As confessions go, particularly at the beginning of an interview, this one is impressive. Asta declares herself “a shit songwriter”, insisting, even as her publicist, sitting nearby, begins to protest, that this is incontrovertible. Why?
“I can’t make stuff up,” she says, sitting before a bowl of pasta she’s been craving, in an outfit whose colour and pattern boldness you can only envy. “I just can’t.”
While others might mine films and books, or imagined states of being, for their material, it seems whatever Asta Evelyn Binnie-Ireland, from Cygnet in Tasmania (insert your own swan reference here) writes, has to be about something, or someone, she’s seen, or done, or thought or known. Especially someone.
So, if you want to understand what’s happening in Asta’s life, it’s easy, just pay attention. Which is a bit of a problem, you might think, given her current single, the sparkling so-in-love-with-the-80s pop disco Want You To Know is about a recent amour fou, and the chap in question isn’t aware it’s about him.
“I know the song says I want you to know, but I don’t really want him to know,” she says, cheerfully explaining that there was something worryingly right about their connection. Right, but not right now. Not when she’s got a career on the fast burn.
“I met him once and it was intense, but not fixed.”
Confessional box is in session clearly so I take the opportunity to remind her that two years ago said she told a magazine that she didn’t go out, drink or smoke. An unlikely but nonetheless noble state of being in an industry where indulgence is the birthright.
Naturally, I now ask her if she has any vices, or is she wholesome in all ways, which earns me a most perplexed look. But that’s what you said, I point out.
“On tour,” she clarifies. “I just got back from touring and the first thing I did was go to the servo and get some ciggies. This [she points at the pasta] is the after party. I mean, there could be worse addictions.”
And, she further confesses, she should know.
“It is hard on the heart sometimes, keeping three affairs on the go all the time,” Asta explains. “I can tell myself that I don’t want to fall in love …”
Apropos nothing at all, her favourite term for knowing she’s made the right decision is when she can say “this feels great, this feels orgasmic”.
Given she’s offered all this within the first ten minutes of our conversation starting, it’s clear that Asta isn’t filtered. Or not very well anyway. But even if someone wanted to, who is going to stop her?
There’s a certainty of purpose about the singer and songwriter, who now lives in Sydney, that says something about settling on her own version of ambition. And her own version of herself that maybe has more to do with the 18-year-old whose song My Heart Is On Fire won triple j Unearthed in 2012, than you might expect.
That was the teenager who grew up a fan of Jay Kay of Jamiroquai and Eurythmics, thanks to her parents, and Destiny’s Child and Michael Jackson, thanks to the CDs she nicked from her brother’s room.
To that list you can add Kylie Minogue and Sophie Ellis Bextor, and, proudly, almost defiantly, Whitney Houston, whose I Wanna Dance With Somebody she covered for triple j’s Like A Version, and who she declares had a voice which was “so amazing, she’s unreachable”.
See a pattern there in those influences? Pop and rhythm. Tunes and dance. And a refusal to be shamed. Or constrained.
“When I won Unearthed I thought, sweet, let’s see how far this takes me. When I signed to a major [Warner, briefly] they just didn’t like the music I was making, so I left,” Asta says buoyantly. “It’s upsetting to people but I’m 25, I want to fulfil my potential, I believe in myself.”
It wasn’t so much of not taking direction as deciding that there wasn’t much point being someone else’s version of you. It’s hard enough being someone who believes in yourself as it is, without being overwhelmed by the pressure of doing it for someone else.
“People are scared, they don’t want to take risks. People don’t believe in you,” she says, adding that it’s a mood that can become infectious. “You don’t realise how much doubt you have. You feel defeated and your friends are like, ‘this is good, this is good’. It’s challenging. It’s like, well, this is me, this is who I am.”
These days who she is is single, self-managed, wholly independent, living on her own, and bolder.
“I can literally do whatever I want. When I had management I wasn’t taking those risks.”
The risk/reward of her decisions came in for a potential reality check recently as she watched up close the international success of her friends, Cosmo’s Midnight, while on tour as their guest vocalist.
Fame, but one step removed, was there every day as they played through Asia.
“It’s very humbling,” she says, but not daunting. If anything it said to her “it’s possible”. Possible to do it from Australia and out of Australia.
“It was the biggest setback for me before, thinking do I have to be in Australia forever?,” Asta says. “My dream has always been, how many places can I perform in, in the world? It was really sick to see friends of yours do that. It’s amazing.”
So for her, the reality was not disappointment or jealousy but seeing a path opened up for her as not somebody else product, but her own creation.
“It’s interesting to talk about where does this fit,” she says of her career. “I don’t know, but I know that I fit just writing a song itself.”
Want You To Know is out now on Ditto Music.