LOS ANGELES, CA — With just a string of singles to his name, Didirri is a rising singer-songwriter from Australia whose music has stolen the hearts of millions of listeners in his homeland, and beyond. Just in the past few years, Didirri went from busking the city streets to working in factories to selling out shows all across Australia, all because of his honest and raw approach to his songwriting and live performance.

The 23-year-old artist only has one EP to his name and is set to play some of his biggest shows yet. His songs are incredibly beautiful and cathartic, as his deeply personal lyrics and thoughtful storytelling seem to resonate in just one listen.

Didirri sat down with Blurred Culture contributor Rachel before his show at The Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles during his debut US Measurements tour, and first slate of performances in Los Angeles, for an intimate talk about his EP and fast-rising success.

How long has this whole Measurements project been in the works for you?

We released a track in May of last year, “Blind You,” and that was the kind of start of doing this all. But I’ve been playing for a few years, not really taking it anywhere and hadn’t put anything out. I was working in a factory back then and got fired. After that, I went on my first national tour a week after I got fired … and I got picked up by a guy who was touring, Jordie Lane, who I supported on his 10-show album tour. I emailed him and that was that. I haven’t had another job since and things just kind of blew up in Australia.

Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got started into playing music.

I studied classical and jazz on the piano from when I was three. My grandma played and I kind of grew up just doing that. I always had the intention of writing my own music but never really did. I started busking in Melbourne and that was [helping] pay for my university. I was doing covers and I just got really sick and tired of playing other people’s songs. You just feel really weird and kind of cheap when people are just putting money in the hat ’cause you’re playing another song. When I’d put one of my songs in the set, people would be really engaged ’cause I sang like I believed it — it’s my story. So I started writing [in the] winter after my first proper breakup.

I feel like that’s always the catalyst for inspiring writing.

It definitely is. I was living in a shed out of the back of my friend’s house and I recorded all these little demos into a cassette. Then my manager heard it, when I had too much gin one night on the couch. They put me in a room with a producer and I got on really well with them, started making Measurements, the EP, and I put out my first song “Blind You.”

We put out “Jude” second. A man named George Ergatoudis, he was the head of BBC Radio 1 and was running Spotify at the time. His son, of all people, sent him “Jude” and tweeted about it, and then my online [following] just spiked everywhere.

He sent me this personal message saying it was like the best song he’d heard in five years, and I instantly cried. I was just thinking about the journey ahead after that point, because I started selling out shows and now it’s crazy. I’m well touring off one EP.

When it comes to your music, what do you hope people gain? Do you have a message in mind you hope people get?

Most of my stuff is about self-care and taking care of other people. I like to take people, by the middle of the set, in a kind of dark place where everyone’s kind of exploring what’s going on with them, and then rounding them off in a happier, redemptive way towards the end. I think my message is usually just take care of yourself, take care of your friends when you can. A lot of pursuit of happiness sort of stuff.

Where do you think that draws from? Is it from personal experience?

I’ve had some pretty dark parts of my life. Maybe two years ago, things were pretty on edge for me. Chemically, there were some things out of balance for me, before this EP, for some of my friends too. We just got in a cycle of going downhill and not looking after yourself. I think making music helped heal me, and I helped heal. I guess my message is I hope it helps heal other people as much as it’s helped me making it.

And that’s what I realize in your music. It’s strikingly dark and raw, but it’s comforting in a sense. I feel like that’s hard to come by these days … because people can be very guarded and want things to sound a certain way. You just let it all out.

I always say that my music is positive but it sounds really dark — exploring dark ideas but how to get through them. One of my songs “Formaldehyde” is about infertility. When I was with my first girlfriend, we got an abortion together, and during that time I found out that my mother before me had had a miscarriage before I was born. And I just had this zone, especially as a guy supporting someone through that, I had this moment of knowing that I’d never know what that felt like. Just taking an empathetic [position], not like I know how you feel and I see what’s going on . What I wanted to capture in “Formaldehyde” was — especially when [the music] hits hard — just that anger that I saw come out of her own body.

It’s a very strange kind of feeling, being powerless and all that. But also, it’s about Frida Kahlo as well and that painting that she did, “The Hospital,” which is about her miscarriage. People told her to stop painting and told her stop exploring the idea of her own pain and she kind of told them to f**k off.

During that time I’d done [the song], I was reading about her. I think it just takes a really strong person to take something that painful in life and turn it into something for other people, like a painting. People are still seeing that work now and it’s still affecting or helping people.

I also liked the imagery of “Formaldehyde,” ‘cause it’s a preservative and they gave Frida Kahlo her miscarriage in a jar of formaldehyde. I liked the idea of preserving something that sometimes bring out the ugly side of it — the idea of you hold onto things as long as you need to until you feel fulfilled. It’s kind of what those last few lines in “Formaldehyde” are about. And I wanted that sound of cradling [as] that piano at the start is very soft and almost mobile. There’s a lot of care that went into that song.

I was about to say, the instrumentation in “Formaldehyde” is so beautiful. What was your headspace going into the studio to create that? Who did you collaborate with and did you have this whole vision in mind?

I knew that that song was going to be the biggest part of the EP. I knew I wanted a trumpet. I wanted this dark and angry piece there, but I also wanted something super powerful. I wanted that female voice to be really prominent. That trumpet is played by my friend Charlie [and] I wanted that glorious kind of charge [with] Frieda [Kahlo] and my mother [signifying] things would just keep on keeping on and they’re stronger for it. I also wanted a painful, kind of cutting sound, which we got by putting a cello through a bass amp, there’s this really dark drive underneath.

There’s a lot of experimentation, a lot of cutting stuff that doesn’t work but trying it. Both those [sounds] combined just really settled into the vibe of that section, and once that was there I knew the rest would flow, just stripping back everything. I don’t work with a lot of musicians in the studio — it’s mostly just me doing it — but when I get someone in, I get them to do multiple takes, and tell them a few things about the song and tell them to kind of express themselves. So that’s why the drums are quite art house and very sporadic, because it was kind of just whatever was going on in the take. We just set up a kit, mic’ed it all up, got the sounds right and whatever comes out comes out.

“Formaldehyde” was a tough one. It took a long time to get that right.

Didirri. Photo by Ian Laidlaw. Courtesy of the artist. Used with permission.
Didirri. Photo by Ian Laidlaw. Courtesy of the artist. Used with permission.

Was that the one you put your most attention on?

Some of them came out so easily, like “Blind You” which was really simple. But it made sense. It’s a non-aggressive song, a song about wishing my ex well with her life and saying I hope you find someone. It just seemed light: lots of warm instruments, pretty classic folk sounds, clarinets. All things that I like.

Your songwriting process into going into the studio, I’d assume you kind of have a vision already?

I definitely have a direction when I go in the studio … Sometimes, a song requires you to do something a bit uncomfortable. Like I played a clarinet under a grand piano for the right reverbs and things. It was super uncomfortable, like in “Bird Sounds,” that weird bird sound in the middle [is from doing that].

My producer, Hayden Calnin, did a lot of foley room stuff. Foley is for people who make sounds for movies, foot sounds and stuff, so he’s very much in that world of understanding a space rather than a sound or a song. We came at it from that perspective. Everything was recorded in the same room, same atmospheric mics.

The other thing I love about your recordings is that they feel like you’re listening to a live recording, like people can feel it when they listen to it.

Yeah! It was a very conscious decision to just to go back to the days of finding a good room, recording in a good room, and keeping it all in that space.

What would you say your whole Measurements EP is about?

It’s life lessons for me, definitely, and learning from story. I think. I’d say [the EP documents] probably about a year ago. I’m definitely in a different space now … and putting out that EP definitely helped kind of full stop that chapter. All the songs are life lessons and every time I play them, it’s like a reminder to don’t go back to doing those things. Just keep on doing the things that are gonna help you.

I’ve met so many people on this journey. Especially since it is quite heavy, “Jude” in particular is about suicide and dealing with that and that struck a chord with a lot of people. Meeting people after shows, I had a few people have tattoos of those lyrics now. One of them that really struck me was across some scars that someone had on his arm. He wrote, “I’ll be here in the morning,” and he just hugged me.

Hugging that man and [him] being like, “Your music helped so much.” It’s a rare thing for an artist to have such direct understanding of what’s going on for people. A lot of artists, I don’t think they get that direct communication.

How’s that experience been like?

Tough and amazing. I think just getting used to the idea that people take you pretty seriously, haha. It’s the utmost respect, but it’s daunting [and] I’m excited. America has always been lovely to me.

Have you noticed any differences between the cultures between America and Australia?

I find it amazing. I find that American people are very proud but they’re very proud for other people as well, like they know what they’re worth and they also respect other people who know what they’re worth. Whereas in Australia, we tend to kind of be like, be humble. Everyone be humble. Don’t get too ahead of yourself. And I’ve come to really respect both approaches.

You’ve been selling out huge shows in Australia and across the world. How does it feel to come back to playing to rooms like this?

It’s nice to come back. This is how I learned how to play, playing to rooms like this, and I like the start and every person in the room is so valued. I’ll remember these people forever in America. I remember those small rooms in Australia and being like, cool, I can still recognize those faces even now, even when it’s a thousand people versus when it’s just five. You can still remember those faces and it means a lot, those early supporters.

Didirri performing at School Night at Bardot. Photographed by @_mvrtin_. Courtesy of the artist.
Didirri performing at School Night at Bardot. Photographed by @_mvrtin_. Courtesy of the artist.

Did you ever envision this for yourself?

I think I always hoped. I knew that I could connect with people. From an early age I think I was good at talking to people. I don’t like hyping people up in the audience, I kind of like talking to them like this [one-on-one]. I [used to do] magic shows for festivals and my father’s a singer-songwriter for children and so I toured with him a lot when I was little. I’ve been in and out of the stage most of my life, and I just am very passionate about live music in general. I go to so much music whenever I have time off and there’s not many things that have stayed consistent throughout the centuries, and that’s one.

Since the 1950s onwards, we’ve had gigs. Even through the different platform changes of digital and social media and YouTube, it’s stayed and that’s for a reason. That’s because everyone wants to be in the same room and feel the same thing and feel like you’re a part of something together, and I’m so happy to be a part of that lasting human feeling.

What was the kind of stuff you grew up on?

Bob Dylan, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Eddi Reader, who’s a Scottish artist. Lots of classics[and] anything that was local. I grew up next to a folk festival that’s probably like 20,000 people and every year I’d go to that and see a lot of live music, and it was all, people told stories and when you come to their shows. I love telling stories and giving people a bit more.

So what do you have planned next?

An album. I think in February, we’re gonna set up a house in Australia. I’ve written a whole heap of songs and want to  explore them a bit and see what comes out.

What do you feel like is kind of the theme for your next work, apart from Measurements?

I think it’s kind of exploring a bit more of the artistry side of things, and what it is to me to be an artist, especially in the world we have now. Basically exploring that idea of be humble, haha. It’s very hard when you’re taking off to keep a level head when you’ve got a lot of people around you and you’re just like, you gotta keep a lid on it [and] understand yourself.

Follow Didirri on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.
Stream Measurements online: https://didirri.lnk.to/Measurements

Didirri photographed by Matty Vogel (@MattyVogel) in Los Angeles Courtesy of the artist.
Didirri photographed by Matty Vogel (@MattyVogel) in Los Angeles. Courtesy of the artist.