Asta Talks Small Town Dreaming & Allowing Her Voice To ‘Shine’

Tasmania’s intriguing electro-popster Asta Binnie-Ireland – or just Asta – is starting 2017 with a BANG. She is releasing a stunning debut EP, Shine. And she’s embarking on a massive national tour.

Binnie has a poetic back story. The rising star hails from Cygnet – a boho bayside town in the Huon Valley famed for its folk music festival. She was already singing and accumulating instruments, in childhood. Initially, Asta composed folk, playing acoustic guitar. In 2012, then 17, she won triple j’s Unearthed High with the jaunty ‘My Heart Is On Fire’. It even made the triple j Hottest 100 at #50. Asta announced a singles deal with Warner in 2015. The increasingly assured singer/songwriter connected with laconic Adelaide rapper Allday (aka Tom Gaynor) for the funky dance groove ‘Dynamite’ – recalling Diana Ross, circa ‘Love Hangover’. It was also voted into triple j’s Hottest 100, landing at #47. Assisted by her new pal Allday, Asta put an acoustic spin on Whitney Houston’s ’80s jam ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’ for Like A Version.

Asta has established herself on the live circuit too, hitting festivals like Falls as early as 2013. Last year she served as the main “special guest” for Ellie Goulding – another folk-cum-electro artist – on her Australian Delirium Tour after Years & Years pulled out. In November, now independent again, she issued her current single ‘Shine’ – epitomising a modern “funk-pop” sound. But other songs on her Shine EP traverse wonky house – and trop.

Asta has long left Hobart for Sydney, but she’s still that small-town girl with big dreams.

Asta – Shine

Music Feeds: What was it like growing up in the beautifully-named Cygnet? How much music exposure did you get in a small place like that?

Asta: Yeah, well, it was such an amazing childhood – growing up in a small area. There were a lot of opportunities to be doing art and things like that – so that was really awesome, to be doing music a lot. There’d be times where as a kid I would just get up on a stage and jam (laughs). It was a really friendly community. People were really encouraging to anyone doing art and things like that. So it was really lucky to grow up there.

MF: I read that you were actually selling organic produce at a market and people would come up and talk about your music with you…

A: Ha, yeah! There was a time where I was working at a food stall that was selling groceries, which is awesome. I definitely have a love for food, that’s for sure (laughs).

MF: It’s amazing how many music journalists here came from small places. I guess we all remember music offering the promise of something exciting and an escape. Is that how you saw the pop world?

A: Yeah, I mean, I always felt excited about what was actually beyond the two streets, or one road, in Cygnet (laughs). I was always really excited about what possibilities were out there and how far I could go. I always had this dream of being this, like, pop diva, diva-esque… ’cause as a kid, you listen to all those young pop artists and you idolise them. So I think that living in a small town just made me want to dream big.

MF: It’s interesting how your sound has evolved over time. People always mention how you went from an acoustic to an electronic thing. What prompted that transition – and was it quite as arbitrary?

A: Well, I did start on acoustic guitar, ’cause that was such an easy way to just jam out and write songs. But I never knew that the song I put out [‘My Heart Is On Fire’] – which is the song that I uploaded to triple j [Unearthed] a few years ago – would do so well. I guess I didn’t think about what kind of artist I did wanna be. It was just a spontaneous thing – meeting this other person [Hobart producer Cal Young of The Scientists Of Modern Music] and doing this track, which was an acoustic guitar with a bit of, like, beats behind it. But the transition just naturally happened because, when I was starting out performing, I actually wanted to dance on stage a lot and I found the guitar to be really in the way of me interacting with people in the audience and dancing. So I stopped playing it – and then it just kind of naturally didn’t really show up in later recordings, ’cause it wasn’t such a priority to have an acoustic guitar. But I still love playing acoustic guitar. My Dad makes acoustic guitars, which is amazing. So he’s made me a guitar, which is beautiful. So I still play it, which is really nice, and write songs on it.

Asta – ‘My Heart Is On Fire’

MF: The exciting thing is that you now have your first EP, Shine. This is a real big statement release. What can you tell us about it? How do you feel this represents you artistically at this point?

A: I definitely took my time (laughs) – so it was a process. But I just wanted to wait until I felt really happy and satisfied and that the music I was doing really resonated with me. So I feel like this EP – I’m in love with all of the songs, and I have been for a while, because it was made probably six months ago now, or just over. I think the style is definitely influenced by Yeo, who produced the EP, though. He brought some funk elements to it and some electronic elements. But I think the main thing is actually just the voice – my voice is a dominant thing in the whole EP. So that was really refreshing to me as well. It was really important to me for my voice to be the main thing. So I’m really happy with it.

MF: It’s amazing how many connections you’ve made over time – especially with Allday. He’s so funny. I don’t think people know he was doing stand-up comedy before music. Is he as funny in real life as he is on Twitter? Any stories?

A: Oh, God – I can’t think of one! But, yeah, he is a really funny guy. I wish I was that funny! But I really enjoy hanging out with him. I tried to hang out with him the other day when I was in Melbourne, but I think he was too busy. But he’s a funny dude.

MF: Whose idea was it to do Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ for Like A Version? The two of you doing that together was quite radical!

A: I love classic songs, so I really wanted to do an old classic – and I just love that song by Whitney Houston. I thought, “Yeah, what the hell – I should just do it (laughs).” I asked Tom [Allday] if he would help me out on it and he said ‘yes’, which was awesome. But I wanted to make the song just feel a bit current and a bit modern. I feel like it worked – it was like, a really interesting kind of duo. It definitely [was] an opportunity to strip back a lot of things and to do something quite acoustic. It was really fun. I really enjoyed that.

Asta & Allday – ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ Whitney Houston cover for Like A Version

MF: I did wonder who your influences are because on the Unearthed site you mentioned Stevie Nicks. I can’t hear the influence at all! Who do you enjoy listening to – obviously Whitney must be in there somewhere?

A: Yeah, Whitney Houston! I guess some old classics, but some new ones as well. I love Annie Lennox, but I listen to a lot of Beyoncé. I think Beyoncé has been quite a big influence on me, especially growing up as a kid – you know, getting my first Destiny’s Child CD and listening to that at school and stealing my brother’s Walkman… Then Michael Jackson came along with that as well. I think I’ve definitely been drawn to artists that also perform – like [artists] that also have such a big performance aspect to them. I’m really drawn to [them] because I love performing.

MF: Do you like Annie Lennox’s solo stuff or the Eurythmics era?

A: I love the Eurythmics era.

MF: One of the coolest things you did was to tour with Ellie Goulding, that’s a real validation. Did you meet her? Did you even get any feedback from Ellie?

A: No, unfortunately. I mean, I was really hoping to make a point of thanking her. But with those big shows there’s not really much time in between… While you’re performing, they’re probably sleeping at the hotel. So it’s a bit hard to connect up. But she did put on an after party. That was after the Melbourne show – and it was the last show of her [international] tour, so she’d done nearly 60 shows. She was there. I don’t think I was even invited (laughs). But my band and I rocked up ’cause we still had the lanyard passes. So maybe she was upset that I’d showed up. But she was on the couch and I went over and I was like, “Thank you so much for having me.” She just seemed really tired. I didn’t really want to annoy her or anything, so I just let her be. But, yeah, it’s amazing to be asked to support an artist like that, but also [to] be bumped up to main support – which was a lot of pressure. It’s pretty awesome. I guess you’re right: it is kind of a validation that, like, “Okay, cool, I can do this – this is actually happening.” I dreamt of doing arenas as a kid – like big shows. I’m like, “Oh my God, this is actually happening – this dream is no longer a dream, it is reality and I’m doing it.” It’s pretty awesome, but very lucky. Those things come across more as luck than anything.

MF: Is there an album in the works?

A: I really don’t know. I could possibly do another EP – I feel like it’s a really nice and quick way of getting music out (laughs). But I am definitely writing again in March after the tour and working on something. So I guess we’ll just see if that turns into an album or another EP!

MF: Well, that leads into the very last question – about the tour. It sounds like you’re hitting the road with the band. Have you even got your costumes ready?

A: Yeah, I’m actually having a meeting with my stylist next week, so we gotta pick out some killer outfits – definitely. But I’m really excited. I’ve gotta get the gold on, I’ve gotta get my shine on. So I’m really looking forward to it.

Asta’s ‘Shine’ EP is out Friday, 17th February, the same day her national tour kicks off! Catch dates and details here. 

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