The gay musician on his bid to represent Australia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Were you approached to enter the ‘Eurovision – Australia Decides’ selection?
Well, I submitted a few songs to the open submission and mine was shortlisted as one of the ten finalists, but originally they were going to give my song to someone else. I think Tania Doko had the same situation, as she’s now a songwriter based in Sweden and she was only just asked to be in it. When they asked me to be in it, it was a no brainer. It’s my song, I wrote it, and I’m so connected to it.
I wouldn’t say I was a fan growing up, not because I didn’t like it, but because I didn’t understand it. But I was always aware of it because of my grandfather who was very patriotic and always wanted to follow how the Italians were doing. It wasn’t until Australia became an entrant and I moved into the gay bubble in Sydney that I realised that it’s kinda cool and got patriotic myself. But then when Dami performed I was like “they should pay attention to us, because we’re pretty bloody good!” It’s like gay Olympics!
Have any Eurovision songs (aside from Dami Im’s) really stood out to you?
“Heroes” by Måns Zelmerlöw (Sweden 2015) is really cool song. The performance is also really cool with all of those screens and the way he interacts with it. I’ve also been watching that back a few times because we’ve got similar lighting concepts. Conchita (Austria 2016) was amazing and that created headlines all across the world and of course, Toy (Israel 2018).
Your song “To Myself” is a very introspective track which discusses, as RuPaul would call it, ‘your inner saboteur’. Can you tell us what the song means to you?
I originally submitted songs [I had already written] but then I said to the producer I work with, Audius, “why don’t we write a song specifically for this.” At the time I was in a very reflective state and thinking back to when I was a teenager and how I felt at the time compared to how I feel now and it became like a letter to my teenage self. I guess the song is about empowering people to own their identity and who they are. I still remember the day I realised that being gay was one of my biggest strengths – I always thought it was a negative attribute, but the day I realised it wasn’t was the day I really started living my life.
Your song is a bit of a belter – what can we expect from the live performance?
We’ve been working really closely with the director and the lighting is going to be a big thing with mine. The lighting designer has said that mine is probably the most intense, it’s pretty cool what they’ve come up with. The song is quite intimate at times, so I think we need to give it the respect it deserves in those sections, and the audience will also be involved in the performance which they won’t know until the day. Vocally it’s a big challenge, because silly me wrote a song in my absolute peak, so I’m going to need to rest my voice for the next couple of weeks.
Many artists stay in the closet due to fear of what being out might do to their careers. Has it been difficult being openly gay throughout your career?
Not at all, unless I’ve been oblivious to things, but I’ve found it quite easy and empowering. I love it. I love doing what I do and writing music about real stories, about being gay, about guys, I loved my first song “If They Only Knew”. It was about a guy, and I say ‘he’ and it felt so great to do that. That video has had almost 2.5 million views on YouTube and I always read comments from these kids who are going through something similar to that story and it’s so nice. It’s like nobody cares anymore. Obviously there are people out there who still like to ruin it for everyone, but I think generally Australia’s in a really good place. I think that the marriage equality vote has really changed a lot. It was rough but things really came alive during those months.
Eurovision has always been at least a somewhat queer event, and appropriately three of the ten acts in the Australian Eurovision selection are queer – but still so diverse.
That’s right! And I think that’s great! I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do. Courtney Act is probably going to be so colourful in her performance and Electric Fields’ song I love so much – I can’t wait to see what they do on stage.
Do you have any advice for younger artists following in your footsteps?
Have a thick skin, this music industry is tough! [laughs]. I think you really need to have faith in who you are. You look at the biggest artists like Lady Gaga and they’ve got this obvious identity and they know and love who they are. I think you’ve gotta be okay with that first.
What’s next after your Eurovision adventure? Do you have a new single ready to go?
Yeah, it’s a really special song, it’s a fun cool, clever pop sound – which I know sounds like Spotify playlist! [laughs]. I actually had a battle for this song because I wrote it in the States with some incredible writers and they didn’t initially want to release it to us! They write for some big names like Ariana and Kelly Clarkson and they wanted to pitch the song to their people, which is cool. I’m excited that now finally this song is going to come out. But after that, we have another song ready to go too! This year will hopefully be a busy one.
‘Eurovision – Australia Decides’ will air on Saturday 9 February at 8.30pm AEDT on SBS.