Our extended interview with Tina Arena from LOIS. issue 3.
By Emma Graham
Reflecting on the last 40 years in music, Australian songstress Tina Arena is transported back to the release of her 1994 album, Don’t Ask.
“I remember that time as being quite surreal – the work load was crazy and exciting and time moved very quickly,” she recalled.
This was the career changing album that transformed the singer from 10-year-old ‘Tiny Tina’ on Young Talent Time, to an icon in the Australian and European music scenes.
Tina caught up with LOIS. to talk about those ground-breaking years ahead of her upcoming Australian tour, From Innocence to Understanding.
Emma: You recently released Tina Arena (Greatest Hits & Interpretations) which features a collection of your most popular tracks and interpretations of your hits by fellow Australian artists. Dannii Minogue’s remake of Sorrento Moon is vastly different to the original song. How did it feel stepping back into the studio and reworking this track?
Tina: It felt great. I love the new version of the song – it’s been a very important song in my career and it’s 22 years old. It was time to revisit it. We wanted to keep its heart but make it sound like a 2017 version. Dannii’s signature sound is dance, and this is her contribution to the new album (of Interpretations), so it needed to be in the dance/electro lane. We worked with a great Sydney production duo called Moza Beats and I’m really happy with the results. It was very a special process, and long-overdue working with Dannii – it only took us 35 years after leaving Young Talent Time! We remained friends and I think she’s an incredible lady – smart and strong. It’s good that she’s doing music again.
E: What was the process behind reworking these songs – did you work closely with the artists or allow them creative freedom?
T: My only involvement was choosing artists that I thought were interesting and then handing over the keys to them.
I had nothing to do with the creative process – they’re interpretations, so it’s important to give the artists freedom to interpret the songs as they envisage them. I’m not about to tell Jimmy Barnes or Kate Miller-Heidke how to re-work these songs. They’ve done stellar versions. The only songs I was creatively involved in were Chains (with Jessica Mauboy and The Veronicas) as we performed it at the ARIAs together and that was such an incredible moment we shared, and Sorrento Moon with Dannii – as I do vocals on that song with her. I love all the various genres that are on the album. Clare Bowen (who plays Scarlette in the hit US TV series Nashville) has done a stunning country rendition of Still Running, and Morgan Evans version of If I Didn’t Love You is also very country and I love it.
Katie Noonan and Alex Hope are more ethereal and so gorgeous. David Thibault did I Need Your Body as a swing version which I love (English is his second language and he wasn’t even born when that song came out) – so it was great to get a very different perspective on that song.
E: Looking back over the last 40 years, how do you feel you’ve progressed as both an artist and a woman working in the music industry?
T: That’s a big question. There’s been enormous growth and that is something that still continues today. I’m 50 this year and I feel really good with where I am and the journey I’ve had. There is still a lot to do and I’m sure a lot to learn. I guess with age, like most people, I’ve become stronger and more self-assured – less worried about trying to please everybody – as that’s an impossibility.
E: During your ARIA Hall of Fame speech in 2015 you spoke about the issues relating to ageism towards women in the Australian music industry. You’ve mentioned that you received such positive feedback from the speech, but in reality, the issues still remain.
What needs to be done to change this?
T: Honestly I don’t know. I think first and foremost … As a country we need to support our own artists on radio more, and I think perhaps the radio content quotas for Australian music should be higher. I wish we had a few more radio formats – some in the middle that play all types of music – old and new, emerging artists and established artists all on the one station. The formats are so segmented: stations that just play “classic hits” and stations that just play “top 40 pop singles” – I don’t think the listener thinks about the age or sex of the artist – they just want good music. More variety would be good.
E: When you relocated to France in the late 90’s, were there any challenges involved in transitioning from the Australian ‘music market’ to the European market?
T: Huge changes, huge cultural differences, but it was amazing and it was something I had to do. Singing in other languages has been one of the best and most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
E: You seem to have quite a healthy balance within the world of social media. A lot of new artists are being discovered via their YouTube channels and various social media platforms. How do you think this has affected the upcoming pool of talent?
T: I think like all technology it’s been good and bad. It certainly can help talent get their music out to the world more easily.
It’s good as music is more readily available, you can buy it from home in 2 seconds… which is fantastic. You can listen to music from all over the world – it’s all at your fingertips.
More music and accessible music are both good things.
With that immediacy though it means less people are making trips to the record store (I mean HMV, Brashes, Virgin – almost all the music stores are gone!). So it’s convenient and easy and accessible – but I think that also makes it a bit more disposable.
People don’t have the experience of holding an album and listening to a full album as a body of work – people just pick and choose the singles they like.
Technology has also made piracy and stealing music very easy which is the downside – as not only the artists suffer, the record labels, the songwriters, the song producers, artist managers, the graphic designers, the photographers, the retailers…. It has an exponential effect.
So lots of good and a downside too.
E: Will you be playing any of your French hits during your upcoming tour?
T: There are a lot of English songs to cover.
Some fans are already frustrated that all my singles are not included on the new Greatest Hits – and the reason for that is we could only fit 76 minutes worth of music on the disc and over 40 years there has been more than 76 minutes worth of music – believe me. I’d say the tour will be all English material so we can include as many audience favourites as possible – we’ll rework a lot of them, I’m very excited about this tour, 40 years is something to celebrate!
Tina Arena will perform at Hobart’s Theatre Royal on September 27 as part of her From Innocence to Understanding tour.