NewTracks New Artist: Judah Kelley

NewTracks New Artist: Judah Kelley

Ōtepoti pop artist Judah Kelley has been a recognisable musical presence since her debut single Ready hit #15 on the Top 40 Hot NZ single charts in 2021. Emerging from an upbringing surrounded by music and songwriting her sound is already refined and mature. NZ On Air Music included Judah’s latest single Apathy on their March NewTracks compilation.

What’s your full name, where are you from, and what instruments do you play?

Kia ora, my name is Judah Ann Kelly, and my artist name is Judah Kelley. I was born in Whanganui but relocated to Dunedin at age 9, so I call this my home. I play the guitar and piano.

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

I was involved in musicals and choirs during high school, which helped me gain more control of my vocals. In university I took one music paper each year in ‘contemporary performance’ to continue developing as a songwriter and performer! 

Any other previous (or current) projects might we know you from?

I don’t have any past projects of my own, but you may know me from playing in Juno Is and singing for Marlins Dreaming.

What’s the background story of Judah Kelley as an artist? 

I grew up surrounded by music, learning the guitar and piano at a young age from my brothers and falling in love with songwriting and singing. During my studies, I began performing my own songs regularly, and my audience grew from doing that. I decided to record due to the overwhelming response of my audience and their connection with my songs. I’m an independent artist. however, when I started recording I owe my gratitude to my brother Daniel Kelly who produced my first two singles, Ready and Dance the Part

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

My writing has evolved tremendously since I started. I adore old songs that I wrote at a young age; however, they were often about things I had not experienced, so they were based more on observations. As I have grown as a person and a songwriter, my songs have evolved into self-reflection and self-expression of my ideas and experiences. It has been a fun and trialling journey.

How and when did you come up with the name for the new project?

Well, funny story (kinda) – my birth name is Judah Kelly. I dabbled with a few alternative options but decided to keep it the same as it didn’t feel right to change, as my christian name is uncommon. However I was aware that there’s an Australian artist called Judah Kelly who won The Voice Australia – so my name wasn’t going to work. I originally decided the project was to be called JUDAH, but this ended up conflicting with a well-known American artist, so I simply added the extra ‘e’ to my last name, and there we have Judah Kelley. It was a few months of funny frustration thinking that every Judah there was, was a musician! 

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

A huge highlight has been the people I have met during this process. Unfortunately, I was unable to perform last year due to Covid, like many artists, so a big highlight for my songs as a recording artist would be the airplay Ready received. The track hit #15 on the Top 40 Hot NZ single charts last year, which was epic as it was my debut. 

What makes Apathy stand out for you as a single?

Apathy stood out as a single as it is a dynamic song that plays, instrumentally and vocally, on the flirtatious elements of the song’s meaning, but has an underlying tone of vulnerability. 

What is the story behind Apathy?

Apathy tells the story of the emotionally unavailable. It sheds light on the first feelings when you meet someone and falls into a tag a war game of ‘should I stay or should I go’, ultimately not being able to let go of the all-consuming feeling of apathy. It was inspired by my own experience last year. 

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

I am absolutely in love with the bridge of this song. It wasn’t a part of the original demo, but I wrote it the night before recording the final vocals. There is such a tenderness that was captured when we recorded. When we listened to it over, it carried such a wealth of emotions I could’ve shed a tear. 

Who did you write/record/produce the song with? 

Last year I had a session organised by Five AM with Harry Parsons. In the session, we discussed anything I had been feeling recently, which was this state of apathy. Harry began to play a few chords, and I improvised over the top. Quite naturally, the song had written itself. 

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

I would love that listeners take away that it’s okay, to be honest with yourself in moments like this. Feeling a mix of emotions is a very normal thing, and patience will be your virtue. 

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

I base what will be a good single on the overall feel of the song. I usually choose songs that are dynamic and a ‘mixed bag of goodies’. (That sounds weird, haha!) What I mean by this is a song that has a variety of melodies and changes in instrumentation and takes the listener on a lyrical journey. 

Anyone else in your team?

As I’m currently independent, I am many of those things myself! I had the pleasure of working with Harry Parsons as the producer for this single, and with the best guidance from fellow musicians and people within the industry I gained a lot of knowledge of how to navigate my way through it. Specials thanks to Diaz Grimm, who answered too many of my questions! 

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

Yes, yay, there is!! There will be a music video coming out for Apathy, directed by Taylor Mansfield, on April 15! I have also recovered from severe writer’s block, and I have started writing my debut EP, which is some of my favourite work I have written, so I will be very excited to share this with everyone!

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

Ooooh, that is hard. I am terrible at making playlists, ha! I’m trying to think about this instrumentally, so maybe…

  • Riiki Reid: Meet U Again
  • Broods: Distance and Drugs
  • Bexy: I’m Upset 

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

Yes, definitely. My first didn’t get support. I guess my advice would be to make sure the demo you’re submitting is relatively produced (I submitted a rough guitar and vocal demo, lol). I am not sure if it has any deciding factor, but it’s good to give an idea of what the production might sound like. The other advice would be to not stop submitting your music – you never know when something you’ve written is what they need to hear. 

Was there an NZOA criterion you struggled with in the application? 

I definitely struggled with the ‘business time’ section (manager, agent, etc.), as well as the media/platform editorial section. Fortunately enough, each section contains a certain amount of points and areas such as audience, broadcast, and live performance track record, and I was able to check a few due to my history in music. 

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

There are many I have been following recently, which include NZ Musician, of course, YoVocal, Hype Medium, Newzician, Sniffers, and Tenner. It has been epic to see all that is happening within New Zealand through these sources. I haven’t been following too many Youtube or podcasts, though – but a totally unrelated podcast which I recommend is ‘Drunk Women Solving Crime’!

Any last words?

Thank you so much for listening and chatting with me! Thank you to the team who made Apathy come together and NZ On Air for enabling me to see this track through! Finally, thank you to my audience who are out there listening and showing your support <3