Name: Harley Edward Streten
DOB: 5 November 1991
Place of birth: Sydney, Australia
Harley, with a Grammy win under your belt, several celebrated releases, and an ever-evolving musical output, is this the place that you’ve always wanted to get to as an artist?
Definitely. I've never felt better as an artist than I do now, one hundred percent. I think the show looks and feels better than ever, I think the music feels better than ever… To me, everything feels better than it's ever been. I've put a lot of time into all the elements of my tour and my new album, Palaces, I've really taken the lead on everything, and been really involved with how it looks and feels. I think there's a lot of diversity with my music right now, and because I like a broad range of music, I’m genuinely excited about that. And that feels good.
Is there something in particular that has fostered that growth recently?
I guess I’ve just been able to be really focused on the music, and allow others to take the reins on other stuff at this time. I think Covid kind of gave me a chance to grow up a bit. When you jump off the hamster wheel, you get a bit of perspective. And I think I've got some more perspective now and I'm able to enjoy life more, but at the same time, I can have this career.
“Life experience is the biggest inspiration! And I think that if you really want to have longevity, it’s important to prioritize that.”
Is it true that at one point a couple years ago, you decided that in order to push yourself creatively, you needed to spend less time in the studio, and more time enjoying life?
Yeah, I think I used to have a real workhorse mentality where I thought that the more hours I put in, the more music I'd get done. But I realized that wasn't the case. And now more than ever, I'm prioritizing time to have those life experiences. Life experience is the biggest inspiration! And I think that if you really want to have longevity, it's important to prioritize that and make that happen. Because otherwise it's quite uninspiring to just work and work and work and work. I mean, sometimes it does work, you know, if you have enough shots, eventually something will stick but it's not really a happy existence. So I've started to put life as a priority rather than work and it's been a really positive change for me.
I think it can seem a bit counterintuitive to realize that not forcing yourself to work all the time is actually what’s best for your work. How was it for you to come to that realization?
For so long, I was forcing myself to work. And there was also this constant pressure; I felt worried about maybe becoming irrelevant, or just needing to constantly have output, like maybe it will all end tomorrow. There's a lot of people that make money off me, you know, so everyone is motivated to try and have me working more and more. I think I just was working so much that I wasn't happy. “I have this amazing job and career, and I’m not happy” — and this doesn't line up. I've been on basically a speeding train since I was 19, and it's just gotten faster and faster and faster. And then, Covid just stopped it. And it gave me an opportunity to get off, and I lived a normal life for like a year and a half. It was really one of the happiest parts of my life.
Apparently a lot of that anxiety also came from the performance part of your job.
Yeah, I mean… Look, I was abusing alcohol, I would have drinks before every show and I'd have drinks during the show, just to deal with having to get up in front of people. It got a bit bad. I came off tour and I went to a psychologist, I wanted to quit touring. I wanted to keep making music, but just not be on tour. She suggested anti-depressants, and I was quite against it at first. But I thought you know what? Fuck it, I'm gonna give it a go. And it really helped me so much. I stayed on them for like three years and it allowed me to take more control of my life in regards to performance and being in the public eye, being the center of attention, which is not something that I naturally want or desire at all.
Syd says the same thing, that she’s often questioned why she puts herself through all of that because the anxiety she gets before a performance is very crippling.
I'm not a performer either, but I've kind of learned to be over the years, and with the help of the antidepressants, it's really enabled me to be that person. I don't think I'll ever be a real performer, but it’s allowed me to embrace it. And it's really cool, I genuinely do enjoy playing shows now. It's been a long battle, but I finally feel like I'm at a place now where I'm looking forward to going back on tour. I feel confident that I'll be able to manage all that.
You also took up meditation. Has that helped level things out for you?
So after my second album, I did a bunch of trips by myself, I went to Tasmania, to Mexico, I did all these trips… Kind of like soul searching, I just wanted to be alone and just be at peace. And yeah, I learned meditation! And that's something that's just stayed with me, I still use it to this day. It’s a really great tool to be able to use.
You once said that you’re interested in capturing the feeling of doing something for the first time, that you try to recreate that in your everyday life. Is that why travel is so important to you?
Yeah, I think when I said that, it was a younger me trying to figure out how to crack the code in the brain for inspiration. I was really searching for inspiration and sometimes I wouldn’t know how to get inspired, I’d have to go to another country to find that… But now that I’m older, I think I've kind of figured it out a little more, I don't have to go to such extremes to be inspired. I also know that it's not the end of the world if I'm not feeling inspired, but I'm now able to kind of conjure it. That’s what being a professional is in the creative industry, I think, it comes down to being able to create inspiration, rather than wait for it. And I used to just wait for it.
And then get stressed out when it doesn’t happen…
Exactly, whereas now I have many techniques to get inspired. Whether it's just going on a deep dive listening to music, or finding music from friends, or doing a huge sample hunt. I’m putting time into doing these things. But honestly most of it is just not worrying so much, not having all these concerns and simply surrounding myself with people who are inspiring. I've got a lot of really inspiring friends. The other day I was speaking with Caroline Polachek and I asked her about the lyrics to one of her songs, and she said, “It’s about nothing. I just strung a bunch of words together that sound good.” (Laughs) I think that’s amazing.
Do you want to try singing?
Well, I'm not a great singer, but maybe I could make myself happy doing that, I have the tools! I'm kind of terrified of writing lyrics, you know, being vulnerable like that, but the way she explained it, that sounds fun and exciting. So I think surrounding yourself by people who you're genuinely inspired by breeds inspiration. I want to try and push boundaries musically as well as personally, because I think otherwise, what's the point?