Interview: Tori Darke

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Tori Darke has been busy writing a new album in Nashville, but her first album, Dreams & Chances, isn’t quite over yet … To celebrate the release of her new – and last – single from that album, ‘No You No Me’, I spoke to her recently and started off by asking about her trip to Nashville, where she recorded the new album.
‘Nashville was amazing,’ she said. ‘I got so many great songs written while I was over there.  I came home with fifteen new songs, which I am so excited about and I’ve been playing them heaps. I’m just re-listening to them and trying to learn them and it’s just really kind of I guess given me that motivation and inspiration to get back into the studio.’
So will she be able to record all fifteen songs, or will she have to axe some of them?
‘I’ll definitely have to axe some of them because there were some that I wrote that [I thought] that’s an absolutely great song, some that were a good song, and some that were just, “Oh, why did I intend to write that”,’ she said, laughing. ‘It’s all part and parcel. You’ve got to sometimes get through I guess what you would call the crappy songs to get the smash-hit kind of songs. So you really just are weaselling your way through to go, yep, well that idea didn’t work but then this one might, so I’m really excited about these ones.’
I was curious about whether or not Tori had a sense about how the songs would turn out as she was writing them – was there a little tingle up the spine or something like that to tell her that a song was really going to work? Or does it take a few drafts to really get an idea of it?
‘I think once you get a verse and a chorus, you kind of know,’ Tori said, ‘and you even know that it’s not going to be something that you’re going to love or you know that it’s something that you already love, and I guess you kind of know from that get-go of just going, “Yep, we’ve got a verse down and this is really cool, it’s going somewhere”. And then you get to the chorus and you get the chorus out and you just go, “Yep, that’s what it’s about”. And that happened for me several times in Nashville with some of the writers that I wrote with in mainly the last week I was there.  We wrote this one song called “Rain on a Rusted Tin Roof”, and it was an idea that I came up with in the car and we were just driving – I was just going to put some vocals down on a demo that we’d written for a song a few days before, and we were just talking about it and I came up with this idea.  And from just talking about the idea we all knew it was going to be a really special song, and it was one of the quickest songs that I’d written in my whole life.  We wrote it in about an hour and a half, and just listening back to it now and playing it to anybody and they go, “Wow, that is a great song. It gives you tingles, and that song really did it for me. I had the same reaction with a few other song as well while I was there.’
Performance is a huge part of Tori’s career, so I wondered if, as she’s writing songs, she’s partly wondering what the song is going to be like for her to sing.
‘You’re always thinking at the back of your mind what it’s going to be like to perform to an audience and how would people take this and how it would come across,’ she said, ‘and you’ve really always got to be really careful to look at it and go, “This is part of my image”. Because even if you do write a song that isn’t necessarily you, that’s the song that somebody else could record if they wanted to.
‘There’s always a chance to pitch an original song to someone else, and so for me, when writing a song for myself, I always try to make sure that the lyric content is something that I would actually say, because I have been in writing sessions before where you do have some writers that take a little bit too much control and it’s like but hang on a second, I wouldn’t actually say that phrase, it’s not something that it’s in my vocabulary, so even to sing it, it’s not being true to yourself. So I always try to be true to myself with everything that I write and with everything that I do because if it’s not, it’s very transparent and you can see straight through it.’
Tori started her country music career very young, as a teenager; as she’s growing older and now moving onto her next album, is she feeling more confident about saying things like that to people?
‘Yes, definitely,’ she said firmly. ‘I feel as though your opinion matters a little more the older you get … people will stand up and listen and hear what you’re trying to say through your songs. And the older you get, the more experience that you have in life, and three years ago when I recorded Dreams & Chances to now, even now there’s some things that I wouldn’t have recorded on that album, which I didn’t because there were songs that I’d written that I went, well at the age of twenty it just seemed like it wasn’t me and it seemed like I hadn’t been heartbroken, or I hadn’t gone through some really tough times. Whereas now I have been heartbroken and I’ve gone through some tough times but dealt with some hard things that I’ve really struggled through that – just thinking about them now it would totally make sense and I would everyone would totally get it, whereas it may not have been as believable three years ago.’
Part of the mystery of the process for a performer – or maybe a mystery for the audience but not necessarily for the artist – is accessing that emotion not only when a song is recorded but later when it’s being performed, and if the artist has to perform it a lot of times it seems as though it would be difficult to always access the emotion needed for a song.
‘We all have our good days and our bad days,’ said Tori, ‘and some days it may not even be an emotional connection. You may have something else going on in your head or in your life that’s really distracting you and that’s one of the things as an artist that you really have to try and just put aside and [say], “I’m here to do a job, this is my time to show people what I’m about, and what my music is about.” So you really have to try and do your best to just put it aside and just go, no, I’m going to show you the same emotion that I would to any other song.’
It seems like it would be hard to do that, though, and doing it more and more makes it wouldn’t necessarily make it easier because the artist is still a human being, so some days it must be quite hard to go out on stage and actually effectively cut off Tori, the person, and become Tori the performer.
‘You’re completely right,’ Tori agreed. ‘And one thing that I did tell a lot of people, being an artist you are also just a normal person like everybody else in this world, and some people see past that sometimes and just go, no, you’re a singer, you’re [famous] – and it’s just like, “Give me one second – before I was even a singer, I was a human being.” I’m just a normal average person and some people don’t necessarily see through that. They just say, no, you’re a singer, we want to know everything about you and we deserve to know everything about you, and that’s why, when it comes to social media especially and any kind of media, some people get really overwhelmed. And in the country music industry, we don’t really get too much of that because it’s such a family-based industry that everybody really respects here and respects everything about you, that it’s actually a really great industry to be a part of.’
            That industry has its counterpart in Nashville, of course, and Tori’s recent trip there wasn’t her first. I asked here if there is a community of Australians there now that she can loop into and she said, ‘There are so many Australians there now … there is a really great community of Australian artists that are over in Nashville. So it’s really wonderful to be able to learn from those people that are over there and learn how they’ve done it and learn how they’re coping in a city like Nashville.’
Some Australian artists relocate to Nashville for a time – or permanently – as opposed to going there to record and coming back; I asked Tori if that’s something she’s thought about, and she said, ‘Oh, it’s definitely something that I’ve thought of, but as I have said to a lot of people, I absolutely love the town of Nashville and I love how inspired I am when I’m there, but I don’t necessarily know that I could move there full time, but I could definitely do the commute backwards and forwards.’ So it sounds like we’re not about to lose her any time soon … especially as Australian artists do travel to Nashville quite regularly and have experiences, write songs and come back.
            ‘To be able to have that opportunity to do that, to just go there and to come back, that’s so special to us … it’s wonderful being Australian because everyone is so welcoming when they hear that accent of yours.’
And now Nashville has become a sister city to Tamworth so that’s consolidated the relationship even more.
‘It’s really wonderful that that has happened and that they’ve done sister city relationship there,’ Tori said, ‘because it’s really just opened up a lot of doors, I guess too – a lot of people previously have said, “No, you’ve got to do it all in Australia and you can’t go to Nashville to do it”, but it’s really proving now that that relationship being joint that you can do it in Nashville and you can still have a really successful career in Australia.
Of course, the official reason for my chat with Tori was ‘No You No Me’, the fifth and final single from Dreams & Chances. The album actually came out a couple of years ago, so I asked if it felt a bit weird for Tori as an artist to have the last single coming out only now.
‘It is really weird,’ she admitted, ‘because it seems like it was so long ago that I released the first one, but a lot of people in this industry said to me they really believed in the album and said that they think that it was worthy of this life and to be released. [It’s] kind of giving a little bit of closure on the album and I’m really excited to see how this one goes and to see how it’s received, because I really believe in this song, and it’s just one of my favourite songs.
            When it comes to releasing a single, for Australian country music artists there is not the same kind of chance for the song to be played on mainstream radio as a pop or rock artist would have, and Tori said ‘it is harder in the country industry because a lot of our radio stations are community-based radio stations, so they don’t have a lot of resources that a commercial pop station would have. So it can be a little more difficult but to have, still, that support of those radio stations behind you is really beneficial for all Australian country artists.
‘There’s so many supportive radio stations throughout Australia,’ Tori continued, ‘whether they be community or whether they be commercial.  So it is a little bit easier to be heard, I guess, through the commercial country station because they have a lot more accessibility to bigger areas and wider spectrums. But there are so many community stations that you can pretty much every turn you go to find a community country station which is wonderful.’
Tori will now move into recording the next album and go through the process of selecting songs; I asked how long the process would take from selecting the songs to getting the final mix, because a lot of people (me included) wouldn’t know.
‘A lot of people do expect that it just happens overnight … And it may only take a week or two to record but all the preparation and all the preparing for it can take something like a year to six months, especially for me – last year I went and did a writing trip in Nashville; this year I went and did a writing trip in Nashville. Now, none of the songs I wrote I’ve recorded yet, so you look at that and that’s a year in itself of just writing songs and preparing for new songs for an album. So it really can take a long time and it sadly doesn’t happen overnight. 
‘A lot of people say, “Oh, well, you just released now, so when’s the next one coming out?”  So you really want to say, “No, I just released one!” It does take a lot of time and a lot of effort, a lot of money, a lot of blood, sweat and tears really goes into album and I’m really looking forward to getting back in the studio and recording some of these new tunes and seeing the reception of them and how people will enjoy them.’
Tori said she’s ‘in no rush’ to release the new album – she is not planning to have it out for Tamworth 2014, although she does want to have a single out before the end of the year and then maybe release the album early to middle of next year. ‘Who knows what the next six months to a year is going to hold?’ she said. ‘I’m just looking forward to seeing how it all kind of pans out.’
            In amongst that recording process, she’ll also play some lives dates in September, hitting the road with Kate Cooke, who was on Australian Idol a few years ago. ‘I’m really looking forward to getting out on the road with Kate and doing some stuff there,’ said Tori, ‘because she’s really wonderful and her EP is absolutely killer, so I can’t wait to get on the road and really showcase both our different styles in music and yet very similar at the same time.’
            Tori has a lot ahead of her, but she’s also been doing a lot – so I asked her what her highlight or highlights from the last twelve months would be.
            ‘Well, one of my highlights from last year would be going to Solomon Islands and playing for the troops over there and also another one was playing at the CMC this year. I had an absolute ball at that festival … [you] see some of the most amazing acts that have really inspired you throughout your career.’
            Tori is a young artist clearly making the most of the opportunities that come her way; with the release of ‘No You No Me’ she is marking the end of one phase of her career – her debut album – and paving the way for the next.
To keep track of everything she’s up to, including her live dates, visit www.toridarke.com.au.

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