Tina Dico has just released Welcome Back Colour, a compilation of her Denmark radio hits and new acoustic tracks. Her graceful voice and songwriting ability are remarkable; she draws crowds from near and far to her shows in the US. On the San Francisco leg of her tour, she stopped to talk with us about her beginnings, her songs, and her life.
San Francisco has been known for folk music. I think you’ll get a good reception here with your music.
Tina: I hope so. I’ve been here quite a few times. I’ve also played for Café du Nord.
You’ve made a pretty strong impact in Denmark with your music. How is the US responding? You said you’ve been here before. How are they responding with this tour?
Tina: They are responding very well. It has been quite a few years. The reactions I get out here are very profound, in a different way than in Denmark where there’s more of a pop career. Where people know exactly what they want, big shows where people want to see the star. Where over here, each person that comes to a show feels they have found it for themselves and they feel kind of special, or discovered something. In many ways, it feels even more special; their reactions and very personal stories. Some people have come from places that I’ve never even visited. They drive up to fourteen hours to see the show. That’s quite amazing!
So you’re less of a spectacle and more focused on the music?
You went to the royal academy of music in Denmark and then you quit to pursue songwriting. What made you do that?
Tina: I was studying Italian and religion at the university and had trouble concentrating on my studies, even though it interests me, philosophy and all that. I just got so caught up in writing songs. If I left the royal academy I could get it out of my system and pursue a career, in a safe way. Sort of dangerous, to quit my studies and come out as a full blown singer-songwriter. I had no idea how any of that worked, so I started at the academy and got to know people. I got a bit of a network but I was not at all ready or interested really, in learning all kinds of jazz theory and that stuff. I really just wanted to write songs and start playing shows and get into things in my art. On paper I was actually there for four years, I moved to London after two and didn’t really look back.
It seems you moved to England to get out of your comfort zone and explore and write what is in your heart.
Tina: Yes. Exactly.
How did moving to London change you and your music? You have a song called “The City” about how the city affects you.
Tina: It changed me in a big way, my life was turned upside down completely. I was on a mission at that point. I did really good things. Traveling with my music was so exciting. I got there and was completely alone, and I met all these writer/producers. I was in my early 20s, completely new and I knew nothing. I got set up with all these guys that have been in the business for 20-30 years. It was very difficult for me, this music thing. This real special, beautiful thing, that comes from your heart. It’s a very personal thing and suddenly I had to hurl myself in front of strangers and business people and for awhile it made me lose track of who I was and what was my thing. You go on stage and they all wanted my radio hits and to be pop and really accessible. It was an amazing experience. I learned so much from it from a writing point of view. What do you do when you’re stuck? How do you go about getting from A to B? Really I learned a lot. It was a strange, strange time. I stayed in London for eight years. It remained this desert island for me, to be alone actually. It was a really, pretty interesting time.
Sounds like you are an introvert. Do you need to settle yourself and what’s going on around you?
Tina: When I’m working I’m not like that. Strangely enough I don’t need to be alone, as such, you can put me on a tour bus with 20 people and I’ll be fine.
Are you an only child?
Tina: No, I have a brother. He was five years older than me; but no I guess I always felt kind of alone even though there are people physically around. A lot of artists feel kind of lonely. It’s not necessarily a negative word, you’re just outside of things. When I was in London, it was nice for me to actually have a reason to feel lonely, because it’s terrible to feel lonely when you’re amongst people that you love. It’s kind of easy to just move away from everything. Of course, you’re going to feel lonely if you’re alone in a big city. I feel more normal in a way because now it’s ok to deal with it.
What are your Influences? Bob Dylan? Tracy Chapman?
Tina: Tracy Chapman was a huge influence. She came out with her first album in ’85 probably. I was a bit young then. I was playing the piano and I totally changed to guitar. I grew up with Bob Dylan and a sort of intimate communication between a singer and a listener just with the song; having the feeling there was something important conveyed in the song. Tracy Chapman made that more contemporary. I really feel like I found my soul mate.
She influenced you to pick up a guitar?
Tina: Yes, and to write songs that are important. It was around the time of Live Aid and it gradually turned into more teenage stuff. Yeah, she was a big one. Then I found Pearl Jam and they came out with Ten when I was sixteen. It was rock. It changed me completely in a matter of 15 seconds. The first time I saw them it was actually just a clip of 15 seconds of the “Alive” video, and I really think that 15 seconds changed my life. I was into sports and books and stuff and suddenly it was just like forget it. Then I got dreadlocks, I was off.
Your songs are introspective, sentimental, being a musician/songwriter myself, how do you write them? Do you spend time alone to reflect and the music pours out? Where does that come from? What’s your muse? Collaboration, etc.?
Tina: It comes to the point where it starts with words, themes, things that interest me, little sort of sparks, and words and in sentences. Words that say something about what it is that, you know, we are doing here and why and how we should do it or whatever. I would start with a theme. Everything would just sort of connect more and more. Somebody will be like, oh there’s the key. I convey in sentences, but the musical idea goes around. Every now and then the musical idea will meet the words somehow. I do need to have the words before the song.
Speaking of themes, let me ask you about the song “Strong man” Where did that come from?
Tina: Good question actually.
Strong man, strong hand, the egotism of men and their weakness as well?
Tina: The core of the song for me, the core of the song word wise was the “I hate to see a grown man cry.” Which I do you know. It’s terrible, and to actually realize that you have the power to make that thing that you need in your life, that you need it to be so strong; To realize you can break that thing so easily, it’s a terrible thought. I do need a strong man. I need someone to make me feel I don’t have to carry everything, but the song says there is no such thing really. It’s terrible anytime.
You’ve previously worked with Zero 7? What was it like? Are there any future plans?
Tina: It was such a long time ago. No future plans. There was all sorts of mayhem, especially since it was at beginning of my career. I had only just moved to London and they were huge at the time, just after their first record and were what was going on in the UK, and the fact that I got to work with them then. I did some songs that I really loved, and on top of that I got to tour the world. At that level as the first experience touring was quite something. Not a lot of artists, I realized later on, get to tour at that level. It’s so hard to get to that level, it’s crazy. I was so lucky and so blessed to travel to all the biggest places in the UK and the lovely venues over here. It really was touring life that I loved to do. It’s hard work to be a musician and it’s hard work to tour, until you get to this level where they really spoil you.
Where do you want to go with your music in the future? What’s coming up? Are you working on new music? Recording anytime soon? After the tour?
Tina: Actually, I’ve never been more open than I am right now. It’s such a relief. It really does close one chapter and opens up a new one I think. I’m now in the process of, there are so many options right now, directions I could go and I just don’t know. We’ll see.
“Warm Sand” is my favorite song.
Tina: I wrote it in the early stages of my London life. Thematically it’s a bit of a confusing one.
I was wondering, were you on the beach thinking of someone when you wrote it? I like to be on the beach and write songs.
Tina: I’ve never wrote a song on the beach actually. On the beach looking back onto dramatic experiences in childhood was my focus. It’s actually ok. Everything that could have been, should have been, would have been, and I’m cool with it.
Thank you for chatting with us and I’m looking forward to tonight’s show.
All photos by Demian Becerra