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Identity, self, and 'Sold For Sale': Didirri on his career-best new EP and everything he's learned along the way

25 September 2020 | 10:09 am | Emma Jones

With 'Sold For Sale', Didirri solidifies his claim as one of the country's very best storytellers and delivers his best body of work yet.

In 2017, Didirri Peters released a single titled 'Blind You'. A spellbinding affair, it was the first inkling many received that there was something special about him. Relatable, heartfelt and a brilliant example of his storytelling, 'Blind You' (and 'Randy Scouse Git' before it) made way for Didirri to really make his mark as one of the country's finest songwriters. From there, he released the devastating 'Jude', the impeccable 'Formaldehyde', and his debut EP titled Measurements, and with each release he further solidified this claim. Coupled with live shows which quickly became part of his identity given his predisposition of telling witty and funny tidbits and tales in between spine-tingling performances of his songs, Didirri became a nationwide (and then worldwide) sensation.

Fast forward two years, multiple world tours, a stint performing as part of Eurovision: Australia Decides and now another handful of new singles and we arrive today at the release of Sold For SaleDidirri's second EP. That same introspective, insightful, curious and intelligent troubadour we all came to know like a friend is still there, but with a few more years, and a lot more stories under his belt. A global effort, the EP was recorded in an illustrious, star-studded studio in LA, an isolated house in Johanna, rural Victoria, and finally in his bedroom mid-pandemic, over Zoom with his band. Deeply reflective, entirely personal and yet still universal, Didirri employs his ability to look at his life and those around him but this time, he's a bit older, a bit wiser, and somehow even more refined than ever. Such is the power of Didirri's artistry, he wields his new experiences, his new battle scars, like tools to help him dig deeper into his contemplation and pondering of life itself and has emerged triumphant with his very best work yet.

From the opening title track all about the gratitude that comes from patience and perseverance, to reflecting on the sometimes unnecessary and relentless overthinking we all do in our relationships on 'The Critic', the EP starts off with two luscious, highly-produced yet still familiar and warm songs, representative of the LA sessions. 'Loose Belt Drive' and 'Blue Mood Rising' continue in this fashion, with Didirri mining his own experiences with feeling worn out and needing respite on the former, and his grappling with the constant ebb and flow of anxieties and parts of himself he thought he'd moved on from on the latter (while also showing off his vast vocal range). As the delicate sounds of 'Raw Stuff' enter, Didirri moves into the Johanna sessions, taking you by the hand as he slows things down for some meditation and deliberation, while the soulful and sage wisdom of 'Don't fight with what you're fighting for' serves as a poignant moment with its simplistic yet stunning arrangement. By the time we reach the EP's end with 'Strange', a song which Didirri has kept in his orbit since his very early days busking, he shows the end result of the distraction-free solitude and remote collaboration, delivering a full circle moment you can't help but let wash over you.

Growing up is hard, messy, confusing, exhilarating, educational, devastating, liberating and so much more, and it's this that Didirri brings to life on Sold For Sale. It's an EP of heartbreak and of hope, of collaboration and community but also of isolation and solitude. It's a triumph of the human spirit, a celebration of the many versions of ourselves we move through, and a timeless collection of storytelling from one of the country's finest storytellers. It's another impressive record from an artist who just gets better and better, and who remains unafraid to look at himself in the mirror, flaws and all, and ask the question "Why?". Ultimately, Sold For Sale is an EP which holds longevity in its universality, and once again confirms Didirri as one of our very best. Sold For Sale is a hand extended as we take the next step together and is a vital record for not only these strange and confusing times, but far beyond them as well.

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Your EP is out this week, of course. How are you feeling second time round?

Aa lot more chilled than the first time round. I have now toured for a bit and I think I put less weight on my shoulders as to the success of the EP. It's funny, I gauge it by how my family and friends ask me. They're always like, "Ah, how's the EP going?" Or "How's the song going?" And my only reaction now is like, "I like it!" And that's good! I used to obsessively keep track of Spotify numbers or how many people watch the music videos but I think I'm much more relaxed and much more at ease with just putting art out in the world that I enjoy.

That only comes from time though. I feel like everyone has to have a bit of time doing all the crazy stuff to be able to be like, "Okay, it's chill now. I'm all right. It's going to be fine."

Yeah, totally! It's funny. The amount of people that tell you when you're starting out, just cliché things like, "Touring seems great now but it gets old!" Or, "You should do what you want to do because in the end that's all that going to add up." The irony is it doesn't matter how wise that person is, you're not going to listen to them until you've done it all yourself and then you work it out.

The EP has been described as music for pondering. It's music to make people realise they're not alone. I feel like that's eerily specific given the time that you're now releasing this into. Have any of the songs taken on new meaning since you've been revisiting them?

I wouldn't necessarily say new meaning but oddly, touring, especially solo, encompasses a lot of the feelings that you get during isolation. It's almost amplified by the stage sometimes. It can feel similar to social media in that you're presenting something forward but you're not having a conversation, you're performing. It's some of the best experiences you'll have in your life but I feel like it can amplify how lonely touring can actually get if you don't make friends along the way. I think it took me to my third world tour to realise that I needed to make friends in every city. Otherwise, I was just going to spend every tour in a hotel room on my own. A lot of these songs came from isolation but a very, very different kind of isolation to what we're going through now. Isolation born from being busy and being ambitious, not isolation at home. So, I guess revisiting them for myself, they're definitely taking on a new meaning in that I'm experiencing a completely new form of isolation but the songs themselves, they just accidentally fit into a slot. I've written a few songs in this round of lockdown that are absolutely specifically about the situation we're in but this EP, it holds for a little longer than what's going on now, for me.

There were some huge changes in my life. 'Raw Stuff' in particular is about... I guess, a lot of people have a pillar couple in their friendship groups, like a couple you feel like is really pivotal. They broke up and went separate ways and it was a big split. It was amicable but that song is all about trying to be a listener and I don't fit into a listener role easily so it's something that I've had to train myself to do. It's actually become a lot easier now that I have an audience. I'm a self proclaimed attention seeker and I get enough attention now that I can really focus in on my friends and family in a more focused way. Maybe that would have come with age anyway? This is turning into a psychology session!

That's okay, we're going to get really deep now. I love it. The EP was made over roughly a two year period but some of these songs have existed in some form for a lot longer than that, like 'Strange' which is quite an old song. This is a song you've been playing since you were busking way before everything else and now you're bringing it into the this new chapter, this new version of Didirri. How does that go?

It's really interesting. The EP, I was talking to my manager about it yesterday. It is in reverse chronological order, the most recent song that I've written is the first one and the furthest one back in my history is the last song on the EP. And on the vinyl is a secret track that's even older that's when I was 13. Basically, we recorded in multiple sessions and when I was trying to put them all together into some kind of narrative, both sonically and let's just say spiritually. I tried to do a rollercoaster, I tried to skip between sessions and across borders and I tried to go forwards. I tried to start with 'Strange' and build up to where I'm at now. All of the songs felt reflective, all of the songs felt, in some way, like lessons learned from different chapters of my life. Similarly to maybe learning an instrument, those first few steps that you take actually shape the way you're going to perform and the way you're going to write for the rest of your life. I really liked exploring my writing in backwards order when we were making those track lists. 'Strange' is probably one of the most pivotal songs in my career, even though no one's heard it yet. It was probably the first song that I wrote in earnest about reality, not just some made up break up or some teenage philosophical sort. It was just the first really honest piece that I'd put to paper, and I've tried many times to record it. It seemed like one of those songs that everything needed to be right for it to come across properly. Otherwise, it would have just felt a little forced. I tried to put it on 'Measurements' and it just didn't work. I tried recording it in that style but it's a collaborative song, it's not a solo experience and 'Measurements' was very much a solo adventure whereas this EP, that jam out at the end is kind of imperative to the whole song. It needs to relax right there at the end and that's just all the musicians in the room listening to each other and just being in that time.

There's a lyric in 'Blue Mood Rising', that you've been spending time with your old self. I just keep thinking about that all the time lately. I think isolation has made people deeper, reflective and more introspective. It can be quite scary for some people to spend time with their old selves and revisit versions of ourselves that we've outgrown and figure out what we've learned in the process. I wondered, what kind of power do you think lies in being able to reflect and spend time with past versions of ourselves?

There's huge power in it. I think it can be often misdirected. I think it's a cultural shift at the moment to self diagnose a lot things, both medical things and just personality. A lot of people, myself included, tend to say, "Well, I'm just this kind of person." That's the way things are and they don't give themselves any space to grow in that area. I find myself not asking people for help in that exploration and I know this is the opposite of what we're talking about, its external reflection rather than internal, but I think in order to hang out with yourself, you have to reach out a little bit and find some more information. Gather some more evidence from your friends and from your family sometimes. The EP is completely just me trying to work out who I am and what the hell is going on in here [points to head]. What I learnt from the EP is that you can self reflect but the thing about a reflection is it is absolutely raw. A mirror is not going to tell you any lies unless it's been bent somehow. There're no diagnoses in that reflection, there's no need to label anything that you discover. I know that sounds really vague but I think it is kind of vague. I think learning to be with yourself is actually just being really open to seeing things and not judging yourself on them.

'Blue Mood...' in particular is me realising that I can see a few major parts of my life creeping back in that I had previously managed to shed. Some of my depressive thoughts and anxieties creeping their way back in and me realising that I was actually letting them in by entertaining these thoughts, by entertaining the ideas of diagnosing myself with, "Oh, you're just an antisocial person." Or, "You're just not a great friend." And instead of doing that, 'Sold For Sale', the song in particular, is about just being grateful for what you have and recognising that you're completely imperfect and that's absolutely fine. In fact, if you say, "Oh, I've just got a few battle scars but that's not really going to stop me from being who I am." Instead of letting those things define you and being debilitated by those past experiences, you can really just take them and go, "They've happened to me and that doesn't necessarily need to affect who I am." The classic is, "I am my parents." Or, "I am the complete opposite of my parents." I find it really funny that not many people are willing to say that they may be a little of both, or neither. They just are who they are and it doesn't really matter if they're in any way the same as their parents or the opposite of their parents. Just be who you are, you don't need a reason for who you are.

I think sometimes the need to categorise things or the need to label something can be useful sometimes. But it can also be like, once someone has realised there's a label for that or a word for that, that's where the journey stops instead of continuing [and] using that information. Like, "Okay, great. I'm a Taurus therefore I can continue my evolution as..." Using that to your advantage to continue to grow rather than just using that as the final destination.

Totally! I have to say that I'm not discounting diagnosis in general. Yes, absolutely there are things that need diagnosing and things that need to be recognised but I'm more meaning existentially. A great example is when I tried to quit smoking. Early on, I told everyone and I was like, "I quit smoking!" And it was like, "I'm now this thing." As soon as you fail at that, you then feel awful and you're in a worse position that you ever were and you probably just didn't need to say anything. You could just have continued on with this journey of being like, "I'm trying to quit smoking." Or, "I'm trying to be a better friend." Or, "I'm trying to be this thing." Rather than being like, "I'm a bad friend." Or, "I'm a good friend." Or, "This is my fault." Or, "It wasn't my fault." You can just be like, "It's partially my fault but I'm just going to say sorry."

Looking at the narrative of the EP, you've got 'Blue Mood Rising' sitting there and Sold for Sale maybe being the very gratitude based song. Then you've got 'The Critic' which is about a relationship. You could read into it about a relationship with two people but it could easily be about a relationship between you and yourself. The overthinking and the over analysing we do to ourselves to the point where we get too stuck into issues that sometimes aren't even there until we've made it for ourselves. Is that what you're talking about there as well? Maybe materialising things that weren't there to begin with and now they're these huge problems.

Yeah, absolutely! You've nailed 'The Critic'! That particular song, it's about manifesting the problems that never existed. In fact, so many interpersonal relationships are ruined or there's big road blocks put in the way that just never existed, they were completely put there. A classic one for isolation is, "Oh, this person hasn't called me." And you didn't call them. And you're both sitting at home thinking the other person is not a good friend whilst doing it yourself. The fact that you think, "That person hasn't called me, they mustn't like me," puts you in a position where you don't want to call them and you just suddenly self actualise a bad relationship that didn't exist in the first place. I've done that in countless relationships or I've seen it in friend's relationships. It's much easier to see other people's problems than your own.

"Ah, that person is looking at someone else. Therefore, they may not be attracted to me anymore." The sheer act of you being jealous makes someone unattracted to you. You just made up a thing by observing it and then they made it a reality because it turns out thinking those kinds of things can make you act in ways you weren't going to in the first place. That's where that moment in the pre chorus, "Maybe I should have loved you more, maybe I should have cared." I actually wrote that trying to be in the mindset of someone that's still in a relationship. Even though those two lines sounds like reflecting on a past relationship, I wanted them to be someone that's still in a relationship but is thinking these thoughts that feel like the relationship is already finished. I wanted the song to sound really chipper, like this fake relationship. This whole idea of a beautiful romantic relationship where someone, in the middle of their relationship, is going, "Maybe I should have loved you more back then. Maybe I should have cared. Maybe that would have sucked out all of the air." And really, whilst your thinking those things, you could be doing those things right now but instead you're like, "I made a bad move back there." You're not actually being present to the person.

Too busy worrying about not being present.

Yeah! The chorus is like that moment where you turn around and that suddenly turns into spite as well, for yourself. You're like, "Well, actually, fuck you. It's all your fault."

Looking at the EP itself, it's had quite a journey physically from rural Victoria, to LA and finishing it in isolation and spending so much of your time working on it over Zoom. Do you think the various settings have had an influence over the sounds that we can now hear on the record? Are you just as inspired by rural Victoria as you are in the streets of LA to your isolated bedroom?

Yeah, absolutely. I'm very into new experiences which can be distracting for myself but it's also super exciting. All three sessions were completely different and yes, there's huge sonic differences which is also partly why the sessions had to go next to each other on the EP. There's this mushiness that came from LA that I love, this really glued sound. There's a really tinny, raw feeling to the Johanna sessions and they just didn't work next to each other up and down, going back and forth between them. I tried 'The Critic', into 'Raw Stuff', into 'Blue Mood', into 'Don't fight with what you're fighting for' and back to 'Sold For Sale' and it's just too much. Once I embraced that they were all going to go side by side, everything just made so much more sense.

In all honestly, I think 'Sold For Sale' the song, I was thinking the least and I think I was the most expressive and I think a lot of that had to do with not being distracted. I was in my room, I didn't have anyone else. I had people over Zoom but as soon as we took recess, coffee break or whatever, it was just me again. There's a lot of self-aggrandised chatter that happens when you're working on a record, especially in those in between sessions. You're working with a group of people usually and you're usually all chatting about the record and I really liked how brutal I could be with myself on my own. Because literally all I had was my ears, the speakers and then looking through this box at the players on the other end and I could absolutely detach from it and be like, "Nah, this is what the song need. This is in this bit or that bit. That bit's too much." A lot of 'Sold For Sale' was done with my eyes closed. I think I was much closer to that song. Ironically, much closer to that song than the others.

But rural Victoria was... I'm a stout atheist but music, I'm going to say, is the closest thing I get to spirituality and I think Johanna in particular was a meditation for 14 people. We were away from everything. I remember my producer, when we were organising it, I was like, "Oh, it's about an hour and a half away from a supermarket." I don't think he quite took that seriously until we got there and it was just me and him for the first two weeks and he was like, "Oh, shit. It is just us two in this massive..." Well, it's not even a massive house. In this house that is dead silent because we've set it up as a studio. I mean, you can't get more reflective than that on your own personality. He was working out every day, going for jogs and I was meditating and it was beautiful. Beautiful sessions. The complete opposite of LA. LA was like, get in, huge fancy studio, people running off to get me coffee. Meanwhile, I've run out of budget. Basically, in Johanna, I recorded 14 songs and I cut it back to four. Then right on the end of our budget we're like, "Okay, we're going to record some more tracks in LA and have no money left." I stayed in the Budget Inn on Hollywood Boulevard and they checked my money for counterfeit and it was just bizarre recording in a very renowned studio. It was all precision. The players were amazing and it felt like being a bit more of a director than a participant and yeah, just different. I appreciate the difference. I think I lucked out having a record that is cohesive and that's through both the mixing process and through the track listing and just thinking really hard about it. But in the future, it will be interesting to see if I want to make records like this. Because I like new experiences and I do get quite sick of doing the same thing.

Looking forward now, you thrive so well in a live setting, your live shows are part of your identity. I wondered, has this extended time off made you reevaluate or maybe reconsider what live shows mean to you now?

It's probably the toughest thing for me. In earnest, I enjoy live streams but I just know my skill set and that comes from a real audience. Again, I'm grateful I don't live 100 years ago and I would literally not be able to perform. I feel like the music industry has done a lot of catching up in terms of staying relevant in an internet age. There's so many other industries that thrived and really embraced it but the fact that as soon as lockdown hit, there were people flailing. I just saw awful live streams. Simple shit. Leaving massive reverb on while they're talking to their audience.

Not cleaning up their bedrooms. That was big one for me.

Yeah, all that shit. It's cleaned up. People have really worked out how to do it. I think that's made me reassess not only just because I think no one really did the livestream well even before this. I used to do stupid things with my livestream. I would just put Instagram Live on my phone and put my phone on the floor below my mic stand during a gig and I just found that entertaining but I never really thought.

There's a small minority of people that actually can't go to gigs and I've been in conversation with those people recently. One of my friends has been diagnosed with a pretty chronic illness that means she'll basically never be able to see stage lights again without suffering some pretty severe vertigo and it's made me realise that we've been doing this in other industries for these people for a long time. Even when I used to go to church, we had a video format that got sent out to the elderly and disabled so that they could go to these things and we've been doing that since the 80s! It's a bit mind boggling to me that it's just an untapped resource that maybe we're learning how to do now.

But as a personal thing, this has been a massive struggle. It's been, I'm going to say, the happiest part of my life but for so many other reasons other than music. I moved in with my partner, I'm learning to garden, learning to bake, all of these beautiful things. But like I said before, I self diagnosed myself as a performer and that identity has really been taken away recently. I struggle because I think my audience knows that performing is the biggest pillar in my career. I really connect with people when I'm actually in the room with them and I'm not an internet personality. I can try, again, self diagnosing here, maybe I can try to be a better internet personality. One hopes that we'll be back to performing in any context with real audiences in the near future. Also, because you can hear it on the EP, this EP is about collaboration and I'd be devastated to not be able to tour this with a band. They're beautiful songs to play with other people. They're kind of challenging on my own. We tried collaborating over the internet, we really did, but we're in Australia. The reality of high speed internet is not great.

It's not your friend, no.

My best friends are honestly my touring party and they're all feeling it. We've spent the last three years together touring and it's mind boggling. There's a video going 'round of me singing my last song at Adelaide Festival. I sang a Paul Kelly song, 'Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air'.

I love that song.

And there was something about that room, everyone knew that we were moving into new territory. People were canceling their shows. There was multiple people that canceled their set there because of this and we were just on the cusp of it. I think we were only at half capacity which was good because it meant everyone could spread out. But it was an emotional show. The band cried. We did some stupid things because we knew that it was going to be the last for a while. I had walk on music for the first time in my life.

What did you walk on to?

The intro to 'Hot August Night' by Neil Diamond. It's this huge three and a half minute orchestral build up. It was so much fun. It was ridiculous but it was awesome. And then were like, "Why haven't we been doing this the whole time? That was epic!" That's the dream. But, I am hurting. I really, really would love to perform and it's the right thing to do to not be doing it right now but it would be... As I said, not religious, not really spiritual but if I had a calling, that would be it.

Didirri's Sold For Sale EP is out now. Buy/stream here.

Interview by Emma Jones

Image: Gil Gilmour