given some lead time, she could pick it back up again quickly.
“If you give me a French horn and a month, yes, I’m very certain I could play it,” she said. “If you give me any instrument and a month, I am very certain I could play it.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.