by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Brooke x Starce

by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Brooke x Starce

Formerly combining as The O’Neill Twins, Brooke and Starcia O’Neill recently rebranded to using their first names in order to publish their sleek RnB tunes featuring fine-tuned vocals that weave through and around one another beautifully. Luckily, NZ On Air Music chose to include Brooke x Starce on their NewTracks compilation this November.


Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

Yes! Vocal lessons with Lavina Williams, Maybelle Galuvao and Marley Sola (Mellow Studios) have helped build our vocals to where they are now. It’s important that our voices are trained and well looked after.

Any other projects that we might know you from?

We recently dropped our debut EP as Brooke x Starce called ‘Love Me Back’, you may have heard a few of our songs on the radio in Aotearoa. Or you may know us by our former name, The O’Neill Twins. We released Boss As Chick back in 2016 and that was our introduction to the music industry, so quite a pivotal moment for us.

What’s the background of how you came work together? Who else is directly involved?

We’re twins! We’ve been doing everything together since we were babies! Whatever one twin can’t do or won’t do, the other twin will be able to cover. We have our preferred roles when working together. Our good friend Marley Sola overlooks a lot of our mahi and our good friend Lavina Williams worked with us in the studio to get No Love and the EP ‘Love Me Back’ finished.

How has your writing evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

From writing our first song till now has been a journey and a half! We’re confident, positive and go-getters, but we took the challenge to share some vulnerable feelings and experiences on our latest project. The ability to tap into how we really felt about some things (the real and the raw) helped us with our songwriting skills for sure.

What made you decide to change to using your names as your artist name?

Love this question! Being known as The O’Neill Twins for all this time has been an honour. We’re twins and O’Neill is our last name, it makes sense, right! However, now that we’re making music and doing so independently, it felt right to start fresh, and after such a long break of not making music, coming back into the music industry full force felt like a new beginning.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

We found out that our song was playing on Air NZ planes! We were amazed! People flying in and out of Aotearoa get to hear our song? It’s bizarre! That has to be one of our favourite highlights so far.

What makes No Love stand out for you as a single?

We had Lavina Williams come in to help us layer vocals so this song in particular had a lot of detail which we loved. Although No Love is quite vulnerable and talks about not receiving the love you want, it’s grunty, beefy and bass heavy and that stood out to us! 

What is the story behind No Love?

The main idea behind No Love is about someone giving out love and not getting it back and because of this, realising it’s time to focus on yourself rather than wasting energy on someone who isn’t willing to reciprocate. Sometimes we can get lost in our feelings and can’t see the situation for what it is. Stepping back and checking yourself when you know something isn’t right is super important.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

The outro for sure! The lyrics sum up the feelings and questions we’re left with when we don’t feel like we are enough. And in this case, we’re annoyed that we’ve let ourselves entertain this behaviour for so long. Starce also wanted this section to stand out and have its own moment, and so then decided to put a radio effect on the vocal.

Who did you record/produce the single with and where?

Starce produced the beat and recorded our vocals at home and at Zeal West studios! Actually yes, those last vocals where Brooke is belting, she actually wanted to falsetto those parts, but Lavina said no, haha! She wanted this part to be passionate, vulnerable and big! Lavina’s words were “In the rain, on your knees, Usher styles.” So we tried to channel a little but of Usher here, haha.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

You know, it’s not the happiest of songs and if you meet us in real life we’re super positive and encouraging, but there’s a strength in this song, and we hope people will catch it.

If you know you’re letting someone in that isn’t good for you, make the right decision to let go of that relationship/friendship. When we give the wrong people access to ourselves, sometimes we act out of character and start to do things we actually don’t want to do, just to keep them around. So if there’s anything to take from this, it’s to not let anyone take advantage of you and to let go.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

Usually it’s the song we feel hits the most and is most impressive to our ears. We then get an outside opinion to see what others enjoy listening to most and why. We consider both opinions when choosing a single.

Who else is in your team? 

DRM are our distribution label. And we had Chris Chetland from Kog studios master this single and our latest project. For advice and guidance we do have people in our corner like Marley Sola, Lavina Williams, Vince Harder, Abby-Lee Harder and Ash Harris who we’re so blessed to call our good friends. For the most part, we cover everything ourselves from management, publicity to production and mix engineering etc. Because we’re self-reliant and are intentional with our decisions, we believe it’s best to work this way until the time comes where we need extra help, that’s when we’ll consider expanding the team.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?

For sure! We’re always going to be making new music! We’re all about pushing the limits and becoming better writers and producers. Every time we’re in the studio the aim is to make something great. To be great, you gotta keep pushing for better. We’re also working on music for our dance community (upbeat and vibe-y) and for anyone really who likes a good head bop or stanky face. If you can’t dance to what we’ve got coming, you’ll surely be able to head bop to it!

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song.

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others?

We’re grateful that both our NewTracks applications were successful. The advice we’d give would be to be prepared. Have everything ready, your release dates, distribution label, artwork, the date of release for your music video if you have one for that song. Be clear with your answers and know as much about your song as possible. We made sure we had our information ready before applying. We’d say a good song and preparation is key!

We haven’t applied for NewMusic Single funding yet because we still have some criteria to tick off before applying. We’d highly recommend you tick off the criteria before applying, because the NZOA team will go through and check (cute tip for you).

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

Starce loves listening to the podcast Producer Grind, and Russ’ book called It’s All In Your Head. Brooke loves watching Genius where artists break down their song lyrics and she loves listening to her favourite artists speak on other people’s podcasts alongside encouraging and uplifting conversations.

Is there a music video?

We have a visualiser for No Love. It was done in Christchurch, filmed and directed by Lowee Nagal with the help of Jay Campgan. We also had our makeup artist Michaela Co Long on set and Kirsty Cameron on gaffer. Talented human beings!

Any last words?

Thanks for your questions. It’s always an honor to share our hearts and our why’s behind the decisions we make both creatively and on the business side. We love music and we love the music industry in Aotearoa. The idea that we get to create songs for people to listen to as they go about their day is still surreal to us.
If we can, we want to encourage that person who is passionate about music but is afraid of being a beginner at the skill you know you need to build. Everyone’s timeline looks different, don’t worry about what others are doing and how well they’re doing. Focus on what you need to do, take note of the wins, take not of the losses, and let those losses set you up for your wins!

Love from us always,
Ngā mihi,
Brooke x Starce