by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Abby Christo: Clear And Collaborative

by Nur Lajunen-Tal

Abby Christo: Clear And Collaborative

Abby Christodoulou got her start in X-Factor 2015 as one half of country pop duo Mae Valley. She’s now five years into a solo project under a shortened version of her name, Abby Christo. Abby speaks with Nur Lajunen-Tal about her latest single, Note To Self, a gentle country pop ballad, with inspirational lyrics about letting go and letting things be. Made with support from NZ On Air Music.

Although she moved to Taranaki at the age of 12, Abby Christodoulou originated from the small Northland town of Kaiwaka, and has always enjoyed singing.

“I think there was about 90 people at my school,” she says. “I always sort of sung music, but it never really became a thing for me until we moved to Taranaki. That’s where I went to a new school, and that’s where realised I could sing, and I didn’t just enjoy singing. It kind of moved from, ‘I love doing this, I wanna be Britney Spears,’ to ‘Okay, maybe this could actually happen! Maybe this could be a reality!'”

Abby began writing songs when she was 13.

“It comes with heartache but not necessarily around boys,” she describes the inspiration for one of her first songs. “I was friends with this guy in the music industry called Terry Moratti. Him and his wife were the most supportive people in my beginning stages of music. They’d bring me along to gigs all the time, and just really encouraged me, and he ended up getting cancer and passing away.

“We put on a charity show where we raised money for cancer, but it was for him. It was almost like a funeral before it happened, which is quite sad, but it was a chance for everyone to say how they felt about him before they lost him, because it was inevitable. And we all got to sing a song… I remember writing a song called Find Me A Way. It was about wanting to find a way to get to the moon, so I could sit up in the stars and be there with him. Writing the song was my way of expressing how much I appreciated him, and how much it was gonna hurt to lose him.”

“I feel like songwriting’s one of those things where you can put all your thoughts onto paper,” she says. “It’s one of those things where people get the chance to say stuff, and express their feelings in a way that they might not be able to when they have conversations. I’m a really bad communicator. It’s something I try and work on daily. When it comes to romantic relationships or just expressing how I feel, being vulnerable, and talking about things I’m battling with or feelings I’m having. But when it comes to writing songs and music, it’s such a cool way to just put it all on paper and put it out there. It’s almost like a security blanket.”

Although Abby tried to do well in school, music was already her true calling.

“I ended up leaving high school,” she confesses. “I skipped one of my exams to audition for the X-Factor… It’s so weird being in school, and trying to be good at education when you have a passion for something creative.”

Was it worth skipping that exam?

“It was honestly the coolest experience of my life,” she says. “I’ve always wanted a sister, and I always wished I had a sister. So for me, having Hannah [Cosgrove], who was in Mae Valley with me, was a really cool experience, not only for that sisterhood thing, but also just to share a really cool music journey with someone else. Sometimes you’re on this journey alone, like I am right now, and you’re writing songs alone, and making decisions alone, and standing on stage alone. I do really miss her being there sometimes.”

Following the duo’s split in 2017 Abby moved to Sydney to pursue a solo career. Her first solo release, Kiss Me Into Monday, arrived in 2019 and she has since released several singles and an EP, ‘Slow Down Girl’, in 2022. Co-written with and produced by Peter Holz, her new single Note To Self came from a deeply personal place she reveals.

“I was overthinking things, as always, and yes, it was a boy! It was that whole process of not feeling good enough and going like, ‘Did I say something? Did I do something? Was I too much of this? Was I too much of that?’ And then, from that, I started spiralling, not even about this person that had hurt me, it was more just my own thoughts in my own head about me, and my worth, and my self-worth, and my music, and whether I was just good enough.

“I remember sitting up at like 2am one night just stressing about it. It was just so consuming and I nearly cancelled my studio session the next day because I just wasn’t feeling it. But then I thought, ‘This is good for me. I need to just get in there and see what happens. Maybe this is gonna be a magical moment!’

“So I just walked in and I was like, ‘I wanna write myself a message.’ Even if it’s not a song that gets released. A note to myself to say, ‘stop overthinking in the dark, it doesn’t get you far. If you love something just let it be, and whatever’s meant for you will come, and you’ve just gotta relax.’ Every time I’m overthinking, I turn the song on and I listen to my own voice telling me to relax. Sometimes things come from a bad place, but for me it was about turning a bad situation into a good thing, and that was the song.”

She has collaborated with Holz before.

“I’ve written a few songs with him now, a few of my singles – Body Language, Bring Your Body (they both have the word body!). We just wanted to get in the studio again and do another collab, and this one, Note To Self, which is very different to what we usually write, came about. It worked so smoothly. We wrote the song in about four hours and that included a coffee break and lots of chats.

“Going into the studio for co-writing sessions is almost like a therapy session as well, because you can’t just walk in and be like, ‘right, pen to paper.’ Maybe in Nashville. Maybe in LA, those kind of sessions, but with people you know, you’re just gonna walk in and have a coffee and talk about your weekend, talk about your week, talk about what you’re going through, and that can sometimes prompt what you actually end up writing about.

“It’s almost like having a soundboard and having that kind of, I guess validation in a way,” she continues. “If you’re doing it alone, you go, ‘this is a cool idea,’ but it’s like a thought that just floats into the air. Whereas when you’re with someone else, and you’re like, ‘this is a cool idea,’ it can either be like, ‘no it’s not!’ or it can be like, ‘yes, that’s great!’ Or it can be like, ‘how about this idea?’ It opens more opportunities. It also makes you become a little bit less stuck in your ways as well. It’s a nice way to test your ideas, and sometimes, I wouldn’t say people have better or you have better ideas, but they have different ideas which just work better in the long run.”

The music video for Note To Self was funded by NZ On Air and co-directed by Abby and Blacklist Productions. The video features her driving, dancing and sitting on a couch in the middle of a field. 

“I didn’t necessarily want a storyline. I’ve had that in the past, and it works, but for this song, I wanted it to just visually paint out how I felt when I hear the song. Me being myself and free and letting go and just driving and being in a peaceful place. I remember having this really weird idea in my head that I wanted to put this really nice couch in the middle of a farm. I was like, ‘Can we just find a couch, and just put it in the middle of a farm, and I want it to almost represent me in my comfort zone.’ So a couch where I’m comfy and I’m in the middle of this beautiful, free environment.

“Because the song is about letting things go, I wanted to visually show that. Going for a road trip, and things like that. We ended up hiring a Chevrolet, and finding a couch from some random office that we borrowed, and driving out into the middle of nowhere, four hours up near the Hunter Valley, and waiting for the sun to set a little bit and getting that golden hour magical moment. It was an American Chevrolet, so it was left-hand drive, which felt really strange. I’m driving it, feeling great, but it was just a very odd feeling! It really came together exactly how I had the visuals in my head when I’d written the song.

“It’s hard when you’ve got these ideas and you don’t wanna feel bossy. You don’t wanna feel like a diva. But at the end of the day, I think it’s really important as an artist, and as a female artist, to be very strong on your ideas, and if you’re paying for a project, it’s okay to be a little bit bossy. Obviously, be kind, but be clear about what you want. Clear and collaborative.”

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