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'Things come and go real quick': Tones and I on taking risks and taking her time

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Just over a year ago Tones and I was cranking out her global hit Dance Monkey to 100,014 footy fans packed inside a sunbathed Melbourne Cricket Ground for the AFL grand final.

It was late September, and just a few months earlier the singer – real name Toni Watson – had been busking in Byron Bay, having released her acclaimed first song, Johnny Run Away. Soon after her grand final appearance, Dance Monkey had spent a record 16 weeks on top of the ARIA singles chart.

Tones and I hopes to inspire young musicians with her Bigsound keynote address this month.

Tones and I hopes to inspire young musicians with her Bigsound keynote address this month.Credit:Giulia McGaurin

At next month's virtual ARIA awards, Tones and I has three nominations including song of the year for Never Seen the Rain. Those three nominations follow her four ARIA award wins in 2019.

It's been a wild ride these past couple of years, particularly for someone who was happy just to be taking a risk, busking full time and living out of her van.

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"I don't know what I was thinking but thank you so much past me, because now future me gets to have this career and this platform," Watson said ahead of her keynote address at next week's virtual Bigsound music conference.

I don't know where I come up with the courage.

Tones and I

It's the risk-versus-reward aspect of Watson's incredible road to success that's sure to have eager young musicians tuning in via computer screens and mobile phones, soaking up any words of wisdom.

"I'm not going to pretend that through this last year I've somehow become the Yoda of the music industry, that's definitely not true," Watson said. "I'll stick to what I know and that's taking risks.

"If there's something you really, really want to do and you're not prepared to take risks for your future, you can't expect the world in return. That's one of the most important things and hopefully we can inspire a few artists to maybe jump off a bit more, take a few more risks."

After close to two decades of making Bigsound in Brisbane a hive of activity for Australia's music industry, this year's online event features Tom Morello, Kev Carmody and Amy Shark among its many speakers. A wide variety of panel discussions, advice on navigating the COVID-19 crisis and artist performances are part of the two-day event on October 20 and 21.

Despite a passion for performing live, Watson rarely shares her views in public forums, shying away from interviews and television appearances. However, she's keen to use her opportunity at Bigsound to empower other budding musicians.

"I speak to a lot of my artist friends about not just accepting things," she told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. "I didn't want to work with an overseas label and I turned down a label, it took me months to even agree to a management agreement. After such a big year, I can definitely say I made the right decisions by not jumping at the first opportunity."

Cutting short her European tour in March, as concern around coronavirus escalated, Watson returned home and began working on her debut album, following a few weeks of much-needed down time.

"I don't know if you can say anything good about coronavirus but I needed to go home because I was so run down. I hadn't had a break since I released Dance Monkey ... so I was at a tipping point," she says.

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"I got some rest and stuck out my positive attitude [about being in lockdown] till about the end of July but August was a pretty shit month, in terms of motivation. I'd been doing all the things I was supposed to do, every single day, for the past year and then everything stopped."

Finding herself in a fresh groove, Watson says work on the album is "really coming along" and she's looking forward to again playing shows in summer.

"I don't know where I come up with the courage," she says, reflecting on her past couple of years. "I've gone from living in a share house and going to the pub with my friends ... to living in my van and busking on the street, to a record-breaking, chart-topping song and then lockdown in my house.

"Things come and go real quick."

For more information about Bigsound, go to bigsound.org.au

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Martin Boulton

Martin Boulton is EG Editor at The Age and Shortlist Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald

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