Written by Taryn Newton-Gill
Over the past decade, RAW Artists has opened its doors to a global range of up-and-coming creatives, from fashion designers to painters, filmmakers, musicians, and more. In return, these artists have opened themselves up to us, bravely stepping into the RAW spotlight to share their innermost voices, visions, and hearts. And sometimes—with the right mix of hard work, passion, and dare we say, raw talent—the world responds back with a love so big, it carries that artist into stardom.
This has been the case for RAW alum and musical phenomenon Tones and I, who since her first RAW Australia showcase in August 2018 has blown up, consistently climbing the charts with her debut single, “Johnny Run Away,” and making it to the top spot in over 25 countries with her follow-up single, “Dance Monkey.” Her first EP, The Kids Are Coming, dropped in the fall of 2019 before she performed it at Australia’s most popular sports event, the AFL Grand Final, to a crowd of 100k. If that’s not impressive enough, she currently has two nominations and six pending nominations for the ARIA Awards – the Australian equivalent of the Grammys. And, speaking of ARIA, this year “Dance Monkey” broke the record for the amount of weeks at number one on the ARIA’s Singles Chart, surpassing none other than Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” for the previously held record. To say the least, Tones and I has had a pretty good year.
Like RAW, Tones and I started as a mostly word-of-mouth operation, making her way to the RAW stage through another RAW alum. Kristen Wehlow, who runs RAW Australia, recently reflected on Tones and I’s awesome journey, saying: “Toni actually came to us from a friend of mine, Jackson. His band, Aerials, showcased with me in Brisbane forever ago…and then he started managing Tones and I in 2018 and got in touch with me to have her play her first big crowd gig with us at RAW in Brisbane. She showcased with us there in August 2018 and then again in September 2018. Tones and I officially released her first track not too long after that and BOOM she is on FIRE…I mean, obviously it wasn't just 'BOOM', there was a lot of work going on behind the scenes to get to this point!”
RAW Brisbane director, Lauren Thorpe, also remembers Tones and I well. When looking back at her performances, Lauren says, “Her first performance I definitely remember thinking ‘Holy smokes, this girl is incredible.’ She was the third act of the night and absolutely killed it. I do remember slowly seeing people stop and come closer to the stage to watch her. It literally was magnetic, and I remember the applause being really loud…I chatted to her a bit before her performance and she did seem quite nervous, besides busking I think this was one of the her first times performing on stage, but once she was on stage she was next level incredible.”
As with most seemingly overnight successes, Tones and I (or “Toni”) had years of honing her craft and tweaking her unique sound before her hard work started to pay off. Jackson first met her when she was busking on the streets, playing her original music to anyone that would listen. In her RAW profile, Toni describes her musical evolution: “Tones began her musical journey in 2014 as the vocal half of a duo. She has only recently ventured into solo territory, teaching herself the art of looping and cutting her teeth on Bourke Street, Melbourne’s infamous musical breeding ground. Busking up and down the east coast with her synthesizers and loop pedal, she has been building a loyal fan-base and captivating crowds with her genre-diverse style and BIG effects-laden vocal.”
While we appreciate Tones’ humility, it must be noted that her description of “captivating crowds,” is, at large, a gross understatement. Pull up any video on YouTube of Tones busking or even performing on stage to huge crowds and the reaction is always the same: complete and utter hypnosis. Tones quite literally puts her audiences into a trance, with her enthralled fans growing palpably more alive as they step to each of her fresh beats and sing along to every single one of her lyrics. Admittedly, it’s hard not to dance to Tones’ tracks. Listed on Wikipedia as Indie Pop / EDM, her style is a mix of the fun, experimental beats of Macklemore and the haunting, high-pitched, raspy vocals of Billie Eilish, both of whom she draws inspiration from. Top that off with some Amy Winehouse soul and you start to get a sense of Tones and I’s singular sound.
One listen to that sound and you quickly realize that referring to her as a “musician” only skims the surface of what she’s creating. An old soul with a millennial message, Tones and I has the stuff of the greats, and her musical themes inspire nothing short of the cultural revolution present in the work of bands like The Beatles or Bob Dylan. Take her title track from The Kids are Coming, for example. Both an homage and a credit to her generation, the video and the song remind us that millennials are much more than social media bots with iPhones. Hundreds of young faces wearing white hoodies with black text march in protest, holding signs like “Wake Up,” and “Act Now,” each bathed in a warm, red glow. If these intense visuals don’t get the message across, the lyrics drive home her point:
No one wants to listen to the kids these days, yeah
The fibs these days, yeah
They say that we’re all the same
But they’re the ones to blame
Speaking of the young as if we killed someone
But we don’t need your guns
We’re all too busy on the run
Tryna be someone…
Needless to say, we are honored to have had Tones and I grace our RAW stage—twice! We can therefore attest to the fact that she isn’t one to miss, so be sure to catch her US television debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, airing tonight – November 18, 2019!
In the meantime, we’re gonna go play that “Dance Monkey” track one more time…