Wafia chats about returning to St. Stephen’s Uniting Church for the Sydney Festival

Ahead of her show at St. Stephen’s Uniting Church as part of this year’s Sydney Festival, the AU catches up with Wafia. With new material on the way following on from a successful year of music and shows in front of consistently growing crowds around the country, Wafia stares down the barrel of another huge year of exposure and inspiration. Larry talks with the songwriter about her new album and how she anticipates her upcoming Sydney show.

We’re here to talk about the Sydney Festival, quite a big show coming up for you! Have you performed in an environment like this before?

This particular church – this exact one – I sung at maybe three years ago, with Vancouver Sleep Clinic when they supported Daughter; that was probably my first show outside of Brisbane. Even though I was just helping them with a song, I was always like, “I want to come back to this church and perform here, because I am genuinely having the most amazing experience”. To come back for it has brought it full circle, in a very corny way.

How are you preparing for it; it sounds like you’re going to be doing quite a different set up than what you normally do?

We’ve been pretty much taking the songs back to the original way they were written which was on the piano, in all its simplicity. Some of the songs weren’t written that way, but having to take them into that realm has been really interesting. We’ve been arranging a lot and we’re also bringing out my good friend and co-writer Ben Abraham, from Melbourne; he’s the guy who I’ve been writing most of my new music with. It’s going to be really fun to test the waters with the new songs.

No pressure in that environment, of course!

Actually, there is no pressure because the songs can be simple. I think that if it was a proper, full blown show, I wouldn’t be playing all these new songs because there’d be too much pressure on the production which, in this case, isn’t ready yet, but the songwriting is. I guess it’s just fun to be like, “These are the songs I’ve written over this time and I’m just excited to share them with people.” There’s a lot less pressure, than if I was to debut a bunch of new songs with production – I wouldn’t be doing that.

May this be how you want to do things, moving forward, at least for the next few months while you’re road-testing new material?

I’m not sure – I’m not doing many shows after this one, for now. I have to go actually finish the next body of work. I would really love to because, even though I’m not Christian, I started singing in churches. It feels right, it feels like I’m going home or something. It feels comfortable to me. I really would love, eventually, to do a tour in churches or something like that, but we’ll see.

You mentioned that your song-writing starts on a piano; how far back does your piano playing go? Were you someone who got lessons when you were really young, or was it something you picked up later in life?

I got lessons sporadically growing up but it never stuck. I’m only good enough to song-write. I’m pushed to find different melodies in sounds that I’m way too familiar with, it pushes me to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. My song-writing on piano actually happens with other people who are better than me these days, and that’s okay. I do really enjoy it when I can describe a feeling and that person can share that feeling and then we’re able to write a song about the middle ground of that; something that we’re both familiar with and know.

It’s that great opportunity for you to leverage off the talents of others to expand upon your own and highlight what you want, as well.

These two people who I’m doing the show with, I don’t think people know how involved they are in what they do. I think a lot of people see the name ‘Ta-ku’ and I do work a lot with him, but in all of my projects with Ta-ku, I bring on Ben Abraham. I wrote “Heartburn” with Ben before we took it to Ta-ku but randomly, we all met on the same day in Melbourne, by strange coincidence. It’s really cool for me to finally be like, “Hey! These are the people I work with that maybe, you don’t really know the names of as much, but they’re just as important to me.” I feel like that night is a bit about that.

So what can we expect from the new material? For fans of the music that you’ve released so far, how do you feel your song-writing has been developing with Ben and with the new material that we’ll be hearing at the Sydney Festival show?

I think it covers a lot more ground. I think I’ve become a lot more confident in my voice and in my identity. I’m writing about topics that might people not usually go towards because it’s too abrasive or it’s too political. But I’m trying to write in a way that is still accessible because I love pop music. My new material is still so undiscovered for me, in terms of the realm of what it’s going to sound like as a finished product; I’m still tinkling away at that. The song-writing, I think there’s more optimism and there’s more darkness; I feel like there’s more of me to share and I feel like I’m comfortable with that now.

The timing couldn’t be better; we’re at a time in the world where it’s hard to avoid a mix of darkness and optimism at the same time, in everything we talk about!

I totally agree.

So the rest of the year – what’s it holding for you? You mentioned you’re not going to be performing too much, finishing the next record; that’s the trajectory you’re on for the next few months?

Yeah, so I do this show and then I go to LA next month just to finish off the next record and then I go back to do some touring as well. I’m excited. I’m working on making a live set as well; I just want it to be really, really live, with less electronic elements to it. I’m finding the right people now and making sure it’s tight. I’m looking forward to doing that, essentially. It’s always that thing with the beginning of the year, you don’t really know what the year’s going to hold. So many things depend on what I release and where I choose to go with that.

Wafia plays at the St. Stephen’s Uniting Church on January 27th. For more information about the show, head here.