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Christine Tobin - "Singing as a learning process to get the right balance"

Christine Tobin is one of the most promising young female singers in Europe. Standards or own material - all songs are an expression of her individual style. Her voice can not be described easily: - Christine Tobin is Christine Tobin.

Jazzdimensions did an e-mail interview with this singer, who will be on stage in Germany within some time...

Carina: When and why did you start singing?

Christine: I started singing, and thinking of it as something quite serious in my life in my early 20s. Before this I had worked at various jobs - office work, a printing house etc. and I was deeply dissatisfied because I had a real need to do something that I could really believe in - something creative. I had always liked singing and knew that I had a voice. But I hadn't heard any music that I felt I could really be myself in. Then I discovered jazz through hearing Joni Mitchell's album "Mingus". I loved all those songs and from there I bought the Mingus album "Ah um" and started on a new journey. So I got loads of jazz records and started to listen to them as much as possible - to try and absorb the language and catch up for lost time. I also worked on my voice a lot - doing exercises etc.

Carina: On the CD "House of Women" are so many songs you wrote and arranged on your own. The new one is full of jazzy "evergreens" - and only two songs are by yourself. Why?

Christine: "House of Women" is my third CD. It is a continuation and development of the first two. With all of these recordings I had been working towards writing more and experimenting with song structure, trying to bring together what I love about instrumental music - and make it work in song format. When I first started to sing I learned lots of the standards. Many of the earlier gigs I did were singing songs from that repertoire. I felt it was time for me to record some of those tunes, so "Deep Song" is a deliberate standards record.

Carina: What has the most influence on the decisions for choosing your "song-repertoire"? How important is the text?

Christine: It varies. I think the music is a very strong factor for me because it speaks so directly to the imagination and can influence the interpretation of the lyrics. Good lyrics are extremely important and always a bonus, but I believe the music can really influence the shape and direction they take.

If I sing it makes clear to me exactly how I feel - it doesn't lie.
It is always one hundred per cent me.

Carina: Your voice sounds as if it possesses great variability and it seems to belong to a woman with a lot of self-confidence. Is that true - and how did you "get your self-confidence"?

Christine: I'm flattered and suprised that you should hear that in my voice. Self-confidence is a "strange one" for me. I've always felt lacking in self-confidence, but that the key to becoming more confident is through singing. For example if I'm feeling a bit low or confused and a bit unsure of myself, I know that if I sing it makes clear to me exactly how I feel - it doesn't lie. It is always one hundred per cent me. So in a way I feel that I am developing and getting self-confidence from singing.

Carina: The producer on your latest two CDs is Steve Argüelles. He also is a famous musician - how did you get in contact to him?

Christine: I'm very fortunate to have known Steve for a long time. He is a great musician and someone who I've always admired. He was one of the first musicians I worked with when I moved to London in 1987. He has always been very supportive and when I was about to make "House of Women" he said that he would love to produce it.

Carina: You used a citation of Eva Salzman for your latest CD. - could you explain your reasons for it? Can you tell me a bit more about Eva Salzman?

Christine: Eva Salzman is a very fine poet from New York who has been living in London since the mid 80's. She has written two books of poetry - "The English Earthquake" published by 'Bloodaxe' and "Bargain with the Watchman" published by 'Oxford University Press', as well as short stories, and she is currently working on a novel. Eva has been a friend of mine for some years and I am a big fan of her work.

I asked Eva to write something for the record,
so she wrote those lines especially for "Deep Song"

I asked Eva to write something for the record, so she wrote those lines especially for "Deep Song". The themes in the poem are relevant to the songs. I see it as saying that during the performance, you give so much of yourself to the song and after you've done that, it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to the listener. It seems appropriate to "Deep Song" because so many of the songs on that CD have been sung by the "great" singers i.e. Billie Holiday, Betty Carter - who gave so much.

Carina: How much trainining does your voice need - and what about feelings, that influence the way you think? Are there big differences because of daily moods?

Christine: Like any other part of the body that you use a lot or for special purposes, the voice needs to be kept in good shape. It is important to keep it in use even when you are not gigging. If you don't use it, it will become less agile - like if a runner only ran at races and didn't train in between. So I see that there is this basic physical dimension to it - but also

I believe that your emotional state is
very important too. You need to be open to interpret the music.

I believe that your emotional state is very important too. You need to be open to interpret the music, to communicate with the musicians and convey that to the audience in the most honest way possible, but if you are too open and sensitive, it can put you in too vulnerable position. So I see it as a learning process to get the right balance.

Carina: On "House of women" the front-cover of the booklet does not show you, however, I think the texts are about you and your position in the world. What is your opinion about the role of women in the field of music?

Christine: I chose the image on the front cover of "House of Women" because it seemed really appropriate to the main theme of that song. It is about trying to find your own true identity, so you have that idea of someone looking into a mirror. But the eyes have a mask over them, so the question is, do you adopt someone elses image of what they think you should be, or strive to be yourself? When I write stuff like this, I don't think - "I'm a woman - how does this place me in the world?" - I see myself as a human being and that music is a universal language. But I guess, because I am a woman there will always be that female perspective. However I never make a conscious descision to address "women's issues". I sing, I write, I am an artist and I am a woman.

Carina: What does it mean for you to be a singer?

Christine: To be a singer means so much to me it's difficult to explain it. It almost scares me to think about it because it's so important to me. I see it as a vocation and it gives meaning to my life. When I sing I feel truely connected, it's almost a spiritual experience. I feel that I have so much to learn and to develop to pursue this path - to communicate as deeply as I can. It is a healing experience for me and my desire is to make people feel good or enriched through the things I express.

Carina: Have you got a sort of philosophy for life?

Christine: I feel that I've already told a lot about my philosophy on life through the questions I've answered above.I suppose my philosphy on life is to really try and be yourself. Find your own identity and be strong in that. If you know who you are then you are in a better position to respect and love other people.

Carina: What will your next CD be about - thematically? Any plans?

Christine: I think for my next CD I will return to mostly original material. I have written enough new tunes to do that and also arranged a Leonard Cohen song and one by Bob Dylan which I would like to include. At this point, because I haven't actually sat down to work on it, I find it difficult to say exactly what the theme is - but I think it will definately be a continuation and development of the themes on "House of Women".

Carina Prange

Photos: Gee Vaucher

© jazzdimensions2000
erschienen: 3.8.2000
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