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Up-And-Coming Aotearoa Artists: Alayna

In this new Rolling Stone AU/NZ series, we get to know Alayna, a rising Aotearoa artist looking to impress in 2023 and beyond




In this new Rolling Stone AU/NZ series, we take a look at some rising Aotearoa artists who are looking to impress in 2023 and beyond. It may still be an uncertain time for the Kiwi music industry at large, but exciting new artists like those included in this series keep on emerging.

Growing up in Rotorua, Alayna found her voice when she was just six-years-old with some help from parents who had a deep appreciation for the classics. 

She credits her dad for showing her greats like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, and Eva Cassidy, and it was those distinctive voices that subconsciously shaped her love of personal songwriting.

Within a few years, Alayna found herself playing songs at talent quests and performing at friend’s weddings. She studied music for four years after high school, before her eagerness to explore the world really took hold. 

She moved to New York and later flew out to Los Angeles to work with none other than eight-time Grammy winner FINNEAS. Alongside Billie Eilish’s famous big brother, she was given invaluable insight into top-level production. 

This can all be heard in her beautifully contemporary compositions, with her songs weaving tenderly between pure pop and silky R&B. Whatever the genre, it’s Alayna’s delicate vocals that truly stand out, carrying the weighty emotional core of her songs to higher heights.

One of her biggest strengths is delivering powerful yet delicate songs, allowing her fans to understand her more and learn from her experiences.

The latest example is “Buckle In Baby”, a heartfelt ballad that finds Alayna bravely gazing inward. “This song is speaking to my depression, my numbness, my feelings of being a passenger or observer in my life rather than being the driver,” she revealed about her new single.

After the release of “Buckle In Baby”, Rolling Stone AU/NZ caught up with Alayna to find out what she gained from working with industry heavyweights, the people that have shaped her career so far, and why her next release will be unlike anything we’ve heard from her before.

Alayna’s “Buckle In Baby” is out now. 

Rolling Stone AU/NZ: How did music play a part in your early life?

Alayna: My dad was in an Irish band and my mum loved music, so I struggle to pinpoint my first memory as it just seemed to be in the fabric of our household. 

I do remember our summer family road trips, drowsy in the back of the van listening to Van Morrison in particular, so now whenever I listen to him I’m transported back to that time with my family.

I took every opportunity to sing and keep learning. My singular obsession was with Paramore when I was a teenager – I adored Hayley Williams and that’s when I became fascinated with my voice and how much I could push it to its limits. 

When did you first discover your talent and what steps did you take to pursue a career in music?

I sang throughout my childhood and early teens, but it wasn’t until I wrote my first song at about 16 that I realised making my own music was exactly what I wanted to do. It was for ‘Play It Strange’, a songwriting competition founded by Mike Chunn from Split Enz, where I was able to record my song in a professional recording studio.

After high school I studied music for four years and during that time I intently focused on soaking up as much as I could to begin shaping myself as an artist, songwriter, and vocalist. 

I then moved to New York to see what it could teach me both personally and musically, and in 2017 I finally began to release my own music. Over a decade later, I feel the same curiosity, the same absolute need to keep writing what’s in my heart.

Who have you had supporting you as you embark on your career in music? 

My family and friends have been the most loyal and dedicated supporters. I genuinely don’t know if I would still be doing this without them. Having people in your corner that you can lean on is vital to longevity in this career as well as for your general wellbeing. 

When you’re an artist and the music you’re making reflects your life, it can be hard to separate your self worth from your creative output. It’s the people that love you and remind you who you are when you can’t remember yourself, the people that you can rest up against on the journey that are the true heavy lifters.

Everyone wants to ride the highs, of course, but it’s the people that are there in the inevitable lows and the quiet moments that I feel most appreciative of.

What does music mean to you? 

My music just sounds like my heart and where I am at in the time I write a particular song. The songwriting and the voice always takes centre stage, so I find it’s a balance of influence from the rich songwriters I grew up on, my love for R&B and soul, and showcasing my instrument, which is my voice. 

What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome to find success as an artist in New Zealand? 

My relationship with success has definitely evolved over the years, because I’ve realised I will never feel that true satisfaction as the goalposts keep moving. 

My biggest challenge will always be myself and my self doubt, so I have to keep re-centering myself and reminding myself I am capable. Success now just looks like finding the balance in life and with my music. To write because I need to, to share it because I want to, and to be able to have people enjoy this journey with me.

How did it feel for Sweet Soul to be received so well?

I found it to be incredibly validating and more than anything it enabled me to believe  that this was a career that I could pursue. 

The Sweet Soul EP opened a lot of doors for me with new relationships and collaborators, and it enabled me to independently fund and release my second EP, Tender, which I was really proud of. 

I am so grateful for those songs as a lot of them I wrote while studying music years before their release, so to see them now connected with people around the world blows my mind.

From that record, “Falling Autumn” garnered a lot of positive attention, even being played by BBC Radio 1. How did that come to be? 

I wrote “Falling Autumn” with my good friend and longtime collaborator Noema Te Hau before I moved to New York in 2016. I was dreaming up a life that I wished to see and a love that I wanted to feel. 

I was later introduced to Astronomyy via Chad Hillard (head of my label at the time) whose production elevated the song even more, and it just seemed like the planets aligned for that to be my introduction to the world. 

I get a lot of messages from people about what that song means to them and their story, and I love that it’s taken on a life of its own in other people’s world. I think that’s my favourite part when I release music – it’s no longer mine and it becomes someone else’s. It will always be special as my first song and I’m grateful for the people involved and the listeners it reached.

How was it working with FINNEAS on “Between Dusk and Dawn”?

I was living in New York at the time and in the middle of finishing up my EP in 2017, and Chad connected me with Finneas when I flew out to LA for some writing sessions. 

It will forever be a special session to me because it was the first time I let my guard down in the songwriting room and felt safe enough to be completely honest about some really personal things going on in my life. I realised that the closer to my core the song came from, the freer I felt. I learned a lot from Finneas that day, and I will always be a fan of him and his artistry. 

What can we expect from your debut full-length album?

I’ve written a lot about relationships with others in my music before, but this is the first time I’ve really looked at myself in the mirror and written about my relationship with myself. 

The whole process has been the most confronting, rewarding, terrifying, and difficult experience but that was always the point, to keep digging. 

I’ve had a kind of unravelling in my songwriting over the years. My first two EPs leaned into R&B, but with my new music I feel myself coming home to my love of songwriting more than anything – stripping away everything and focusing on the voice and the lyrics. 

This album has been a dream of mine for a long time and it feels like my most personal and honest work I’ve ever done. It’s more melancholic, but the truth is that’s just how I’ve been feeling – I hope it can comfort someone else who needs to hear it, too. 

What can we expect from you in 2023? 

My album release, a tour and shows both in New Zealand and elsewhere. I mostly just want to let the music free and see what happens. What is life after you’ve finished your debut album? I’d love to find out. 

How can we see more from you (socials) and listen to your music?

You can stream my music on any music streaming platform, and you can follow me on Instagram and TikTok! I also share things on my Tender Hearts Club blog.