Two Souls in Harmony, An Interview with Dala

After a seven month break, Dala reunites at the Mariposa Folk Festival and celebrates with a series of workshops and Sunday Mainstage. Dala, comprised of Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther, were on hiatus because Amanda had a new baby boy and, in that time, Sheila also completed a French language intensive. The break allowed the duo to both percolate on topics, write music, while making sure to continue to foster their relationship, even if that just meant curling up and watching episodes of Arrested Development together.

Sheila masters an endearing delivery of sarcastic humor during their performances which balances Amanda’s genuine and gentle energy on stage. They are a harmonious pair in every sense of the word from their perfectly match singing voices to knowing when to finish one others sentences. When seeing them reunited on the Mariposa workshop stages, it is evident that no time has past. However, even though Sheila reveals that they were both nervous starting rehearsals again for Mariposa, they were able to pick up exactly where they left off, adding that the rest was good for their voices and they are now refreshed and excited to sing their own songs again.

Toronto girls, born and raised, Sheila and Amanda both see the Mariposa Festival as the perfect homecoming.  “[Music Festivals] are an idyllic atmosphere for music, ” Amanda states, “We’re really a community. A lot of the time, [Artists] are on their own for tour and you pass like ships in the night and you can’t exchange stories but in this setting you do. You take a step back and see the community you’re part of.”

Dala reflects on their early day as budding artists. Amanda went to OCAD University, lauded for their visual Art and Design programs, and met Artists that would soon comprise a local Arts Collective. It was made up of 15-20 Artists from the school as well as members in the Artistic community. They rented out Holy Joes, a cozy venue decorated with couches and suspended Christmas lights. Although Holy Joes no longer exists, Sheila notes that “it was an exciting time, [dancers, visual artists, musicians were] just finding their voice in their own medium.” The importance of debuting as Artists in such a inspiring and supportive atmosphere was important in Dala’s early career years. “We were the original Broken Social Scene,” Sheila jokes in her characteristic comedic drawl.

While Dala acknowledges they enjoyed those early days, they are both looking towards the future. “There is a freedom and excitement getting to know North America,” Amanda states and Sheila continues, “travel has been so exciting and eye opening. We try to create that excitement every night in the way we talk to each other and talk to the audience. So even if it’s a big room, we can make it feel like we’re right back at Holy Joes. Those early shows really set the tone for us.” Having the experience of speaking to their Artistic peers, Dala expands upon these skills whether it is a house concert or in front of thousands at a Music Festival.

Humor plays a large role in their performance since it is a tool that breaks the ice for themselves as well as the audience. “We want it to feel inclusive so that we’re breaking down that wall every night and make it feel like we’re just in someone’s living room,” states Amanda. “Sometimes we are in their living room,” says Sheila picking up on Amanda’s thought, “house concerts gets you right back to the essence of your act, chemistry as Artists, and your song. If you can’t deliver a song in the setting like that then, what is the song? If you strip it down to its scaffolding or skeleton and nothing is left then that says something. We try to write song we can play right up close.”

Dala had such a debut at their Guide to Aspiring Performers workshop at Mariposa where they sang a work by Amanda that is only weeks old entitled, Only You. “We try to put ourselves in situations like that for new songs. Just to get a sense of whether the song holds up to the standards we have set for ourselves,” says Amanda before clarifying what those standards are, “we want the song when we perform them to bring them into a moment of emotional authenticity. We want there to be ‘the moment’. If there is a point in the song where we coming out of it…” says Amanda “…on autopilot,” adds Sheila “…embarrassment or a lyric we can’t feel confident singing, then it has to go. Something has to change. We have to be 100% behind everything we’re saying. It’s why we don’t play a lot of our older songs because it takes us out of the show,” Amanda says while finishing the thought they seamlessly wove together.

Dala’s earlier albums from This Moment is a Flash (2005) to Best Day (2012) have matured in the female perspective of their songwriting narrative. “We’re continuing to grow as Artists. Hopefully we’re not regressing!” Sheila laughs before continuing, “for our writing, it’s a reaction to whatever we are going through. So it is born out of experiences of the time. We try to be honest. Songwriting is the most honest moment for me in my life.” Amanda supports Sheila by stating that showing vulnerability is never easy but they have become more comfortable in sharing those feelings and, as a result, they notice that these are the pieces that audiences connect with most. Honesty is at the heart of their songwriting approach. “If I am being pushed to write a song, it is difficult for a reason. It’s difficult if I don’t have the personal tools to deal with them so music is a way to deal with it,” reveals Sheila.  Amanda continues the flow of Sheila’s thought: “It’s always hard but you push yourself to be that honest because it’s always the next thing you’re not dealing with or talking about. The thing you’re afraid to do, that’s exactly what you need to do,” she states with resolve. Living life is a constant source of songwriting inspiration. “We’re like sponges soaking it all up. And it will come out in different ways,” says Amanda. Sheila describes the inspiration process to her: “Something consistently rising to the surface, above the white noise in your mind, after a few days you notice it and think I need to be writing about it or paying attention to it.” Amanda continues by noting that she is not as lyrical as Sheila but she finds the process more subconscious: “I find I go with the melody. I find my mouth reaching for certain words or sounds. I start with the sound that I hear in my head and then it turns into a word and after the fact I realize I am writing about something very current and personal. But it’s because my subconscious has led me there musically. It’s funny, [Sheila and I] often come from different directions,” she says with a smile after making that last statement.

“Is it frightening to be a vessel?” I ask.

“Totally! ” exclaims Sheila, “sometimes you’re writing and it’s an out of body experience. You are aware you are composing. You can feel end result before you get there. It’s like a magnet, you feel yourself being pulled towards it and it’s relentless. The process is so all consuming. When you finish it’s such a sense of relief, unburdened, and that it exists apart from you.” Amanda reveals: “I found the same thing as a visual artist. I’m sure it crosses over genres. You perceive things as a gut, physical feeling, you go for it and take it as far as it take you and you look act and go ‘oh, I have lots of issues about death or I need to work on my relationship with my mother!” she exclaims gently in surprise and Sheila laughs in assent.

Amanda suspects the connection that audiences have with their lyrics is because their songs deal with primal feelings: “Even if we’ve written a song about a specific moment, person, or experience, if we are being authentic, it is an emotion that is shared by other people. It’s really about shedding away the pretense and getting to the point of that feeling and emotion. We have had people connect to songs in very different ways than they were intended. The feelings are the same but we come from very different perspectives.” Sheila summates Amanda’s thought into a perfect lyric: “Feelings are the currency of emotion,” she says with a chuckle. Sheila continues in a more serious tone: “You have to be respecting of it too. The music is a part of the fabric of your own life. These songs that you carry like layers of yourself… you just say thank you.” and Amanda adds that there is a sense of honor in people allowing their music to be a part of their lives.

Even though Dala has its newest baby member, that doesn’t mean there is a slowing of momentum for the group. They just need to get baby a passport and they have tour dates to the US and Calgary in the Fall. As well, they note that they have both been writing a significant amount and they have enough material for a new record, hopefully to be recorded and released in the next two years. However, Amanda reveals the next album will have a touch of melancholia: “There’s some heartbreak, I’ve written a couple of songs about my family. Memories of my Grandmother. A song for my Mother. It’s about looking inward, at our families and where we come from.” Sheila manages to find the silver lining: “I’m excited! Back to blue! The essence of what we do hasn’t changed. It really comes down to the harmony. I’m so excited when I sing with Amanda. It’s something I can’t even put words to.” Amanda manages to find the words: “Harmony in every possible meaning of the word.”

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