As she heads into the 2016 Tamworth Country Music Festival, Tori Darke takes a new single, ‘Silver Lining’, with her, as well as a nomination for the 2016 Female Artist of the Year. Recently I spoke to Tori about the single, her album of the same name, being an independent artist and, of course, Tamworth. Tori will appear during the festival on Tuesday 19 January at Wests Diggers, 3 p.m.
We’re here to talk about ‘Silver Lining’, which is your third single from the album of the same name. How have your fans responded to the album?
The response I’ve received for the album has been more than I could have ever asked for. I have had nothing but praise and good reviews from fans, and from industry. As an artist that’s all you ever really want. It’s always very daunting releasing a new album, wondering if people are going to like it or hate it, what are they going to say about it. To have such a good response on a second album that I’ve put literally everything I have and everything I own, all my time and effort and money into, means the world to me.
I know you play quite a bit and do your regular shows in Tamworth – is it always a bit nerve-wracking to play new songs for your established audience?
Yes, it is. [I’m] always saying, ‘If you guys like a song, let me know’, and if they don’t say anything you think, I guess they hated that one. It can be really scary playing new songs – just not knowing they’re going to react. How anyone is going to react, really. And then you think, Maybe that one’s not going to work – maybe it’s not a good track for an album. But sometimes it can just be one person’s opinion, so you can’t necessarily take their judgement, or not saying anything, as the final say.
Going to the name of this track, and the idea of a silver lining, what’s had a silver lining for you in the past?
My life in general. I’ve gone through a few rough patches over the last few years and that’s why I thought this title and this song were so fitting for my album, because sometimes you just have that really down moment and you think, Nothing is ever going to get better than this. Or you break up with your boyfriend or your partner and you think, I’m never going to find anyone. Then you release there’s a silver lining – I’ve met someone or I’m happy, or something’s progressed in your life that’s made you take notice that life isn’t so bad and you can’t take everything for gospel because it’s happened to you. You just have to move on, pick yourself back up and get going again. And I guess that’s what I feel like I’ve done with my life, with several different things that I’ve gone through, and that’s made me a better person too.
A lot of people listen to music to help them through things, and no doubt some of your fans are listening to your music to help them through things. What’s the music you have turned to in the past, to help you through challenging times?
I guess there’s not one particular song or artist. If I’m feeling a bit down I try to listen to something a bit happier. If I’m miserable because of a boy I’d probably listen to something sad and probably just drown in my own tears – which a lot of us females probably do [laughs]. But I guess I just try to relate to something that’s fitting and I’ll then probably listen to it over and over and over again, because that’s just what I’m like. There’s so many different, great artists not just in country music but in all different styles of music that I try to listen to a bunch of different things and stay really broad, I guess.
I think that’s a good policy.
Yeah, you have to listen to a bunch of different things in order to be able to be not so one-sided when it comes to songwriting, because if you are then you immediately dismiss something that could have been a great idea – ‘Oh no, that’s too pop’ – and then you miss this really great opportunity.
You’re working in a field you obviously love – then if you’re a musician and a performer you need to love it. But sometimes if you work in a field you love you can stop being a fan like you used to be. You have to listen to music in a different way and look at performances a different way. Do you find yourself doing that, or are you still able to listen to music for pleasure?
I definitely listen to music for pleasure … but you listen to some things and you might not have been so critical before, whereas now you listen to a song and you might think, I don’t know what they did there. I wouldn’t have done that. It does take the fun out of it a little bit because you become so critical and so judgemental.
You put a lot of emotions into your songs. When you’re recording a song and you have to do a few takes – as happens – what’s it like trying to get into the emotion of a song each time?
It can be really difficult. You might just get it straightaway and other times you can be having a really bad day vocally or mentally or just anything and it doesn’t happen, and you have to just sit down and reevaluate everything and think, What am I trying to get out of this song? What kind of message am I portraying? How do I want it to sound? Rather than just going bull at a gate and thinking, I’m just going to sing sing sing sing sing, and then realising that it didn’t work.
So it sounds like in those moments when you are feeling that challenge, you think about your audience – you think about how to connect to your audience.
Yes, a hundred per cent. You have to think about how this song would connect with some of fifty [years of age] and someone of twenty-five. Can this song be versatile? Can this be a song that’s relatable to lots of different people? And a lot of the time it can. You just have to put a lot of thought and a lot of patience and a lot of effort into something. It doesn’t just come naturally sometimes.
And I guess it’s harder when you’re in a recording studio. When you’re onstage and you can see your audience in front of you, you know who you’re singing to, but in a recording studio that connection can feel a bit … disconnected.
Yes. In a recording studio you are in there all on your own. It gives you a great opportunity for you to connect as an artist with yourself and your voice, and really finding what fits best, but then there are times when it can be really disjointed and you think, I’m just not connecting with it today. And sometimes all you need is a break from it and you come back to it and just nail it, and the producer says, ‘I don’t know what you did, but keep doing that.’
Just to link all this back to the song – this is your third single and I’m always curious as to how singles get chosen. As it’s the title track some people might think it should have gone first. So how do you approach choosing singles to go to radio?
I’d love to say that it’s the easiest thing you’ll ever do, but it really isn’t. Some of the time you can wrack your brains for month on end trying to decide what to release and what not to release. I originally had a different song picked for my third single but then I thought, No, that doesn’t fit. This one fits better.I think it’s just putting a lot of thought and effort into the decisions you make because once that decision’s made, it’s made.
Am I right in thinking you’ve put out this album as an independent artist, and therefore you do get to make your own decisions? You don’t have someone else coming in and overriding you?
Yes, that’s exactly right. I am an independent artist, so I do have a lot to say when it comes to the creative side of things as well. When it comes to the recording process and deciding which songs and everything in between, it’s my opinion, really, and I can take other people’s opinions on board but whether or not I choose to listen to them [laughs] … You’ve got to follow your heart, in a sense, because the song that you don’t record because someone tells you that shouldn’t but it’s a song you feel like you should, you’ll always regret it. I feel like I’ve been really lucky because I’ve worked with a really good team to record this album and I don’t feel like I’ve made any wrong decisions at all.
I’ve talked to quite a few country artists now who are independent. For some artists in a different genre it wouldn’t be as viable, but I think when there’s such a strong audience relationship with the artists, as there is in country music, it’s really interesting to me to see how many artists are making a go of it as independents – and of course it means you do get to choose your producer and your songs, and the albums coming out of this process have all been terrific, including yours. It must have been a bit scary, though, I would think – at least initially, to think, Oh no, I have all this responsibility.
It’s the scariest thing you could ever imagine. Going onstage before my album launch [in 2015] it was one of those moments – my band were saying, ‘You’ll be fine’, and I was saying, ‘Oh my god – what if they hate it? What if this whole thing’s a flop?’ Because you spend so much money on it and you put your heart and soul – and, like I said, everything you own – into that. So all you want to achieve is a good response where someone goes, ‘That was awesome! We love it and everyone else will as well.’ That’s all you want to hear, really. But if you don’t get that response it would be absolutely heartbreaking – not that I ever have, thank god. But if I did, I don’t know how I would respond to it. Maybe I’d think, Music isn’t for me.It’s a massive risk that you’re taking as an independent artist, putting yourself out there, putting your music out there, and you’re really just lying your whole heart and your life on the line because a lot of those songs that you’ve written are so personal.
But it does come back to that relationship with the audience and the performer’s
willingness to have it. I think if you and other artists who have done this weren’t interested in pleasing your audience or even having much to do with them, yes, there’s a risk that you put out an album that they don’t like. But when you’re responsive to your audience, when you’re in Tamworth playing shows – I think you did three shows in 2015 – that means you’re making that connection and you’re really respectful of what they want, and it would therefore be hard to put out something that they don’t want, because you know what they want. Does that make sense?
Yes, it totally does. You know what your fans expect from you, to a certain degree that it’s okay to change it a little bit, but not to the point where they’re saying, ‘We don’t recognise you – what are you doing?’ You always want it to be to the point that your fans hear your voice and say, ‘That’s Tori Darke – that’s a new song’. But at the same time there are good moments when you can change yourself a little bit, change your style a little bit, and they will go with you.
So what’s next? Are you planning a new album? You’re planning some tour dates in 2016 but I would imagine you also have some writing and recording in mind.
Definitely. I want to be writing and recording. I’d love to go back to Nashville to plan for a new album. It’s really just one of those things where you have to take each day as it comes, and for me 2016 really holds a lot of touring and I want to get back into the studio and I want to start writing again and just being really, really active with my career.
But there’s a lot to do, isn’t there – social media, for example. When you’re an independent artist you’re also your own manager as well as your own record label manager. So do you have a very organised diary?
I do have a very organised diary but sometimes it can go all over the shop. When you’re an independent artist you are your own boss, your own manager – you’re everything. So you have to have your head screwed on pretty tightly. I work a full-time job as well as being a full-time musician so a day off for me is very, very rare, unfortunately. You have to have all you ducks in a row so that when the time comes that you need to do something or you need to be somewhere, you’re there without any hesitation.
If you’re working a full-time job as well then maybe you can’t get a lot of time off for Tamworth. Can you tell us about your own show and whether or not you’ll get any time off to see any other shows?
I have one ticketed show in Tamworth which I’m absolutely thrilled to be doing again. The show is me and Mick Lindsay, co-headlining. We’ll do a two-hour show where Mick will be opening and I’ll be closing. We’ve also got the beautiful Rachel Farhim – she’s doing the support. Then I’ve got a few different things here and there. Little guest spots for friends and things like that, helping out a little bit. But other than that I plan on relaxing and enjoying myself, because I never do and you always usually end up run off your feet, and of course I’ll be doing radio interviews and things like that as well, but I do plan to take a bit of time just to listen to some music because that’s what we all want to do as well..