There was barely three years between writing her first proper song and Tori Forsyth releasing a debut album. Normally that happens with some manufactured pop star on a reality show, but this is a strong-willed Hunter Valley singer/songwriter who knows what she wants, and what she doesn’t want. Country music is but part of the story.
“THEY TEACH YOU FORMULA, AND THAT’S NOT ME”
Tori Forsyth, in black jeans and fringed jacket, a nose ring glinting off the businesslike lights of the record company kitchen space, looks at home. Relaxed. Not like someone who has just released her first record, but maybe her fourth. Not like a fresh alt. country voice, but maybe a seasoned rock artist.
The reviews for that album, the cheerfully named Dawn Of The Dark, have been very positive - “so far,” clarifies Forsyth, with a smile - what does that do to her confidence and psyche?
“Obviously I have that thought of people aren’t going to like it because it’s different. I had one radio interview where it was very clear that this person I was talking to was not big on the record, or hadn’t listened to it. But there’s only been one negative,” she says.
“I think [the radio bloke] didn’t like the diversity. Some people when they like something they like ‘this’ rather than opening their minds to a wider thing. People get a little freaked out when they have two go, ‘oh there’s that element to it’, and it scares people.”
While that may be a problem for some people, and for lots of what passes for radio, diversity – in her case, encompassing traditional country and folk, with rock and pre-1990s pop - was the whole point of the record for Forsyth who grew up on the Central Coast and around Newcastle and sounds not unlike a less-nasally version of near neighbour (and fellow nose ring owner) Kasey Chambers.
Not that it was a deliberate choice, rather that this is what she listens to, so this is what she writes.
“I wanted every element of music that I like in this record,” says Forsyth whose first song was written about Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, who has claimed New York rock band Pretty Reckless as a major influence on at least one song on Dawn Of The Dark, and whose shows usually feature a song by proto-pop hippie Melanie (as in Brand New Pair Of Rollerskates Melanie).
“I think Shane [Nicholson, who produced it] has done an amazing job of fitting everything without it sounding like a mess.”
That may be true but the bizarre thing about diversity being almost a dirty word on these narrowcasting stations is most of the country artists getting played could be said to be playing pretty much the same song: just faster or slower versions. Forsyth doesn’t play that game.
“I can’t talk to anybody else but I definitely go from day-to-day not listening to the same genre, otherwise you don’t learn anything,” she says. “I think as a musician, the first thing I need to constantly do is find new music to be constantly inspired and find new ways. Not necessarily writing - I have a weird way of doing that - but for sounds. Sounds inspire me more than anything else really.”
And what is she listening to today? Boogie rock/borderline metal quartet, Greta Van Fleet. What? No Lee Kernaghan?
If sounds inspire her, less inspiring has been her experience with the matchings with songwriters, either in offices or the “songwriting camps” that publishers are fond of, pitching newbies in with experienced hands who “guide” them. Think of it as a kind of songwriting Tinder with algorithms in the hands of the usual suspects working laptops in offices.
While she only wrote her first proper song in 2015, Forsyth has already learnt that when it comes to those camps “they teach you formula and that’s not for me”.
“I don’t get it and I find it difficult to have to put those restrictions because at the end of the day why would you want to restrict the potential it could have?”
Not that she is ruling out a co-write with someone outside that system.
“I think the main thing with a co-write is that you can’t create a connection with someone you don’t know it all by sitting down in a businesslike environment. If I connected with someone and loved what they were doing musically and who they are as a person, that would be the perfect recipe for a co-write.”
Ok, but what would she bring to the table for one of these co-writes? Does she have a sense yet of her strengths and weaknesses as a songwriter?
“I think a different perspective, rather than just straight down the line. Even in conversation I figure I see things differently,” she says, adding wryly “It’s very character building.”
With three years since she began to believe she could write a song and two years since the first EP it has been a case of rapidly learning on the job, including what it means to be signed by Shane Nicholson - in his role as A&R man rather than producer – to Lost Highway Australia within the massive Universal Music conglomerate. There’s been a few lessons learnt.
“I think that the biggest thing, just in the last six months, I have a bit more confidence in my own opinions,” Forsyth, who turns 23 this month, says. “Everyone will tell you what they think, and there’s a lot of people that will tell what you should look like and the way you should go about a particular interview, whatever. There is a lot of opinions. But I’ve learnt to say [to myself], ‘okay, what do you think?’. and that’s the best lesson I’ve learned.”
That is an interesting response because in many ways you might expect that this past 12 months, physical financial and emotional upheaval included, might make her feel less sure about her own opinion. She could easily, confronted by all that was new, thought “shit, I don’t know anything I better shut up and do as I’m told”.
“I did do that for a bit, and that’s how I learnt,” says Forsyth. “You just feel even smaller than you are [for giving in], and that’s not good for anyone. I had to learn that to learn not to.”
Looking back on this rapid year, what’s been the toughest thing to accept about who she is and what she does?
“That within Australia there is an unspoken rule of what will sell and I’ve learnt that I’m not particularly in that category,” Forsyth says. “I’m cool with that now. I want to reach as many people as I possibly can, because that would be awesome but I’m not going to sacrifice myself to do it.”
Dawn Of The Dark is out now. Tori Forsyth will be on the road through Australia from June 28 to September 13. Full details HERE