In the lead-up to DAMI IM’s encore performance of ‘Yesterday Once More’, the unlikely pop star sits down for lunch during a whistle-stop publicity tour in Canberra, before flying to Sydney to record new material. Im, statuesque and every bit as striking in her physicality as the television may have you believe, settles at our outdoor table to chat openly about her often-grueling schedule, her dedicated fans (the Dami Army), and what the near and distant future might hold. “I’m starving”, exclaims Im as we take our seats at Silo Bakery in Kingston. Dressed immaculately, Im sports a tan colutte suit; the angular sleeves mimicking her signature blunt fringe; and a hint of pale pink lipstick. Pedestrians’ double-take and smile with recognition at the woman who took out season five of The X Factor, but Im appears oblivious to the attention and instead fixes hers to the task at hand.
“Coffee fills me up and keeps me going,” exclaims Im as her latte arrives. Her lavender coated fingernails shine as she cradles her coffee and I imagine the countless cups she must have consumed to “keep going” during the astonishing year she has just had. “So much happened in a short period of time. Eurovison was such a crazy experience. It almost feels like it was in another lifetime … in another world!” Im’s representation for Australia, in the Eurovision Song Contest, placed her second in the competition, a massive accomplishment for a seasoned professional let alone a new star rising in the ranks of the pop stratosphere. Her powerhouse performance of ‘Sound of Silence’, a track Im feels much pride for, wowed audiences back home and the world over, “It’s nice to have one of your songs stir a patriotic feeling in people. It’s a privilege.” Im explains the experience akin to winning the lottery, “… it’s such a rare experience one can have and I can’t believe I was there…” Excusing Im for her disbelief is no challenge in this instance.
Stepping off the world stage and returning to Australia, Im set off almost immediately on a 40-date tour of the country. “It took me a while to process everything, but now I can finally reflect, ‘I went through some crazy experience’.” Crazy it may have been, but Im appears unflappable in the face of chaos and is excited to hit the road again with this beloved collection of songs, “I had so much fun touring for the first time last year … and as an artist I’m really grateful I can do this again.”
‘Yesterday Once More’ pays tribute to the classic songs of The Carpenters, a band that holds a special place in Im’s heart. “The music of the Carpenters is so beautiful and I love singing them on piano. Karen Carpenter had this uniqueness where her voice was so pure and untouched…” Im pauses to consider her relationship to Karen and these songs, articulating that she doesn’t attempt to “copy” the sound, but instead tries to tap into the emotive tenderness, “I try to capture the pure emotion – the vulnerable sound she had.” This approach seems partly responsible for much of Im’s success – an ability to channel and reinterpret songs that resonate deeply with audiences.
This was illustrated effortlessly with Im’s performance of ‘Purple Rain’ during The X Factor, a television moment that is forever etched into the memory of those who witnessed the high drama and theatricality of her rendition. I wonder how Im approaches the song now that Prince has passed. “It’s become an emotional experience for me and the audience and I really feel like we connect during that song the most.” As Im surprisingly reveals, that connection is relatively fresh, “When I first sang it on The X Factor, I actually didn’t know the song. I’ve lived under a rock!” she laughs. “I had to learn it in a few days!”
Im jokes that she’s about “40 years behind the trend” when it comes to most things pop-culture akin, and her next project, a role in Grease: The Arena Experience, is no exception. “Someone told me to watch it and I was like, ‘what is this? It’s really weird, but interesting. Wow!’ And then I got offered the part. Everyone knows this musical, except me … but, I’ll give it a go!” I wonder if Im’s X Factor mentor, Dannii Minogue (who played Rizzo in her stage debut back in 1997) will be offering any sage advice? “She’s been so supportive to this day. She’s amazing! Most judges don’t really do that … they don’t have to.” Im reflects on the connection they both share and quietly adds, “… It’s just nice to be friends still, and to know that it’s not all fake.”
While Dami Im attempts to catch her breath after her dizzying success in 2016, her trajectory is set for onward and upward, professionally and personally. “I’m working on being a bit more accepting and easy on myself … so I can attempt things that I don’t feel as comfortable or confident in.” I suggest that Im may be a perfectionist and her response comes quickly, “I’d say so. I’m trying not to be such a perfectionist because you can’t achieve perfection … until you’re dead!” Im unravels in a fit of laughter at the absurdity of what she has just suggested before synthesising her sentiment, “Perfection really stops you from doing a lot of things that you could be doing.”
As our lunch date comes to a close I ask Dami if she has anything to share with her loyal fans, or artists who may be considering the same path she has chosen. In a measured and thoughtful response Im visualises conversing with herself before this rollercoaster began, “Don’t be afraid of new experiences. When something comes up and it’s out of your comfort zone, I think it’s important that you give it your best shot and see what happens.” We, alongside the Dami Army, will be watching this space.
Dami Im’s ‘Yesterday Once More’ encore performance is on Saturday March 11 at Canberra Theatre Centre. For tickets and information visit canberratheatrecentre.com.au.