In a small waiting room in the back of Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall, unprompted, Tones and I belts out the hook to her upcoming single, “Charlie.” The Australian pop star otherwise known as Toni Watson will take the stage in a bit more than an hour, performing for a full house, and yet she relishes in performing for a room of three people. She smiles and sways back and forth while singing the yet-to-be-released track, filling the space with her instantly recognizable voice. The song is an upbeat funk-inspired love letter of sorts to her dogs back in Australia. “I was gone for quite a while on tour and I was missing my dogs,” Watson tells RANGE. “I have four dogs, but Charlie is the best name.”
“Charlie” is fun, light, and full of passion; it’s indicative of the new direction Watson plans to go with her upcoming second album: cheerful and groovy music made for performing live. She says the album will be funky and her most cohesive project yet, “I wanted it to flow, cause I’ve never released a body of work that flows before.”
Watson is upfront about her passions: she adores her dogs, she’s a basketball fanatic (an avid player and Melbourne United’s number one ticket holder), and her favourite part of being an artist is performing. As Tones and I she gives her all during her live performances, owning the stage and amping up the crowd. “I’m basically putting on a Zumba class for an hour every night,” she jokes.
Before the international success of “Dance Monkey” changed her life, Watson was a busker in Byron Bay, Australia. She lived in a camper van and paid for food and other necessities with the money she made performing each night. She considers this one of the best periods of her life.
Watson credits her comfort on stage to her background as a busker. “At a time when no one knew my music at all, I put myself in the most daunting position and I allowed myself to grow,” she explains. “When I did my first show, I pretty much just busked on stage. But I was prepared, and I wasn’t scared of people.”
Watson revisited her roots earlier this year, boarding a van with her nine best friends to travel across Australia. The tour was wild: there were large meet and greets with fans and basketball games with Australian celebrities, and it was all filmed for an upcoming reality TV show. “It was so fun,” she remarks with a smile. “Thousands of people would show up and we would do meet and greets and shows. Just pure wholesome, meet the public, down-to-earth busking sessions.”
Next up, Tones and I will be joining her favourite artist, Macklemore, on tour. The pair met a few years back when the Grammy award-winning rapper attended her show in his hometown of Seattle. They connected afterward and made plans to work together. Now they have a new track together; Macklemore’s most recent single, “Chant,” a passionate rap-pop ballad about coming back after the critics have counted you out. The song came about in 2021, Watson flew over to the US and spent all day with Macklemore in the studio, and during their lunch break they went thrifting. “The track is perfect for both of us cause it’s about resurrection as artists and achieving the impossible again,” Watson explains. “I feel like he and I both had similar starts with Thrift Shop’ and ‘Dance Monkey,’ so we can both relate to the lyrics.”
Tones and I joins Macklemore on tour this summer and she’s looking forward to performing with him, saying he will help her elevate even more as a performer. “He’s always climbing over the crowd,” she laughs. “He’s like me, but on steroids.”
With the release of her next album around the corner, Watson is eagerly anticipating her fans hearing her new material. “I’m looking forward to that moment when I play it for a crowd and they really know it.”