It’s quite remarkable to think Isaiah Firebrace has only been in the public psyche for just shy of five years.
From blitzing The X-Factor in 2016, to performing on the global stage at Eurovision – opening up a whole new legion of fans in the comp’s home continent who gravitated to his voice & charm – Isaiah is a massive statistical success, currently the most streamed First Nations male in Australian history, with just shy of three hundred and seventy million spins across his catalogue.
That doesn’t mean he feels successful. To chat about what defines that word for him, the mood of the music that’s on the way and the children’s book he’s writing – The Purple Platypus – Nic Kelly is in Bold, Isaiah is in not-bold.
How’s your brain at the moment?
I just can’t believe that I finally have another song out! It took a little while but I love it.
Working with DNA is always gonna bring out a banger isn’t it.
Yeah, DNA are great. I mean, like, obviously they’re just top class at what they do and working with them is always great – like – we’ve got so much chemistry in the studio now. I don’t go in there feeling like it’s work if you know what I mean. It’s very much a creative space and they’re great guys and it’s like my third song with them, but we’ve got about five other demos as well that we’ve worked on.
What is it about like the environment they create in the studio that makes them so good?
They’re just really knowledgeable about just what’s current and fresh, I guess. We always do work on different sounds when we go in the studio, but they just bring such knowledge and experience, which is probably the biggest thing. And I learn so much from them all the time when I’m recording with them.
You’ve been streamed more than 366 million times worldwide, making you the most successful First Nations male pop act in Australian history. How does that statistic make you feel?
Definitely happy! It is hard to believe as well. Because you think like, it’s just numbers and stats, but it is amazing. And it does give me some encouragement to keep moving forward and keep releasing stuff. But sometimes it can feel like a bit subjective. Like, what is success? I guess that is the big question. But like, obviously, I’m so grateful for all of that. Success for me is continuing to be better and continuing to grow. Success is like, a forever changing thing for me.
Do you think success for you at the moment is releasing music that really feels like you and feels like you telling your own story?
Yeah, that’s a big one. Success in, like, knowing who you are and your identity and knowing your direction in music is one way to put what success means to me and I feel like with this song it’s another step forward like that. To have the stats and numbers behind it is cool.
I know this song is about feeling like you’re starting to get to know yourself better. In what ways are you starting to get to know yourself better? What are you realising about the person that you are?
Well, it’s more been about the last three years. When I went on X-Factor and did Eurovision, my whole life changed and completely went into this massive, crazy, “what the hell is going on,” type of life. And it took me the last three years to kind of take it all in and really figure out what it all meant. Especially in COVID, the isolation time has been great for me to have that reflection. We get so caught up in work. We don’t have that time to take a breath. I definitely have a better perspective on me as an artist and me as a person and what having this amazing gift and these opportunities really means and what responsibility that brings. I guess in the past, I had lost sight of, I guess, the purpose. I let my ego kind of get in the way and lost track of my artistry a little bit. I was just growing up, you know, like I was a teenager! I guess like I’m only twenty still, about to turn twenty-one, but I definitely have new perspectives, which has been a huge thing for me and spirituality and a whole bunch of other things. Isolation has been the thing that I never knew that I needed! It’s kind of like, it’s bad, but at the same time, I’m like, wow, I honestly like emotionally and mentally really needed this.
It’s been different for everyone, hasn’t it? For some people, they’ve struggled because they’ve had too much time to reflect and they’ve had too much time to sit there in their own thoughts. For other people, It’s been the space they needed. Obviously the reflection’s been good for you, but do you feel like it’s been a good time for you creatively as well? Have you been writing a lot during this time, or has it kind of more been about the reflection side of things?
It definitely has been both and I’ve obviously had a lot of time to be in the studio, jamming and mucking around and doing whatever, but this song was recorded in isolation! It was a virtual session, obviously on Zoom, with DNA and then like, there was this really cool software that we use that allowed us to virtually record my vocals from my house.
It freaks me out how far the tech has come.
Yeah, I was like, I know it’s 2020 but this is some advanced technology. And I was just like, I just hope my Wi-Fi doesn’t crash while I’m trying to lay this vocal down… It was cool that we recorded it that way and it was definitely one to remember but it was good to just be creative and pass the time, with music.
You’re also writing a book. Do you ever stop?
It’s a book! First of all, I love working with youth. I have a passion for like, education and youth and just giving some people some hope and inspiration. This book is kinda like the Ugly Duckling story? How like, you grow up feeling like you’re different and feeling like your differences make you an outsider, but then you find someone else who feels that same way and it’s just like, oh, we’ve got this in common, this actually makes us special being different. It’s a nice little message and it’s a really great read for kids and stuff and it’s a good message for all of us that our differences make us special. I did grow up feeling out of place. A lot. There’s definitely a personal touch in there as well.
From a music perspective we’ve got Know Me Better and it’s really exciting to have a real fun song from you to kick you back into gear musically.
That’s cool that you said that. That’s why I was so excited! Because it is fun, you know. I know my voice naturally is good to sing ballads and stuff, but like, I’m fun! I love to dance! I like to party and have fun and I want to keep showing that kind of side of my music as well, and me and my personality. This song obviously is like, about a relationship, but the beat’s got that fun like, club thing to it. You know what I mean? More of that I feel, definitely.