It seems Tones and I is still pinching herself after a year of climbing the music charts and meeting her favourite musicians. Within the past 12 months, she's gone from busking with her keyboard and not even knowing what a "music chart" to dominating them thanks to "Dance Monkey," and meeting her biggest music idol, Macklemore. What a whirlwind!The Australian artist (who's real name is Toni Watson) chatted with etalk
's Liz Trinnear from her home country about all the career highs she's achieved and her not-so-distant busking past. Tones explained how she started her music career after deciding to give up working a retail job and packed up a van to start performing on the streets of Byron Bay, and how, through it all, she had rapper Macklemore playing in the background to keep her going. The fearless musician is this week's etalk Open House
artist and she performs at-home renditions of her hits "Dance Monkey" and "Never Seen the Rain."Liz Trinnear: Where are you joining us from today and how is it going?
Tones and I: Hi! I am in Australia at my home and everything is going good in my home. But you know, we’re all dealing with the same things so it’s good as it can be. Just staying positive and working on music and hanging out with friends. It’s my best friend’s birthday today so we’re doing nothing at all. Staying at home but we’re just being happy.[video_embed id='1971563']Tones And I performs her hit 'Dance Monkey' from home[/video_embed]You have such an interesting backstory—how does it feel to go from busking to seeing people around the world covering your songs?
I remember the first time I ever heard someone cover one of my songs and it was when I was busking and I thought it was the craziest thing. Someone learned one of my songs—I hadn’t even had a release yet. They had learned it from a video they must have taken when I was busking and learned how to play it. Or maybe a video I uploaded to Instagram. And they posted [the cover] and I thought it was the craziest thing. And now there are so many weird covers. There’s the one with the guy smashing the bottles
and there’s chip crunches
, like eat the chip on the note and then it makes the song. It’s just been really crazy and from different places in the world, different cultures—it’s really connecting and that’s cool. And it just seems to be a song people have fun to and I like that. Makes people smile or it makes people dance or cringe or whatever it is. It definitely has an impact on everyone.It doesn’t stop there—you’re getting billboards up in Times Square. Looking back, did you ever think that you would be seeing these billboards? What’s going through your mind?
No, I never, ever, ever, ever thought that would ever happen. That doesn’t even happen to Australian artists in general. It’s not that we don’t get the opportunity to do fun things—we get embraced by other countries all the time—but in Australia we don’t have anything extravagant, we don’t have anything huge like that. New York to Aussies is like movies. Like, you don’t even know it’s a real place—we know it’s a real place but it’s like only in the movies. It just seems so not real. And to have a billboard up there three times—in New York City or like, in the USA—is just the craziest thing. I’ve been to New York—New York is something else. There’s a vibe you can’t even replace with anywhere else in the world.It must be humbling, but a like a little pat on the shoulder to have achieved that.
I mean, I have worked hard. I’ve worked really hard and I think the hardest part about all of the stuff that I did before any of this—when I decided to buy a van, when I decided to become a street performer, quit my job, leave my friends and family—they’re decisions I made for myself when no one believed in me. Even your best friends and family say they believe in you but they really don’t. No one really believes you can do it until you do it. So making those decisions for myself—looking back, I must have been some kind of tough b***h because I just did it. Feeling so uncomfortable, walking down the street for the first time, setting up, being told to shut down a million times, being abused by other buskers, which happens to a lot of buskers, being one of the only female buskers on the street, the only busker with a keyboard—everyone was a dude with long hair and a guitar that had their own culture and stuff.And looking back now, that’s f******g huge. That is so huge and I just can’t believe that I did it. And that’s probably the thing I’m the most proud of—that time in my life.[video_embed id='1971553']Tones And I sings 'Never Seen the Rain'[/video_embed]It looks like you’re living your best life right now. You had a visit from your favourite artist ever, Macklemore. Can you tell me how game-changing that experience was for you?
Growing up, I’ve had sad moments where I’ve listened to his music and just cried and felt like that was the shoulder to cry on. I’ve had really happy moments when I listen to his music and I feel just so empowered. I’ve had moments where I was warming up to play basketball, because I play basketball, and we’d play Macklemore’s album. I literally listened to him the whole way up in my van driving the first time to Byron Bay—17 hours sleeping in truck stops in my van, pretending there was someone else in the van so the truckies wouldn’t bother me. He was there for me, whether he knew it or not, through so many times. When I got into a car accident for the first time, my car was wrapped around a pole, my engine was still running and Macklemore The Heist
was still playing.
When I say that, I mean so many moments in my life, there’s like a soundtrack that plays one of his songs. So to meet him and for him to be, more to the point, to be everything that you thought he would be, is really crazy. I got to sit down with him and talk with him two days later. I got to talk to him about some of the struggles we don’t really want to admit because we want to act so tough or whatever, coming up so quickly [in the music industry]. And he fully understood it and it did kind of happen for him as well and I think that sitting down with him really reaffirmed to me that f**k off, it doesn’t matter how many number one songs you have—no artist is actually comparing, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks except for yourself.You’ve got the most streamed song by a female artist of all time—what do accomplishments like that feel like for you?
They’re huge, but I only know that now. I didn’t know about charts, I didn’t know how hard it was to climb big charts like Billboard or my ARIAs [Australian Recording Industry Awards] at home, all around the world, I didn’t know. So when that started happening, I thought, 'Oh, this must just be a thing—when you release a song, you go into a chart.' No, you don’t. I didn’t know that because it was my first experience. And now I know that it doesn’t and I’m like whoa, looking back that’s so huge. But at the time I was like, 'Man this probably happens to everyone.'So where do you go from here?
I’m about to release my second single—well not for Australia, but for everyone else in the world. We kind of threw “Never Seen the Rain” out there but in terms of really wanting to push a single like “Dance Monkey,” this is it. And it’s called “Ur So F**kInG cOoL.” It’s about a party I went to, which I was invited to by this big producer, who’s a very nice guy I will add, but no one really wanted to talk to me or my friends. But then we talked to each other and I just thought, 'Let’s go; let’s get an Uber, let’s go back to the hotel and watch Netflix.' And I wrote a song about it. And I’ve also got my album coming as well.
etalk Open House
is a weekly series that features performances and exclusive interviews with incredible talent like The Killers
, Niall Horan and more. Catch the series on Thursday night as part of etalk’s regular broadcast at 7pm ET on CTV
and 7:30pm on CTV2.