It's hard - if not impossible - to sum up singer-songwriter Dahlia in a few sentences. Currently based in Toronto, Dahlia was raised in a formerly Portugese part of India while travelling to Dubai often. But it's not just her roots that spread across the map: Dahlia's music takes bits and pieces from all these life experiences and different aspects of her personality, resulting in a unique and powerful pop sound. To showcase the addition of her "Shift" EP to the Field platform, Dahlia spoke to us about her next project and musical identity.
So, what’s new for you, music-wise?
Well my next record is pretty much written, now it’s just a matter of arranging it. My team and I are trying to put our best work forward and make something worth a second listen. Now I have all the learnings from my previous record, so we know what to do differently this time.
It’s also going to be a lot more than 5 songs this time. It’s almost running into an album which I know is unheard of these days (laughs). And there are no fillers!
I’ve also done a few collaborations over these past few years and it all seems to be coming out this year. I did something with Naturally Born Strangers which is a hip-hop act from Toronto and also Rich Kidd and other collaborations I can’t reveal yet. I'm also excited to work closely with Roy Hamilton III on this next record as he pushes me to be gutsy and unapologetic when it comes to my voice and artistry.
So a mix collaborations and my own record!
Do you see it as the continuation of your first EP or do you want to start off fresh?
I think I always like to approach things as different chapters but that’s not realistic. Were these growing versions of ourselves continuously. So as much as I’d like to say “fresh start”, it is a continuation, but in way it’s a rebirth.
We’re going to be very minimalistic in the approach. In the previous record, there was a lot of instrumentation which won’t be the case this time. The vocals for example will be a bit brighter and apparent in the mix. It’ll also be a lot more gutsy in terms of content, lyrically and melodically. A little bit more out of the box. There’ll also be a probably darker and more moody side of me.
On Instagram, you’ve said you tend to view the world with “rose-tinted glasses”, yet you don’t shy away from themes like pain and heartache in your songs. Are these two distinct sides of your personality?
That post is because I tend to see everything in a hopeful way. Even when I talk about pain and things like that, there’s always a twist of hope towards the ends of most of my songs. I tend to talk about the conflict I’m experiencing, or someone else is if I’m singing from their perspective, in the verses. Then the chorus will try to break out of this conflict and the bridge tries to find hope and resolution.
So I do tend to see the world in that hopeful way. But there is a dichotomy to my personality, which is really difficult to show in a record. I think it’s harder to do that in a 5 track EP and I think if we can put more tracks on the next one it’ll leave more room to express my whole personality. But this dichotomy is a challenge to put in song-writing. Even in terms of image, you don’t want to seem “happy-clappy” but also don’t want to make a record which would be only sad. Or at least I don’t want to do that.
I have to find that balance and find a way to show both sides of this dichotomy, since that’s who I am.
Do you feel like there’s a pressure to release music fast which doesn’t let artists express their full personality musically?
I do find that pressure exists. But for this next record, I would say half of what’s coming out I’ve written as far back as 2015 and just held on to. We used the last record to increase the fan-base and we’ll continue doing that, but some of the better stuff I haven’t even released because my gut was to hold on to it and put it out as a second punch.
Do these tracks still resonate even though they’re older?
They still get to me. I perform them on stage and every so often I’ll leak something. I tried a few out on tour and they still resonate with me for sure. Like there’s a song call “Glory and Gold” about capitalism and breaking away from my day-job – which I loved – to follow my true passion. That’s still so true and real for me and I sing it for everyone going through that. The sacrifices you have to make to put out your music independently, it really is challenging.
There’s another song which is really close to my heart called “Sound of My Love”. I just teleport into that time and make it feel new for myself. I feel close to the melody when I deliver it, so it still feels raw. My producer Nick Name actually gave me great advice told me quite a few years ago. He told me: “get a good mic so you can record ideas right when you get them”. Just lay down a demo track when you’re really close to it. And that’s what we did with this song. I recently played it to a close friend of mine and he teared up which showed me how raw it was. So my producer told me we should keep the demo as is, and I think that’s a great process for any musician. When the idea comes to you, that could be the take.
You shared moments from your Indian tour, a country in which you used to live…
Yes, I’m from a formerly Portuguese colonized part of India called Goa and I actually grew up in a convent and was raised by nuns until I was 14. Then we immigrated to Canada.
It’s interesting because growing in a convent in India, you don’t see much outside of it. My parents lived in Dubai so I would travel there often. So, going to India, I ended up going places I had never been.
It’s such a big country so it was like re-discovering a country I had grown up in.
I travelled through the jazz circuit in India since my last record was very pop-jazzesque and I was able to discover some places that have been there for a long time which was incredible.
Do you feel like having this international upbringing influences you musically?
My mentor once told me, “Dahlia, you are an international artist, and if you grasp that you will understand your music that way”.
And when he said that to me, it just clicked. At this point I’ve spent half my life in and out of Canada and I enjoy travelling a lot. I grew up in India but as a roman catholic in a Portuguese colony, so I was somewhat of a misfit in that context. And in the Middle-East, I wasn’t Arab, I wasn’t from there either.
On my next record, you’ll hear trails of what I’ve picked up from these influences across the world. All these elements you’ll just catch here or there. I feel like the version of me I’ve found stylistically over the past few years is stronger and closer to me.
I also owe a lot in terms of musical influences to my dad. He would play everything from Paul Simon, Bob Marley to Patsy Cline, Greek folk, Irish folk … All elements you’ll here little hints of in the new record.
Does music help get rid of the feeling of being a “misfit” and link these different cultural elements together?
Yes, and I never realized it would be the case. But my journey of finding my personal identity, even outside of music, has been long and gone through various continents. But in the last two years I realize its music that has done this.
I work with a group - with which I’m releasing a side-project - with Sheldon Holder who comes from Calypso folk, my partner in life Nickolai Salcedo who comes from similar roots and Dason Johnson who’s from a pop-rock background. And when the four of us came together, it felt like I could be who I wanted to be. We became a unity, I wasn’t just Dahlia. It almost tapped into my alter-ego and in doing that I was able to bring stuff back for the Dahlia brand.
I think sometimes we want to be so pleasing to the world that we put out a record that takes out parts of our personality to have mass appeal. We may take out some nuances which I think is what I did on my last record. And that’s not at all what I want to do here. I want to put out the closest version of myself and focus on the music, the songs, the melodies that my heart wants to put out. And I think it’ll be compelling just because I was true to my heart.