Tobi-lea is a musician originally from Western Australia now living in Tasmania. I find her story inspiring and her music honest and straight from the heart. Her story, in her own words: “I ran away from my hometown Tom Price (a small mining town in the Pilbra, Western Australia) with dreams of starting a punk band when I was 16. I ended up homeless in Perth and living in a hostel for six months and mostly survived off the kindness of strangers… I was turned away from shit loads of punk band auditions for either being too young or not having a dick – that was fun – so I did solo acoustic shows for a few years waiting to find my band.” After giving her everything to start band Aaagh Bats! only for it to dissolve, Tobi-lea found herself broken hearted and wondering what to do next? Now, relocated and reinspired she’s working on new music. “I’m inspired by assholes, I use their negative energy to write honest angry songs,” she told me.
How did you first discover music?
TOBI-LEA: I first discovered music when I was like 3. My favourite song was a Michael Jackson song called Remember The Time. It’s rather funny really, a 3 year old trying to experience extreme romantic nostalgia [laughs]. My early music experiences were all from my mum. She likes all kinds of great music. I grew up hearing Cyndi Lauper, Fleetwood Mac, Black Sabbath, Metallica, The Offspring, Jewel etc.
Who or what inspired you to want to become a musician?
T-L: I was inspired to become a musician by Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (that my mum of all people told me to listen to). The truth of it all just felt so good to me and I knew I had to start writing songs. Hearing My Chemical Romance inspired me to get a punk band and I ran away from home within months of hearing their second album!
You ran away from home with dreams of starting a punk band when you were 16 and ended up homeless living in a hostel and surviving off the kindness of strangers, was punk rock a salvation for you in those challenging times? Tell me a little bit about this time in your life.
T-L: That time in my life… ahhhh it was actually the happiest I had ever been. I left home for a reason, my home life was shit, you couldn’t even call it a home. Leaving home I felt free living in a hostel on Burwick Street and continuing at school doing my TEE was the happiest I’ve ever been.
I’ve read that when you first tried to find a band you were turned away from a lot of punk band auditions in Perth for either being “too young or not having a dick” how did you deal with that disappointment?
T-L: I wanted a punk band but unfortunately no one would make a punk band with me because I was young and chick. I ended up making this kind of bratty pop-folk music which lyrically I think is all punk. I never knew many punk bands and still don’t. I wouldn’t say I find salvation from punk music—I find truth. I still don’t listen to many punk bands. I just think it’s the best medium for me to work with. I’m not one of these punk nazis. I kind of think of it like a religion; you don’t need to go to church to have the spirit in your heart. I would say rock n roll saved me definitely. I think punk rock is an attitude. Dealing with disappointment, f*ck, I knew that they thought I was talented because a few of the bands I auditioned for, who wouldn’t have me as a singer, asked if they could use my songs. I knew I was on the right track and that they were f*ckwits. I just kept looking man. When you want something you have to go for it, you can’t sit around and be a ‘sadhole’—I was having a band and nothing would stop me!
Have you ever experienced other instances of sexism within the music community?
T-L: Oh F*ck yeah! Read any Aaagh Bats! review, it spends more time talking about my ass or the fact there’s girls in the bands than talking about our actual music! It’s bullshit. Everyone knows when you’re a chick you have to be twice as good for half the recognition and that every guy is going to be calling you ‘crazy’ or a ‘slut’ behind your back because you wouldn’t sleep with them or take their shit. It’s ok though, because shitloads of the people who dissed me or said they couldn’t be in a band with me because I was a chick, later tried to write songs with me and start other bands with me after Aaagh Bats! showed to be successful.
What’s the Perth music community like?
T-L: The Perth scene has f*ck loads of good bands but unfortunately not enough people. I love Blazin Entrails and Chainsaw Hookers. They’re pretty much the only bands in Perth I would actually have a drink with after a show and chat to. There’s a lot of wanker-y in the scene but, there is in any scene. I think it has a lot going on in ways of talent, especially in song writing, unfortunately just not much attention.
You did solo acoustic shows for a few years while waiting to find a band, how do you feel you developed as a song writer in this time?
T-L: I hated doing solo acoustic shit! I fucking hated it and still do. I don’t like being alone on stage, I want a band with me, I want distortion. I did it because I needed to. I think that the way I write hasn’t changed since I was about 18, I found my feet by that time.
Do you find that there are reoccurring themes in your songs? Do you write mostly from personal experience?
T-L: I think I only write from personal experience. There are definitely a lot of reoccurring themes: usually lust and mistrust. A lot of songs deal with betrayal because I’ve been f*cked over a lot!
Until recently you finally had a band called Aaagh Bats! What significance did that band have to you? Why did it fall apart?
T-L: Why did the band fall apart? Oh shit! F*ck… I think the band was like a relationship that the rest of the band didn’t want to be in any more but didn’t have the balls to tell me, until I was away on holiday and stuff started getting serious for us. I think the band fell apart because we were all too different as people and musicians, which is strange because, that was also the best part of the band. That band was my baby, it took years of homelessness, time, money and effort and years of rejection and bullshit to even get the band off the ground. I managed the band and wrote the songs—it was everything to me. I was engaged and he cheated on me and honest to god, my band breaking up hurt more than my engagement breaking up! It broke me in a way I think I’ll always be angry about it. I tried so hard to keep things together and make us successful but the rest of the bands’ heart wasn’t in it. They weren’t in it for the long haul.
Now you’re working on your own music project Tobi-lea and the Wolves and have hired some of your favourite Perth musicians to session with you for it, how’s it going? What can you tell me about it?
T-L: I’m too scared to have a ‘real band’ again! I think I’ll always try session musos from now on. I’ve recently relocated to Tasmania to be near my grandparents and I’ve got a new band in the works. I’m using my favourite drummer Nathan Sproule from Perth (also in Chainsaw Hookers, my favourite band in Perth). He’s amazing, absolutely f*cking amazing! I much prefer session musos, they do their job and don’t give you any bullshit. No egos.
What do you do creatively when you’re not creating/playing music?
T-L: When I’m not playing music I love to draw. I’ve always drawn cartoons since I was a kid. I’ve been working on comics since I was 12. One day I’ll get off my ass and actually finish and release them. I recently started dress making, which I love, because of the long hours you can really tune out. I love drawing because you can create your own world.
What are some things that you feel really passionate about and that really matter to you?
T-L: The most important thing I think is just to have personal integrity, to have some balls to stick up for yourself and your rights. I don’t know enough people who I could say have balls or integrity; who stick up for themselves even though people might not like it or even stick up for the rights of others. Integrity is the most important thing anyone can have.
For more Tobi-Lea.
Follow your dreams!
*Photo: courtesy of Tobi’s Facebook and taken by her best friend Emily Watts!