Premiere: Meet DENNI, who links up with Greeley for a silky-smooth return, Runaways
After sharing a debut EP last year, the Indigenous Tasmanian musician carves a bright future with her first single since.
Header image by Jesse Higgs.
There's been a really exciting uptick in new Tasmanian talent to come over the last twelve months; the little island - despite its size and isolation from much of music's happenings in Sydney and Melbourne - shooting out a plethora of exciting musicians spanning a wide-ranging set of genres. Not to fall into the same, overused cliché, but there's most definitely something special going on down there - a community-built music scene elevating others and allowing them to thrive, regardless of whether it's in pop or electronica right through to rich R&B and beyond.
DENNI is a musician now finding this for herself, with the Indigenous Tasmanian musician sharing a debut EP - titled Wise Ones - last year, one that really saw her step up and enter Australia's R&B scene as an exciting new name reflective of a bright future ahead, something she's been moving for as she continues to refine and build her work in the time since. She does so by placing a sense of culture and community to the forefront, channelling the energy of those before her - and around her today - and distilling it into high-tier art, something incredibly well shown on her latest song, Runaways.
Runaways - which comes off a forthcoming second EP expected sometime later this year - really encapsulates DENNI's talent, all while showing how the musician has continued to grow and evolve in the time since her debut EP. It's rich in subtle rhythms that elevate her enchanting vocal, which feels as honey-smooth as some of the sound's leading names. Fellow Tasmanian musician Greeley comes in to give the song a hip-hop edge too, in a way that doesn't just deepen the song's sound and extend her versatility, but also gives a nod to the community around her, and they work together to elevate one another in their crafts.
"Music and art is my deepest expression of self-love and a part of my healing," says DENNI on the single. "As a Tasmanian Aboriginal person growing up in dual communities, it really shaped who I am as a woman and the issues and themes that I write about in my music." You can really hear that sense of healing throughout songs like Runaways, which present near-cathartic energy as she moves around the swelling instrumental underneath with a grace that can only come from triumphing over moments of pain, and coming out on top.
The single also arrives with an official video clip, directed by DENNI and Greeley themselves - yet another nod to the community's multi-dimensional talents. "We really wanted this film clip to feel a certain way and reflect on our journey as separate artists, crossing paths but who never actually meet while on the move," she says. "The locations in the clip really capture where we were at the time, and touch on the serendipity in events that brought us closer together."
As mentioned, there's a full length EP on the way this October, which in addition to Greeley, will bring DENNI together with heavyweights such as Nerve. In the meantime, however, take a dive into Runaways' official video as it premieres below, and better introduce yourself to the rising musician underneath:
Tell us about yourself?
I started out as an indie-folk singer, travelling the country. I formed bands in Tasmania and experimented with genres, playing many stages across the country. For the last three years, I have expanded my career in the music industry, having worked with Terrapin Puppet Theatre, travelling the country as an Actor Puppeteer. Recently I've been writing a lot and going through heaps of changes in my life, this is really reflective of the stories I'm about to tell in my up-coming EP Runaways.
I was about 16 when I went to my first Groovin the Moo Festival in Newcastle. I lost my mates in the crowd, so I sat on the hill in front of the Triple J Stage. As the sun was coming down the stage lights turned up and a bunch of dancers with swordfish heads came out to hype the crowd. I had no idea what bands were even playing at the festival. I was more worried about what outfit I had on and trying to fit in. The music started to play. It was Empire of the Sun. Still to this day, it was one of the most influential sets I have ever seen, apart from Dolly Parton when I was 17 with my Mum.
I used to spend a lot of time in the shed at home, listening to the radio. Boy and Bear were on Triple J doing Like A Version and covered Walking on a Dream. I got my phone out and recorded it, sitting there for the next few weeks fingerpicking an old out of tune guitar in the shed trying to work it out. I was 18 at the time, it wasn't until my 21st birthday party I sang in front of my family and friends. I never really looked back after that, I moved back to Tasmania to reconnect and make time for my art and reconnect with my community.
Music and art is my deepest expression of self-love and a part of my healing. As a Tasmanian Aboriginal person growing up in dual communities, it really shaped who I am as a woman and the issues and themes that I write about in my music. It is getting easier, the more I write about my story, I am able to get deeper into the true inspiration and motivation behind my vision and why I do what I do.
What’s the ‘vibe’ music-wise?
Runaways (ft. Greeley) is a hip hop inspired release. AO provides a swirling lush soundscape, with vinyl crackle and old school squeals from psychedelic guitar. There is a theme of phone call sounding filters especially towards the end of the song which hint to the story of DENNI and Greeley collaborating over the phone and their journey to record. The song captures the journey of DENNI as an artist struggling to find love while chasing her passion. Her words are responded to by Greeley in his view, both backing each other's vocals to create the picture of phone conversations while travelling to another show.
What are your production and writing processes usually like?
It varies a lot, with different styles I work with. I usually use performance as the main reason to write and create. This release was informed by the beat and the feeling I got from that, a feeling of being on the move. I usually work on the lyrics first and create a soundscape around the mood I’m writing, so this was a really fun and different process collaborating over the phone and with people all across the country.
Can you tell us about your new single, RUNAWAYS?
I was working on a show as a puppeteer in Melbourne early this year, taking a small break from writing and performing live. I received a message on my phone from Greeley, (Tassie hip hop artist/notorious rap battler) asking if I were up to collaborate for a song on his upcoming release Risdon Windom. I was pretty flat out, so I didn't hit him back until I was sitting at the airport waiting for my plane home to Tassie, which of course was delayed. When he answered the txt, we ironically realised that we were at the same airport and he was on his way to Perth to record the album. There we sat at gate 12, talking about music and that's how we locked in both collab’s.
I'd been working with AO (a producer from Hobart) who recorded my last EP Wise Ones. We've been experimenting, creating and recording some lush hip hop in Hobart for the last twelve months and this was the beginning of the really organic collaborative process that the EP Runaways has become.
When COVID 19 hit, all of my touring work stopped, I lost my unit and was forced to move back in with my family, I made the most of the situation and started Uni. So, when I heard from Greeley again about recording, I was pretty excited to get back into the studio and work on his release Cycles. Meanwhile, AO had sent me a beat to work on called 11:38am, it reminded me of being on the move. I wrote the line “chasing tides and sunsets” sitting at Tama (northeast TAS) watching my uncle surf.
This really wrapped up my concept of chasing the wave and inspired me to write the song Runaways. It’s really about an artist finding love, while chasing their passion. I had the song pretty much finished but felt like it was missing another perspective, this gave me the idea to ask Greeley to feature on the song Runaways, which soon became the anthem of my next few months. I made my way to Brisbane to write and record with Greeley. He had sent me a beats catalogue from Lariken that I had been writing to for about a month, sending phone recordings to each other back and forth. I left Tassie to see family in Newcastle and then made the drive to Queensland. Stopping into Byron Bay to see my long-time friend and now manager Jesse Higgs (Creative Director and Music Producer at Vibestown), I pitched the project and we quickly formed a ruff plan for release.
I spent the next two weeks in Brisbane with Greeley, we recorded the EP over two days with Nerve, which quickly turned into a 6 track EP, with Greeley as feature artist on three tracks. I also got to do a cheeky collab track with Nerve which will be released when the EP comes out in October. We jumped straight into filming and nailed three of the film clips in two days with some crew from AV CLUB, working with Josh Hickie who shot and Edited the clip for Runaways. We really wanted this film clip to feel a certain way and reflect on our journey as separate artists, crossing paths but who never actually meet while on the move. The locations in the clip really capture where we were at the time, and touch on the serendipity in events that brought us closer together.
What does 2020 have in store for you?
It really has been a madhouse this year! I featured on an album that went to number 1 in the hip-hop charts: Greeley's Risdon Wisdom. I signed with a record label, run by my long-time family friend Jesse Higgs. I’ve now released a single from my upcoming EP Runaways. I’m about to head to the bush of NSW for work this September to build puppets for 2 weeks with a dear friend and mentor. I’m set to release my EP in October with another single and film clip Murder (ft. Greeley). Making my way back to Tasmania is high on the list as well.
What do you want people to take away from the project?
This is my first release for a while, so really, it’s me saying hi. It’s me re-immersing myself in the Australian music scene with some material I am really proud of. It really has been a team effort to get this release out and I think that’s been the best thing I’ve personally taken from this release. Collaboration is at the heart of this project and shines a light on this new and exciting chapter of my career and personal life.