Christchurch, as anyone who has been in the local music industry for long well knows, has produced many of our biggest and most successful global talents. Hayley Westenra is one who comes to mind as exhibiting incredible maturity and determination to go with her precocious young talent, taking her all the way from busking on the citys streets to performing for British royalty. Their stories are not the same, but Asti-Loren Newman hails from Christchurch and at just 17 has already spent three years alone in London, training and trialling to take her own rewarding place in the world music industry. Of course it may not happen, but Asti-Loren seems the kind of girl who will ensure it does. She’s certainly not your average Kiwi shrinking violet.
Like many people, my house was very badly damaged in the Christchurch earthquake, and my school was shut for almost two months. After watching Fame the movie (the old one) I was inspired to research and find out if these types of specialised performing arts schools existed, which they did!
I then found the top five in America, the UK and Australia, put the names in the hats and drew out one! Luckily it was Susi Earnshaw Theatre School in London –– Amy Winehouse and many other notable artists and inspirations to me went through there.
Without telling anyone (not even my mum), I sent away an audition tape and CV. About two weeks later I received a phone call, saying they would like to offer me a place for a two-year course at the school. After jumping up and down at this amazing opportunity I had managed to get without any assistance, I braced myself, and told my parents. I was only 14 then. They were surprisingly very excited and supportive, and we started planning on how we were going to make this a reality and work.
The whole curriculum was so suited to me and I just knew this is something that my school at the time couldn’t offer me in order to progress. The diversity in the vocational classes taught was simply amazing, I knew I would learn so many new skills.
The school was amazing. There were only 12 in each year group/class, and 50 kids altogether in the school. We did three days a week vocational training, meaning tap, jazz, street dance, media, singing (jazz, musical theatre and pop), pop business studies and acting classes, and only two days of academic studies.
I’m from a very creative family. My mum owns a very successful hair salon in Christchurch called Yazu. When I was growing up she used to travel around the country teaching for L’Oreal, which was very cool, as I sometimes got to be her model. So really I grew up understanding and being involved in the culture of the fashion industry, which I love. My mum and her friend Jo Grams, create my photo shoots.
My dad was a hairdresser until he had a mid-life crisis, and when I was 10 he flew to the Caribbean and sailed a 42-foot catamaran back to NZ. He now resides outside Dockside and Shed 5 along the Wellington waterfront. He does sailing charters for a living, with his well-known Dalmatian Sheik! I have one younger brother called Luca, him and I are very close and similar. I would say he is one of my best friends.
My mum first realised I could sing when I was nine years old. She was doing the hair for Virginia Humphrey-Taylor who directs the Christchurch City Chorus, which is a 150-woman barbershop chorus. We were at her house and she asked me if I would sing a verse or two, so shyly I did. I asked my mum and her to turn their backs so they couldn’t see me, and I sang Somewhere Over The Rainbow!
This is how I actually got into singing. After that Virginia asked me if I would have a go at singing with the chorus. For the next four years ‘til I was 13 I was the youngest member of the Chorus, and got numerous solos and even got the chance to travel to the international competition and New York with them. This really was a huge step in my musical journey and helped develop my voice – and I had 150 mothers.
I attended Selwyn House school in Christchurch where I tried out for the choir and didn’t get in, so I then negotiated with the principal to bring barbershop into the school. We managed to put together a 15-person girls chorus! My love of barbershop continued on to St Andrews College, where I was a member of their choir, and that’s when I started to learn guitar and start writing some very basic songs of my own.
Before I headed to the UK, to start school in September 2013 I decided to put on like a leaving concert, which I completely organised myself – at 14! I rented out the Aurora Centre at Burnside High, contacted the local radio stations and was even asked to sing on them live to promote tickets for my concert. I also organised eight dancers who, danced behind me on stage as we went from Lady Gaga, to Lana del Rey, to Adele, to an acoustic part with me and my original songs.
One of the main reasons I decided to have the concert on such a large scale was I had been helping out at Woolston Primary School, and teaching the kids there singing and dancing a few times a week. I managed to raise around $900 for their music department and brought them some guitars and bits, which they were very grateful for. I had a lot of support for my concert and managed to sell around 500 tickets, which was amazing.
Now looking back, I didn’t realise how much trust my parents gave me. It was a family adventure, even my Nana came over to visit.
Surprisingly it really taught me so much, and was the most amazing experience I think I will ever have. I learnt so much about myself and the influences of the people I was around have very much impacted on my songwriting and voice. I don’t regret any minute of it, I think it hugely contributes to the person I am today.
The most challenging part I think, was obviously being away from my family, and not having mum and dad around, but Skype was good. I generally skyped them 2-3 times a day. Also missing out on growing up with my tight group of childhood girlfriends was hard, seeing them doing fun things on Facebook and growing up together.
The school work was also quite a challenge, because we were required to still keep up with the national standards. Doing three days a week vocational meant we had three days of extra school work we had to catch up on during the weekend so we still could take all of our academic GCSs.
That means Downtown Artists have seen potential in me, and are now working on developing me as an artist and a product. This is one of the most important stages for any unsigned artist. They work on giving me performance coaching, vocal coaching, and a team of marketing and A&R people, and a team of social media people. And of course producers, who work on creating the music to my tracks and bringing them to life. My amazing producers; Chris Hall, Louis and Sean, bring my song ideas to life. They also record and play in my monthly YouTube cover videos.
So really it’s a contract where they are developing me, and helping me discover where I can go, and the direction I want to take my musical career in. We are working at the moment on finishing my nine-song album for the end of this year. They are also responsible for getting me gigs and performance opportunities around London too.
Mainly I love to just pick a place on the Tube, and go there for the day, and then people watch and sneakily pick up on words, or clothing, and get inspiration of the quirky, unique and cool Londoners roaming the streets.
I love poetry and watching old ’60s, ‘70s and ’80s films and TV shows and getting the cool lingo and phrases they used, and their whole way of life. I create a massive mood board of lines, words or pictures I love, and piece things together. After I write my lyrics I then come up with a melody and bring in my main producer, Chris Hall. Together we start to create chords, then add in sounds and make the track.
To me NZ seems so much more connected, friendly and really supportive of one another, something I hope to be a part of. It’s much more relaxed and I feel is not so over-produced, which is why the NZ industry is really getting some serious attention at the moment. I really hope to become a part of the NZ music scene.
The UK is very different, obviously it’s just such a big country, and there’s so many people trying to do the same thing as you. But the opptunities are incredible, and you really want to branch out and explore the types of audience you can pull in. To me it’s much more experimental.
Do it! Seriously, follow your instinct and do it. Take every day as it comes, and every opportunity full heartedly. Get yourself out there, and put yourself out there into new things, and just dont take no for an answer. Keep trying and improving yourself, never give up hope In yourself and your talent. Only you can make it happen.
There’s always going to be highs and lows of living away from home, so it’s great to find spaces, food, or things that remind you of home.