Interview | FFS 5 with Dan Tuffy

Dan Tuffy really made his splash with 2017’s Songs from Dan. Peppered with mystifying folk narration, the album garnered him praise that saw him tour throughout Australia and Europe. Relaxing from that busy schedule in light of a worldwide pandemic had offered Tuffy more time to hone-in on the specifics of his latest offering, Letters of Gold. The richly-produced album is on a trip to find a groove, exploring elements of percussive, bass-lead, and electronic influences that now decorate his trademark storytelling. Synthetic elements blend in naturally with Tuffy’s more organic and offbeat delivery. Perhaps this is done in a way not too dissimilar from famous folkies like Dylan or Oberst, who have paved their paths through innovation as well as through storytelling.

In Tuffy’s engagement with our ‘FFS 5’ interview series, the singer-songwriter reflects on his earthen upbringing, his first explorations of “city music”, a love of surf and wilderness, and more.

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?

I grew up in a small isolated country town on the north coast of NSW, Australia. It was a tight knit community. I still know just about everybody there. It was surrounded by wild country and untouched coastal areas when I was a kid but has changed a lot. I still think of it as home and carry it with me in my heart – and I still think of the people of my youth and childhood as my kind of people. I started playing music as a teenager at rowdy up-river parties in the bush or at some lonely beach fire. Strictly folk, country, story-telling music back then – that was the sort of music that fitted the landscapes we were surrounded by. Anything that felt like “city” music just didn’t make sense out there under the stars. But as a young adult I moved to the city to go to university. It was then that I discovered a whole bunch of music I had previously turned my back on; 80s new wave from the UK, indie rock from Seattle, the dark Melbourne sound (Nick Cave), electronic and early dance music – that all started making sense too. The defining moments are those when your boundaries open to stuff you never previously understood. I’m always looking for moments like that.

As an artist, how do you define success?

Well when I was in my 20s I thought success was being in the public’s view and having packed gigs. As I got older it shifted to being able to make a sustainable living as a musician and therefore call myself a “professional”. None of what used to ring true for me holds water anymore. My current definition of success is the capacity to create work that lasts – first and foremost for myself, because if it resonates with me it will resonate with someone else. And it will resonate for me if I know for certain I’ve truly been in touch with myself for the 3 -5 minutes of whatever song I am singing. And if I have, others will feel that. And that’s the stuff that lasts. Getting to that place is success for me. It’s worth way more than all the things we generally think of as success and is more difficult to achieve.

What do you find your greatest struggle to be when it comes to the music business?

Those 2 words right there contain the struggle; “music business”. It’s a very tough game if you are in it. You work your butt off and can often feel unrewarded and unappreciated. If you are fully caught up in the struggle for “success” there is a big chance you are moving further and further away from yourself as you fight for your cherished career – to be seen, to be on the map, to be getting the shows you want etc. Once you start letting this dictate your behavior and output you are in a bind with yourself and the world. I’ve been there. We all have. It’s no place to truly be creative from. Therein lies the struggle inherent in the business side of music.  

What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist and as a band? What do you hope to achieve?

Well I think I have achieved many of them already. I’ve been involved in the creation of almost 30 albums (not all mine). That’s a lot of studio hours and a lot of time at the wheel. I love being in studios – just love it. I’ve also done thousands of shows in my life. All sorts of shows, some big, some tiny. To be able to say this feels like an achievement. As far as creative output is concerned I feel my last 2 albums are my best. I’m a late bloomer in that respect. If I can make another record as good as my last 2 I’ll be very happy. That’s a realistic goal – my next record. Beyond that is too far into the unknown for me.

Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?

I have been re-training myself in the areas of personal therapy and counselling for the last 15 years. I get a great deal of inspiration from both looking inwards and working closely with people, in resonance. I’m not writing songs about that specifically, but the exploration of the soul/psyche or whatever you want to call it seeps into my work these days. I also love a good story and have always loved wild places. I try to get to wild places as often as I can because they fill me up. And surfing. I grew up surfing in the Australian bush – I go looking for surf whenever I can, preferably in the wilderness if possible. Stuff emerges for me in wild places. Stories, characters, memories, song fragments.

Piece by: Jonathan Frahm