20 years after the release of their seminal classic ‘Buses & Trains’, Bachelor Girl are back.
The Aussie pop dynamos have just released their stunning new single ‘Speak’. And with more new music in the pipeline, we decided it was high time for a sit down chat with singer Tania Doko.
Over a coffee and Mumma Doko’s delicious home made scones, Tania talked about the past, the now, the power of a lyric and the need for us to sometimes switch off our technology and simply ‘Speak’.
Q. So 20 years… where did that go?
A. I think as I’ve told you, I feel like I’m in a bit of a time warp. Without Daniel and Leo here (Tania’s husband and son), I feel like I’m back in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s. What does time even mean anymore? It’s just memories. Good memories. Thankfully songs like ‘Buses’… they’re just life affirming. The message doesn’t really date.
Thankfully, looking back when James and I play acoustically… ‘Treat Me Good’, ‘Permission To Shine’, ‘I’m Just A Girl’… I thought I wasn’t as related to them, but I actually am. But it makes me happy that I am. You don’t want to sing songs from the past that you’ve got no association with. The actual messages still hold true.
Q. So you’ve still got your Tamagotchi?
A : Nah. I don’t have that. But we do have wrist watch phones. And we do have too many friends on the internet.
Q. How does Bachelor Girl 2018 differ from Bachelor Girl 1998?
A : What do you think? I’m interested to think what you think about it?
Q : Oh so you’re interviewing us now?
A : Just your opinion.
Q : We don’t perceive there to be as much difference as some may think. As you’ve said, your music is about real feelings, real emotions and you sing about real things. We’ve obviously only heard a little bit of what you’ve got in the pipeline and we’ve been absolutely blessed to have been able to listen to ‘Speak’ since February. But ‘Speak’ is astonishingly powerful and personal.
A : I’m curious to know… you know me pretty well. So your identity or your perception of the band is what is probably accurate. If I give my thoughts on how the band differs… I’m probably too close. So how it’s changed for the audience is what I’m interested in.
And I think that core of us trying to talk about real stuff and not fluffy stuff… that’s what we’re holding on to. That part is the common denominator. That’s what we’re always aiming for. The clothes it’s dressed in… okay, we’re not in the ‘90s anymore. And we’re probably using a lot less instrumentation across the board.
Now we’re stripping things back and lyrically we’re observing the man. It’s not so much about all my tumultuous relationships of the past. None of those any more.
Q : One thing that always holds true, however, is the power and emotion of your vocal. It has a warmth and an honesty that always cuts through.
A : I guess I’m in my element when I can sing songs that I can really mean. I’ve been doing this ‘songwriter for hire’ thing in Sweden and it’s been incredible. But when you just have to fill in the lyric or write to a brief, you can just write it, get into it for a week, but then it’s part of a long list of a catalogue that you’re not releasing under your own artistry.
So these Bachelor Girl songs I’ve become attached to, they’re like little babies. It’s why I always want to write fewer songs for other people. I might give the themes that are really close to my heart away.
I didn’t need to get up on stage and sing for the longest time. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. And now it’s all I want to do. And I think across your lifetime, it does ebb and flow. Now I want to try this for five years and now I want to try that for five years. But having Leo, who now doesn’t want to listen to me sing anymore… Shoosh mumma shoosh! I’ve been thinking… okay, I think I might need a little wider audience now.
Q. What kind of changes have you seen in the record industry over the past 20 years? (Good ones and bad)
A : Well I tell you what hasn’t changed… What hasn’t changed is that when a song cuts through, it just cuts through. A hit song is a hit song. Now what is ‘the hit song’? It’s a mysterious thing. But people just get so connected. Look at someone like Ed Sheeran who just dominates. Think about ‘Thinking Out Loud’… it was a great song from any era. And it was pretty emotional. Adele is another example of something that stuck.
Of course you’ve got hit songs that are just doofy. But after six months, you don’t really remember them. So I think the hit songs that you remember… those core elements that penetrate are still the same. It’s just that we have 20,000 tracks per day released via Spotify etc. So you get one song that’s a hit one week and then it falls off.
So that’s changed. They don’t really last long. What’s changed? Our attention spans for one thing.
Q. Sorry, what were you saying?
A : Yeah, exactly. What? Attention spans and the amount of songs released today. The way it’s consumed and distributed. Everything really. I think we’re in a better time now since the existence of streaming. Post Napster days. So it’s exciting, but it can be very daunting for an artist. Especially for a debut artist… how to engage audience and where to focus your attention.
You can hardly be blamed for being addicted to the internet and your phone in terms of audience engagement because it’s so crucial. Which is why when I moved to Stockholm, I put self-imposed boundaries on phone use. Nine o’clock at night, the phones go off. Well my phone goes off. Because now we’re dealing with Australia, peak traffic, post this, post that… it just never ends.
Okay, here’s the biggest change… Go on ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ in 1998 and play to three million people. And that was the great reveal. A few other interviews – ‘The Panel’, of course, was crucial. But three million people watching? What rates like that anymore? So you have to do a lot more for less attention. But you don’t have to have a label. You do it smart, but you’ve got to spend some money.
Q. If you could change one thing about the music industry in Australia right now, what would it be?
A : Radio airplay. Australian airplay. It’s a bit thin isn’t it? And the quotas that they meet by slipping it in at night time. But I spoke to the Oz Made guys… very supportive. I’ve been here for five minutes, but I’ve not heard a lot of Australian music during the day. And I think that really does have a negative impact on the industry. Even the major labels can’t get their major acts arrested on radio. We really need to do something about this.
Q. For our money, the government needs to step up and put a quota in place. A per-hour quota. Not just a ‘here’s how much Australian music you need to play during the week’. You can’t bury it in the middle of the night.
A : Everybody knows this, right? So this is the difference between artists working live and not working live. Streaming and not streaming. Look at the streams. They’re all light on. I don’t know how people consume music in Australia. I thought there was more Spotify streaming. But people are still downloading. Youtube, I guess?
Q. What was it about Buses & Trains that connected in the way that it did (and still resonates today)?
A : I think because it’s so life affirming. It goes beyond the catastrophes between man and woman or specifically myself and all these guys in my 20s. It becomes about looking back or a retrospective smile to all those crazy things we do. Maybe we shouldn’t do them, but they’ve just helped us grow.
As long as it doesn’t get too crazy and you survive. If you’ve survived something and lived to tell the tale, they’re the things that we’ll tell our grandchildren or friends. The happy stuff… you’re just in it. If there’s no drama, it’s all boring, maybe. We’re addicted to drama.
Q : There also comes a point when you have to stop being addicted to drama, obviously.
A : No shit. Even if I want to flirt with that craziness, it’s just a five minute flirt. Not with a person, but just in my head. It’s not worth it. But certainly when you’re younger, you absolutely should explore and adventure and take calculated risks.
For me, the ‘Buses & Trains’ in my life is moving abroad. I think that’s why I needed to try another territory. Shake it up. I was single and I thought, ‘why not?’. I felt like I was walking under many buses and trains in Stockholm. Questioning what I was doing starting my life again at 38 in the middle of a freezing winter. Shouldn’t I have been doing that when I was 22? The language, the weather, the way of being… I’m still doing it. But that just has me not being complacent.
Q. What are you most proud of with that song (firstly) and throughout the Bachelor Girl journey?
A : That’s a nice question. I think what’s been great is that we stopped for so long and didn’t even think we would work together again. And so to do the songs now in a new context… ‘Treat Me Good’ now feels more relevant than ever because of the current truth-speaking climate. And standing for ourselves and one another. Looking out for one another.
I believe that it’s this backlash against the Trumps and the Weinsteins of the world. It has us talk about our wellbeing and these fundamental values as a global society. So ‘Treat Me Good’ is just like a little shopping list of all the things we should do to take care of ourselves. So that I’m proud of. That we wrote songs that meant something. I don’t think we could have got back together if we hadn’t have. And the new songs are definitely the grown up Bachelor Girl.
Q : Well you did a couple of gigs together back in 2011/2013 with the ‘Loved & Lost’ best-of and that lost third album ‘Beautifully Wrong’. There were a couple of really big shows as part of that phase, which showed there was still plenty of love for you and what you did. How did that make you feel?
A : It was nice to do that bridging record. But really if we were going to do this ‘2.0 Bachelor Girl’, if you like, the new songs needed to fuel the comeback. I just didn’t want to do the ‘Buses & Trains’ tour over and over again. Of course we’ve reminisced and there’s all this ‘90s nostalgia going on. And we did release ‘Speak’ on the 20th anniversary of the release of ‘Buses & Trains’. But it’s about what we do now from here. Okay, we’ve celebrated that, but let’s move on.
And that’s why I moved country. We could have just kept gigging, but you know what they say… you’re only as good as your last song. So you just need to keep talking about what’s going on for you now at the same time as revisiting the past. And then there’s that nice balance.
Q. How has working as a solo artist and songwriter in those ensuing years helped prepare you for the return of BG?
A : Good question. I think because I did it and I didn’t do Bachelor Girl for a while, I could do Bachelor Girl again. You don’t know hot until you know cold. And also, the songwriting community in Stockholm… great friends, there’s a real pool of people that I work with all the time. And there’s a bunch more people that I still want to work with. And I said to James, ‘if we’re going to do this, let’s incorporate our current environments’. To help us in a positive way. How do we be who we were, but give it a twist? And get them to bring out even better songs?
So I’m learning – and James feels this too now (we’ve got a song called ‘Nobody Can Do It Alone’) – I’m learning more and more that collaboration is key. No one person whether it’s in music or life… in any industry… can do any one thing alone. Even this cup was made by many different people. We all coexist. And the better we can coexist and transact well, the better the result.
James is a freak. He can write a great song on his own, but that’s just the bare songs. Then he gets me to sing it and we produce it and mix it and release it, then there’s the PR team and the media… It’s not just the songwriting. So we really embrace that. And I think the biggest thing that all those other songs did was made me better, but it made me more appreciative of the value of team. And also of the value with James, because I didn’t work with him for so long. He’s the guy that understands me, my voice so well. And I did miss that live connection.
Q : So has it been like pulling on a nice comfy pair of slippers?
A : Yes. But bringing in new elements so it doesn’t just feel like we’re stuck in 1997. It’s a combo of old and new that makes it nice.
Q : Talk to us about ‘Speak’. How it came about and how you feel it’s been received.
A : I just came up with the word ‘Speak’. I got depressed after coming out of a harsh winter. You never get used to it. It’s nice to get cosy and mushy, but what Swedes do or what anyone would do in that kind of darkness in winter is hide. Hibernate. And so they’re not the most extrovert culture as it is, but you add in those kind of weather conditions… But I really believe it’s about the weather. If they had more sun all year round, they would be more communicative.
So I think it had a lot to do with where I was in the season. But looking at people on public transport, if you were to smile at someone it would be weird. They’re all about connectivity in that country. Everything’s electronic and online. So great… smooth, progressive… but are we actually saying what’s going on?
Having a loss in the family, suicide, every day you think about it on some level. So all these factors combined, on an everyday level, we’re all not speaking as we used to.
On a serious end, you’ve got depression, loneliness, suicide, bullying, people not really being empathic and understanding each other. So I thought, well if you have blood in your veins, you’re probably going to understand this message. So I took all that to the songwriting session. It was a group effort. We did it with a couple of Swedes and was sort of knocked over in half a day and then we finished the verse the next day.
But how it’s been received… I think the people that have heard it, they’ve been really feeling it. And it’s really impacted. I think it’s going to be one of those slower burns. How do you think it’s been received?
Q : We found it really ironic that on Friday night in Sydney, here you were performing this song about empowerment through words, speaking your truth and there was a gaggle of women standing to our left that just didn’t shut up the entire performance. Just no connection with the artists on stage. We’ve never been more connected via the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, email, text messages, phones, other apps… but we’ve never been more alone.
A : That’s it, isn’t it? You can’t get tone and sarcasm and expression from just a written message… It can’t be written down. It needs more. You could also argue that social media allow people to say what’s on their mind, but there’s this disconnect. They’d say it online, but they wouldn’t say it in person.
Q : But it’s a heavily edited, disingenuous version of what’s going on. What they would LIKE others to know.
A : Exactly. There’s a lot of that. And then there’s the whole comparison game. People get depressed because we compare ourselves to others all the time. And they’re the ones presenting their best selves. It can make you feel good, but you’ve got to watch it. The fact that so many people are coming to us and saying that they feel the lyric… you just know that as much as social media has made us more connected, we are disconnected. It’s a great paradox.
And this song is just a little reminder that we’re not just hashtags. Sometimes I speak to a bunch of my family on Skype. There will be six of them on camera and I feel less connected afterwards because I didn’t actually say anything. Great that I can eyeball them, but tell me what’s really going on. I guess we have to be aware.
Q : Past ‘Speak’, you’ve got some other new songs that you’ve been working on. Is there a new album on the horizon?
A : It’s likely to be an EP early in the new year. Because I think the way that we consume music these days, short spurts of new music is preferable. Given our distance, it’s hard to do an entire record. We might take another two years and that’s not going to work, so I think what’s more realistic is to just drop a compact five tracker. And realistically it’ll be around March. But another song before the end of the year.
Q : Which will coincide with a certain tour…!
A : A little winery tour. The more they drink, the better we sound! A lot of people go there from the start because they pay good money. We’ll probably have 20,000 to 25,000 people at each show. It’s a lot of people. It’ll be fun.
And just to tour with… these are people that I grew up on. It’s a really nice little run of gigs, considering we went away for so long. And to play with peers. Farnham signed us, so it’s a nice full circle arrangement. Farnham, Braithwaite, Richard Marx, Russell Morris…
Bachelor Girl’s new single ‘Speak’ is available digitally now.
Catch them live on the A Day On The Green dates across the country this December.
A second show in Victoria’s Yarra Valley goes on sale at 10am tomorrow.
November 24 : McLaren Vale (Leconfield Wines)
December 01 : Hunter Valley (Bimbadgen)
December 02 : Mount Cotton (Sirromet Wines)
December 08 : Yarra Valley (Rochford Wines) SOLD OUT
December 09 : Yarra Valley (Rochford Wines)