Face To Face
Singer Tina Arena talks to Caroline Chisholm

Tina, it seems like you've got your time planned to the last nanosecond.
Bloody oath!  Every second is definitely accounted for.

You don't get sick of that?
There are days where I'm thinking, like, 'Leave me alone'.  When those days come I usually request it very gently - 'Could I please be left alone for a few hours?'.

How long since you've spent a decent amount of time in Australia?
I'd have to say 2 and a half years, maybe more.

And how long are you here for now?
Indefinitely.  I have no intentions at this point in time to return overseas.  I'm really happy being here.  I just want to work here and do the record here, get cracking here and tour here.  This is my home and where it all started, so it makes absolute sense.

And family would be a big factor in this?
They play a pretty vital role.  Although I've spent an enormous amount of time away from them, they've been fantastic, they are so supportive.

And you and [husband and manager] Ralph Carr are going swimmingly?
He doesn't move around as much as I do.  But he's got all his own things to do too.  Caroline, we really worked it out, really early on in the piece, we really did.  The great thing about Ralph and I is that we're such good friends.    That makes a big difference, there's a lot of respect and a great understanding there.  The early days were hard, we spent a lot of time stepping on each other's toes, but we soon sorted that out.

How do people react to you in the street now you're back?
The general public are fantastic - they come up to me and say 'Hi, welcome home', or 'What are you planning to do?'.  I guess the reason why I get that kind of response from people is because I was raised to believe and practise that what you give, you get back.  It boils down to those fundamentals.  I enjoy giving, and get an enormous amount back.

Why do so many people seem to love you in Australia?
It is hard to explain.  Growing up in front of everyone on television would play a big part in people liking or disliking a person.

Your overseas success has been phenomenal.  Does it still take you by surprise?
Yeah (laughs).  There are times when I purposely distance myself from all of that.  I don't know why, it's just natural.  I don't dwell on my success, but sometimes when I do reflect, it can be quite overwhelming.

When you were overseas, were there offers for you to branch out into film or other things?
Yeah.  I was offered a few things, but I'm really not interested in being a jack of all trades.  I wouldn't do it just for the sake of it looking good on my resume.  I wouldn't do it just so I could say 'Oh yes, I'm an actress as well'.

So it's not an ego thing?
Not at all, I've got to do things that give me an enormous amount of enjoyment.

Is it tougher to make it here than overseas?
In my case it was difficult here initially, as everyone knew, the preconceptions were there.  The good thing about going overseas for me was that there were no preconceptions, I was able to go on a clean slate and that was fun.
    They are tough on you here, but I kind of respect that because they make you earn it.  I find there are a lot of people in this industry that haven't earned, that don't understand.  I'm glad I was trained here because I've got a pretty good overall perspective.  I'm glad I was bred a little tougher - it gives me so much better insight.

So what Australian bands do you like at present, what have you checked out since you've been back?
Well, I've always been a Crowded House fan, they're mostly Australian bar Neil I guess, I really like the single by Leonardo's Bride - called When I Close My Eyes - Savage Garden has been fantastic.  Vertigo is fantastic - they're a band that my husband put together (laughs) but they're actually fantastic.  I love the single and the album.  The music is quite interesting here at the moment.

In 1995 you cleaned up at the ARIAs, but with all the awards you've won over the years, which accolade means the most to you?
The fact that I'm surviving means the most to me.  I put my achievements on an equal level because to me they are a great sign of respect.  I don't work for awards, but if I'm given an award, I'm humbled and honoured by it.

What success do you want that you are yet to achieve?
(Big pause) That requires a bit of thought.  To me success is just to continue to do what I do.  If I continue to make records and people continue to buy them, I'm happy with that.  I always wanted to win a Grammy, that would be really cool!

What are your musical influences at present?
There's all sorts.  I listened to lots of Jeff Buckley after he died.    I'd heard it a lot before, but I pulled out the CD not long ago and I've been listening to that.  It's quite beautiful!  A lot of Stevie [Wonder], I'm a big Bonnie Raitt fan, I love Sting.  There's so many I like.  I'm into everything - alternative, R&B, country, classical - I enjoy the gamut.

Your latest album is called In Deep, the first one, ages ago, was Strong As Steel, the other one Don't Ask.  Is there any logic in the names?
Don't Ask was back when there was not an enormous amount of interest in the title.  I was saying 'I don't know' so it became Don't Ask.  We attributed that whole philosophy to the Young Talent Time thing - 'Okay, we all know where I'm from, but don't ask any more questions, just listen, that's all.  And if you like it, great, and if you don't, that's fine too'.

So it was like George Michael, post-WHAM! with his album Listen Without Prejudice?
Absolutely.  And In Deep, the philosophy behind that is that I'm in deep water - once you've had a little bit of success, the microscope is out.  You either sink or swim.

The microscope can't hurt you though, can it?  You're pretty much 'clean as a whistle'?
Clean as a whistle, I really love that term!

Well I mean, you've worked hard to control your image.
I try to stay away from the manufactured machine.  I'm a pretty private person.  Because I've grown up doing what I do, I've learned, I've made mistakes.  I've been too honest and got myself in really hot water, so I think more about what I do and say now.
    Somebody's got to protect me, it may as well be me.

Has it been hard to resist the pressures of recording companies over the years?
There's always been pressure, Caroline.  It doesn't matter at what level or from what area.  There's always pressure if you want to achieve something.    When I got involved in my own styling as well as creatively, there was a much better product.
    I had to gain a little more confidence and start believing in myself before it started happening.  I had a very low self-esteem for a very long time.  When I came out of my shell and started to believe in me, things started to change.

Of the descriptions you've had, Tiny Tina, the diminutive dynamo, pocket-sized etc, which do you resent?
None really.  I mean: Tiny Tina, it's cute, it's sweet!  It served its purpose.

Approaching 30, where do you go from here?  You've already had 25 years in the industry.
I kind of feel it's just begun, as pathetic as it may sound.  It feels like it will move into a real cool thing - to be able to do what I want to do, I'm happy with that at the moment, really happy with that.

So longevity is one aim, what are the others?
Health and happiness!

That sounds like something from a fortune cookie.
Well yeah, but without those two major things, what's the point?

Tina, thank you for your time.
Thanks again Caroline.