June Feature

June Feature 1000 1300 The Flyer Magazine

Homegrown Mellow’dy

BILLIE’S UNIQUE SOUND

While other little seven-year-old girls were probably playing dress-ups and Barbies, Billie Comer was composing music.

By eight, she’d already caught the attention of US composer and conductor Conrad Pope. Conrad and Billie were introduced and it was at the time he was conducting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra during recording for the sound track on The Hobbit movie.

An avid talent spotter, Conrad encouraged the Queenstown youngster, who’d started playing piano aged five, to send him one of her own compositions. He then later transposed her piece entitled, ‘Cloudman’, for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to play.

Not bad for an eight-year old. This girl was obviously going places in the music world with her rare gift.

Billie setting up with Tom Tom Productions’ Michael Eden ready to record her song for Rockquest in Queenstown last year (2020).

Billie setting up to record her song for Rockquest in Queenstown last year (2020).

Last month in a moving moment for Billie, now 15, and her mum, Peta Carey, she took out the prestigious national ‘Play It Strange’ Youthtown Songwriting Competition, fending off several hundred other entries. Her prize – a professional studio recording session and trip to Auckland at the end of the year to perform in the Play It Strange concert.

This was hot on the heels of being named a national finalist in Play It Strange’s Lion Foundation New Zealand Songwriting Competition last year. Billie was also named in the Top 10 for Best Lyrics with her song, ‘Troubadour’, in 2020.

This year’s winning number, entitled ‘Help Me Remember’, only came to her the night before she submitted her entry. “It was originally a song about love and heartbreak then the night before I was to submit it I decided I needed to write something more meaningful,” says Billie. “I decided to write about my dad who passed away six years ago.”

Billie’s dad was well-known Queenstown film location scout, photographer and film maker Dave Comer. Dave was instrumental in selecting the spectacular locations for the filming of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

Written right from the heart, her song, ‘Help Me Remember’, won the hearts of Play It Strange chief executive and ex Split Enz bass guitarist Mike Chunn and other judges. “He (Mike) called me to tell me I’d won and said how he loved the lyrics and it was a beautiful song,” says Billie. In it Billie recalls fond memories of trips to Dunedin with her dad.

The accolades continued after her initial amazing childhood opportunity to meet Conrad, and The Hobbit team, through (Sir) Peter Jackson on a trip to Wellington with her dad.

At just 13, she won her first award­ – the Secondary School Otago/Southland Composition Competition, judged by Kiwi composer Anthony Ritchie.

Billie had been songwriting for four years­ – since Year 7, by the time she won Queenstown Turn Up The Music’s first prize for solo performance with ‘Something You Should Know’.

Originally a flute player, Billie also plays guitar, and now plays tenor saxophone in the Wakatipu High School Jazz Band, which she loves.

Having her music played by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at such a young age was the start of bigger things.

“That really kicked things off for me,” says Billie. “That’s when I realised I really loved it and wanted it as a career.”

“It’s now my dream to become a film composer and write movie scores.” She’s already planning to study music at Victoria University in Wellington once she leaves school, with an eye to compose music for films and to conduct. “I’ve always loved film and the whole film culture. I’m fascinated by film composers,” she says.

Her godfather, ex Kiwi Mi-Sex keyboardist Murray Burns, now a music producer and film score writer in Australia, is “the best” and always super encouraging and helpful. “He’s like my second dad,” says Billie. “He wrote the sound track for Dad’s movie ‘Ata Whenua’.”

In the meantime, she’s in her happy place performing with the school jazz band, ‘Best Served Chilled’, busking in downtown Queenstown on an old piano she and Mum dragged out from a nearby basement, and perfecting her songwriting even more.

“I’m super grateful to all the amazing teachers who’ve encouraged and inspired me as well, like my piano teacher, Kana Takahashi, Queenstown Primary School teacher Emily Markby, singing teacher Margaret O’Hanlon, and definitely our Wakatipu High School music teacher Alison Price. She’s a legend,” says Billie.

Tune into Billie’s songs here.