In 2013 Dami Im arrived, seemingly out of nowhere, and found herself a home in the sonic heart of Australia. Born in South Korea, Dami won The X Factor on the strength of her astonishing voice and palpable sense of artistry. More success followed as Dami earned multiple ARIA accreditations, including #1 chart positions and multi-platinum sales for the likes of her self-titled debut album and hit singles ‘Alive’, ‘Super Love’ and ‘Gladiator’.
For any one tuning into The X Factor it was obvious that Dami was not only an artist of the new millennium, but she possessed a devout understanding of the rich history of pop and how truly great songs are crafted.
In a move that echoes the stellar singers from pop’s past, Dami has opted to record a covers album, with a twist. Any serious pop connoisseur will go a little giddy at the notion. Dami’s Classic Carpenters album is as blindingly good as the concept sounds.
Just look at the writer credits on the album, which includes masterworks from Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Leon Russell, Paul Williams and Richard Carpenter. Songs of this calibre are now just a part of Dami’s DNA.
“My first paid gig as a singer was at an up-market Chinese restaurant in Brisbane where they had an upright piano and I had to bring my own microphone and a speaker to sing for a couple of hours each week,” explains Dami.
You see, when it came to selecting material, Dami knew exactly where to look.
“Growing up in Korea, and then in Australia, my parents used to listen to pop songs. I didn’t know who the singer was but I listened and sang along anyway. When I was looking for songs that the diners might like to hear, I realised that a lot of the tunes I knew were ones that my parents had played, and many were songs recorded by The Carpenters.
“I really liked the feeling of innocence and magic these songs had. I loved the tone of Karen’s voice which is so pure and clear, yet somehow fragile and mournful. Her voice was just like her life; it seemed perfect on the outside but lonely and lost on the inside. Her music sings of optimism but a deeper emotion carries through… the more I performed their songs, the more I could relate with Karen.”
Highlights on the album include ‘There’s A Kind Of Hush’, ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’, ‘Close To You’ and a personal favourite of Dami’s, ‘A Song For You’. For Dami personally, Karen Carpenter’s resonance as an artist runs deep.
“[But] being a person who prefers coffee with a small group of friends rather than drinks at a crowded bar, it was difficult becoming a ‘pop star’ all of a sudden,” she explains. “It’s more than two years since The X Factor and I’ve performed all over Australia and Asia… and during these years I’ve experienced some of the stress and the constant pressure that comes with being in the spotlight. The success I’ve had as a singer is minimal compared to Karen who was a global superstar, but I can relate to some of the mental strain and the loneliness she would have lived through. Throughout her life she was never in a lasting long-term relationship. She suffered from anorexia, something that was’t as well-known back then, and it eventually took her life.”
“My intention was never to copy Karen’s voice or her tone,” continues Dami. “Our voices naturally sound so different. I tried to bring out the joy and the innocence in the songs while singing them as honestly as I could as Dami, rather than pretending to be someone else.”
Classic Carpenters was recorded between studios in Sydney and Brisbane with Bry Jones (Guy Sebastian, The Sapphires) at the production helm alongside Michael Tan.
For Dami, Classic Carpenters is about one thing; the music. Great songs are made to be sung and those song-lines are carried through generations. Dami’s adventures with music started when she was five years old and started learning the piano. That led to classical piano and a Masters degree in singing jazz. The extravagant outfits on The X Factor caught our attention, but her trademark is her incredibly distinctive voice.
“X Factor opened up so many new doors that I could never have imagined. I’ve gotten to travel to countries such as China, Korea, Singapore, America and Sweden to perform my songs and to write new ones.”
“People recognise me as ‘that singer from The X Factor who has a big voice and a big wardrobe’. I thoroughly enjoyed the extravagant outfits and the makeup,” she reflects, “but with this album I wanted to go back to who I was before all of that happened and reintroduce who I am and always have been – I’m a musician and a singer first. Before my producer and I decided on any arrangements, I sat at my grand piano and sang through some of The Carpenters’ tunes and recorded them while accompanying myself. Those home recordings became the starting point and the inspiration behind each of the tracks. With this album and through my live performances, I hope to be remembered as the girl who is a real musician at heart who speaks truthfully through her craft.”
Like we said before, great songs are meant to be sung… with Classic Carpenters, Dami Im takes us on a journey that encapsulates everything from homage to re-invention, and she does it wonderfully.
Classic Carpenters is out now through Sony Music Entertainment Australia.