New Zealand-born Stan Walker has an impressive resume. Nearly 25, he won the final series of Australian Idol in 2009, achieved 2x platinum status for his debut single, “Black Box,” has released five albums, acted in the film Mt Zion, and is now a judge on New Zealand’s X Factor. Coming full circle, he is about to release his new album Truth & Soul on April 17th. A collection of songs from icons like Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding, the soul singer says, “It’s the becoming of a new age and a new era. And it’s also going back to the beginning of what I love the most.”
Admittedly a “self-indulgent” album, it allowed Walker to go back to his roots and give his own take on the songs that he’s “fallen in love with all over again.” Narrowing the song selection down was both an easy and difficult task; he shares, “I knew straight off what I wanted. And then I had to pick other songs.” Laughing, he notes, “I couldn’t, like, have an album of 50 songs.” He had to narrow down his choices, finding it a challenging task to limit icons like Luther Vandross to one song. Ironically, the song Walker does perform on Heart & Soul is Vandross’ own take on Lionel Ritchie’s “Endless Love.” “It’s a cover of a cover!” he says.
Not just a celebration of Walker’s own journey, Heart & Soul also features duets with Australian songstress Samantha Jade and X Factor winner Dami Im. It is evident that Walker cannot speak highly enough of both these ladies. “Sammi’s a good friend of mine, and I thought I just had to get her on this album because she’s so awesome and she’s a phenomenal singer,” he says. “And Dami Im, oh my gosh…she’s got such a powerful voice.”
Aside from the soaring vocals of both these established singers, the album was also Walker’s chance to work with the most important people in his own life. “It was so awesome…I got like two of my closest friends on there, and… the choir that I use are all my mates, so I got to actually get friends and family on the album, making an album of songs that I love…that I wish I wrote, that I wish I’d sang.”
The recording of the album itself was a feat, taking place over two days. And even though Walker knew the songs inside out, he soon realized that there were some which surprised him. “When you know songs sometimes you just play along and you’re singing to them, but you don’t even know the words because you’re making up your own words.” When recording Heart & Soul, he experienced them in a whole new way. “I was like ‘Wow, these are the actual words!’ and it made it more powerful,” he shares.
Aside from recording his new album, Walker has also been busy acting as a judge on New Zealand’s X Factor for the under 25 girls. In a season filled with controversy, the singer raves about their potential to establish careers once the show is over. “I’ve got three of the most talented human beings on earth… they all have such incredible qualities about them; about their voices, about their style.”
The transition from contestant to judge has been a long time in the making as Walker was only 18 when he won Australian Idol. “At first it felt weird,” he says about his role as a judge alongside Natalie Bassingthwaite, Melanie Blatt and Shelton Woolright, “but now I feel like…this is perfect.” His experience means that he has the ability to prepare his contestants for life after the finale. “I’m teaching them from my mistakes, from my ups and downs,” he says. “I’m trying to help them be prepared in every way possible when the show is over, [so] they know what to do to actually be an artist… and have a career that has long jeopardy.”
As I wrapped up my time with Walker, I asked him about how he has changed since he entered the industry 6 years ago. “I’m a completely different person,” he says. Known for his strong faith while on Idol, he says, “My foundation and my values and my conviction and my beliefs are all the same, but I’ve grown up… it’s like a becoming of me, as the man.”
The creation of Heart & Soul is a pivotal step for Stan Walker as he celebrates the moments that have made him, yet leaps to new heights, now as a man. “I know what I want, I know what I need, I know what I want people to hear, what I want people to know about me” he says. And while recording an album of covers was out of his comfort zone, as he mentions, “I’m an artist, I write my songs, I’m in there producing… I’ve very protective, particularly about my music.” This album has given him the chance to relax and enjoy the process.
“This has given me the opportunity to come back in and, almost like, taking the pressure off me to write the songs I wish I had.” Stan shares, “Sometimes this industry breaks you… [this] is a breath of fresh air for me… it’s good for the ear, it’s good for the soul, it’s good for the mind, it’s good for everything.”
Aside from the new, original music he has been working on, Walker is keen for fans to hear Heart & Soul live. The good news is that he is currently planning a tour. “The one thing I know I can do, I can do this show live,” he says.
A gift to his fans, a tribute to his family and friends, and a celebration of all he has become, Stan Walker’s Heart & Soul will give us a glimpse of the talented singer’s journey. Using the melody and lyrics of some his favorite songs, his interpretation of some of music’s greatest artists is his way of saying thank you to the people who paved the way before him. “Thank you for being… the inspiration and giving us songs that inspire my own songs.” Heart & Soul will be released on April 17th.