Alice Skye was raised on the sounds of crackling vinyl in a town that bends with Victoria’s Wimmera River.
“We had a piano in the house my sister would play, and Mum would play Joan Armatrading records when I’d come home from school. There was always music somewhere,” the Wergaia and Wemba Wemba woman told the National Indigenous Times.
“I started playing piano when I was around five. I became so obsessed with singers who played piano — people like Missy Higgins, Regina Spektor and The Cranberries.”
Skye was raised in the western Victorian town of Horsham. It’s about 300km from Melbourne and Skye said it was a world of its own.
“It was definitely challenging to have lived in a pre- dominantly white place … the only Blackfellas I knew were my direct family,” she said. “I always made a really big deal about it in primary school. I’d always let people know I was a Blackfella.
“But, it changes when you’re in high school, that shame kicks in when you get older.”
Moving to Fitzroy and making her way as an artist, Skye now sits proudly among many other emerging First Nations musicians.
“It’s something that I dreamed of but not what I thought I would do, particularly growing up in a small town. I thought I would never be a singer — as a job, that seemed crazy,” she said.
“I still think it is crazy.
“I feel so lucky. There are so many deadly artists making so much deadly music.”
Skye said she sees her role as an Indigenous artist to write songs that talk to “people who are in similar situations”.
“That’s why I think representation across all the intersections is so important,” she said.
“Like Thelma Plum’s song Homecoming Queen, that song hits me. I think about if I had listened to that song when I was young … it is so important for young people to see themselves.
“Even Cathy Freeman, just seeing her, a Blak woman, on the TV run with the Aboriginal flag … people celebrating her. I wanted to be an Olympian because she was.”
Skye said her natural knack for storytelling was carved out of a lifetime of journaling.
“I have all my old diaries — some of them are too painful to read,” she said.
“I didn’t grow up in an environment where you communicated your feelings and I don’t think a lot of people did. It is very hard and challenging to articulate how you feel. Or to even first understand how you feel to then communicate it.
“Writing music has taught me that and so much, all those little life things. Like learning to be patient and non-judgmental of yourself.”
With Victoria bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, Skye said she had to adapt to online life.
“In the beginning the live stuff was really nice as it was a chance to connect with people. I find real-life live performing so anxiety-inducing. But, it’s also so cathartic. I miss that feeling of being in a room with other people and just playing music,” she said.
“It’s hard for me as someone who spends a lot of time in my own head, being on stage is the chance to get out of your body.
“I don’t think there is a substitute, but I think it is really important for people to have these platforms to perform and for people at home to listen.”
Skye’s last album, Friends with Feelings, was released in 2018.
Fans will get their hands on her next album next year.
“This album was recorded with my two friends that I play live shows with. This was our first time recording. I’ve known them my whole life,” she said.
“It was such beautiful process to have people in the room who care about you when you’re creating.”
Delving into the creation process again, Skye said she had an up-and-down relationship with every song she wrote.
“Usually I love the song the most when I’ve just written it and it’s just come together,” she said.
“Then you play it so much you hate it … then you release it and you love it again.”
Skye said the biggest lesson she had learnt since her last album was learning how to let things go and let things be.
“Sometimes the permanency of creating music or releasing something is scary because it’s not perfect, or it could be this or that. Trying not to get caught up on the permanency of things has been one of the biggest lessons,” she said.
By Rachael Knowles