It’s been 12 years since Tina Arena last gifted us with an album of English originals. 2001’s ‘Just Me’ was packed with stylish pop nuggets, from the Nile Rodgers-produced lead single ‘Soulmate #9’ to the Peter Vettese gems like ‘Symphony Of Life’, ‘Tangled’, ‘You Made Me Find Myself’ and ‘Something’s Gotta Change’. But the wait is over for her dedicated fan base, with the release of her new album ‘Reset’.
And naturally, we couldn’t let such a momentous occasion go by without sitting down for a natter and Tina promptly explains what’s kept her so long.
“Look, I’ve never been interested in more of the same. It just doesn’t interest me,” she reveals. “And I’ve lived. And I’ve been a mum. And I’ve concentrated on my boy and I’ve concentrated on being a partner. A wife, a woman, a mum and I’ve had lots of other work that’s kept me busy.
“But I didn’t feel it was time to come out with something new. I just didn’t think that the last three or four years have been interesting enough or that people were in the right headspace. I just thought people wouldn’t really give a shit. And you know what? That’s cool.”
Clearly, however, her Aussie audience does give a shit, with a news.com.au poll conducted earlier this year declaring her Australia’s greatest female singer of all time.
“I was surprised by that, to be really honest with you. I really was. I was quite taken aback when I heard that. I was freaked.”
Though it has been more than ten years since ‘Just Me’, Tina has been far from idle career-wise. There was the collaboration with the Roc Project (‘Never’), a ‘Greatest Hits’ and its single (‘Italian Love Song’), two French language albums, four live albums, two editions of ‘Songs Of Love & Loss’, plenty of touring commitments and a return to where it all began, with an appearance on the reboot of ‘Young Talent Time’.
Tina’s recording career, too, has seemingly come full circle, with both ‘Songs Of Love & Loss’ albums and ‘Reset’ being released on the same label that put out her debut ‘Strong As Steel’, EMI.
‘Reset’ is an album full of collaborations with fresh Australian talent; songwriters and producers. But what’s in a name? Tina tells us she settled on ‘Reset’ for a very good reason.
“Because basically I just very quietly believe – not even quietly – and I’m sure I’m not the only one that shares the same opinion… I think we all very seriously need to reset as human beings,” she says. “I think that we are at probably the most vacuous that humanity has ever been. It’s an incredibly visually driven world.
“Australians really like to keep up with the Joneses, which is pretty frightening. And as an insider – who’s also an outsider looking in – I kinda look at everybody trying to keep up with everything and I just think something’s not right. We just need to get back to the basics, the fundamentals. Because I really believe that the fundamentals have been lost,” she says.
Fundamentals like communication.
“There is no communication. I am absolutely blown away by the amount of people that spend time on their machines,” Tina reveals. “Do people take the time to look at themselves and to look at how ridiculous they actually are that that is the most important thing in their lives? Technology has got everybody by the balls. I’m not the only one with that observation, please?
“Maybe I’m the only one who’s stupid enough to talk about it. I don’t know if it’s smart or it’s stupid, but it’s at a point where it needs to change. Just put it in its place. Prioritise your things. The priority is us as individuals. Our spirits. Our desires, our fears, our hopes. That’s what’s more important. Call me a pathetic ideologist… I’m really happy with that title.”
On the emotional flipside, ‘You Set Fire To My Life’ was the obvious choice to lead the album campaign.
“The song was so obviously celebratory. You couldn’t avoid that,” Tina says. “It is what it is. It celebrates love, it celebrates happiness. It’s just a celebration. Interpret it any way you want to.”
‘Reset’ features collaborations with a host of Australian talent, including Dann Hume, Ilan Kidron, DNA, Hayley Warner and many more. Though there are also tracks penned and produced in other parts of the world, it was important for Tina to give the locals some love.
“It’s important for me, after certainly experiencing the thinking that I was never good enough, that the young generation doesn’t grow up with that kind of conditioning and that they grow up feeling confident and believe in what it is they do. Instead of someone saying to them ‘you’re not good enough’ or ‘you don’t look right’ or ‘you don’t sound right’ or ‘we want it to sound more like this’. It’s really about empowering people to allow themselves to be free in their art and to not have people judge them.
“And these young kids who I’ve collaborated with… I didn’t want to judge them. I just wanted to enjoy what it is they had to say or their contributions; their perspectives. I could obviously be a mum to half of them. And it’s really interesting to share those perspectives. It’s really beautiful. So for me, it was very important that local talent gets showcased – because I believe in it.”
The album also sees Tina taking the co-producer reigns for the first time.
“I’ve always produced in a way. I’ve just never taken the credit,” she tells us. “I’ve done loads of things on my own over the years. I remember the duet that I did with Luca Barbarossa (‘Segnali Di Fumo’). I produced it myself in Australia. He was miles away.
“I’ve just done a song for a soundtrack for a German mini series called ‘Tartort’. The song’s called ‘White Light’. And it’s huge. It was written by Mattias Lindblom and Anders Wollbeck who wrote ‘You Set Fire To My Life’ and ‘Out Of The Blue’ with me. Mattias said to me ‘darl, you’ve got to do it!’, and I said ‘I have 55 things on at the moment! I’m almost scheduling my toilet times’. But he asked me again and I thought ‘cool’. I went to the studio, two hours, I produced my own vocals, I sent it to them and they came back happy with it.”
Though many things have changed throughout Tina’s career, one constant is that utterly extraordinary voice. That effortless ability to vocally connect with a lyric via the slightest of whispers, or the grandest of notes. It’s an ability that we feel is fast becoming a lost art. Tina agrees.
“Different education,” she muses. “You can’t expect the generation of today to really connect with a lyric because they’re not as connected as what we were. We didn’t grow up with social media. We grew up relying on our imaginations. That’s all we had. We didn’t have a tactile thing where everytime we didn’t understand something, we Googled it to find out someone’s interpretation. We were relying on our basic instincts. And human emotion. Which a lot of people don’t really pay too much attention to.”
Given Tina’s innate ability to deliver a song, her live performances are constantly thrilling. She shares with us two performances from throughout her career that stand out as her favourites.
“‘Enough Is Enough’,” she reveals. “The Donna Summer moment was a time where I really felt I’d landed without even knowing it. It wasn’t really until a few years later that I fully appreciated that performance. Ms Summer was interesting. She was a very bright woman. A woman who had lived a lot of things, obviously. And probably some tough things as well. But that was a masterful moment. It was a good collaboration of two spirits.
“It was very hard to step into Ms Streisand’s shoes. They’re incredibly difficult shoes to fill and I would never for any moment even hold myself in the same regard, because she’s such an extraordinary woman. Streisand was an incredible reference for me, as was Donna. They were women who really, really worked. And had to work. It wasn’t a question of ‘let me bat my eyelids at you’. There was none of that shit going on in those days. Those girls really really worked.
“Another moment for me was the ‘Symphony Of Life’ tour. The last tour with the orchestra. There were some pretty incredible moments in that show where I felt I’d landed vocally. I’m starting to feel things emotionally that are difficult to intellectualise when I’m on stage. I live things.”
With the English language album now out of the way, we feel it our duty to ask Tina what’s happening for her French fans, who are champing at the bit for a little nouvelle musique Française.
“I’m reading a lot of messages at the moment and they’re pretty… Listen… I think the fact that there’s an English record coming out will be good. The French record? All French artists are doing everything they can to get away from their language. They all want to sing in English. It’s a cyclical thing. It’s like fashion really.”
We find it staggering to think that artists would want to shun one of the world’s most beautiful languages.
“It is beautiful,” Tina concurs. “But it’s not easy to find good songs either. I can hear a song. It can be sung in Chinese and I can still tell you whether it’s good or not. And I just haven’t heard anything that’s rocked me. I will, god willing. I’m hoping. I keep my fingers crossed. It’s not like it’s the last time I’ll record in French, but until that killer song comes, I’m not just going to give them more shit just for the sake of it. I don’t believe in it. And I think they’re starting to get to know that because I’ve been very vocal about it. If you want a machine, you’re looking at the wrong person.”
There’s also talk of a re-release of ‘Don’t Ask’ in 2014 to co-incide with the album’s 20th anniversary, as well as speculation of a national tour.
“There’s lots of things in the works, but one thing at a time,” she teases. “Gotta get it right. I’m going to have to find the time to work on it and get it right. I want to do something interesting. I don’t want to just…. It’ll come.”
In the meantime, Tina’s fans should be pretty happy with everything that’s happening right now. In amongst a gruelling training schedule for her current appearance on ‘Dancing With The Stars’ and her myriad media commitments in relation to the album’s release, she’s managed to deliver a new single, new remixes, a new album and a book, ‘Now I Can Dance’. Exhausting yes, but we live in hope that the next chapter in Tina Arena’s extraordinary career isn’t 12 more years away.
Tina Arena’s single ‘You Set Fire To My Life’ and its remix EP are available digitally now.
Tina’s new album ‘Reset’ will be released in standard and deluxe editions both digitally and physically tomorrow.
Her autobiography ‘Now I Can Dance’ is also out now.