At a time when fame is gained by appearing on reality television and the number of “followers” you have on social media, it is refreshing to talk to a young woman like Tori Forsyth. The Kurri Kurri singer and songwriter is fast making a name for herself in alt-country circles – but it is the result of years of hard work and dedication.
That, and a little thing called talent.
Forsyth wrote her first “proper” song just two years ago. It was followed by five-track EP Blackbird in 2016 and her debut album Dawn Of The Dark with label Universal Music’s Lost Highway.
Single New Walls reached number two on the Viral Charts of Spotify and now has more than 2 million streams. Forsyth was nominated in 2017 for CMC New Artist and won the 16th Independent Music Award in the alt-country genre.
She also performed at SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this year as one of the Americana artists to watch. And at Tamworth’s Country Music Festival her show was moved to a much larger venue to meet demand.
Forsyth grew up on a rural property on the Central Coast before moving with her family to a 62-acre property near the Hunter Valley village of Congewai.
A fifth grade teacher introduced her to poetry and Forsyth realised that she enjoyed writing: “I found it really fun and continued to do it as a personal thing. It wasn’t anything I thought I was any good at.”
She studied music at high school and expressed a desire to start singing lessons, but her father put his food down. Firmly.
“I’d done a lot of sports over the years but I’d never stuck to anything so he was like ‘Why would I let you do that when you’ll change your mind in three months?’,” she recalls, laughing.
“And he was right. Then I did a school assignment where I had to sing in front of the parents and I faced the back wall as I sang. I was so nervous.
“Then my Dad was like ‘Oh, you’re actually not terrible, I’ll get you some lessons’. I ended up doing lessons from the age of 14 to 18 but I refused to sing in front of anybody else but my teacher.”
Forsyth, inspired by Stevie Nicks and folk singer Melanie Safka, started putting her words to music. But she wouldn’t let anyone hear them, or let anyone else shape them.
It wasn’t until she wrote a song that she felt was good enough to be heard, Johnny And June, that she reached out for help. Trent Crawford, a producer on the Central Coast, took her under his wing.
“I showed him the songs and he said ‘These are awesome, let’s start recording’. So he introduced me to Shane Nicholson and we engineered the EP at Shane’s house and Trent produced it,” she explains.
“Trent said to me ‘Well, if you want to do this as a career you have to do the other parts as well, like singing in front of other people. A room full of people’. So I started doing gigs, small open mic nights and stuff like that, with my friend Jade playing the guitar.
“But it got easier, after a couple of gigs. I fell in love with it pretty quickly.”
Forsyth, at the age of 19, funded her debut EP herself. She worked multiple jobs, split shifts, seven days a week, to pay for it with no help from a label or publishing deal. Her first job was on the farm as a caretaker for the animals and doing general maintenance.
“I wanted to be able to say I worked hard for this and I accomplished this and I paid for it completely on my own. That was my goal,” she says.
“I left school when I was 17 and worked for my Dad for a couple of years. He owns a training organisation on the Central Coast. I was on reception.
“Then I worked at Oliver’s Real Food on the M1 for a couple of years.
On the southbound side. I had a really awesome and supportive boss who understood what I was doing and my passion. He was an entrepreneur who started from the ground up and I think he liked that I was doing the same thing.
“He gave me the shifts I wanted and I reckon everyone resented me there because I got to choose when I worked and when I would record.”
Nicholson went on to produce Dawn Of The Dark and has been her biggest champion.
Forsyth writes her own songs, rather than the co-writes. This might seem a no-brainer but many young artists are not encouraged to do so.
But then again, she is no cookie-cutter country artist.
“I tried to co-write, I did a lot of them, but I didn’t feel that they were a reflection of me and I wouldn’t be comfortable putting them out,” she says.
“If I was to have an album full of love songs that would be dumb, it wouldn’t make sense. If I was making an album about drinking and having a good time on a Friday, that wouldn’t make sense either.”
Being true to herself mattered more than writing something that was expected of her. It is this blunt honesty that defines her songs – for example, her early performing experiences in Nashville and Tamworth and her struggles with mental health.
She is happy to be defined as a country artist but isn’t restricted by it.
“I love the ethos of country music, but I do think I can float into other parts of music which is why alt-country is a good title for what I do,” Forsyth explains.
“I tell people that my songwriting and my lyrics are very much country but my sound is definitely outside the country realm. I like that because I don’t strictly just listen to country music. I listen to every type of music so it would be not true to what I want to put out there if I were to do country.
“That’s why alt-country is such a good tag because it’s like alternative music with country in it, I suppose.”
Country music has always appealed to her, she says, in a lyrical sense. They’re quirky and they’re personal and, creatively, very different from pop music.
“My songs are very personal to me and I find it very hard to write about anything else or in another way. The new record is very personal and I’m pretty blatantly singing about some interesting experiences that I’ve had as a newcomer into an industry.
“I write with a lot of metaphors because you can subtly hide a meaning and people can take more from the song. People who know me well will go ‘Oh, I know what that’s about’ but the song doesn’t have to be about a specific situation and people can make it their own.
“That’s something I really love about music in general. A lot of my favourite writers use a lot of metaphors and I love to be able to listen to that song from my own situation and think that it’s relatable.”
I ask her if she feels that she is on the road to being successful. In typical Forsyth form, she deconstructs the question and turns it, rightfully, on its head.
“It’s interesting to define success. For me, I’m already successful. I’m in a position where I’m able to make a record and put it out and have people want to listen to it.
”If you talk to somebody else success might mean something different.
“I would love to be able to go overseas and play gigs and have people at my shows wanting to hear my songs. And do the same here in Australia.
“I’d be happy with that.”