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.
As a young girl growing up in Wellington, Wallace Gollan dreamed of being a star on Broadway. She could sing she could dance, but in her teenage years she found one problem – acting just didn’t come as naturally.
Undeterred, she pivoted to jazz and began studying some of the most esteemed vocalists in the genre, such as Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day and Carmen McRae.
She didn’t realise at the time, but the educational work she was doing mimicking the riffs, trills, and tones of those greats eventually gave her a distinctive edge to her voice just like them.
Since releasing her first single back in 2015, “Vinyl Skip”, she’s developed a soulful sense of self under the moniker Wallace.
Her initial songwriting had huge literary inspiration, with the singer-songwriter even once penning a song all about Miss Havisham from Great Expectations.
These days, though, Wallace prefers to dig deep into the hearts of her listeners by sharing her innermost personal moments from her life, talking about heartbreak in “Orchid Care”, loss in “Every Stroke”, and the unsettling meeting of love and homesickness in “Pantone Home” and “Ae Fond Kiss”.
In the below interview, Wallace tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ about how her love of singing evolved, how she pushes herself to create in times of uncertainty, and the poignant meaning behind one of her most popular songs.
When did you first discover your passion for music?
I’ve been singing since I can remember, my dad brought me up on a healthy dose of blues and soul and my favourite movies where all old musicials like Singin’ in the Rain and Summer Stock. I made the natural progression from a Judy Garland obsession to a jazz one around 13, and dove in head first.
Even though I’ve been singing for most of my life I only started writing my own music with encouragement from friends about eight years ago and have found it so rewarding, although I still do some sneaky jazz gigs to keep my hand in.
What made you want to do something with your voice as a career?
In my first year at primary school I was cast in the school play. It was a big role for a little girl who couldn’t read yet but I learnt all my lines and songs by rabbiting them back to my parents and I think they could see straight away how much I loved being on stage.
After encouragement from my school teachers I started going to singing lessons and doing musical theatre in Wellington. I honestly can’t remember a time when this hasn’t been what I wanted to do, I’ve had blinkers on from age five.
What did you do when you realised you wanted to properly pursue music as a career?
I moved to Sydney in my early 20s and began to sing a lot more neo-soul and R&B, doing mainly covers gigs around town, and eventually friends encouraged me to start writing.
I wrote my first song and the rush I felt performing it was amazing. I continued to write, putting a steady stream of singles out each year.
What are some of your favourite career moments so far?
I think the one that felt the most exciting was the release of “Raffled Roses”. I had my first headline gig that same day at an awesome little venue on Oxford Street in Sydney. We sold it out and the vibe was electric.
Another huge moment for me was getting played by Gilles Peterson on his BBC 6 show – he’s a tastemaker, DJ, and record label owner I’d been following for years.
Which artists do you look to now for inspiration?
I’m obsessed with documentaries and if I’m lacking inspiration I’ll chuck one on and it never fails to get me back on track. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about a musician, I often turn to the documentaries about Bill Cunningham, Diana Vreeland or even Michael Jordan (I think I’ve seen The Last Dance four times now). In those moments I just need to see passion and resilience.
This industry is so tough, there’s lots of times where it feels like you’re pushing things uphill. It’s important to re-centre yourself and remind yourself how incredible it feels when you’re on stage or someone tells you which of your tunes is their favourite.
How important do you think it is for artists in Aotearoa to be supportive of one another? Are there any particular artists who’ve supported you?
It’s so important! This can be such a lonely artform and support from mentors and peers is so necessary to build confidence.
I got to support Mara TK (Electric Wire Hustle) in Sydney a few years back which was very special, he invited me to sing a song with him during his radio interviews to promote the show and it meant so much to me. I was fan-girling hard!
Also, Jordan Rakei added my song “Neverland” to his playlist “Vibes” just before asking me to be the main support on his Australian tour. He’s such a beautiful artist and human.
You released “Orchid Care” last year – it’s incredibly beautiful, really showing off your range and ability. What did that song mean to you?
That one is about a relationship that never got a chance to get off the ground. We had terrible timing and an Orchid he gifted me was the casualty. Watching it slowly die was such an intense metaphor for the relationship and was calling out to be turned into something. It deserved an afterlife.
You’re also an extremely talented painter – are there any ways your music and art cross over? How do they from each other in terms of expressing your creativity?
I’m a very visual person and have always loved marrying the two together. I started making my own posters and assets back in 2015 and have since turned graphic design into my side hustle, creating work for a bunch of musicians and small businesses. With social media playing such a huge part in a musician’s life now, it’s great to be able to rustle something up at the last minute.
What growth do you think you have made since your first release?
I’m less phased by the ups and downs of the industry for sure. I’m feeling settled and excited about a new phase here in New Zealand.
What can people expect from you this year?
I’m hoping to record an EP this year with my band. I generally work with producers so I’m really excited about getting in the studio and creating something a little different sonically.
I’m also doing my most ambitious show to date on February 28th as part of the New Zealand Fringe Festival (tickets available here). I’m collaborating with More Than Moves, a Wellington-based dance collective and projecting some of my designs animated and brought to life by Sabrina Lawson. So pumped to bring my love of dance, design and music together. I’m hoping to get the dancers to join me at more and more shows this year.
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