“It's a little bit of a suit of armour in a way, but I definitely still feel it. I'm able to project it less and not let people see that I'm possibly dying inside."
Carla Wehbe has made herself known as a phenomenal talent since releasing her debut EP, Half Past Nine, in late 2020. Channelling ‘80s synth-pop music, the EP introduced the Sydney-based musician to the masses and impacted those paying attention to her music.
Last month, she appeared with Knight To E5, which was slower than we’ve heard her before, cracking into tender emotions that spill out in a massive heady chorus.
Wehbe took the song's title from the first Harry Potter film, where she was inspired by Ron sacrificing his Knight for Harry in a life-or-death moment.
"If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you might get the title reference from the first film. In the same way, Ron sacrifices his knight so Harry could win the game of wizards chess. The concept of Knight To E5 is about sacrificing your happiness or self for the happiness of someone you care about, essentially putting them before you,” she said about the track.
“It’s one of the more heartbreaking songs I’ve written, which touches on deep regret and the fear of not living your life for yourself because you’re trying to protect someone else’s happiness.”
Knight To E5 is one of five beautiful, distinct tracks from her upcoming EP, Jupiter And Mars. She utilises swelling strings, acoustic guitar and piano, with the tempo from upbeat to something more intimate and downbeat.
“This EP has been a long time coming for me. It’s cinematic, emotionally dramatic and expresses this extensional sense of longing for something, which I really wanted to express in all the songs,” Wehbe explained.
“Five years in the making, the songs were all written at very different times in my life - from the title track Jupiter And Mars, which was written five years ago, to Addicted To Self-Deprecation written as recently as late last year, it seems as though a completely different version of me wrote each song, yet somehow they all fit perfectly together.”
To celebrate this Friday’s release of Jupiter And Mars and her upcoming appearance at Vivid Festival alongside Dan Sultan, we caught up with Wehbe Zoom-ing in from the Sydney Warner Music office to learn about what she’s been up to.
“I went to a show last night and saw King Princess. She was amazing,” Wehbe says. Carla Wehbe appears in a white t-shirt and black jeans, with an awesome black cowboy hat on her head. “I’m really excited [to perform at Vivid]. I’ve only been to Vivid once, but I remember it being cool! I’m really looking forward to it. And it’ll be one of the biggest crowds I'll play to, which is really cool.”
Wehbe calls Knight To E5 a “hard one”, particularly emotionally. She wound up channelling some real-life experience into the song, but by writing it with some close friends, it was a far more comfortable song to write.
“I wrote that one with two of my best friends, so I had that comfort of sharing my own experiences. And they got it,” Wehbe explains. "And, like you said, it's a fairly relatable, general theme, I guess - at one point, we've all experienced that. And even though mine was based on a specific experience, it was still easy for my friends because they could also relate.
“I feel like it was a very easy song to write. And, yeah, we just smashed through it, really. It just kind of wrote itself.”
One of the other tracks, Introvert (With Extroverted Expectations), couldn’t be more different to the intimacy of Knight To E5. Sonically, the dramatic strings add so many layers to an already stunning pop song.
“I think, honestly, it wasn't like we were inspired to write a song like that. It was just one of those things where, you know, Robby [Desa, multi-instrumentalist, composer, engineer] was playing around with some chords, and then the melody happened,” she starts. Somehow, the song title was already in Wehbe’s head.
“And the concept, not specifically for that session, but I had thought of it before the session. And it just felt right. It didn’t feel like the other songs I've done - it didn't feel like a pop, kind of dramatic pop song. It felt more emotional. Given the content of the song, it just naturally fit in that direction.”
Speaking of the song title, how does Wehbe balance one of the most extroverted jobs you could think of with that aspect of her personality? “Well, it's definitely a learned thing that’s happened over many years,” she chuckles, and music has helped Wehbe break out of that shell.
“I was always very uncomfortable in social settings. And, you know, for a while, I just kind of avoided them, and I just wouldn't go to things,” she continues. “But I think music has actually helped me to combat that because it almost feels like I can take some of that [anxiety] when I'm on stage, that kind of thing, with me if I'm going to certain events.
“It's a little bit of a suit of armour in a way, but I definitely still feel it. I'm able to project it less and not let people see that I'm possibly dying inside [laughs]. But yeah, I just think it gets easier over time. I just learned how to get used to the situations I was previously uncomfortable in.”
Wehbe has found the ideal sweet spot in her songwriting, somewhere between pop and indie-rock music, and to get there so early in her career makes Wehbe stand out no matter what songs she releases. Her influences are as diverse as her music itself, stretching from some of the finest pop music ever made in the form of ABBA to Conan Gray.
“I think it’s a mix - I'm very inspired by a lot of the older generations of music. I listen to anything from '40s music to '60s and '80s music, but I guess my main inspirations musically were ABBA, The Beatles and Queen,” she reveals. “Currently, I love King Princess and Harry Styles. Conan Gray is really cool as well. So there's a couple in there. I love the Beach Boys as well.”
And it’s challenging to find a pop song that has a better song structure than Dancing Queen or one as shattering as The Winner Takes It All. “How good are they [ABBA]? They're just like; they are pop music. I feel like they lead the way for pop music,” Wehbe affirms, in awe that the Swedish pop superstars were going through divorces while writing The Winner Takes It All.
“For me, music is an interesting one because I don't listen to that much music. And so, when I do listen to it, it's for a specific reason or purpose,” Wehbe explains.
And yet, her music strikes the heartstrings of anyone who listens. “I try to make music that if someone didn't want to listen for a specific feeling, they can just listen and have different feelings throughout the EP. But it's not too heavy that you can't just enjoy it for what it is. I like to take people to another world, which I try to do with my music.”
On Forever Is Off The Table, also stemming from the Jupiter And Mars EP, Wehbe wrote the song with some good friends, including Xavier Dunn, at a writing camp she hosted in the Kangaroo Valley.
“It was a fairly stressful situation - I organised, curated, did the timetables, and made a schedule. There were 22 people as well, so it was a lot of work. I wasn't even prepared for my sessions in the camp,” Wehbe admits with a laugh. She was struggling to find ideas for new songs before opening the Notes app on her phone and noticing a song title she had written down: Forever Is Off The Table.
“I was like, ‘Have this; that's all I have.’ And then we just took that and ran with it. I actually wasn't sure about the song. When we first wrote it, I was a little bit undecided,” she adds. “I didn't know how it would come together because the intro is kind of a different world to the rest of the song. I didn't see how it was gonna work. It was a very low-pressure situation, which helped ease writing it.”
However, the best thing about Forever Is Off The Table is the “space cowboy” music video that inspired Wehbe’s clothing line, Space Cowboy, which is coming soon. “I've always loved space. I love horses; I have a horse. I grew up riding horses. I like things that shouldn't go together, but they kind of work, and they go together, so I think that's where that [music video] came from.”
She continues, “Also, Toy Story was one of my favourite movies growing up - you’ve got the space and the cowboy, and that sounds like it doesn’t work. They go together even though they’re completely separate ideas or concepts.”
This brings us to Space Cowboy HQ, already on Instagram but officially launching within the next few months to coincide with the Jupiter And Mars EP.
“I have a clothing label that I am bringing out called Space Cowboy; it's been in the works for a couple of years. I wanted to bring it out within the same year as this EP, so that's coming out in the next couple of months or so,” Wehbe explains.
“I've always loved fashion and clothing. I didn't know what was fashionable, but I just loved clothes. Like, I have an obsession with clothes. I have way too many clothes,” she laughs, proud that she’s finally committed to a project she’s wanted to pursue for years.
“It would actually make you sick if you saw how many clothes I own. So yeah, I've always had that interest. And I just thought, it can go hand in hand with my music – I'm just going to stick to this one," Wehbe adds. "I always come up with so many different business ideas, and I never follow through, and I was like, not this one; I'm following through. So it's finally happening!”
Carla Wehbe’s new EP, Jupiter And Mars, will be released tomorrow, 24 March. You can pre-save it here.