Singer-songwriter Tori Forsyth has just released her debut album, Dawn of the Dark, but she was already a force in Australian country music, playing shows with other artists and clearly impressing established hands. The reasons for her rise are clear on the album, which is a rich work from an artist who is at the start of her career yet already accomplished. I interviewed Tori before the album’s release and she is now on tour.
I love the album. I have been listening to it a lot and it is one of those albums that you can’t put it on in the background which is great because it really demands attention but so it means I have a very good, deep listen to it and it is a really fantastic piece of work so congratulations.
Thank you so much.
I would like to start by asking about your musical education – what you grew up listening to.
I grew up listening to a lot of different music. My parents didn’t really have any specific type of music style that they only listened to. So I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, Chris Isaak, Stevie Nicks’s solo work was a pretty big part of growing up. A lot of Melanie Safka, a bit of Jimmy Barnes. It was pretty eclectic.
Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks is fantastic pop music in terms of the song structures and the melodies. Are you interested in how pop works as much as any other genre?
Definitely. I think more so back then, kind of, pop music styles and sounds, more than what is considered pop at the moment – but, yes. I love how pop is structured, I love the catchy choruses and tag lines and all that sort of thing. So I definitely do have a place for pop in my playlist.
And I suppose for any singer – we all start out singing along to songs on the radio, I guess, or albums that we have at home, and then it is a process of finding your own voice. So did you have any influences that you consciously had to take out of your voice as you were developing your own?
I have never been asked that before. That’s a really good question. I think my approach to music was very naïve when I started. I started singing and all that sort of thing. I knew I was a little bit different to what everybody else sounded like and at the time I thought that was bad. I didn’t understand why my voice was kind of weird. I could hold a tune and everything but I thought, Why can’t I sound like them?I don’t think I necessarily sound like anyone in particular or had a problem with trying to not sound like anything because it is still so different, what comes out of my mouth is a bit different to what you will hear and people definitely let me know that. No, I didn’t have any problems per se. Yes, I was always kind of wondering why I didn’t sound like everybody else.
It is hard, isn’t it? When you are an artist because – there are people saying, ‘Your voice sounds really different’ but, of course, if you sounded like someone else you would be called derivative.
That is it. Exactly.
Having your own voice literally and figuratively is having the courage of conviction about what you are doing and that authenticity about you as an artist is what resonates in the end, I think, with audiences.
Definitely. And I think that I have come into my own thing, which is really cool. After only a couple of years I have found where I sit and where I am comfortable being within the music realm.
And, of course, you are sitting under the country umbrella, which is a broad umbrella. What do you love about country music that attracted it to you as a genre?
I think the stories and being able to have that real storyline within the lyrics. That is what has drawn me to country music in the first place, and having a love for fiddle and a banjo, and I love to be able to use them in my songs and have them on stage with me and all that kind of thing. But I also love the umbrella … because I also love the influences of other styles of music. I think it’s a good place for this album to sit.
And it is a good community. In Australia, at least, as far as I can tell, country music is the one genre where there is some kind of structure for a new artist. There is Tamworth as a festival but there is almost a sense of other established artists being willing to – if not mentor then at least talk to you about their experiences. Whereas in other genres, it seems like you could be a bit at sea.
Definitely. Really being new to the industry a couple of years ago, I found a place pretty quickly because of that, I think. And people are just so willing to give you a hand and show you how to do it – obviously you get the good and the bad with everything you do, but I have never seen or heard in any other industry people being so welcoming and it’s such a high quality of musician wanting to say, ‘Hey, this is the way we do it.’ And giving you a hand with it rather than pushing you away and out of the picture.
There is that real sense of continuity and heritage within the genre itself maybe. So the older artists do see someone like you coming up and think, well, that is our future as opposed to that is my competitor.
Absolutely, which is a really awesome thing, and I think that it is such a drawcard to country music, and country music fans and listeners also say that that is a really awesome thing. It is like a little community really. It’s really nice.
You’ve only been doing this for a couple of years that you have been doing this. Your bio refers to you as a farm kid and I am wondering how a farm kid actually even looks at the music business from the outside and attempts to break into it.
I did grow up on a farm and it was very … I hate using this word, it sounds really dorky, but organic. I had a very organic approach and introduction to music. So being in the right, kind of, place on the Central Coast and I met Trent Crawford, who introduced me to Shane Nicholson, and then it started rolling from there. So the business side of things and the music industry, it is all a learn-as-you-go thing. Very different from any other kind of industry. Maybe not. But you do need to make the connections. You need to meet people and it is a learn-as-you-go process, but I think that I was pretty lucky in the people I met straightaway …Trent produced the first EP and then said, ‘Let’s go to Shane’s and he can engineer it.’ I think that was a really good way of getting to know Shane without having that pressure of him producing something straightaway because it got me more comfortable. I had never been in a studio before. I had never sung before, and to have to do it in front of someone you admire so greatly, him just engineering the first batch of songs was a good way for me to get the feel for it and a really good introduction.
I have seen you play live so I know you play guitar. Did you teach yourself guitar and start to sing because you had songs that you wanted to write, or were you already musical and then the songs started to come?
I definitely had to force myself on the guitar. It is not something that is very natural to me and it still is not a natural thing for me. Whereas singing was very natural to pick up and understand, but I still have to force myself to practise the guitar and learn new things. I did get a few lessons when I was younger, but it was definitely that forceful thing of, okay, I am doing a few things. I need a tool to write with. And so then comes the guitar.
Because the piano is not exactly portable, which I think would be easier.
Not really. No. That was the first instrument I learned. I taught myself piano when I was about 12 and I was just on this little Casio keyboard. But, no, it’s not exactly easy to transport.
We were talking about your debut EP and that is something you self-funded. That requires a lot of focus and commitment as well, so I am wondering if you are happy that you went that way? Would you rather have had someone else do it for you or was that for you a real statement of belief in your work?
No, that was probably the best thing I had ever done, doing that myself. And I am really still quite proud that I was, like, you know, I am going to do this by myself, I don’t want any help. I want to be the reason that this little project makes it happen. So I am really happy that I paid for that all and decided to do that because it is still one of my proudest achievements.
There are so many things to think about creating something like that, and especially when you consider that now with this album coming out and other people are involved, I have no doubt you are seeing how many people are involved in not just getting this album out to the world but promoting it and everything. And you did all that yourself initially.
It is funny because [I think], Oh, well, what do I do?Then you feel like you are handing over so much and it’s really cool. I think, as an independent artist going with a record label, it is, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ They are doing it all for me, [although] obviously there are still aspects where I … like to be really hands-on and I was very vocal about that with them. And they have been really accommodating for that because obviously they have got their ways, but I wanted to be involved with every step of the process because a lot does go behind it and we are wanting to work with people, not necessarily have them work for you. So it was pretty important to have that involvement but it is pretty cool to know that I did accomplish something by myself and that a whole team of people who are now involved with.
But it is also in terms of you still wanting to have your say when no one knows your songs better than you do. A producer can be a collaborator and have a different perspective. But it is originally your work and it came from your head so you know it best.
Absolutely, and it is all very personal for me. And I didn’t do this out of any other reason but the fact that I have some things to say and I wrote some songs. And it is all very personal thing for me, which I think has its good and bad sides but mostly good.
A lot of the lyrics are really engrossing and sometimes confronting and attention-grabbing. You don’t sing in platitudes. You sing really honestly and it feels like you are giving a lot of yourself to the song and to the audience. At any point does it feel like you are giving too much?
I definitely felt that after writing a song. I thought it was a bit much, people are going to think, what’s she talking about? That’s a bit weird. But then I also have to pull myself up and say, well, this song isn’t for anybody else. People can only take what they can from a song. If you start writing for other people or with other people in mind I think that completely disregards the whole process and the whole idea behind writing. For me anyway, obviously, my opinions are very different from probably a lot of other people. But for me it is not really about how it is taken, it’s about what you can offer as to whether or not it is taken the way you would like it to or not. That’s totally cool but it is like any piece of artwork, I suppose. People take from it. If they like it then they will enjoy it and if not, then that is fine too.
I totally get not writing for someone else. But at the same time, when I am listening to the album, it feels like you set up a real relationship with the audience in the way that you sing and also the fact that these songs do demand to be listened to, not just put on in the background. So even if you are not writing for other people, who do you feel like you are singing to when you are recording or when you are performing, for that matter?
It’s really cool and I am glad that you take that from the record. When I am recording it, I think I go back to the particular situation I was in when I wrote the song because all of them are very personal and I am pretty bad at writing from the perspective of somebody else. It’s not something that comes naturally and I have tried it. But it is not a natural thing and the co-writes aren’t very natural to me either. I kind of freeze up and don’t really know how to contribute to them. But when I am recording it, I just go back to where I was when I wrote it, what I was feeling when I wrote it, and what the song is about. So I suppose I am singing to myself a diary or something. To be able to connect with people and that sort of thing. That is the interesting thing that I found from the EP when people were responding to the songs with their own stories and saying, ‘This really helped me.’ That was something that was a total bonus because I wasn’t expecting such a great interaction and response from it.
Speaking of interaction of course, you are going to head out on tour. The album is about to be released and you are heading out on a three-month tour. So have you settled on dates or are you just going with the flow to an extent?
Definitely got a lot of days locked in. We are touring. We are doing Perth and everything like that. So I’ve booked an extensive tour, myself and another artist, Carl the Bartender, who is also my partner. We have got our van and we are going across Australia and we are doing all the booking ourselves. It takes a lot to lock everything in and make sure it all flows well, so it is taking a little bit longer than we had hoped it would to book everything in. But the dates will be released soon. There is definitely a lot of them.
AmI right in thinking this is the most dates you have ever done at once in a run to do this tour?
Yes, definitely in a continual state of being on the road, definitely three months and we are hoping to have at least around – between 30 and 40 dates in that three months including the Gympie Muster and all that. It is going to be pretty full-on but we wanted to cover a lot of ground. I am doing a band show and then cover a lot of ground and then do a few more band shows at the end of the year.
And that kind of schedule I guess will allow you time to write while you are on the road – or are you someone who compartmentalises those activities? So, if you are performing a lot, you can’t or don’t like to write?
I find it difficult, that’s for sure, but I really hope to … I have had a bit of writer’s block around the [album] release. But I think this chapter is not closed but closing with this record, and [with] it being out I can open the door to write more. Hopefully I do hope to write on the road. It would be great.
Dawn of the Dark is out through Lost Highway Australia/Universal Music Australia